Walk Wild Wilkawillina!

Last Updated on March 1, 2017 by Red Nomad OZ

Wilkawillina Gorge River Valley
Wilkawillina Gorge River Valley, Flinders Ranges National Park, South Australia

A six hour drive north of Adelaide takes you deep into South Australia’s Outback zone AND into the Flinders Ranges National Park.

It’s considered remote. By most people’s standards, anyway.

Factor in its staggering scenery, wonderful wildlife, numerous hiking trails and awesome natural beauty, and you’ve got one of the best eco-tourism adventure destinations in the country! That makes it the perfect place to get away from it all.

And when we based ourselves in central location Wilpena to sample the Flinders Ranges, it WAS the perfect place to get away from it all. So perfect,we got away from it all at the same time that a lot of other travellers were getting away from it all.

So where do you go when you want to get away from getting away from it all?

The Bunkers from the Road
The Bunkers from the Road, Wilkawillina Gorge

You head for the hills, of course!

The Bunkers, actually.

Take the Wirrealpa road roughly following the park boundary for about 45 km north-east of Wilpena when it passes through The Bunkers, a

Emu Footprint in Riverbed Clay
Emu Footprint in Riverbed Clay

range of low hills.

Further along is the extraordinary Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary*.

And on the other side of the road outside the park is the privately owned Bunkers reserve, home of Willow Springs Sky Trek, known for its spectacular scenery.

Saving that trip for another day, we headed for the Little Bunkers trailhead, start – or end – of the fabulously amazing Wilkawillina Gorge hike which would show us a very different side to the Flinders Ranges National Park. A hike on which we would see NO OTHER PEOPLE!

The Bunkers up close
The Bunkers up close, Wilkawillina Gorge

Ironically, the hike actually works better with more people as it’s an 11.4 km tramp one way through the Gorge from the Little Bunkers Trailhead to the Mt Billy Creek Trailhead (or vice versa). And the track notes suggest setting aside 6 hours. One way. So the smart walkers will travel in a group with two cars, leaving one at each end of the track.

Or just do what no-friend-losers like Pilchard and I did – and hike the trail to the halfway point, taking in some of its highlights before retracing your steps.

Rock Formations, Wilkawillina Gorge
Rock Formations, Wilkawillina Gorge

It doesn’t take very long to start seeing those highlights.

Although that depends on your tolerance for red rock, blue skies, broad and empty river beds and dramatic profiles. In other words – classic outback scenery!

While there’s some evidence of the Barite exploration (there are two mines outside the park boundary) the walk is an opportunity to view Wonoka Formation rocks and minerals, Wilkawillina Limestone, Bonney Sandstone and Rawnsley Quartzite in its natural and largely unadulterated habitat.

Wilkawillina Rocks
Wilkawillina Rocks

If you can’t distinguish Cambrian from Pre-Cambrian, forget the geology lesson, and just admire the staggeringly scenic landscape! The unusual layers, colours and patterns don’t seem real in this empty and lost world landscape. What we’d normally expect from familiar objects like hills and valleys doesn’t apply in this parallel universe where swirling patterns cover the low hills; rocks soar from the dry river bed, full of eucalypts saplings; and striking colours interspersed with dramatic lines frame the sky.

The Bunkers, Wilkawillina Gorge
Why The Bunkers ROCK! Wilkawillina Gorge, Flinders Ranges National Park

‘Ten Mile Creek’ doesn’t accurately describe the broad river bed, with Archaeocyatha fossils embedded in its rocky banks and massive River Red Gums growing in the gravel, that traverses the gorge. Today it’s dry, except for a few pools, but the flash floods it’s built to carry have helped create this unique landscape, weathered by the harsh outback conditions.

Ten Mile Creek Bed, Wilkawillina Gorge
Ten Mile Creek Bed, Wilkawillina Gorge, Flinders Ranges National Park

With such amazing scenery on offer, it was tempting to keep going – just to see what was round the next corner. But although it’s fairly easy going, without any friends with a welcoming car at trail’s end, there’s just not enough time in the day. We’re not known as the world’s slowest hikers for nothing! So after lunch (no bakeries out here!)(and sadly, no scenic public toilets either!!) overlooking the river we reluctantly turned back, wandering along the river bed until we reached the river crossing.

Maybe next time we’d walk to this point from the other end. Or find some friends.

Descent to Ten Mile Creek
Descent to Ten Mile Creek, Wilkawillina Gorge

But for now, as we happily discovered, the landscape was just as spectacularly dramatic in reverse.

Finally we left the wonders of the gorge behind. Ahead, I could see the car in the distance, perched high above the river bed – the first sign of civilisation we’d seen in several hours.

But I wasn’t entirely sure it was a welcome sight.

