Visit Wilpena Pound- A Natural Amphitheatre of Mountains in Australia

The Wilpena Pound is a great place for a day's worth of escape from the city and an amazingly extraordinary landscape to visit with the entire family. Part of the Flinders Ranges National Park, it is one of the most fascinating geological as well as historical spots in South Australia, accessible by many sealed roads (that offer equally stunning views) from the South.

Why Wilpena

Hailed as one of the most spectacular rock formations in the country, approximately 17 kilometres long and 8 kilometres wide and covering an area of some 100 kilometres, this is a must-see part and an integral centrepiece of the great Flinders Ranges, containing many established trails that move with the land.

The valley floor of the Pound itself is a remnant landmark, with high walls of quartzite encircling it like a natural fortification, helping to form an almost perfect geological amphitheatre. Back in 1802, it was used as a large horse breeding area by Mathew Flinders, before the Hill family leased the land to grow wheat in 1899.

The venture was successful but was abandoned eventually. It, together with the entire of Flinders Ranges, came under the control of the National Parks Commission and has since then been protected since 1972.

How to get there

You can reach Wilpena Pound via multiple means, like by air since there are also many private airstrips that operate to Port Augusta that's 160km away from the Pound. But the best is taking to the road in your own trusted 4WD that way you can carry as much supplies as you and your family needs.

As an alternative, you can try going by motorcycle or mountain bike caravan, but this may prove difficult especially if you have children coming along. Now if you do not own a car, or would rather rent one for the weekend drive, there are also great car hires all throughout SA that you can choose to get services from.

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Wilpenapound.com.au, the Pound's official site, nominates Car Rental Buddy, a site you can visit by clicking here because they provide a comprehensive comparison of a variety of suppliers and rates, including camper vans for large companies, to select from and work your budget around.

From Adelaide

Distance: 455 kilometres, North

Duration: 4.5 to 5 hours 6+ minutes drive approximately

Said to be the most scenic route to the Pound, this way takes you through beautiful stops like Gladstone, Melrose, Wilmington, Quorn, Clare Valley and Hawker.

There are many campsites to visit or stay in these places alone, alongside dusty roads, old street-side buildings and structures with amazing backdrops of the mountains, flora and fauna.

Alternate routes:

You can drive straight up Highway 1 to Port Augusta, following the way through to Quorn and Hawker, although the trip will still take roughly about the same time. Now if you're leaving late in the afternoon, you can opt to stop by for the night in Clare Valley, taking the road from there to Spalding, passing Jamestown, Orroroo, Hawker and other places in a direct route which take some 3 hours before getting to the pound from there.

Other side options:

Stop by Quorn, the railhead in Flinders, where the operating museum of Pichi Richi Railway with its heritage train conducts scheduled journeys on the oldest remaining section of the famous Ghan railway. Schedule ahead to get a spot; they have a Bookings page in their site for options if you want to do the ride when you visit.

There's also much to see in Hawker, the little outback town that welcomes you to Central Flinders, showcasing a mix of natural and cultural attractions like the relics of the early settlers, bush pubs and some unique eating places. A 4WD tour operates in these areas, where you may also take local air charters and scenic flights through the area. Visit their site here.

From Broken Hill

Distance: 482.6 kilometres, West

Duration: 5 hours 13+ minutes drive approximately

When you are from NSW or Victoria, the easiest way to Wilpena (not to mention, the most popular stop there is) is through Broken Hill, taking the sealed Barrier Highway that's the most direct route, taking you through Peterborough, Orroroo and then Hawker.

Alternate Route:

Leave the highway and go cross-country, but bring an updated map, supplies or a trusty GPS in case you stumble upon some trouble along the way. This alternate takes correct planning. Otherwise, you may want to stay on the road, especially when you got the kids with you. They may not be up for the route although the scenery is just about as spectacular.

Other side options:

Broken Hill offers a myriad of attractions that centre on the city's major trade: mining. Also known as the Silver City, it is a living museum where historic structures of the “boldest” of all Australian outback towns surround you at every turn. Not to mention the hospitality.

