Route: Yuluna Creek Trail and Heysen Trail
Approximate distance: 8km
Start / Finish: Aroona Campground
Highlights: A wonderful, earthy walk mostly following dry creek beds through the evocative ABC Range
Sometimes I get asked for my favourite spot in Australia. Of course, it’s a nonsensical question, entirely contingent on context, mood, desire, and the ability to narrow down a gigantic landmass boasting countless ecosystems and iconic sights into one ultimate location. Time and place frequently conspire to present so many satisfying spots, numerous memorable moments. Anything from chicken rolls atop Mount Kosciuszko to a Margaret River sunset, cold beer in hand.
If I’m pressed for an answer, I sometimes recall the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. I think in part this is because the landscape is so endemically Australian, to the extent that it is easy to romanticise its dusty roads and run-down sheep stations, intrusions within an ancient sea bed of rocky undulations and weathered gorges. With poets and painters and pioneers beholden to its charms, there builds a spirit of Australia perhaps unmatched in expectation, captured in the form of a River Red Gum stoic and steadfast next to a dry, rocky creek. The air, the light, the smell, the sounds. The essence of Australia thriving against the odds.
Immersion into this world is aided and abetted by some excellent walking in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. Popular and worthwhile walks lead from the main centre of Wilpena Pound, where there are a range of accommodation options. But the walk showcased here is a little further north and possesses several enticements: it’s a loop; it’s neither overly strenuous nor pitifully easy; it concisely takes in the geology and form of the area; there is a small detour to a lookout; and you can camp – should you wish – at the start and end.
The walk starts at Aroona Station, where an old wooden hut testifies to past pastoral pursuits, abandoned following yet another great drought. The hut sits in a picturesque valley between two seemingly unbroken chains of hills, the Heysen and ABC ranges. The former is named after the artist who was a frequent visitor to the area. Indeed, every gum tree, every ridge, every creek has a familiarity, as if you have seen it somewhere before; perhaps in the Gallery of South Australia or on an artistic postcard outside a boutique of overpriced trinkets.
Progressing anticlockwise, the walk heads south following Aroona Creek towards Koolaman Campground. It’s easy going with views of the Heysen Range lingering to the south and west. From the campground, the path then cuts east into the ABC Range by following Yuluna Creek. As footsteps progress, the hills begin to close in, offering a touch more shade and presenting steep rock faces carved out over millennia. While hardly a gorge of Grand Canyon proportions, it’s a pleasing landscape, capped off by the regular sight of River Red Gums clinging to the baked shingle banks of the creek and contorting giant limbs into the sky. There is a sense of peace and solace in the late afternoon light, the cheeps of galahs sharing this oasis in which to breathe.
After a couple of kilometres, the track climbs up through the earthy fragrance of native Cypress and joins a wider bridlepath, which eventually becomes part of the long distance Heysen Trail. At the junction with the Heysen Trail, bear left on this (right will send you to the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide!) and head back down to Yuluna Creek. Revel in those gums and galahs again for another kilometre or so, before joining the Bulls Gap Track and following this back to Aroona Station.
There is one small detour on the final stretch, and it’s well worth taking. I can’t figure out if Hans sat and painted here himself or if it is named purely for the view of the ranges bearing his name. But the Heysen Viewpoint is indeed as pretty as a picture. Both now and in the morning, should you decide to camp and head up as the sun casts red. It could even be my favourite spot in Australia. If I had to choose!
- Wilpena Pound Resort is a fine place to stay if more rustic camping doesn’t float your boat, with various sleeping options. Best of all there are several excellent walks from the door – into and above Wilpena Pound. Probably the easiest and best medium walk is through Pound Gap and up to Wangara Lookouts. Another walk I did here one early morning took me steeply up to Mt Ohlssen-Bagge for a colourful sunrise.
- Meanwhile, I have no idea what the Bridle Gap walk from Wilpena Pound is like, but it does end next to a peak named Dick Nob, so probably worth it just for that!
- Outside of the Pound, there is a fine walk to some Aboriginal rock art at Arkaroo, all within a stunning semi-arid landscape.
- Rawnsley Park Station just south of the National Park is another accommodation option, and provides a few additional facilities including a good, authentic restaurant, The Woolshed (lamb is the go!). There are also various tours that can be arranged from here, such as dawn hot air ballooning, 4WD trips etc. For those on a budget, a fairly strenuous walk from here climbs to Rawnsley Bluff, overlooking Wilpena Pound.
Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park:
Haywards Hut and Aroona walks brochure (includes map):
Flinders Ranges National Park map:
Some Aroona Valley information: http://www.ausinpix.com/NP-A-H/aroona_valley.htm
Rawnsley Park Station: https://www.rawnsleypark.com.au/
Wilpena Pound Resort: https://www.wilpenapound.com.au/