Our massive guide to The Flinders Ranges – Venture away from the busy tourist hotspots to experience the real Flinders Ranges.
The Flinders Ranges is well-known for its iconic attractions such as Wilpena Pound, but there is much more to this area including some fantastic destinations in the less-travelled western section of the ranges. On this trip we will head up the western flank of the Flinders Ranges, visiting a couple of its gems including Merna Mora Station and Warraweena Conservation Park, as well as calling into the more popular places along the way.
Merna Mora is 46km north from Hawker on the Outback Highway. There is a camping area at the turnoff to the station, but it’s pretty basic so it’s a much better idea to continue to the main station complex and stay in the better equipped bush camping areas (or even grab a powered site or self-contained unit). The Fels family have been running the 130,000 hectare Merna Mora station under a pastoral lease arrangement since 1889. The station stocks cattle and sheep, but fortunately for us they have also diversified their business and included tourism as well. The station has been open to visitors since 1969 and your hosts Kaye and Donald Fels (sixth generation Fels) will make you welcome and explain the features of the property and the area.
The bush camping here is just fantastic, with a number of areas to choose from alongside the picturesque Moralana Creek. With the river red gums, flat quiet campsites, and the spectacular backdrop of the western flank of Wilpena Pound, you would be hard-pressed to find a better spot to base yourself for a few days. It’s also great value at only $15 per night for a couple, which includes hot showers, flush toilets, and campfires.
Many travellers make use of the great facilities at Merna Mora and then move on, but I reckon they are missing the best part of this place, which are the fantastic tracks available throughout the station. There are four tracks that are accessible to visitors; these are the Bunbinyunna Track, Historic Track, Lake Torrens Track and Wowee Track.
Each track has its own set of challenges and attractions, with the Wowee Track the most difficult with a real ‘wow’ factor (hence its name!). All tracks begin and end at the station, with maps and comprehensive trip notes included for your selected track.
The recommended and most challenging track at Merna Mora is the Wowee Track, named for the words you’ll utter from the panoramic hilltops! This is a track for the experienced 4WDer only, with several steep and rocky ascents and descents as well as some challenging dry creek crossings to negotiate. If you are short on time and can only tackle one of the Merna Mora tracks then this is absolutely the one to choose.
The Wowee track starts easily enough, traversing past horse yards then along an airstrip and onto a station track past some windmills. Passing through a gate there are some copper diggings to the left with a walking track leading to them. Copper was widely mined in the early settlement of this area, so there are plenty of old mines in the district. A little further on its time to select low range 4WD and start your first of many steep climbs to the trig point at the top of the hill.
This first trig point is an excellent photographic opportunity, so make sure you jump out of the 4WD and take it all in. Maybe even add a rock to the trig point rock cairn. This is a fabulous 360° viewpoint with Lake Torrens on the horizon to the west and Wilpena Pound with the imposing St Mary’s Peak to the east. There are several more great viewpoints as the track continues along the ridgeline before coming to a steep descent – make sure you select first gear low range as the loose shale followed by a couple of sharp off-camber turns require plenty of care.
At the bottom of the hills there are a couple of creek crossings that require careful wheel placement to avoid some washouts, and you may need to do some track building to get through. The track then loops around and climbs up onto another ridgeline for more fantastic 360° views yet again! Time to get out the camera again to photograph the fabulous views.
There are many more highlights along the Wowee Track and the supplied trip notes and map provide information on many of the local features. After an enjoyable few hours, make sure you report back to the homestead on your return.
Moralana Scenic Route
The Moralana Scenic Route starts right opposite the entrance to Merna Mora Station. This gravel road meanders through valleys flanked by Wilpena Pound and the Elder Range, with great views along the way. The road follows the wide Moralana Creek with its majestic river red gums before crossing the creek and heading up into the range. The next point of interest are the historic ‘Old Cueing Yards’ on the left that were established in the 1870s to hold bullocks for ‘cueing’ (shoeing). The bullocks were used to bring the large native pines from the Flinders Ranges to be used for various building projects, notably the Overland Telegraph Line. After 20km the Moralana Road finishes at the Hawker-Wilpena Road; turn left and head north. Rawnsley Park is 11km on the left and the turnoff to Wilpena Pound a further 18km.
