Australia's Top Tourism Treasures - Stirling Range National Park & The Flinders Ranges

To get the most out of a visit to the Stirlings, it is essential to climb out of your vehicle and walk some of the park's many trails. This is one of Western Australia's best locations for hiking, with routes ranging from easy half-hour walks to challenging overnight hikes such as the Ridge Walk. The walks afford magnificent views and offer opportunities for spotting some of the park's 148 bird species as well as one of the two tiny possum species that inhabit the heathland, the western pygmy-possum and the honey possum.

Many of the best walks lie just off the Stirling Range Drive. Atop Baby Barnett, you'll find an impressive array of wildflowers, including abundant Stirling Range pixie mops, and enjoy fine views toward the eastern end of the range. The demanding four-hour hike to the top of Mount Magog offers magnificent vistas, and the easier two-hour walk up Talyuberlup Peak takes in gullies, caves, and rock pinnacles. Toward the eastern end of the drive, the moderate climb to Mount Hassell reveals further dramatic upland scenery and intriguing rock formations, including a rock stack beneath the peak that resembles an old galleon.

Stirlings' two tallest peaks, Toolbrunup and Bluff Knoll, offer the park's most rewarding short climbs. Of the two, Toolbrunup is the more difficult ascent, heading straight up the side of the 3,450-foot mountain and requiring some scrambling over loose rock near the summit. Its rewards include rare and endemic red-eared firetails in the gullies and woodlands of the lower slopes, and increasingly panoramic views as you climb toward the slate-gray scree slopes near the peak. Often you'll find yourself sharing those views with a chunky wedge-tailed eagle soaring on thermals just above the summit.

It's a fairly steep hike to the top of Bluff Knoll, but it's not as difficult as others in the Stirlings thanks to a good footpath that follows the contours of the mountain. In spring, the edge of the footpath is strewn with colorful wildflowers including large orange banksia, hanging shady bells, and golden dryandra. At these lower levels, watch for small purple-crowned lorikeets screeching overhead and two species of black cockatoo, both of which are endemic to southwestern Australia.

The Stirlings may not be one of the continent's tallest mountain ranges, but they are nonetheless a dominating presence in the largely flat terrain that characterizes southwestern Australia. Furthermore, their brooding peaks and imposing ramparts conceal rare beauty of the most delicate and fragile nature, much of it embodied in those extraordinary plant species that, two lifetimes ago, so enchanted an inquisitive British botanist.

The Flinders Ranges, South Australia

The Flinders Ranges begin about 125 miles (200 km) north of Adelaide, the South Australian capital, and thrust up into an increasingly arid outback for 260 miles. For 120 miles they form a classic range: a main spine with parallel digressions. At Wilpena Pound, however, all coherence stops. The ridges loop, enclose, fragment, or spear off into the hazy blue distance. On the ranges' far northeastern tip, at Arkaroola, the landscape disintegrates into a chaos of steep hills and rough-cut gorges that abruptly metamorphoses into the vast plains of central Australia.

Continued in: Australia's Top Tourism Treasures - The Flinders Ranges

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