Book tours early (click to visit the page here) to unearth the stories of this lost city, either by walk tours, half or full coach tours or even by air. Stay in authentic miners' “tinnie” cottages, a hotel room or caravan parks - there are plenty available. You can also choose to stay in a working sheep or cattle farm for the experience.

From Renmark

Distance: 494.5 kilometres, North-West

Duration: 5 hours 15+ minutes drive approximately

If you happen to come from Renmark to Wilpena, the recommended route is via Morgan to Burra, through Hallett then Peterborough and Hawker. No alternate routes have been recommended, but the distance between provides lots of scenic opportunities, and also a vantage point of some of the famous merino breeding areas in SA.

Other side options:

Visit Burra for some stunning historical escape through time. The Burra Heritage Passport, for one, is your entrance into an 11-kilometre trail that includes 49 sites, walking past stables, mine sites, dugouts and breweries. There's also a Golf Club in Burra, a Regional Art Gallery and, 15 kilometres to the East, the Red Banks Conservation Park. For a further list of attractions, click here.

From the Outback

From Birdsville, Cameron's Corner

Distance: 846.5 kilometres

Duration: 14 hours 13+ minutes drive approximately

If you're the type to string adventures from one point to another, you can make your way from the Outback easy to Wilpena Pound, making it one of your stops, or start from there and make it to the Outback instead. Via Birdsville in Queensland and via Cameron's Corner (at the borders of SA, QLD and NSW) are famous points of entry.

Some choose to plan ahead and go cross-country, finding their own way to the Pound using other various routes. It just takes a bit of good preparation.

A Note on the Climate

Wilpena Pound follows the climate along the rest of the most accessible outback region of Australia that is the Flinders Ranges, which happens to lie between two weather systems which mean that it pays to remember the following:

  • Rainfall is erratic - very much. There are some years that there's almost none whatsoever that graces the region, then afterwards a storm suddenly drenches the Pound so much that there are flood waters rising frantically over creeks and falls.
  • Summer has intense heat waves that are often with many days over 38◦C (100◦F) and few that are bearable.
  • Spring is the best time to take a trip into the Pound, when the weather is milder and easier on the body, and the flora flourishes.
  • Winter mornings can be frosty with occasional snowfall on the hills; however, the last snowfall was recorded back in October 1995, and is not seen to fall anytime soon.

Once there: what to see in Wilpena Pound

Wattle flowering in Wilpena. Photo from Stephan Ridgway (sridgway) in Flickr.

There are many things to see while in Wilpena so you might as well be bringing that camera along for some memorable picture-taking. Some 13 good walks exist in the Pound, with plenty of popular locations to choose from. So break out that daypack, carry some water, some quick eats and head out into the great outdoors.

You can also just park that car in the renowned Wilpena Pound Resort, and enjoy the amenities:

The Old Homestead and Wangara Lookout

Duration: between 1-2 hours

Walk level: easy

This trail goes through the Pound's Gap, past the old Hill homestead and up the easy edge of the Pound. By the time you reach Wangara Lookout, you will already have good panoramic views across the area, a backdrop of many an aged gum as well as the wildlife. The Old Homestead is also worth poking into during the walk, experiencing the simple life of pastoralists that has extended until the present day.

The Drought Busters

Duration: 1 hour

Walk level: easy

About 1.5 kilometre out, take a leisurely walk through the remarkable land surrounding the Pound, and introduce yourself to the flora which survives in this land where the rain and water supply is both low and unreliable. Get to know White Cypress Pines and Native Cranberries that exist plenty in Wilpena Pound. Let the massive River Red Gums tell you the tale of where the creeks are, as these huge beauties only take root where the water usually flows when it does flood in the Pound.

Mt Ohlssen Bagge

Duration: 2-3 hours

Walk level: hard

This is a walk of some 6.4 kilometre up, which proves to be strenuous as it is challenging but offers you a good view of the Pound floor and the country which lies to the east of it. Some wildlife encounters are bound to happen along the way, as lizards slither every now and then here and there. The view is also amazing from the top, with plenty of large rock formations and plant life. Want to see some great photos? Click here to see the Mount Ohlssen Bagge Hike.

