Nestled in the heart of the Ikara-Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park in South Australia is Wilpena Pound, a breathtaking amphitheatre of mountains that is strangely unknown to many Australians. Covering almost 8000 hectares, Wilpena Pound is an immense geological bowl, with its lowest point 200 metres above the surrounding landscape. Found 429 kilometres north of Adelaide, Wilpena Pound's interior flat plane is dotted with vegetation and surrounded by jagged peaks, and from an aerial view looks deceptively easy to traverse. Wilpena Pound is a dream destination for bushwalkers, climbers, or anyone who just wants to experience remarkable views from its rim, including its highest point Ngarri Mudlanha or St Mary's Peak (reaching 1188 metres above sea level). Arguably as impressive as Uluru in the Northern Territory, Wilpena Pound and the Ikara-Flinders Ranges are a must-see for any outback trip across South Australia.
Things to Know About Wilpena Pound
Before booking a Wilpena Pound tour, here are some noteworthy facts about this incredible location.
History of Wilpena Pound
Wilpena Pound was a culturally significant meeting place for the Indigenous Adnyamathanha people before discovery by European explorers. For the Adnyamathanha people, the Dreamtime creation story of Wilpena Pound describes the mountain walls as the bodies of two interlocking giant serpents (Akurra). A difficult landmark to miss due to its immensity, Wilpena Pound was observed by explorers on several expeditions to the area and there was debate as to who could claim its discovery. During the early 20th century attempts at cultivating crops on the base of Wilpena Pound failed, and the landmark was eventually recognised as a tourist destination.
Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park
Wilpena Pound is the main feature of Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, which is located in South Australia's largest mountain range. The park contains several other impressive rock formations other than Wilpena Pound, including Hucks Lookout, Bunyeroo Gorge, Brachina Gorge, Arkaroo Rock, and Wilkawillina Gorge. The traditional Adnyamathanha name for Wilpena Pound Ikara meaning "meeting place" was added to the park's name in 2016.
Wilpena Pound Resort
Located at the entrance to Wilpena Pound on its eastern side, Wilpena Pound Resort is the only accommodation located within the National Park. This large, modern development provides a comfortable retreat for travellers who as they explore the semi-arid climate of the region. An unsealed airstrip at the resort provides a means for visitors to take scenic flights over Wilpena Pound and other landmarks.
Local Climate & Wildlife
Wilpena Pound and the surrounding region is semi-arid and receives lower average rainfall than the rest of Australia. The temperature is at its highest between December and February (averaging over 30 degrees during the day), while the coolest period is between June and August (averaging around 16 degrees during the day). The wildlife inhabiting the region includes western grey kangaroos, red kangaroos, wallaroos, yellow-footed rock wallaby, and other endemic marsupials like dunnarts. There are many species of lizards to be seen in this region, including dragon lizards, goannas, snakes, and geckos. Echidnas and several species of birds like parrots and emus are also commonly found in this region.
The Ikara-Flinders Ranges and Wilpena Pound formed on an ancient seabed approximately 650 million years ago. The entire area is part of the Adelaide Geosyncline basin which encompasses the Ikara-Flinders Ranges and extends south to the Mount Lofty Ranges. There is a wide range of sedimentary rocks in this area which are known as the Wilpena Group by geologists. These rocks can be easily observed on the cliffs surrounding Wilpena Pound, including yellow sandstone (Rawnsley Quartzite) and red sandstone (Bonney Sandstone). Despite appearing as one large mountain range, Wilpena Pound is actually a pair of mountain ranges. A gap cut into the eastern range drains into Wilpena Creek, with a small area in the northern slopes draining into Edeowie Creek.
Things to Do at Wilpena Pound
Here are a few of the most notable landmarks and experiences located in and around Wilpena Pound.
Ngarri Mudlanha or St Mary's Peak
Ngarri Mudlanha or St Mary's Peak is the highest peak of Wilpena Pound, making it the biggest undertaking for bushwalkers exploring the region. It takes around 6-7 hours to walk to the top of the peak, with the view at the top well worth the effort put into getting there.
Old Wilpena Station
Old Wilpena Station is an iconic pastoral settlement that still stands after it was first established in 1851. Operated for 135 years, this heritage-listed site is the most intact settlement of early pastoral buildings in South Australia and has great cultural significance to both indigenous and non-indigenous residents.
Rawnsley Park Station
Rawnsley Park Station is located on the south-eastern edge of Wilpena Pound and was first established by European settlers in 1851. Since then, Rawnsley Park Station has become a popular tourist accommodation spot that offers several attractions like sheep shearing demonstrations and a range of 4WD tours.
The Cazneaux Tree is a river red gum located close to Wilpena Pound and is one of the most famous eucalyptus trees in Australia. It is a popular attraction for tourists as well as artists and photographers due to its unique beauty and is named after the first person to photograph it, Harold Cazneaux, who named his original photograph "The Spirit of Endurance".
Hills Homestead/Wangara Lookout Walk
The Hills Homestead trail is a 1-2 hour walk that takes you through the Pound Gap and to a relatively easy-to-traverse edge of Wilpena Pound ending at Wangara Lookout. From, Wangara Lookout, travellers are rewarded with an amazing panoramic view of Wilpena Pound.
Heysen Trail is an approximately 1200-kilometre walking trail that begins at Cape Jervis and ends at the Parachilan Gorge near Wilpena Pound on the western side of the Ikara-Flinders ranges. The Heysen trail takes walkers past some of the most scenic South Australian landscapes and is free of charge for anyone to tackle.
Mount Ohlssen Bagge Hike
The Mount Ohlssen Bagge Hike is a 4-hour return experience that, while covering rugged terrain, rewards hikers with an amazing view of the Pound floor. Widely praised as one of the best hikes to experience in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges, this hike offers an enjoyable challenge for experienced hikers.
Reasons to Visit Wilpena Pound and the Ikara-Flinders Ranges
Wilpena Pound is one of the most iconic geological rock formations in Australia, rivalling Uluru in both its natural magnificence and cultural importance. The almost perfect elliptical shape of Wilpena Pound makes it an incredibly unique destination that resembles a massive meteor impact crater or football stadium. The panoramic views offered on any part of the Pound's rim are truly breathtaking, with even the most expertly framed photographs struggling to do it justice. Apart from walking up to the Pound's rugged peaks, it's also worthwhile taking a scenic flight to look down on it from above and take in its immense scale. For bushwalkers, Wilpena Pound and the surrounding Ikara-Flinders Ranges are an absolute delight and offer one of the most vast and authentic slices of outback South Australia. There are a plethora of walking trails leading into and around Wilpena Pound, offering something for hikers of all skill levels. Wilpena Pound Resort has an amazing campground with options for both powered and unpowered safari tents, allowing visitors to tailor their experience to the level of comfort they desire. There's just enough modern convenience close by that a trip to this region of South Australia is ideal for first timers exploring the Australian outback.
AAT King's Tours of Wilpena Pound
Several of AAT King's guided tours will invite you to spend a night at Wilpena Pound Resort and experience locations like Wangara Lookout and Hills Homestead. See our related tours below.