Ikara Safari Camp
In the language of the original inhabitants of the Flinders Ranges, the Adnyamathanha people, Ikara means “meeting place”.
For tens of thousands of years, Wilpena Pound – a giant rock basin at the heart of the Ranges, where this award-winning camp is located – has been an important gathering and ceremonial site.
A five-hour drive north of Adelaide, the area – recently renamed the Ikara-Flinders National Park – is often overlooked in favour of more famous outback destinations.
The Wilpena Pound Resort, though, has been quietly welcoming discerning visitors since the 1950s, and Ikara Safari Camp, which opened in 2014, is a welcome addition.
In a secluded spot away from the main campground, 15 roomy tents with king-size beds, tiled bathrooms and timber decks are set among majestic red river gums and native pines.
With floorboards, solar power, running hot water, fluffy towels, bedside reading lights, fresh coffee, air-conditioning and gas heaters, every creature comfort is catered for.
Each tent faces the eastern wall of the Pound, a rocky, rust-coloured natural amphitheatre created by hundreds of millions of years of erosion.
At the camp breakfast is taken in a large, fully furnished communal tent, which also serves as a lounge.
The resort's facilities, include a bar, restaurant, swimming pool and general store.
Mobile reception is patchy at Wilpena, wifi is limited and there are no TVs in the tents. But who needs any of that when you can sit on your deck, watching sunlight dancing off the wall of the Pound and producing a kaleidoscope of shimmering colour?
Just south of Wilpena Pound, Arkaba Station is perhaps the finest of the luxury options in the region, fashioned from an 1850s homestead on a private 60,000-acre concession.
Arkaba also offers three-day walking safaris over the property and into Wilpena Pound with guests enjoying luxury ‘swags’ (traditional canvas-clad sleeping bags) and starlit, chef-prepared dinners along the way.
Rated “moderate to challenging”, the trek covers 27 miles in four days, immersing walkers in the harshly beautiful scenery of the Flinders Ranges.
The dramatic vistas of rugged gorges, rocky peaks and dry creek beds lined with river red gums are not the only draw, however. At the end of each day, after washing off the sweat and red earth in a hot “bush shower”, you sit down to a three-course, chef-prepared dinner at a table spread with white linen and illuminated by lanterns hanging from the trees.
After dinner, you retire to your luxury swag – a self-contained canvas sleeping compartment, complete with bedroll, 500-thread count sheets, fluffy pillows and duvets – to gaze up at the stars and listen to the sounds of the outback.
Extra touches include hot water bottles which camp staff slip inside your swag in winter.
Walking groups are small, with a maximum of 10 people, and unlike at Wilpena Pound, guests will not see another soul – meaning that, as Brendon Bevan, the manager and one of the guides, puts it, “you can really plug into the wilderness”.
Two nights are spent at Arkaba's well-appointed bush camps, where swags are laid out on elevated timber decks screened on three sides for privacy.
The fourth side is open, enabling you to watch the rising sun daub a palette of ochres, purples and greens across the hillsides.
The walk begins at Wilpena Pound, traverses Arkaba, with its mountain ranges, steep canyons and cypress forests, and ends at the impeccably renovated, mid-19th century homestead, where guests spend the third night.
It takes place from mid-March to mid-October and all accommodation, meals, snacks and drinks are included in your tariff.
Desert Cave Hotel
Some 850km north of Adelaide, remote Coober Pedy sits in the world’s richest opal field, attracting a strong population of miners and fortune hunters from all around the world to live there. But it experiences freezing nights and sweltering days and that has pushed life underground, where the temperature is a temperate constant.
At the Desert Cave Hotel visitors can experience “dugout” life. It’s a great four-star complex of underground accommodation, restaurants, shops, games area and bar and has above ground rooms for those wanting to experience underground life, but not sleep in it. There’s a nice pool, too.
The word “legendary” gets bandied about a bit, but the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna in the Flinders Ranges truly deserves the tag. Parachilna has a population that oscillates from two to 200 depending on how many people are visiting the Prairie. Outback tourism pioneers Jane and Ross Fargher have well and truly put it on the map with the like of bush tucker flavoured ice cream and posh platters featuring feral ingredients like camel, goat and emu.
The amazingly preserved outback pub has held a licence since 1876 and today attracts people from far and wide, some of whom fly in just to have a beer on the fabled front verandah or just out on the road bordered by large old wooden troughs while leaning up against an old oak cask.
You can stay in the heritage landmark and experience life in South Australia’s unforgettable outback, with the rugged Flinders Ranges on one side and desert plains on the other.
The pub epitomises good old-fashioned outback hospitality and character while upholding a superb standard of comfort, service and food. Host Grant Rasheed provides a warm welcome and also curates the hotel’s extensive Aboriginal art collection. There’s often live country music entertainment, too.
Rawnsley Park Eco-Villas
Julie Smith and her husband Tony have created something very special at Rawnsley Park Station. It has been the family pastoral business for generations but since 1984, the family have also run a tourism enterprise. Moreover, what started out as a relatively spartan collection of accommodation options has morphed into a luxury resort.
The luxurious eco-villas are a true outback sanctuary. Located on a rise just a short drive from the reception building and affording stunning views of the region, the eco-villas are a gorgeous outback base. Large and super comfortably furnished they’re a quiet, cool, contemporary haven away from the desert heat.
Rawnsley Park is still a working sheep station and guests can watch shearers in action when it’s time to get the wool clip in or they can fill their days with guided and self-guided walks as well as 4WD and helicopter tours.
Inside each villa there’s a fully-provisioned kitchen with Fleurieu milk and yoghurt as well as bread, fresh fruit and muesli for breakfast. There’s even a selection of Nespresso capsules for those keen on a caffeine hit. And while you could choose to bring your own food for dinner there’s no real need. The old woolshed is now a restaurant focussing on local produce and succulent local lamb matched with a solid wine list.
Lying back in bed, a retractable blind slides back to reveal the night sky above. It would have to be the most comfortable way to sleep under the stars anywhere - safely ensconced in your outback sanctuary, cocooned in bed and the last memory of the evening being the stars flickering above as your eyelids flicker to close.
Gum Creek Station
On a ridgetop overlooking the rugged 540 million year old Flinders Ranges lies Gum Creek Lodge, the only accommodation providing such a window on the incredible, changing face of one of the oldest landscapes and habitats on Earth.
The environmentally sensitive and handsomely contemporary structure built from the traditional outback homestead materials of timber, corrugated iron and local stone has four ensuite bedrooms, each with their own verandah, a box seat to the changing landscape.
There’s a large fully equipped kitchen, dining and lounge area, with front deck and a rear courtyard with open fire place, wood-fired pizza oven and bar, all run with solar and wind energy and rainwater.