Arkaroo Rock

Duration: 1-2 hours

Walk level: easy

Home to some well-known Aboriginal art, 15 kilometres from Wilpena proper. Park your car at the foot of the 5000 years old land formation, walking the trail from there to the site whose surrounding rock walls include fine illustrations of how our past ancestors saw the world around them. Take gander of emu and bird tracks, snake lines, circles or waterholes, leaves and people, created in shades of red ochre, yellow, white and charcoal.

Edeowie Gorge

Edeowie Gorge. Photo from bushwalk.com.

Duration: 8-9 hours

Walk level: Moderate

This is a walk to the north west of the Pound, and may require you to carry much water and provisions since it takes a while. It goes to Edeowie Creek and Malloga Falls, both of which run dry in season but are venerated wet areas when the rain eventually visits the area.

A quaint campground, Cooinda Camp, is accessible nearby where you may rest for a few moments under a cosy tent or shade before entering and crossing a section of the Pound completely.

St Marys Peak

Up St Marys Peak from The Australian Connection. Photo from school-p.blogspot.com.

Duration: 6-7 hours

Walk level: hard

Standing proudly at nearly 1200 metres, and is the highest peak in the Wilpena Pound, this is another ultimate challenge for bushwalkers visiting the area. Difficult, your reward is an outstanding and literally breath-taking view of the whole of the pound and its many crooks and nooks.

Black Gap - Heysen Trail

Duration: 6-7 hours

Walk level: easy to hard

This is part of the Heysen Trail which runs from Cape Jervis in the south to the northern end of the Flinders Ranges. It takes about, crosses the Pound floor and passes over the Pound's western flank at Bridal Gap.

Although some of these walks can be done with your kids along, you may consider other attractions in the local area of the Wilpena Pound Resort to pass the time. They even offer alternative walks, tours and mountain bike hires to help you and your family discover the region.

Get more information by clicking here and check out what the resort has in store.

Rawnsley Park caravan and car camping. Photo from caravanparkphotos.com.au.

In the Area

Rawnsley Park Station

Distance: 23.1 km, South

23 minutes

A portion of some 7453 acres, separated off and leased to many a tenacious farmer who refused to give up on what was described by the majority as ‘unoccupied wasteland', Rawnsley Park Station grew from what was a single self-contained cabin accommodation into a destination for horse riding treks, hired mountain bikes, a range of 4WD tours, sheep shearing demonstrations and flights over Wilpena Pound.

Also offers a variety of other staying options such as camping, caravan, family and group tent pitching in case you change your mind and would like to stay the night instead. Here's a link you can click for more information.

Brachina Gorge

Brachina is an impressive gorge where you can experience meandering between sharp ridges and formations that cross each other majestically, heaped by Precambrian and Cambrian rocks and extensive fossils. North of Wilpena Pound, it's just a little off the main road to Blinman. It was once used as a pass by herding teams, and now has several designated nooks for bush camping. You can bring in an off-road camper trailer, but if you do plan to stay here, it's advisable to bring your own water, firewood and a trusty gas/fuel stove cooker.

It was once used as a pass by herding teams, and now has several designated nooks for bush camping. You can bring in an off-road camper trailer, but if you do plan to stay here, it's advisable to bring your own water, firewood and a trusty gas/fuel stove cooker.

Blinman

Distance: 63.5 km, North

57 minutes

Named as the highest town in SA, the most surveyed as well as the largest resource of copper in the Flinders until 1907 is Blinman. Its mine site is now a historic reserve, and the remaining buildings can be explored via available self-drive as well as guided tours.

You can even visit the ruins of Artimore Station and Nuccaleena Mine, silent remnants of a bygone era, accessible through pastoral routes nearby, and may stay in Blinman Cottage (a charmingly restored 1800s miners cottage) for the night.

Wilkawillana Gorge

Another excellent gorge south-south-east of Blinman and serves well as a place to view fossils and to explore the Mt Billy Creek is the Wilkawillina Gorge.

The walk takes about 4 hours, but is made more interesting as you and your family look out for the small cone-shaped fossils embedded in the walls of the gorge, known to geologists as a “pathway through the rock sequence which reveals their history a corridor through time.”