Wilpena Pound is the most well-known attraction of the Flinders Ranges and has a number of great walks within the pound itself. There is a café, information centre, campground, general store and petrol outlet at the Wilpena complex. From the Wilpena Pound turnoff it is another 5km to the Bunyeroo Gorge Scenic Drive, which is on the left.
Bunyeroo Gorge Scenic Drive
The Bunyeroo Road starts with grassy plains, covered with native pines and surrounded by bare hills. Soon the purple peaks of the distant ABC Range are the dominant feature. There are some excellent parking bays with stunning views of the ranges, before the steep descent down into Bunyeroo Gorge. Once down into Bunyeroo Creek, you actually drive up the creek bed, which has been carved out of the ABC Range over 590 million years.
Emerging from Bunyeroo Creek, the road enters the Wilcolo Creek Valley and there is now a dramatic change in scenery, with immensely steep hills, sheer gullies and pyramid peaks, with the Heysen Range on your left and the ABC Range on your right, with dense stands of native pines and giant river red gums, with many small creeks to cross. Then you are back into open and flat country and then into a forest of native pines. After passing through one last creek, the road terminates at the Brachina Gorge Road – take the turn left into Brachina Gorge.
Brachina Gorge meanders its way through sharp sawtooth ridges of resistant quartzite. This spectacular gorge was once used as a pass through which bullock teams pulled their loads and is now a favourite picnic and camping area. ‘Brachina’, derived from the Aboriginal word ‘vachina’, meaning cranky, refers to a mythical argument between birds over a grind stone. Continue through the gorge to the west, with the road terminating eventually at the main Outback Highway.
Warraweena Conservation Park is 114km north from Merna Mora (160km from Hawker). Follow the Outback Highway north to the old Beltana Roadhouse (now closed) and turn right towards Beltana. It’s 9km to the historic Beltana Township.
Originally settled in the 1850s and 60s, the Beltana grew to boast a population of 390 with more than 70 houses by 1883. Changing patterns of employment, transportation and resource exploitation have caused its slow decline and it is now classified as a semi-ghost town with only around nine people living in the town. It is well worth walking around the township as there are many signs detailing the history of many of the buildings, but remember that most buildings are private and no services are available here.
On the outskirts of Beltana there is the impressive old Beltana railway station which has been restored and is now a private residence. Across from the railway station is the old cemetery with plenty of interesting headstones, providing an insight to the hard times experienced by the early settlers.
From Beltana it is another 26km further east along the maintained gravel road to Warraweena. The entrance to Warraweena Conservation Park is 16km from Beltana, and there is an information board on your right as you cross the cattle grid. The old Sliding Rock mine and township is another 5km from here, with the main Warraweena homestead complex a further 5km.
Sliding Rock was discovered in 1870 by John Holding and Joseph Hele, with a copper mine and township developed soon after. The town catered for up to 400 miners and their families, with a courthouse, hotel and four general stores established. In 1877, the mine was inundated by massive flows of water. Although a steam powered pump was used to stop the water entering the shafts, this failed and later that year the mine and town was abandoned. There is still much to see around the ruins of the township and mine, and you could easily spend a few hours exploring and fossicking around the area.
The Warraweena Station complex includes the caretaker’s residence, old homestead and shearer’s quarters. The homestead and shearer’s quarters are available to hire if you need a roof over your head, but you will need all your own bedding. There are flush toilets, showers and a laundry next to the shearer’s quarters. The best options at Warraweena are the fantastic bush camping sites on the property where you can have your own secluded and scenic campsite with a long drop toilet, campfire ring and camping table. The pick of the campsites are Donolan’s Camp, Lambing Camp, and Black Range Springs. Be aware that some of the campsites near to the homestead are pretty basic without any facilities, so be sure to request one of the better sites as listed.
