THE pro­lif­er­a­tion of self-drive four­wheel drive tracks through­out Aus­tralia is ev­i­denced by the grow­ing num­ber of self-drive tracks in South Aus­tralia’s Flin­ders Ranges. Some ex­am­ples in­clude the Bendleby Ranges self-drive, the Arkapena Scenic Ad­ven­ture at Rawnsley Park Sta­tion, the Stir­rup Iron Range 4WD ad­ven­ture at Mulga View Sta­tion, and the well-known Skytrek at Wil­low Springs.

If you’re new to re­mote-area driv­ing and not yet ready to head deep into the out­back with your new 4x4, self-drive sta­tion tracks can help ease you into it with­out the con­cerns of get­ting lost… or worse. The self-drive tracks at Rawnsley, Bendleby and the Skytrek at Wil­low Springs of­fer an en­vi­ron­ment where you’ll al­ways be close to help, with most sta­tions op­er­at­ing a ded­i­cated CB chan­nel should you get into any strife. Self-drive tracks also vary in de­grees of dif­fi­culty, so trav­ellers can test their driv­ing level and ve­hi­cle abil­ity. Plus, pun­ters are of­ten pro­vided with key lo­cal in­for­ma­tion by the sta­tion own­ers, which can in­clude up­dates on track con­di­tions, as well as de­tailed cus­tom-made maps with high­lighted points of in­ter­est.

Pun­ters can ex­plore three of the main sta­tion’s self-drive tracks in just a cou­ple of days. Start­ing at the Bendleby Sta­tion, they will be less than 150km from Rawnsley Sta­tion; and Wil­low Springs (the Skytrek) is an­other 60km north of Rawnsley Sta­tion. Both Rawnsley and Wil­low Springs are very close to the Wilpena Pound, which was orig­i­nally thought to be an an­cient vol­cano but re­cent stud­ies in­di­cate it’s a nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre of moun­tains. With its rugged,

bright cliff faces, an­cient gorges and ex­ten­sive plains, ex­plor­ers will be left with a last­ing mem­ory – it’s hard to be­lieve that hun­dreds of mil­lions of years ago, where the ex­ist­ing ranges now stand, was orig­i­nally an in­land sea.

If driv­ing north, Bendleby Sta­tion pro­vides the first op­por­tu­nity to tackle some self-drive tracks. The Bendleby Ranges is a com­bi­na­tion of two ad­join­ing prop­er­ties – Springs and Gum­dale – and to­tals 150km². The many ru­ins scat­tered across the prop­er­ties are tes­ti­mony to the harsh­ness this en­vi­ron­ment pre­sented to its first set­tlers. The Ellery fam­ily (Gum­dale) and Luck­raft fam­ily (Springs) have owned these prop­er­ties for more than 40 years. To­day, the prop­er­ties, while sep­a­rately man­aged, fea­ture in­cred­i­ble tracks to ex­plore and sev­eral of the re­gion’s well-kept se­crets.

The Bendleby self-drive 4WD tour fea­tures plenty of trails, rang­ing from beginner tracks to chal­leng­ing ones, to keep folks busy for more than a cou­ple of days. The prop­erty, with ter­rain that varies from hills to plains and pro­vides ex­cel­lent views to­wards Lake Frome and Wilpena Pound, stretches 17km long, 8km wide and reaches heights of up to 1171m above sea level. Sim­i­lar to the other self­drive tracks in the re­gion, maps and ex­tra in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing an up­date on the track’s con­di­tion be­fore you set off, are pro­vided on ar­rival. A well-known spec­ta­cle in the re­gion is the sun­set on the Northsouth Ridge, so en­sure your cam­era bat­tery is charged. If you’re look­ing for a se­cluded camp­site on the Bendleby Ranges you will not be dis­ap­pointed, with plenty of re­mote lo­ca­tions avail­able along creek lines.

As you con­tinue north­east to­wards the heart of the Flin­ders Ranges you’ll hit Rawnsley Park Sta­tion, an­other pri­vate prop­erty that pro­vides hours of self-drive fun. Rawnsley Park Sta­tion over­looks the south­ern side of the Wilpena Pound, and here you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence the un­spoiled beauty of the Arkapena Sta­tion that is now part of Rawnsley Park Sta­tion. The Arkapena 4WD track is tough, with steep, rocky as­cents and de­scents, and you should give your­self at least five hours to ex­plore it.

