Next to Wilpena Pound, a for­mer sheep sta­tion hosts one of the Great Walks of Aus­tralia that in­cludes a sec­tion of the Hey­sen Trail


When Aus­tralia was rid­ing the sheep’s back to pros­per­ity, the Flin­ders Ranges were dot­ted with farms run by rugged men and women who bat­tled the land in an at­tempt to make a liv­ing. Some are still do­ing it that way, but at Ark­aba they’re tak­ing a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

Af­ter Wild Bush Lux­ury ac­quired the 25,900 ha prop­erty in 2009, they set about turn­ing it into a wildlife con­ser­vancy. It wasn’t un­til four years ago that the last of the 8000 sheep were re­moved, but the change since then has been re­mark­able – a trip to the fence line with an ad­join­ing sta­tion shows a stark con­trast be­tween prop­er­ties.

Ground cover is al­ready creep­ing back to pad­docks that used to be over­grazed and small shrubs car­pet the hill­sides. Fur­ther afield, in­di­ca­tor species like kan­ga­roo grass are re­turn­ing af­ter a long ab­sence.

On the other side of the prop­erty, Ark­aba is bounded by Ikara-Flin­ders Ranges Na­tional Park, where I’m headed to be­gin a three-day lux­ury bush­walk. The stun­ning cen­tre­piece of the Na­tional Park is Wilpena Pound, known to the tra­di­tional Ad­nya­math­anha own­ers as Ikara. The name means “meet­ing place”, and it’s an ap­pro­pri­ate spot to learn more about my fel­low walk­ers. Join­ing me are two fam­i­lies – a clan of avid tram­pers from Queens­land and first-time hik­ers from New York – with five teenagers be­tween them.

There’s plenty of ex­cited chat­ter as they com­pare trends and slang (fid­get spin­ners are pop­u­lar ev­ery­where, it seems), but the most talkative mem­ber of the party is our guide Dar­lene. As we walk through the Pound, emus scat­ter at our ap­proach and she ex­plains that most of them are un­likely to breed this year. It’s the male’s job to in­cu­bate the eggs, a pe­riod of al­most eight weeks dur­ing which they don’t eat at all. Last year’s unusu­ally wet win­ter meant that al­most all of the males suc­cess­fully mated and used up their fat re­serves, and they sim­ply haven’t gained enough weight to do it again.

Far above the un­gainly birds, a crown of jagged peaks de­fines this stun­ning nat­u­ral en­clo­sure. Over more than half a bil­lion years, ero­sion has ex­posed lay­ers of vi­brant red, pink and brown quartzite and sand­stone, colours that are mirrored in the rocks un­der­foot as we make our way up to a look­out. From here we can sur­vey the en­tire Pound, with Lake Tor­rens’ shim­mer­ing sur­face vis­i­ble in the dis­tance past the tow­er­ing rock walls of the El­der Range, to­wards which we are headed.

First, though, we have to cross the bowl of the Pound and head to­wards Bri­dle Gap.

It is so named be­cause it was ap­par­ently the only place through which a horse could climb out of the Pound. It’s hard to be­lieve any horse would will­ingly walk up the steep, rocky path and I fall silent as I fo­cus on putting one foot in front of the other and slowly make my way up to the rim.

Once on top, the stun­ning view helps me find my voice again. On one side the floor of the Pound is car­peted by thick mallee for­est and on the other the Ark­aba prop­erty stretches al­most as far as the eye can see.

Groves of cy­press pines are nes­tled be­tween rolling hills of red dirt cov­ered in sil­ver mulla mulla bushes that shine in the af­ter­noon light. In the fore­ground our camp is spread out above a creek bed lined with an­cient gum trees and I de­scend to­wards it with new­found en­ergy. Soon our sup­port guide Meg is com­ing out to greet us with warm tow­els, just a hint of the lux­ury that awaits. Af­ter a wellde­served shower, I join the oth­ers by the fire where a warm­ing glass of mulled wine awaits me as the guides pre­pare din­ner. Damper with salt­bush pesto and Per­sian feta is fol­lowed by de­li­ciously rich slow-cooked beef cheeks in red wine. I can’t think of a bet­ter way to fol­low the quan­dong and ap­ple pie than a nice glass of South Aus­tralian red, but the rest of the ta­ble seems more ex­cited about the ice cold bot­tles of Bund­aberg gin­ger beer.

Fully sated and pleas­antly weary from the day’s walk, it’s time to head to bed where one more sur­prise awaits, a hot wa­ter bot­tle nes­tled cosily in my swag. As I drag it out to sleep un­der the stars, I fall asleep un­der the Milky Way and lis­ten to the teenagers ex­per­i­ment­ing with ever more in­ven­tive ways to toast marsh­mal­lows.

