Wolf Creek. The Snowtown Murders. Colt Clan. I’ve seen the films, I’d read the wikis, I’m scared.
6 hours of driving and the vastness of this country finally becomes apparent.
Welcome to the bush.
It doesn’t take long for the passing buildings to become run down and derelict, adding to the adventure on my first trip to the outback.
We were heading to “The Pound” and that was all I knew.
Serena, my good friend and tour guide for the weekend, has been coming to Wilpena Pound for years and never ever fell out of love with it. I struggled to understand how you can do that with one place until I went! I loved it so much I took mates back only a month later on our long drive through the Red Centre of Australia. So, first things first, how do you get there?
Head north from the city centre on the A22 (Churchill Road) towards the A1 (Port Wakefield Road/Princes Highway) and follow the A1, and signs to, Port Augusta for 3.5 hours.
HOT TIP: If there is a problem with the A1 then you can take the M20, breaking east from the A1 at Edinburgh Airport, out to Gawler or the B84 breaking off of the A1 east at Two Wells. Both of these routes will take you out to Jamestown from where you will take the B79 (R.M. Williams Way) through Craddock to bypass Port Augusta and join Flinders Ranges Way just south of Hawker. These routes are slower and take you out into smaller towns and back roads but can be used as a bypass if required; maps or a sat nav is definitely recommended.
Any Australian film fans out there may recognise the name Snowtown (if you don’t then read up on The Snowtown Murders but be aware it’s not exactly a pleasant read) and you can stop by here, if you take the A1 from Adelaide to Port Augusta, and have a quick drive around. The bank is still there but boarded up!
From Port Augusta:
DO ALL OF YOUR SHOPPING HERE BEFORE YOU DRIVE OUT! You won’t find a big supermarket again and barely any shops. Anywhere you do find will be dangerously overpriced with minimal stock. Load up on all of your food, drink, snacks, sunscreen, camping gear, ice for the esky, everything from the shops here. You’ll find a big Coles, Woolworths, Big W and Liqourland in the same area. Remember, it’s physically impossible to have too many snacks. FACT.
From Port Augusta take the B83 (Flinders Ranges Way) N/NE for around 1 hour 15 minutes making sure you pass through Stirling North, Quorn and arrive at Hawker. From Hawker take a right turn onto Flinders Ranges Way, drive for 40 minutes and you will enter the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park from the south. Once in the park you are taking a left turn onto Hawker-Wilpena Road. By this point you will definitely be seeing campsite signs for Wilpena Pound so follow those once you do!
HOT TIP: Be really careful and mindful whilst driving through this part of the country and avoid driving at dusk, dawn and overnight at all costs. There is tons of wildlife and the kangaroos seemingly have a death wish. Be vigilant of tree rich areas or bushes along the side of the road and be ready to hit the brakes. Most van rental companies don’t cover you if you hit an animal so double check that too!
What’s the best way to travel (cheaply) around Australia? The answer to that is simple; a van. ‘Van Life’ is not only hugely cool and perfect for the gram but it’s also a rewarding way to explore this huge country. It’s super hot to sleep at night, you spend way too long cooking all of your food on one gas stove in the boot, the daily battle of trying to do meal prep but later finding your containers full of water every day is frustrating but it all adds to the experience. There is no better way to feel like you are seeing the country than this.
You like being stared at weirdly when you drive right? Good. Hire yourself a Wicked Camper, ask for the van with the most obscenities painted on it and get ready to (falsely) feel like a boss and be approached by random people in supermarket car parks. A friend and I took one of the 3 person vans from the Barossa Valley to Darwin via the Flinders Ranges; 4500km, 2.5 weeks, all the fun. Maybe it’s because my home country has nothing even remotely similar or maybe I just really like looking at nothing but driving the outback was confusingly repetitive and continuously exciting at the same time. If Van Life is what you’re looking for then read this.
Sorry, I got sidetracked..
Enough nostalgia, back to the Flinders. The Wicked Campers provide everything you’ll need for a trip which saves you money on buying things like esky’s and stoves just for one trip, but you will need to pick up any consumables; gas, food, drink, beer, wine, cider, food, beer, water, water, water and water. You probably want to pick up some bottled water too. The van ran perfectly, except a battery failure which was almost definitely our fault, the seats were comfortable for the long drives, rearranging the bed was easy enough and the bed was surprisingly comfortable for what it is! I would recommend taking some sort of bug nets for the windows and doors as we didn’t have them so had to sleep with everything closed. We also nearly died of midnight dehydration and overheating.
