Aroona Valley in the Flinders Ranges in northern South Australia is a tranquil, stunningly beautiful place to camp. Walls of towering rock faces to the west glow in the morning sun and are worthy of thousands of painitings and countless photographs. The great artist Sir Hans Heysen fell in love with this area many years ago. Photographers have produced whole books on this and other parts of the ranges.
As you drive through the valley to the ruins of the Aroona Homestead near the camping grounds, you marvel at the park-like nature of the slopes leading to the ranges to the east and to the west. Stately native pines (Callitris spp) clothe the slopes and flat areas. Old river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) line every creek bed and go meandering down the valley following their water source.
These days there is a basic camping ground at the site of the old homestead. The only facilities the last time we were there are pit toilets and plenty of space for bush camping. It is wise to carry all provisions, especially water. The first time we went camping there was for our honeymoon (nearly 40 years ago). We only saw one other car for the whole week. It’s a little busier these days, but still generally very peaceful. It is possible to wander off the track or along a ridge and find a spot just to yourself. It is a great place to totally unwind.
There are a number of tracks leading off from the camping ground. The Heysen Trail goes through this area and is worth following for the magnificent views of the ranges to the west. Maps of this walking track are available from various map shops. One can hike back south along the access road or follow the track running past the old ruins and north all the way to another beautiful spot, Parachilna Gorge.
The Small Things
One could be excused for only looking at the grandeur of the magnificent mountain ranges, the tall upright and regal native pines, the soaring Wedge-Tailed Eagles on high, the parading emus strutting through the bushes and the massive age-old river red gums. But learning to look for the small beauties of this place can bring many other delights. I delight to watch for the small bush birds, like the Red Capped Robin with his stop-light like forehead beaming out a signal for all to stop and admire. Yellow Rumped Thornbills zip in and out of the bushes or hop along in front of you, their bright golden tails lighting upo in the sunshine.
Walk slowly and carefully and you may come across a family of Western Grey Kangaroos grazing on the grass near a creek. Frogs and lizards are to be seen too, and delicate flowers adorn the slopes and line the creeks. After good rains the carpet of flowers can be almost overpowering, stretching out in front of you like a giant’s blanket throw recklessly here and there.
One of our favourite places in South Australia is Aroona Valley in the heart of the Flinders Ranges in northern South Australia. We have camped there on a number of occasions, the first time was during our honeymoon many years ago.
Aroona Valley is about five to six hours by road north of Adelaide. Except for the last section, the highway is now all sealed. When I first travelled there in the late 1960s about the last 100 kilometres was dirt road – and not in a very good condition either. It certainly was an adventure in those days, but I had to go there because my first teaching job was at nearby Parachilna Rural School.
One can take several routes from Adelaide to the Flinders Ranges.
- The main highway through Port Wakefield, Port Pirie, Port Augusta then Quorn and Hawker is the longest.
- Through Gawler, Clare Valley, Wilmington, Quorn then Hawker is the most picturesque but can be rather slow in parts because there are many interesting places to stop on the way.
- Another picturesque route is Gawler, Clare, Riverton, Burra, Peterborough, Orroroo then Hawker.
- The most direct route is Gawler, Clare, Jamestown, Orroroo and then Hawker.
From Hawker one has several choices to get to Aroona Valley and other parts of the ranges:
- Many people base themselves at Hawker, leaving their caravan there and driving through the various tracks north of there.
- Others take the route to Wilpena Pound and base themselves in the shady camping ground there.
- Yet others go only as far as the lovely caravan and camping ground at Rawnsley Park on the southern edge of Wilpena Pound.
- The other route is due north from Hawker towards Parachilna, turning off at the Brachina Gorge dirt track heading in towards the ranges.
Oh no, writing about such interesting and beautiful places makes me want to pack and leave immediately. This would make up for the disappointment of the last trip there a few years ago. We took our caravan to Rawnsley Park Caravan Park for ten days. On the way I was aware of having a sore throat. I then spent much of the next ten days coughing, wheezing, sniffing, sneezing and generally feeling miserable.
I spent some of the time huddled up in bed. This wasn’t as bad as it seems. I had a ten million dollar view of the ranges through the caravan window.
The Easter weekend usually sees many Australians heading off of a long weekend break travelling to various parts of the state or even interstate. The traffic on such weekends can be quite busy, not to mention dangerous. Added to the long weekend are the school holidays which started this weekend in South Australia. This just adds more reason for potential chaos on our roads.
This year we are not venturing forth anywhere. Not being tied to a job now we can choose when we travel and try to avoid the school holidays and long weekends if we can. In years gone by we would use long weekends or school holidays to set off to the Flinders Ranges in the north of South Australia. We often packed up all our camping gear in the trailer on in the 4WD and race off for some tranquility in these beautiful ranges – along with thousands of others seeking the same tranquility.
Despite its crowdedness these days it is still possible to find quiet spots in some of the gorges and valleys in the ranges. There are plenty of gullies and gorges to investigate. The creeks running through these gorges contain waterholes and fabulous rock formations. Sitting quietly on a fallen tree trunk watching the water trickling over the rocks is very therapeutic – I can thorougly recommend it. Sitting still also enables one to appreciate the rich birdlife of the area.
The Flinders Ranges exhibit picture perfect scenes at almost every turn. Magnificent towering gums line the creek beds, their branches twisting and turning trying to embrace the azure sky overhead. Fiery red rock faces light up the morning – or evening – skyline. Delicate flowers adorn the ground and stately native pines go marching up the slopes. Artists and photographers could spend years recording the many gowns dressing the mountains in splendour.
Oh dear – I think I’ll go and pack the tent in the 4WD and head off right now.