Want to see more of what's in Wilkawillana Gorge? Read here. Rita's Outback Guide

A basic campsite is located at the entrance of the gorge, but has no facilities, so you may need to bring your own ensuites, tents and other gear just in case the night catches up to you here.

Cazneaux Tree, as well as the Flora and Fauna

The Cazneaux Tree is an ancient beauty that's probably the most photographed tree in Wilpena, located off the Blinman Road and is one of the most famous trees in Australia. Photographed by Harold Cazneaux back in 1937 and named after him in fact, this

Photographed by Harold Cazneaux back in 1937 and named after him in fact, this 'Spirit of Endurance' has withstood time and tempest, beloved by many adventurers and is worth space in your memory for all time.

You may also wish to just explore the variety of flora and fauna around the area, close to camp.

There are always desert peas, mallee, gums, acacia and casuarinas around, as well as red kangaroos, yellow-footed rock wallabies, 18 species of snakes, 60 species of lizard, dingos, emus, galahs and wedge-tailed eagles which you can encounter along the paths and trails.

Just be careful, though: the rule of thumb that says “Do not feed the animals” applies heavily with these critters. They have a tendency to take advantage of the situation real fast.

Visiting Cazneaux Tree: most photographed tree in Australia. Photo from dyxum.com.

Where to stay

Flinders Ranges has been known to have enough campsites to go around, including in Wilpena Pound where many tourists, as well as local campers, often head out to.

Now you may choose to spend just a drive-in, drive-out day in the Pound, which is all right, but in the case you cannot resist the urge, or if you've had much fun that you lost track of time and must stay at least an overnight, there are many accommodations you can avail of.

There are many open campsites strewn all over the area, but there are two places that stand out. The first is the Wilpena Pound Resort and the other is the Wilpena Pound Caravan Campground, each able to cater to any tourist need, and can easily provide the best experience you may want to achieve while in Wilpena.

Caravan Campground

Said to be the best base for exploring the Pound, this natural bush setting affords encounters with wildlife, with many bush camping areas to pitch, park and swag it out. Facilities include:

  • Campfire pits
  • Barbeques
  • 44 powered sites
  • 3 shower/toilet blocks
  • 2 laundry areas

There are also permanent tents in the case you forgot to pack that bungalow.

These are made out of heavy-duty canvas with solid floors and can sleep up to 5 people in 3 singles and a double bed. It comes equipped with a refrigerator, lighting, water and power, but no linen so bring your own or include it with the permanent tent rent. No cooking facility either, so it's still good to bring a single stove or cook in the available pits and barbeques.

A General Store in the Campgrounds sells needs and supplies in the case you need extra petrol, gas, ice, firewood or ingredients.

Regular shuttle bus to the entrance of Wilpena Pound near Hill's Homestead is also provided from the site. You may leave the larger bulk of your bags there, in the case you will just opt for nearby walks and explorations, or to help lighten your load in the case of 4WD tours about the Pound.

You may leave the larger bulk of your bags there, in the case you will just opt for nearby walks and explorations, or to help lighten your load in the case of 4WD tours about the Pound.

Wilpena Pound Resort

A resort of 60 rooms that blends well in the backdrop of Wilpena Pound, this is perhaps the most comfortable accommodation base when meandering the Pound and the entire of Flinders Ranges itself. Reception is open daily, 7:30 am to about the same time in the pm so guests' needs are greatly attended to. Facilities include:

  • Swimming pool - that greets visitors upon arrival into the resort
  • Resort Restaurant - open for breakfast and dinner, with a variety of dining options ranging from light continental to hearty country meals to modern Australian with a touch of Outback
  • Poddy Dodger's Bar - for drinks and refreshments, with bistro-styled meals and light snacks
  • WIFI Access, ATM's and other city facilities one can't live long without

The other two places of note in the area are the General Store for all grocery needs (with souvenirs on the side) as well as takeaway food and some essential supplies, and the National Park Visitor Information Centre where one can find detailed information, maps, directions as well as guides to the native flora and fauna.

You may also book the following tours from here:

  • Off Road Driving
  • Camping
  • Cycling
  • Scenic flights across Wilpena Pound and Flinders Ranges
  • Swimming
  • Animal Viewing (Guided)
  • Bushwalking
  • Other Guided Walks

Check out the Wilpena Pound Resort Map or take a Virtual tour, courtesy of Georam 360 Degree Photography and Virtual Tours, by clicking here.

