What It Is
Just a few hours north of Adelaide, the 367-square-mile Flinders Ranges National Park encompasses 3,900-foot-high peaks, cavernous gorges of craggy mudstone and shale, and wildlife-spotted plains. In the center of the park, 650-million-year-old fossils can be found in Wilpena Pound, a 20,000-acre quartzite amphitheater. This is an ideal outback escape for the adventurous: real Earth, untarnished.
The Home Base
Last summer, Tony Smith, whose grandfather farmed here in the 19th century, opened a luxury eco-retreat within Rawnsley Park Station (61-8/8648-0030; www.rawnsleypark.com doubles from $280), a former sheep-shearing outpost that’s now a 7,500-acre natural playground. Constructed with recycled timber and rendered straw bales for natural insulation, the four freestanding villas blend seamlessly into the sunrise-hued mountains. And there’s no need to rough it to experience the heart of bush country: guest rooms have Aboriginal paintings, sleek flat-screen TV’s, and retractable canvas ceilings that open to starry skies. At the Woolshed Restaurant (61-8/8648-0126; dinner for two $70), be sure to try a red-kangaroo steak, paired with a peppery Shiraz from the nearby Barossa Valley, and a slice of quandong (desert peach) pie.
The Best Thrills
Hike Seven marked trails, with routes that take from 30 minutes to five hours, start at Rawnsley Park Station. The resort’s helpful staff is on hand with trail advice and detailed maps for your walkabout. The 2½-hour Pine Caves loop leads up a moderately steep path, across shallow Kangaroo Creek, and through thick pockets of native pine, before reaching a rocky hollow at the top of the Ulowdna Range. Look for giant red kangaroos, euros (a squat, stocky ’roo), Western Greys hopping upright, and the famously quick emus. At Akaroo Rock (a two-hour trek from Rawnsley), you’ll find Aboriginal cave drawings in ochre and charcoal that depict the creation of Wilpena Pound.
Fly For sweeping views of Lake Eyre (Australia’s largest salt lake) and Brachina Gorge (the backbone of Flinders) from 5,500 feet, book a 20-minute, six-seater plane trip with Central Air Services (reserve through Rawnsley Park Station; from $85).
Ride Rawnsley’s experienced guides will help you saddle up (from $50) on one of the station’s 10 horses. Diesel, the big bay lead gelding, is a gentle and reliable steed. Advanced riders prefer Cindy, a chestnut mare who loves to canter and lead. Or go desert-style with a saddle-swaying camel ride from Pichi Richi Camel Tours (61-8/8648-6640; www.pichirichicameltours.com; from $23).
Bike With more than 500 miles of backroads and forest tracks, the Mawson Trail stretches from the Flinders Ranges into the Barossa wine valley. At Wilpena Pound, the trail becomes especially scenic and challenging—a blend of viscous bitumen and short-but-steep dirt portions. You’ll need a good map—Bicycle SA has the most comprehensive (www.bikesa.asn.au). Mountain bikes are available for hire at Rawnsley Park (half-day rentals $30).
For Adrenaline Junkies
Drive Indiana Jones types with a hankering to get off-road can go on a four-wheeler tour along river gum-lined creeks, bluebush plains, and travertine walls with Wallaby Track Adventure Tours (61-8/8648-6655; full days $119). At Bunyeroo, see Ediacaran fossils of the first marine animals.
Climb Experienced rock climbers cling to the 500-foot orange sandstone face at Moonarie, on the southeastern rim of the Pound, a 10-minute drive from Rawnsley. Pick up gear in Adelaide at Paddy Pallin (61-8/8232-3155; www.paddypallin.com), and talk to the pros at the South Australia Climbing Club (www.climbingclubsouthaustralia.asn.au) for tips on the best spots to clip in.
Rawnsley Park Station, Flinders Ranges, South Australia
Driving takes 41/2 hours (267 miles)
Qantas offers daily flights from Los Angeles to Sydney with regular connections to Adelaide (www.qantas.com). Rent a car at the airport, or take a one-hour chartered flight from Adelaide to Rawnsley with Central Air Services (reserve through Rawnsley Park Station; from $484 per person, one way).