The next day, we be­gin to en­counter signs of the prop­erty’s past use. De­nuded hill­sides mark for­mer cop­per min­ing sites, while Dar­lene tells us that the hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of fenc­ing on the prop­erty will be ripped up later this year. This is part of the ex­ten­sive re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram im­ple­mented by man­ager Bren­don Be­van since 2010. Other mea­sures have in­cluded plant­ing im­por­tant na­tive species, the re­moval of more than 14,000 feral goats and the clo­sure of all but one bore on the prop­erty.

When not guid­ing walk­ing groups, the staff also lay baits for foxes and check cat traps, along with cam­eras that mon­i­tor the pres­ence of both in­tro­duced and na­tive species.

Al­ready yel­low-footed rock wal­la­bies have re­turned to the prop­erty, and they’ve been joined by west­ern quolls and brush­tail pos­sums that have come over from Ikara since be­ing rein­tro­duced in the Na­tional Park.

There’s ev­ery chance they fol­lowed the some route we did, and we get a chance to look back to­wards Bri­dle Gap as we crest a rounded peak chris­tened “morn­ing tea hill”. As we ap­proach the sum­mit Dar­lene points out a per­fectly placed ruby red salt­bush. The bright pink fruit is un­can­nily sim­i­lar to pome­gran­ate seeds in both look and flavour, and I pick a cou­ple to chew on as I catch my breath and ad­mire the view.

Later in the day, we find clumps of aro­matic lemon grass which can be made into tea and Dar­lene shows us how to rub our fin­gers up the spike of a yakka and col­lect its nec­tar. It’s sur­pris­ingly sweet with a pleas­antly smoky flavour, and I find my­self re­peat­ing the process as I con­tem­plate the lay­ers of his­tory vis­i­ble in the stri­ated rock of the El­der Range loom­ing over out sec­ond evening’s camp.

Each sleep­ing area is an­gled to­wards the Range to catch a view of the sun­rise hit­ting the rock, and at din­ner our guides take or­ders for hot drinks so that we don’t even need to leave the com­fort of our swags in the morn­ing.

Sadly, the next day is over­cast but when the sun breaks through for a minute we get an idea of the ef­fect. Part of the rock face turns an in­tense red, glow­ing like an em­ber among ashes and it’s tempt­ing to ask if we can have a rest day here to re­peat the ex­pe­ri­ence.

In­stead, we tuck into a hearty break­fast be­fore tack­ling part of the Hey­sen trail, an epic 1200km walk that stretches south all the way to the tip of the Fleurieu Penin­sula. We duck un­der mas­sive golden orb webs stretched out be­tween cy­press pines be­fore de­scend­ing into creek beds lined with pur­plered mud­stone and crum­bling, yel­low sand­stone. Gnarled branches of an­cient river red gums reach up to the sky, their bark cov­ered in a pale white coat­ing that pro­tects them from the sun and it’s easy to imag­ine our­selves in the wa­ter­colour world of Hans Hey­sen, for whom the trail is named.

And then be­fore we know it, we’re clam­ber­ing up a gully and on to a ridge­line where we see our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion, Ark­aba Home­stead. It’s with mixed emo­tions that we see Meg ap­proach­ing us with warm tow­els, as this marks the end of our walk.

Trav­el­ling through this an­cient land­scape, the mod­ern world seems a long way away and I’m con­stantly re­minded that hu­mans are a re­cent ad­di­tion to this en­vi­ron­ment.

See­ing the work that Ark­aba is do­ing to re­turn the land to its for­mer state is a timely re­minder that we have an im­por­tant part to play in its fu­ture.

Walk­ers ap­proach­ing the apt­ly­named morn­ing tea hill. Pic­ture: Wild Bush Lux­ury

Clock­wise from above: Bri­dle Gap is a steep, rocky path to amaz­ing views of Wilpena Pound on one side and Ark­aba prop­erty on the other. Pic­ture: Gra­ham Michael Free­man/Great Walks of Aus­tralia; What bird is that? Pic­ture: Ark­aba/ Randy Lar­combe; Din­ner is a lux­u­ri­ous af­fair with views of El­der Range. Pic­ture: Adam Bruz­zone/SATC; Ark­aba Home­stead marks the end of the walk. Pic­ture: Randy Lar­combe/Wild Bush Walks; Emu chicks with their dad in the Flin­ders Ranges. Pic­ture: Adam Bruz­zone/SATC

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