For more options on other campsites in Wilpena Pound, visit these pages: GoCamping and Australia Explorer

Related Reads:

What to bring when touring when off to Wilpena Pound?

Wilpena is a well-developed tourism site, and can cater to your needs as easily as if you're running around an urban city.

You really need to bring only a minimal number of things, especially if you just want to spend a day walking nearby with your family, as accommodations and provisions can be obtained not only in the Pound proper but while on the road to it.

However, it does pay to be prepared so, just in case, do pack more than a change of clothes and sunscreen.

St. Mary's Peak, Wilpena Pound. Photo from ssakai777 on Flickr.

Driver's checklist

Before departing to Wilpena (or any other destination for that matter), do check your 4WD's

  • Tyre--check pressure, check for damages and check the spare; you will need to carry one;
  • Toolkit--make sure there's one contained in the vehicle, which should include a jack and removal tools at the least; familiarise with usage;
  • Engine Oil--check every fortnight or before you embark on a long journey like that to Wilpena; check the dipstick, have the oil changed as necessary, or the whole vehicle checked especially if it there's high oil consumption as this could indicate engine problems;
  • Water--coolant needs to be topped up as necessary; antifreeze needs to be consistent as it prevents corrosion in the system;
  • Wipers--they do wear down so replace at least once a year for the best performance;
  • Windscreen--check for stone damages and minor cuts, as these tiny breaks can cause the glass to crack, impairing vision or distracting attention;
  • Screenwash--top up as necessary; in some places, it's a legal requirement as water alone cannot effectively clear oily grime;
  • Lights--check lights (indicators, fog lights, etc.) and clean regularly; you cannot drive blind at night especially if you have kids on board--that would be dangerous;
  • Brakes--check regularly to avoid accidents;
  • Power Steering--ensure fluid reservoirs are checked during service, or do so yourself once a month; use only the correct fluids for top up--or ask a professional to do it;
  • Bodywork--check for damages so that rust doesn't settle in; we recommend cleaning after long drives or after roughing it out in an adventure.

You should also do a cockpit drill: check the doors, seats, steering wheel (check airbags, there should be no malfunctions), mirrors, handbrake and of course, for safety purposes, the seatbelts. If you're carrying a

If you're carrying a baby seat, make that part of your cockpit drill too. Additionally, you will need to ready your driving documentations as well, including your driver's license. In the case you're driving internationally, local laws, warranty and some other legal requirements need to be settled and checked (click here for some details).

For more advice on safe motoring, visit this link for more information: Safe Motoring

For the road: the ESSENTIALS

Once the car is secured, you will need to ensure that you have all the gear you may need, especially if you intend to do some walking in Wilpena. Here's a checklist you can follow:

  • Backpack with rain cover so you don't worry about the weather.
  • Daypack (can be a combination with your backpack) so you can leave the bigger load of your gear in your car or in your room before going on the short walks and small side trips. Carry a daypack one for every member of the family so each has his or her own provisions in tow.
  • Money for emergency purchases and fees like park entrance, camping, rent and other expenses; there are also ATM facilities in Wilpena and on the road, with some businesses that accept card payments (you can definitely carry your cards along), but have some cash on hand in the case there are none to find in the area.
  • Rubbish bag: Leave No Trace folks!
  • Water bottle or tank for extra water; chances are, your vehicle may overheat (and so can you) so have this ready. Water is also essential during some Wilpena walks into areas where there is little to no water available.

Additionals:

    • Hydration packs: an optional and handy combination to substitute for carrying a water bottle, choose to carry one that holds the proper weight of liquid you'd need.
    • Car roof and storage racks

CAMPING GEAR and COOKING GEAR

It is advisable to carry these when you intend to stay longer in the Pound and take advantage of the campground facilities instead of the cabins, cottages or the resort, but wouldn't hurt to stow inside the 4WD or camper for those emergency situations where you and your family need to stay the night.

They come handy if you get caught on the road, when you're stuck and would (advisedly SHOULD) not be driving during the night, or when the car malfunctions and a stop is called for.