The caretaker at Warraweena is Stony Steiner, a real character, and he will fill you in on all the things to do during your stay. He is a wealth of information, so take the time to talk over your plans with him to really enhance your stay here.
One of the main reasons for coming to Warraweena are the fantastic 4WD tracks – there are over 250km of rugged and scenic tracks on the property. This area is known as the high country of the Northern Flinders Ranges, so expect plenty of low range action and fantastic views.
To access the 4WD tracks at Warraweena you need to book with Stoney when you arrive. He will advise you on the track conditions and provide gate keys, maps and track notes for your selected tracks.
The most difficult and most rewarding track is the highly recommended Mt Gill Track which climbs to the highest point on the property (Mt Gill). This track meanders through narrow creeks with steep slopes to heights of over 900m above sea level with breathtaking views through much of the journey. It is worth allocating a full day to properly experience this fabulous track.
The Flinders Ranges stretches around 430km from Port Pirie to Lake Callabonna and is South Australia’s largest and most spectacular mountain range. The ranges feature magnificent landscapes, rugged mountains, deep and spectacular gorges, creeks lined with river red gums and abundant wildlife.
Unlike many areas of Australia, the best camping and 4WDing is found in the local stations rather than the national park. Many stations offer camping and access to their tracks for a fee; this trip visits two of these stations in the western section of the Ranges.
Time of trip: May. For the best time to camp and explore, visit between April and October to avoid the hot summer months.
Trip standard: Access to the Merna Mora Station and Warraweena Conservation Park is via formed roads suitable for all vehicles.
Merna Mora Tracks: The Wowee Track has some steep climbs and descents with sections of loose shale as the track winds its way along the ridgetops. This is definitely a track for a vehicle with high clearance and low range gearing, but shouldn’t pose any problems to an experienced 4WDer.
The other tracks at Merna Mora are not as difficult as the Wowee Track, but each has its own challenges and attractions.
Warraweena Tracks: There are several tracks on the property including the Copper Track, Mt Gill Track, Nantiburry Spring Track, Cockatoo Dunbar Loop Track, Old Angepena Goldfield Track, and Old Coach Road. All are worth exploring but our pick is the Mt Gill Track, which is one of the more difficult tracks in the area suitable for high clearance vehicles only. Track building may be needed along the creeks and there are plenty of steep inclines and declines requiring low ranges. Lockers are an advantage.
Merna Mora Station: Has a range of accommodation including nine self-contained units, nine powered sites, a bunkhouse, and great bush camping beside the Moralana Creek.
The bush camping is our pick, with a choice of areas suitable for different sized groups. At $15 per night with a flush toilet and hot shower unit, it is good value for money in the area.
Merna Mora is also a communal fire pit with seating and firewood supplied, gas BBQs, laundry and camp kitchen.
Warraweena: Warraweena Conservation Park has great secluded and scenic campsites, homestead and shearer’s quarters, bush huts, and even a few powered sites available. There are public showers, flush toilets, and a laundry adjacent the shearer’s quarters, and many of the campsites have their own pit toilet and fire ring.
There is also camping available at various sites within the Flinders Ranges National Park.
What to take: Supplies and fuel can be purchased from Hawker or Leigh Creek, so stock up here prior to heading to respective stations as there are no supplies available there.
Basic equipment spares and recovery equipment should also be carried. Mobile phone coverage is patchy with service available on the higher sections of the tracks, so alternative communication such as a satellite phone is a good idea.
Restrictions and permits: Access to camping areas and 4WD tracks are at the discretion of the Merna Mora and Warraweena Station owners and there are costs involved for each.
Local attractions: The Western Flinders Ranges offers spectacular views and provides fantastic photography opportunities. The views from the ranges while tackling the 4WD tracks are outstanding.
There are a range of bushwalking tracks, especially in the Flinders Ranges National Park. A range of historical ruins are in the area and well worth exploring, and provide an insight into the tough conditions experienced by the early settlers to the area.