Australia's Top Tourism Treasures - The Flinders Ranges

Once, these ranges jutted 20,000 feet into the sky. Weather and eons have worn them down, in keeping with the rest of ancient Australia, and furnished the hills with a spectacularly diverse combination of plants and animals, 283 species of birds have been recorded in the region, that sustained local Aborigines for at least 15,000 years. Like a long rocky island in the plains, the Flinders harbor places for exploration and discovery, as well as a get-away-from-it-all serenity.

To tribal Aborigines, the walls of Wilpena Pound, the Flinders' best-known feature, were the frozen bodies of two great serpents, or akurra, that slid down from the north along routes marked by the sinuous ridges of the Heysen and ABC Ranges. Pretty Wilpena Creek was a preferred camping place for Aboriginal tribes, as it is now for tourists, and the boles of the immense river red gums along the creek have been hollowed by generations of Aboriginal cooking fires.

Until the cattle came, initiation ceremonies were held in the pound to induct children into adulthood and adults into the tribes' binding laws. Paintings and petroglyphs of tribal beliefs and totems are preserved in atmospheric natural galleries at Arkaroo Rock and Sacred Canyon.

Trails to suit all schedules and abilities begin at Wilpena Pound Resort and Rawnsley Park. Much that is beautiful about the central Flinders can also be seen from a vehicle. Reserve Moralana Scenic Drive, southwest of Wilpena Pound, for the late afternoon, when the sun silhouettes the march of river red gums along Moralana Creek and fuels the glow that seems to emanate from the pound's rock face. Bunyeroo Scenic Drive follows the ranges to the north, first passing through open grasslands where kangaroos and emus graze, and river red gums where corellas, galahs, and red-rumped parrots may adorn a single tree like rowdy confetti.

The emu is just one of 100 bird species from desert, forest and sea that assemble in this 62-square-mile reserve, which lies a two- to three-hour drive north of Adelaide. Walk the forested valleys to see species such as wrens, honeyeaters, five species of robin in shades ranging from rose-red through crimson to black and white, 16 multihued species of parrot, the euro (a kangaroo of the hills), or the cautious yellow-footed rock wallaby, the ranges' prettiest and rarest marsupial. There are no alligators in Alligator Gorge, the most visited spot in the park, but prehistoric-looking tree goannas up to 6.5 feet long occasionally stalk over the water-worn terraces between the gorge's sheer red faces.

For a deeper appreciation of a culture that has endured through the rise and fall of more prominent civilizations, head for the Nepabunna or Iga Warta Aboriginal communities, on the Copley road, and ask whether a guide can take you into the surrounding indigenous lands. There are no set tours, but depending on your interests you can sample native food plants, view rock engravings, learn about the Dreaming, or do all three. You can even go walkabout but make sure that you bring along a wide brimmed hat, lots of sunscreen, and way more water than you would think you'd ever need.

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

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