  • Tent, either a strong canvas, quick-pitch or large family.
  • Sleeping bags, with the correct snug and warmth needed for a good night's sleep.

Optionals:

    • Tent groundsheet. Using a footprint is a good way to care for your tent 
    • Tarp: An excellent combination to a lightweight tent and likewise provides extra storage area and shade.
    • Sleeping mattress, pillows, swags or stretchers are always ideal.
    • Cooking: Pots, Stove and Gas (can be bought in Wilpena Pound General Store), Cups, Cutlery, Washing implements like sponge or tea towels and Waterproof matches. Again, carry at your own discretion; only for when you DO intend to stay longer in the Pound.

SAFETY / HEALTH

Consider these items as a necessity when travelling especially with the family:

  • First aid kit plus whistle, tape, ear/eye covers, small scissors, basic medication and means to treat water in case you get into a pinch.
  • Toiletry: can be put into a travel toiletry bag and must include sanitizers, toilet paper or wet, disinfectant wipes, small mirror (can also be used for signaling or getting attention), hand soap, basic hygiene and sunscreen. As part of the LNT (Leave No Trace), biodegradable products are highly advised. Bring some repellent for pesky critters as dry creeks when containing water attracts mozzies and other pests. Towels are also recommended, and can be packed with your clothes.

Optionals:

    • GPS: directions when no other soul is around;
    • GADGETS: a Camera with spare or rechargeable batteries for taking memorable pictures; Radio / MP3: to keep you entertained and your family preoccupied while on the road; Phone: for contacting help and assistance as necessary (but you may need to look for a signal). Good news though is that Wilpena has access to the Internet, and bringing laptops, smartphones and tablets are allowed, for when you need to update your friends on Facebook even in the middle of the wilderness.
    • TOOLS AND HELPERS: Swiss Knives, or pocket knives--but check first if they are allowed; Compass for when the GPS fails and it does, on some instances, provide nonsensical directions; Spare shoelaces--odd idea, but are good to bring along since Wilpena has tons of walks to encounter; Repair sets for tents and sleeping gear, and Duct Tape and String for quick patch-ups.
    • Pen and paper / pocketbook for leaving notes in case of emergency.
    • Torch / head torch
    • Book or any reading materials
    • Sunglasses and head covering to protect against the glare.
    • Shovel

FOOD

Ideally, the food you'd want to carry may also be minimal as the drive may be the only thing you'll need preparing for.

Plus, there are towns with restaurants, take-out, bed & breakfast and other delicious meals you can park and eat in at convenience. You can, however, consider bringing along some favourite treats and snacks, some scroggin or trail mixes and other bite-sized delights to take on walks and little adventures.

Dried fruit and crackers, bars and hard cookies are also some options. Don't ever forget to bring water though, or a cooler with refreshments (there are some ice which can be bought along the way to the Pound) as an alternative.

Don't ever forget to bring water though, or a cooler with refreshments (there are some ice which can be bought along the way to the Pound) as an alternative. Other drivers even bring tea or coffee, but that still depends on you.

CLOTHING

Only the essential things and the ideas we present here are largely dependent on individual needs and the season:

  • Waterproof shoes or good comfortable boots and socks; for adventuring and long walks.
  • Rain/Sun protection like jackets.
  • Hiking clothes, preferably fast-drying fabric, no cotton...zip-offs are good too.
  • Hat/cap, for head protection.
  • Flip-flops, for walking around the campsite, or some nearby area; for leisure strolls around Wilpena or simply to get the kids' and your feet out of your shoes or boots.
  • Thermals, for when the cold is expected; you may not need to bring them Summers.
  • Gloves and beanie; as even in summer it can get surprisingly cold in higher places like in the surrounding mountains; for summiteers.
  • Spare clothing set; just to be certain that you have something clean to change into after the trip, or when you unexpectedly get dirty.

Needing more suggestions on gear to take? Read more from Matt Down Under and Bushwalking Gear. Or have you already visited Wilpena Pound? Tell us of your experience! Contact us and share your photos and adventures.

Happy Trails Aussies!

Photo courtesy from Flickr by Graeme Churchard