On the track you’ll en­counter the old sta­tion dog fence that was built in the late 1800s to keep din­goes out of the newly set­tled farm­ing land. There’ll also be some great views fol­low­ing some de­cent as­cents, be­fore ar­riv­ing at the Pugilist Hill Look­out. This look­out, which pro­vides a fan­tas­tic view of Wilpena Pound, was given its name af­ter two

sta­tion hands had a fist fight on top of this hill in the early 1930s. By now you and your 4WD should be well warmed up, but by con­tin­u­ing to­wards Wil­low Springs Sta­tion you may be sav­ing the best ’til last. Just 50km from Rawnsley Sta­tion you will ar­rive at the en­trance of Wil­low Springs, which is home to the well-known Skytrek self-drive track. Wil­low Springs, orig­i­nally called Ap­pealinna, was ini­tially worked as a sta­tion in the mid1850s. The present owner’s fam­ily has been there since the early 1920s, with tourism now be­ing a ma­jor part of the sta­tion’s ac­tiv­i­ties. Like many sim­i­lar places in Aus­tralia, Wil­low Springs Sta­tion was one of the early pas­toral leases in the area.

The Skytrek of­fice is lo­cated be­side the homestead on the sta­tion, and you’ll be wel­comed by the of­fice staff and asked to fill out the nec­es­sary pa­per­work. When

you pay your ac­cess fee to the Skytrek you’ll re­ceive a key, which al­lows you to open a cou­ple of gates on the route, and an in­for­ma­tion pack with all the track de­tails in­clud­ing a map and in­for­ma­tion high­light­ing 40 mark­ers along the route – as well as sug­gested lunch spots. You’ll be ad­vised to use Chan­nel 4 to con­tact the homestead while out and about and Chan­nel 7 Re­peater (Emer­gency only 090, con­tact Hawker RAA) should you en­counter any trou­ble.

Like the other self-drive tracks in the re­gion it’s ad­vised to let some air out of your tyres and make sure ev­ery­thing is se­cure in your ve­hi­cle be­fore start­ing the Skytrek. You will be straight into it shortly af­ter leav­ing the sta­tion, with the ear­lier part of the drive man­age­able in high range four-wheel drive; how­ever, low range is soon es­sen­tial.

From Marker 25 on the cur­rent track, the track heads east onto old sta­tion roads and of­fers new views and at­trac­tions in­clud­ing the Old Shep­herd’s Hut and a spec­tac­u­lar photo op­por­tu­nity of the Wilpena Pound. The newly es­tab­lished track in­cor­po­rates ap­prox­i­mately 79km of in­ter­est­ing 4Wd­ing, with some chal­leng­ing sec­tions along the route that can take up to six hours. Along the route you’ll pass an old wool­shed built in 1923, as well as pine trees, nat­u­ral springs, river red gum trees and Abo­rig­i­nal en­grav­ings – keep an eye out and you might even see a car­pet python.

Sim­i­lar to Rawnsley Park Sta­tion, one of the mark­ers will see you pass by some clues that will iden­tify the pre­vi­ous ex­is­tence of an­cient seabeds. Be sure to get out and have a look as the kids will love see­ing the mark­ings on the slated rocks, with the rip­ples es­ti­mated to be a cou­ple of mil­lion years old.

You don’t have to be new to 4Wd­ing to en­joy these self-drive tracks, with a com­bined to­tal of hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of unique ter­rain where even the ex­pe­ri­enced tourer has some­thing to learn. One thing is guar­an­teed, though: ex­plor­ing these tracks will leave both the novice and ex­pe­ri­enced four-wheeler itch­ing to fur­ther ex­plore the thou­sands of kilo­me­tres of re­mote tracks.

Rawnsley Sta­tion’s tracks cater for both pros and ama­teurs.

Rawnsley Sta­tion and its camp­site isn’t far from Wil­low Springs Sta­tion.

Ap­proach­ing the top of Prom­i­nent Hill, at the 68km mark.

Old Moxan’s Hut is lo­cated 15km from the Wil­low Springs Sta­tion. The en­tic­ing, un­tamed ter­rain of Rawnsley Park Sta­tion.

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