Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary - Northern Flinders Ranges
Arkaroola's spectacular landscape with Arkaroola village in the distance - standing here, looking out I felt like I had been transported back into primeval time.
All images copyright Millie Brown
I was super excited to be heading finally and for the first time to the northern Flinders Ranges, to one of the regions most spectacular and most ancient landscapes, the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.
Located in the far north of the Flinders Ranges, 600 kms north of Adelaide and a 3 hour (5 if you are me with my camera), drive from Wilpena Pound, where I had just spent a few glorious days.
It's a truly remarkable place, and more than worth the long drive. In fact it is it's remoteness that adds to its wonder, and personally I love feeling as if I'm a million miles from humanity and the modern world.
A roadtrip also allows us to be open to detours and stops along the way, to get curious and to follow our curiosity, soaking in the landscape and traveling slowly and more deeply.
From Wilpena Pound I drove to Blinman where I then turned onto the long and dusty unsealed section of road. It's recommended you take a 4WD and two spare tyres thrown in for good measure (its 150 kms on unsealed road each way), I did it easily with my AWD and 1 spare only (unfortunately I had a flat tyre only days before while driving the spectacular bunyeroo gorge near Wilpena Pound).
The country here is arid
Passing a dry creek bed with its magnificent and enormous river red gums
The landscape changes as you move along this outback road. One passes alongside wide, dry creek beds lined with river red gums, over and around undulating hills, across sweeping plains of flatness interrupted by mountains of rock coming out of the arid red earth. Earth that is home to low lying shrubs, small bare trees and clumps of beautiful wildflowers giving some life and colour to this unforgiving land.
The outback scenery from the road into Arkaroola
The road at Arkaroola just outside the village.....I've arrived!
Arkaroola sanctuary is 610 sq kms of rugged mountain ranges, spectacular gorges, and beautiful waterholes. It is home to reptiles, mammals, birdlife and the rare, timid and ever so cute yellow footed rock wallaby, as well as unique plant life not found anywhere else.
The "custodians" of Arkaroola, the Sprig family place great emphasis emphasis on conservation, science and education and in doing so are ensuring the sanctuary and all it is home to is preserved well into the future.
While I was at Arkaroola I chatted briefly to Doug Sprigg it was clear that this family have a lasting commitment and a deep love for sharing its beauty and wonder, and they have certainly created a truly awe inspiring sanctuary, allowing nature lovers from all over the world to experience something quite unique (not to mention again, remote)!
Arkaroola village from Griselda's hill
Safely protected rare yellow footed rock wallabies and a beautiful eagle circling above Griselda's hill
A little anecdote around the Eagles at Arkaroola. Andrew our guide on the ridgetop tour told us of the tale of 2 eagles in the area that have gained cult status for bringing down a number of drones! Three cheers for the eagles. Sorry all you drone pilots, but they have been known to disrupt and distress wildlife.
Doug Sprigg (son of Reg Sprigg) chatting to a guest during the iconic Ridgetop Tour
Arkaroola (meaning place of Arkaroo the serpent of the dreamtime) was once the land of the Adnyamathanha people for tens of thousands of years (read more about the dreaming story of this land here) until it was tragically stolen from them and a pastoral lease set up on the land in the 1850's only twenty years after South Australia's proclamation.
In the years that followed both cattle and sheep were farmed on Arkaroola, and to read more about the pastoral and mining history of Arkaroola click here, it's quite a story.
In 1967 renowned geologist Sir Reginald Sprigg (who knew Arkaroola well from his time working in the area as a geologist and previously as a student of geology) surprised his wife Griselda with a rather unusual Christmas present, he purchased the pastoral lease to Arkaroola to "build a village for outback adventurers and city slickers discovering nature". Their aim to return the land to its former state, and protect both flora and fauna.
"After much negotiation, the Sprigg family succeeded in having Arkaroola gazetted as a wildlife sanctuary (1969) and historic reserve (1970). This joint reserve status was withdrawn without explanation by the South Australian Government in 1972, and finally reinstated in 1996. The Arkaroola Sanctuary remains entirely privately owned, with all development under the control of the Sprigg family" - Excerpt from the Arkaroola website.
Now "one of Australia’s most isolated; self-supporting villages with its own power generation and water collection systems", they are also soon to have their own renewable energy microgrid, read more about this here.
The Arkaroola Education and Research Foundation that has been set up helps to financially support the ongoing conservation of this magnificent sancturary. Every visitor who partakes in a tour at Arkaroola will be contributing $5 of the cost of the tour to the foundation.
Stopping for this fella/gal to get across and right our first stop on the tour
The history of the early ties of the Sprigg family and Arkaroola is fascinating and wonderfully told by Griselda Sprigg in her book "Dune is a four letter word".
Reg Sprigg made regular field trips to this area as a student of geology at the University of Adelaide. His professor was none other than Sir Douglas Mawson. And it was Mawson who in fact discovered the radioactive davidite (mineral containing uranium) here at Radium Hill, and who brought this part of the world to the attention of the modern world. He described Arkaroola as "one great outdoor museum".
Arkaroola is one of Australia's geological 'hot spots', a place where you are able to step back in time 1.6 billion years in fact!
To get a broader understanding of the geological significance of Arkaroola and to witness its spectacular scenery, encounter its unique plants and bump (not literally) into some of its beautiful protected wildlife I urge you to take the RidgeTop Tour.
Climbing up to Sillers lookout
This guided 4WD tour (very often by Doug Sprigg himself, we had Doug and Andrew) was an extraordinary adventure. A couple of people had mentioned the Ridgetop experience to me prior to my departure however I don't think anybody could have prepared me for how truly amazing and vertiginous it is.
The landscape is so incredibly rugged, steep and stupendous, the views simply take your breath away, every twist, turn, steep descent and ascent transports you to yet another breathtaking vista. Its hair raising in places, which only amplifies the feeling of taking part in an exciting and unique outback adventure.
Sillers lookout from below and the view from above, described by Griselda Sprigg as having "the most awesome view I've seen in all my days". Salty lake Frome is in the far distance.
I climbed Griselda's hill at dawn and waited for it to be bathed in light to take this image
Left - the trail up Griselda's hill is a lot steeper than it looks and is quite scrambly in parts so make sure you have good footwear - Right a Xanthorrhoea or Kangaroo Tail plant grows out from the rocky earth at Sillers lookout
Climbing Acacia Ridge as the sun's last rays throws an orange hue over the landscape
Watching the sun set behind the village from Acacia Ridge
There is so much to experience up here on 'the top of the world' make sure you give yourself enough time so you don't have to rush back to civilisation as I unfortunately was obliged to do!
Some of the experiences on offer include; delving into the wonders of the cosmos, taking a scenic flight or staying on terra firma and enjoying the sunset canapes tour as you lounge in a chair sipping a beverage while watching the starry skies come to life overhead. If hiking is your thing hitting the trails for some bushwalking or heading out onto the self guided 4WD tracks.
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They may also be purchased at Arkaroola reception
"Dune is a four letter word" - by Griselda Sprigg & Rod McLean
"Rock Star The Story of Reg Sprigg" - An Outback Legend" - by Kristen Weidenbach