Pitching Up or Settling Down
The Wilpena Pound Resort is a beaut campground, resort and information centre for those visiting the area and is the only accommodation site within the National Park. Sitting just at the entrance to The Pound it is a brilliant place to begin your daily hikes from and to rest up in the evenings. I camped here both times and the prices were very reasonable even with 2 vehicles and 4 people; a current price list can be found here. The campsite has ample bathrooms and we had a whole area to ourselves when we went. Depending on your budget and group size they offer everything from unpowered camping sites to ‘glamping’ and private rooms with actual real beds and toilets!
There is a shop on site here and a petrol station but, as with anywhere in the Australian Outback, it isn’t the cheapest you’ll find and the selection of food is minimal and snack based. Firewood can also be purchased from the petrol station however they close in the early evening so don’t arrive too late, like we did, or you’ll be in for a cold night or some begrudging begging chats to the people camping nearby.
When using fire lighter gel it is a good idea if you don’t get it too close to the fire. You know, seeing as it’s a bottle of highly flammable gel and it’s flammable, and a bottle and it’s flammable. Serena made the easy mistake of getting a bit too close whilst simultaneously squeezing a bit too much gel out of the bottle. The outcome was fire being sucked back into the bottle. We ran for cover as we waited for this homemade bomb to go off and later, me shovelling dirt that was on fire with a shovel that caught fire everywhere it touched fire and fire slowly flowing its way towards our car. Praise be given to whichever engineer decided a glass bottle was a bad idea and went with plastic.
I promise you won’t get lonely whilst camping here, even if you’re the only humans staying there..
Exploring The Pound
So, it turns out, The Pound is exactly as the name implies; a naturally formed crater like area previously used by farmers to keep their livestock in. The theory being that seeing has it only has one entrance point and the rest is all sheer cliff drops or peaks, the livestock would be pretty secure inside! They weren’t wrong but it did prove a little too much of a task and the farming has now ceased. Nevertheless, you can still visit and explore the farmers building and touch some of their original tools!
As with most of Australia and it’s incredible locations The Pound is sacred Aboriginal Land. Consequently this land comes with traditions, Dreamtime stories, requests of respect and natural artwork. This is a really interesting side to the area and I highly recommend you explore the stories before or during your hike. Being able to spot the points the of interests and visualise how the stories were inspired really brings you into the landscape. It goes without saying too, be mindful to adhere to any traditions or requests for respect that are in place as this land has been significant to the Aboriginals for thousands of years and remains so. Take all of your litter with you and leave no trace of you being there!
If you are planning on hiking to the top of St. Mary’s Peak then please note that it is sacred land. The traditional owners, the Adnyamathanha people, do hold the summit as a sacred place and request that you do not climb to the peak. This is a request to respect their traditional beliefs.
Hiking The Pound
The main attraction of this area is hiking to St Mary’s Peak (Ngarri Mudlanha) which is the highest point in the Flinders at 1171m. It is possible to explore both the inside and outside areas of The Pound. We will focus on these hikes but there is a wide range of different hikes available to you depending on your skill level and how long you wish to stay there. Information on those hikes can be found at the information centre or the Wilpena Pound site.
Regardless of which route you choose to take I must make it clear that you are severely exposed for the entirety of both hikes and the sun is strong and draining. There is very little shade at all throughout the treks and almost none on the Direct Route. Take loads of water (We took 8 litres each for the loop and drank it all), enough food for all of you including snacks and be an absolute time warrior when it comes to applying no less than 50+ sunscreen. All of you English people that think 50+ isn’t necessary, this is the Australian outback. Wear it. Be vigilant and watchful of your hiking buddies; look out for sore looking patches of skin, signs of dehydration and signs of heat or sun stroke. A hat and something to cover up with, if necessary, are highly recommended too.
There are two routes you can take to reach St Mary’s peak; the Direct Route (Outside Trail) and the Loop Route (Inside Trail).
Direct Route – known informally as the Outside Trail:
14.6k round trip
Approx. 6hr total hike time
Latest leave time: 9am (10am daylight saving)
Loop Route – known informally as the Inside Trail:
21.5km round trip
Approx. 9hr total
Latest leave time: 9am (10am daylight saving)
The difference between the two hikes is simple, the Loop (Inside) will take you into The Pound itself and you will walk down into the centre, across it and scale up the inside wall to the peak. The Direct (Outside) will take you up the outer wall of the pound and back down the same way you came.
The Loop Route // The Inside Trail
Pick up a map from the information centre and follow the signs to the beginning of the trail.
This was definitely my favourite of the two and although being longer, is easier on the legs for sure! It also provides a really nice range of terrain and views as you traverse around the corners of the pound. The wildlife is prevalent and plentiful along this trail and the views just get better and better throughout the hike.
