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Flinders Ranges and the Outback, South Australia

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The red heart of South Australia starts in the foothills of the Flinders Ranges and goes east to the New South Wales border, north to the Northern Territory, and tracking the sun all the way to the Western Australia border. This is a sizeable chunk of the entire planet and much of it is inaccessible, but many hectares are designated parks and there is a human presence in the regional centres and mining towns. Modern-day explorers should set aside the time it takes: five hours to Wilpena Pound, 12 hours to Innamincka. The best seasons to venture north are autumn and spring, especially September when the wildflowers bloom. It’s a climate of cold nights, crisp mornings and warm days. The air is wonderfully clean and the night skies are brilliantly clear.

To most visitors the Flinders is like stepping inside a huge canvas painted extraordinary colours - purple, ochre and silver-green. To scientists, this is a fascinating territory of 1600-million-year-old geological formations, rocks shoved vertically from the seabed by violent seismic activity. The wildlife is everywhere: kangaroos, lizards, emus and wedge-tailed eagles and well over 100 other bird species.

There are many ways to explore the Flinders - bush-walking, 4WD, and one of the best is to board the Pichi Richi Railway’s heritage steam trains on a journey between Quorn and Port Augusta.

There’s plenty of scope here for active adventurers. Rawnsley Park Station near Wilpena Pound offers 4WD tours, scenic flights, horse riding and sheepshearing demonstrations. There are interesting Aboriginal rock art sites at Arkaroo Rock and Yourambulla Caves. Further north, Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary runs a thrilling, four-hour, eco-tour Ridgetop Tour in an open-topped 4WD. Eco-certified Arkaroola, which covers 160 square kilometres of wilderness, also has four astronomical observatories for outstanding views of the night skies.

A few legendary roads lead you into the Outback. The Explorer Highway stretches beyond the Flinders to join the Oodnadatta, Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks.

The Barrier Highway goes to Broken Hill. The Stuart Highway heads north and slightly west to Woomera, famous as a rocket launch pad, and to Coober Pedy, source of the world’s opals, with its underground homes and lunar landscape. For entry to 12 million hectares of Outback parks, the Department for Environment and Heritage’s Desert Parks pass is mandatory.

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