In the South Aus­tralian out­back, a for­mer sheep ranch pro­vides a heady com­bi­na­tion of lux­ury, con­ser­va­tion, and ad­ven­ture.


In the South Aus­tralian out­back, a for­mer sheep ranch pro­vides a heady com­bi­na­tion of lux­ury, con­ser­va­tion, and ad­ven­ture.

I looked at the kan­ga­roo, plead­ingly. It looked back at me, smugly. All I wanted was one photo—just one pic­ture!—of it bounc­ing across the ocher hills of the Flin­ders Ranges in South Aus­tralia, a clas­sic out­back shot that would no doubt ig­nite In­sta­gram envy among my friends back home. But the mar­su­pial had no in­ten­tion of stray­ing from the shel­ter of a gnarled gum tree. Kan­ga­roos, it turns out, are not stupid. While mad dogs and this English­man might go out in the mid­day sun, kan­ga­roos don’t. They sen­si­bly take refuge in what­ever shade they can find, which is great for keep­ing them­selves cool, but not so great for a photo op.

I was in the Flin­ders for a long week­end at Ark­aba, a vast sheep ranch turned pri­vate na­ture con­ser­vancy whose 19th-cen­tury farm­house (the Homestead) is now an up­scale lodge with just five be­d­rooms, a pool, and gar­dens shared with emus and rose-breasted galah cock­a­toos. It’s a place where you can idle away a few days nosh­ing on gourmet food, re­lax­ing on the ve­randa with a book, or ly­ing by the pool count­ing con- den­sa­tion lines on your gin and tonic. But for those seek­ing a more ac­tive get­away, there are sa­fari-style drives that ex­plore the far­ther reaches of the 260-square-kilo­me­ter prop­erty, and guided hikes into the hills with nights slept out un­der the stars. Think of it as a jour­ney to the mid­dle of the mid­dle of nowhere but with steak, sauvi­gnon blanc, and air con­di­tion­ing.

From the win­dow seat of the char­tered tur­bo­prop that flew me and three other guests in from Ade­laide, the Flin­ders—a 400-kilo­me­ter­long range of rip­pling rock named af­ter the English nav­i­ga­tor Matthew Flin­ders, who cir­cum­nav­i­gated Aus­tralia in 1802—ap­pear bar­ren and in­hos­pitable. The land­scape is pre­dom­i­nantly brown, with the oc­ca­sional line of trees flank­ing dried-up creek beds. Get closer, though, and even in this pun­ish­ing en­vi­ron­ment, where nighttime tem­per­a­tures in the sum­mer re­main in the 30s, you can see that life adapts, blos­soms, and thrives. Sheep and cat­tle ranch­ers ar­rived on the scene in the mid 1800s, but for tens of thou­sands of years prior to Euro­pean set­tle­ment, this re­gion was in­hab­ited by the indige­nous Ad­nya­math­anha peo­ple, as evinced by lo­cal rock shel­ters and cave paint­ings.

Amid this wilder­ness, Ark­aba is lit­er­ally an oa­sis. Dom­i­nated by an an­cient line of red-rock bluffs aptly called the El­der Range, the prop­erty shares its north­ern bor­der with Wilpena Pound, an enor­mous nat­u­ral am­phithe­ater of eroded hills. (Ac­cord­ing to Ad­nya­math­anha tra­di­tion, the for­ma­tion was cre­ated by two ser­pents that, af­ter feast­ing on peo­ple who had gath­ered there for a cer­e­mony, were so sa­ti­ated they lay down

A hiker en route to the foothills of the El­der Range.

Above, from left: Out­back­style room ser­vice at Ark­aba’s re­vamped 19th-cen­tury farm­house, the Homestead; in­side one of the prop­erty’s five in­di­vid­u­ally de­signed guest rooms, each of which opens onto a cov­ered ve­randa.

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