Once you have reached the Tanderra Saddle you will be walking along the spine of the formation and from here you can either head up to St Mary’s Peak or head down the outside and back to camp. If you are cooked, sore or maybe injured then the view from this point is still beautiful and well worth the trek. If you are feeling good then head on up to the summit for an even more amazing view. The valley that travels off to the left sparks images of something from Jurassic Park and I could have sat and looked at it for days. Make sure you look out for Wedge Tailed Eagles soaring above you and to wave at any small planes flying not much higher than you!
This is the perfect place for a drone, you might think, however take note, if you are a drone pilot then be aware that it is illegal to fly in South Australia’s national parks without a permit whilst Australia also has nationwide rules and laws regarding drone flying which can be read here.
I NEED A BEER!
To return to Wilpena Pound you must retrace your steps down to the Tanderra Saddle and from there you will now follow the route down the outside. As you descend from the peak, it is the left hand side that you want to head down! You’ll be tired and sweaty and this part is a little tough on the body with some rock scrambles and uneven surfaces as you descend fairly steeply. Don’t worry we saw everyone from kids the golden oldies doing it but just make sure you have some energy left in the tank. Eventually it will flatten out as you enter the woods and make your way back into the campground for a solid dinner, beers and sleep.
The Direct Route // The Outside Trail
Pick up a map from the information centre and follow the signs to the beginning of the trail.
Although the shorter of the two trails this is still a solid trek and will still get you seriously sweating. Going up is tiring on the legs as it is a fairly steep incline with sections of rocks and steps. It is by no means impossible though so don’t be scared of it! You are heavily exposed on this face so again make sure you are properly prepared with water, food, a hat and sunscreen. This trek will take you directly up to the Tanderra Saddle, from there you can then proceed to the summit or you can simply enjoy the view, have your lunch and return home.
My word of advice for this trail is to take regular breaks and check your buddies are all good; we had an old injury flare up halfway up and ended up having to split the group. Also, on a lighter note, make sure you turn around and look at the view regularly, you are climbing fast and the view gets better and better very quickly so make sure you make the most of it! That is why you’re here after all.
To return back to camp simply retrace your steps all the way home to an esky cooled (probably warm) beer!
Keep Your Eyes Open, Look Up & Smile!
Whichever route you decide to take, I promise you great views, kangaroo sightings, birds of prey sightings, a solid workout and a memorable day! From St Mary’s Peak be sure to absorb all 360 degrees of the view and, providing you have a nice clear day, look left to the horizon and spot Lake Eyre. It might be a huge dry salt plain or it might be bright pink!
HOT TIP: We recommend that you contact the information centre before travelling there in the summer months (Nov to Feb) as the hikes are likely to be closed for public safety due to extreme heat!
Don’t fancy hiking or nursing an injury?
Aside from hiking there are other ways to stay entertained in the area. You will find a restaurant and bar onsite with a swimming pool that you are welcome to use! Depending on your budget, here are some suggestions for extracurricular activities:
‘Got to tick the box’ Backpacker:
We took the 20 minute scenic flight over The Pound and I absolutely recommend you go for it if you can squeeze the cash out of your budget! The view is simply incredible. You gain perspective from spotting tiny humans and the visible evidence of thousands of years of geological change is stunning. Small plane flights are much more intense as you can feel every gust of wind whipping over the top of the peaks!
What You’ll Need
What you need to take with you is entirely dependant on your situation and how you are travelling there. For the sake of this I will assume that this is your first trip away living outside!
- A place to sleep
- Sleeping Bag
- An esky (a cool box to any non-Australians)
- Food! ALL OF YOUR FOOD FOR THE ENTIRE TRIP!
- Port Augusta is your last stop to do a reasonably priced food shop so stock up!
- Beers and/or cheap wine for those nights out under the stars
- Water. Drinking water. DRINKING WATER. WATER. WATER.
- Solid hiking shoes that you know won’t give you blisters, there’s no shortcut home!
- Sunscreen 50+
- A hat and preferably a neck cover (We recommend getting your whole crew a Noggan each; sun safety & style. Perfection.)
- Lightweight for hiking – get on that activewear hype
- Warm for the nights out in the open
- A few party garms to impressive potential mates from YP Threads
- Swimmers (for you people with the best pins: Budgy Smugglers always prevail)
- Sat-Nav and/or maps
- Cameras & Drones
- Chargers & Cables
That’s it! You’re good to go and explore your way around one of South Australia’s finest spots. Round up the crew.
N & G x