Eucalypts in Ten Mile Creek Bed
Eucalypts in Ten Mile Creek Bed, Wilkawillina Gorge

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  1. WOW! Incredibly wild and beautiful!
    Love all the textures and colours. A feast for the eyes.
    A delicious palette of chocolate, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee, cream, ginger, cayenne, khaki, sage and smokey oyster, with a faded stain of mulberry haze.

    Thank you for taking us on this wonderfully remote trek, Red, I loved it!

    1. Oh, I LOVE the names you’ve called those colours, Vicki! I’m not imaginative enough to think in anything other than brown, blue, green – and RED, of course! I wonder if Smokey Oyster and Mulberry Haze come in paint colours? If so, I’m SO putting them on my walls, just for the thrill of being able to name them when someone asks what the colour is 😀

      1. Not sure if there are paint colours with those names – with the myriad paint companies out there, maybe so…
        But, I agree, Mulberry Haze and Smokey Oyster would be great colour chips.

        Looking forward to our next tour 🙂

        1. Haha, I think my appreciation of ‘Mulberry Haze’ is a total flashback – I was a BIG fan of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ – maybe this is what it becomes when it grows up?!?!?! Or gets older 🙁

  2. Bin to Flinders Rangers and Wilpena Sound but didn’t hear about this place unfortunately. Its so amazing in colour, layers and textures. Thanks for the trip.

    1. Wilkawillina is a bit out of the way, Diane – and it’s a bit of a hike to see anything, so probably not where the tour is going to take you! Just as well I’m here to show you anyway, huh?!?!?!

  3. I really feel that seeing something on a textbook is one thing, and seeing the real thing is another.
    Real emu footprints, real layers of hills… I cannot say anything but they are stunning!
    When I want to be away from others, I like to find a quiet place near exciting streets. Like a calm and quiet pond in a temple holding a big event. It satisfies me because I feel I found something that others don’t know, but I realized that my idea was small. Real outback landscapes are beyond my imaginations.

    1. Kozue, the streets of Tokyo are beyond MY imagination – we each live in a part of the world that has its own special features! Australia still has big, wide, open spaces so it is easy to find a place away from other people. I think you have to work harder to do that in your home city – maybe one day we will show each other the secrets of our homelands 🙂

  4. G’day Red, so true! our outback scenery is not only colourful but filled with texture. These are gorgeous images and area begs exploring. I might drag a mad Scot out there one day.
    Keep smiling – keep exploring, ha! how dare a car make an appearance hey!?

    1. I wonder if your mad Scottish friend will notice the difference between the Aussie Outback and Scotland, Rose?!?!?! Actually, I was kinda glad the car was there … it’s a long walk to get anywhere else from the trail head!!! Have a great day, my friend!

    1. It’s in the driest state of the driest continent on earth, TFG! Carrying water is mandatory!! All the walks carry warnings about what to take – it’s remote, arid country out there 😀

  5. we didn’t get to this area when we were in South Australia a couple of years ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long) but we did camp in Brachina Gorge which we loved. Another place to add to my, next time, list Red. the list is growing with every post. Happy travels Red.

    1. Doesn’t time fly, Jill?!?!?! Brachina Gorge is fantastic – but Wilkawillina is beyond fantastic. I believe there’s a campground at the other end of the trail (ie the end we DIDN’T get to) – next time we’re going to drive to that section and do the walk from there!

    1. Funny you should say that, Glen – I see so much more through my camera lens than my eyes ever pick up that I may as well get my camera surgically attached!! Have a great day!

    1. The most surprising thing about the Flinders Ranges (to me, anyway) is that it doesn’t always appear on the lists of Top 10 Aussie National Parks! I’m sure you’ll agree once you see it for yourself, River – there are quite a few tour companies who take you to the highlights!

  6. Love your adventures!
    Thank you for showing real Australia, all of that red, rough, outbacky outback 😉
    Pls keep entertaining us!

  7. Wow, Red, it really looks awesome! Maybe, when retired (har-har) I´ll give it another chance!
    Now just hours `till we´re off to beautiful Perth!
    Yes, I know.. no nature but city. And friends 🙂

    1. You must be at that stage in life when you’re REALLY looking forward to retirement, Iris!! And Perth might be a city – but it’s FULL of cool natural attractions! Lucky you – you’ve got friends!!!! Have a wonderful time!!

    1. Maybe someone will make it more civilised and put in a bakery there one day, Lizzy! And don’t worry … I’ve got WAY too many more adventures to come – you may live to regret that request!!!

  8. What wonderful scenery. The Flinders Ranges are certainly very beautiful and you really were all alone in this remote wilderness? We did a similar thing at Kalbarri National Park for the gorge rim walk. It was 7km one way but we only walked half way then retracked. It was a hot day and we were also completely alone.

    1. The Kalbarri Gorge Rim walk is SO on my list, Kathy! We walked to Natures Window & would have loved to have kept going, but were unprepared for it. Next time! Maybe I’m foolhardy, but it didn’t bother me being alone in the wilderness – maybe it should have?!?!

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