MY father, John, loves the Outback.
The more sunbaked the landscape, the happier he is.
And while most of us dread a dirt track full of potholes and corrugations winding through hundreds of kilometres of dusty land, that’s his idea of a great day out.
So he was jealous that I saw the Flinders Ranges before him.
I spent a few days in the South Australian Outback last year don’t even mention the fact I drove to the southern edge of Lake Eyre on that expedition exploring the iconic chain of rocky peaks that coil across the parched land like the skeletal vertebrae of a prehistoric beast.
When I talked about the vivid blue of the sky above the cliffs where the yellow-footed rock wallabies lived, or the way the Heysen Range turned a regal shade of purple when it sank into the haze of a hot afternoon, he looked wistfully into the distance trying to picture those arid tones.
I had to do something, so arranged for Dad to join me on a road trip north from Adelaide into the Flinders Ranges and what is perhaps Australia’s most accessible piece of Outback, just 450km from the state capital.
We studied the map before our departure and automatically eliminated all the unsealed roads along the way because we decided our hire car, a sleek Ford sedan collected at Adelaide airport, simply couldn’t negotiate the rough dirt tracks.
We didn’t fret about missing anything by staying on the bitumen because we booked a four-wheel-drive tour with our hosts at Rawnsley Park Station, a day-long excursion deep into the territory that inspired artists like Hans Heysen and defeated the pioneering pastoralists who tried to make a living on the unforgiving land.
But it didn’t take long after arriving at our destination to realise the network of unmade trails wasn’t out of bounds after all.
Instead of going straight to our destination, we took the less direct route away from Adelaide, going via the Clare Valley and along the ribbon of black that is RM Williams Way, and everyone we spoke to told us our humble sedan hire car would manage the well-maintained tracks that dissect the Flinders Ranges.
The weather was good, we were told, and the roads were dry.
So, after settling into our smart eco-villa at Rawnsley Park Station a two-bedroom cabin at the centre of the working sheep property perched to provide sweeping views across Wilpena Pound’s sheer southern wall we found the map and started plotting.
Suddenly the options seemed endless the route from Blinman to Parachilna, the tracks through the Brachina Gorge in the national park and Glass Gorge up north, the Moralana Scenic Drive across the stations to the south.
Dad was like a pig in mud.
First we had our tour with Tim from Rawnsley Park Station to whet the appetite, and we were sitting in a sturdy 4WD getting a lesson on the history and geology of the Flinders Ranges before the little hand found nine on our first morning in the national park.
We drove through Bunyeroo Gorge and walked a section of Brachina Gorge, saw the jagged peaks from the Razorback Lookout, had morning tea by the dry creek in a remote campground and lunch at the North Blinman Hotel, and spied a pair of rare yellow-footed rock wallabies resting in the shade by a cave.
As we drove, Tim told stories about the early settlers, of bullock teams navigating the hostile terrain, detailed the region’s conservation efforts and provided information on the flora and fauna we were seeing.
The next morning we were up early again ready for daybreak.
We watched the sky turn a fiery orange over the Chace Range before the sun hauled itself above the hills to drop long shadows on the ground and climbed into our silver Ford for another day of adventure after a lazy breakfast.
Dad pointed the vehicle at Blinman, where we had lunch at the Wild Lime Cafe, before heading east on the unsealed path to Parachilna, via Angorichina Village and Parachilna Gorge, with the well-maintained track cutting like a scar through the unexpected green of this valley at the base of the Heysen Range.
After 27km of dust, we reached the bitumen at Parachilna the settlement beside an old railway siding on the road from Hawker to Leigh Creek that’s home to a boutique watering hole with a gastro-pub menu and then went south until we found the Moralana Scenic Drive.
By then the sun was sinking, the smooth trunks of the sturdy gums beside the dry creeks were turning a brilliant gold in the afternoon light, and the kangaroos were out, so Dad cruised carefully along lest one dash into our path.
Our grand scenic circle was over all too soon that’s not something you often hear me say when my Dad finds a back road to follow and we sat on the veranda with a cold drink to watch the light drain from the day and marvelled as Rawnsley Bluff went from a bright amber to a dark indigo then disappeared into the darkness.
It wasn’t an epic road trip by my Dad’s standards.
We did only 1300km in five days, but it was a chance to get into the Outback without going to a lot of trouble and for him to have the experiences that now cause other people to look wistfully into the distance when he describes the arid colours of the Flinders Ranges.
The author was a guest of SA Tourism and Sunlover Holidays.
Wilpena Pound the cauldron of mountains that sits at the heart of the Flinders Ranges National Park is 450km from Adelaide and 219km from the Clare Valley.
Rawnsley Park Station, a working property 30km from Hawker, offers accommodation from powered and bush camping sites to holiday units and luxurious eco-villas, as well as sightseeing tours. See rawnsleypark.com.au
Sunlover Holidays has a Flinders Ranges self-drive package that includes six days’ car hire and five nights’ accommodation from $1359 for two people. See sunloverholidays.com.au
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ESCAPE ON SUNDAY, APRIL 21, 2012