Exploring the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary

View from Griselda Hill

Arkaroola has become a sought-after destination in outback South Australia. The spectacular granite peaks of the region are an incredible sight, even after weeks of exploring the Flinders Ranges. The views stretch in all directions across the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges, Lake Fromme and further afield to the Strzlecki Desert. With over 130 kilometres of 4WD tracks and 40 kilometres of hiking trails inside the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, you can easily explore the rugged landscape and feel a world away from human civilisation. 

Arkaroola is also one of the most recognised ecotourism ventures in Australia. The Sprigg family has carved out an incredible place for visitors, while looking after the flora and fauna and ancient landscape in an award-winning conservation effort. It certainly seems like a wild adventure to the middle of the outback, but visiting Arkaroola is worth every bump in the unsealed road to get there. 

We headed out there from Wilpena Pound and ended up staying a few days at Arkaroola campground. It turned out to be one of my favourite places in South Australia. If you’re dreaming of a remote trip to South Australia’s outback region, then keep reading for a comprehensive guide at visiting and staying at the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

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About Arkaroola

Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary or simply Arkaroola, is a 610 square kilometre private property in South Australia. It’s located in the northern Flinders Ranges, bordering the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park. As one of the most isolated and self-supporting properties in South Australia, it’s become a popular destination for adventurers. 

It’s won a string of awards in recent years, including South Australia’s Ecotourism Hall of Fame, Sustainable Tourism Australia and Major Tourist Attraction. This is all due to the efforts of the Sprigg family who have turned the property into an incredible conservation story.

There are plenty of activities to do around the property, although hiking and 4×4 driving are certainly the most popular. It’s often visited on a longer road trip that encompasses the Flinders Ranges, Innamincka, Birdsville, plus much more. While it’s mostly visited by those travelling on motorbikes and in 4WDs, it is technically possible to visit with a regular 2WD vehicle (more on this below).

It is well set-up for visitors, with everything that you’ll need for a stay out in the outback. The Arkaroola Village is the main hub and is the first place that you’ll come to as you enter the property. It has a reception and tour desk, restaurant and bar, fuel station and shop. There is also accommodation available including camping and motel rooms. There’s more about the facilities and services available at Arkaroola below.

Road into Arkaroola

A brief history of Arkaroola

The Arkaroola area is the traditional land of the Adnyamathanha people. The name comes from the mythical character in their dreamtime stories who created Arkaroola Creek. There were attempts at setting up the area as a pastoral station as well as various mining operations for gemstones, copper, and uranium throughout the early 20th century, with little success. 

Reg Sprigg, a government geologist, purchased the lease of the area known as Arkaroola in 1968 after he saw the need for its protection. He slowly began the process of creating the wilderness sanctuary, including working to protect the endangered yellow-footed rock wallaby and rejecting any exploration for gemstones and minerals. 

After years of lobbying, South Australia finally announced the banning of mining and exploration in Arkaroola in 2011. It has since been nominated by the government for National Heritage listing and potential World Heritage listing in the future. The Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is currently still under the ownership and management of the Sprigg family. 

Driving to Arkaroola

How to get there

Getting to Arkaroola is a bit of an adventure. It’s quite a remote place in outback South Australia and is only accessible by an unsealed road that affectively ends at Arkaroola. It does have a feeling that you’re driving out to the middle of nowhere, but that’s sort-of the appeal.

There are two main directions from which you can reach the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, both on long, unsealed roads. The first option is from Leigh Creek and Copley to the south west, which is around 130km on the Gammon Ranges Road. The second option is from Blinman and the Flinders Ranges National Park to the south, which is around 152km on the Northern Flinders Road. Both are incredible outback drives, that are worth the corrugations and dry creek crossings. There are no services available on either of these roads.

MY EXPERIENCE
Both of these options are technically recommended for 4WDs, although we managed them no problems in our 2WD vans. The roads were badly corrugated in some sections and there were some dry, rocky creek crossings, but nothing that required a high clearance vehicle. We took the Northern Flinders Road from Blinman to get to Arkaroola. I took it pretty slow in my old Toyota Hiace van and it took nearly 6 hours with a couple of short breaks and rest stops.

On the return journey, we took the Gammon Ranges Road to Copley and Leigh Creek, which was in slightly better condition at the time (June 2021). We never saw another 2WD during our time out there, so it’s definitely not common but we were pretty happy that we managed it. There are road condition information boards in Blinman and Copley so you can check the current status, as things change if there’s been recent rainfall.

You can also reach Arkaroola from Innamincka in the north via the Strzlecki Track and Mount Hopeless Road, which are strictly 4WD adventures through the desert and outback. There is also the option to reach Arkaroola from Yunta which is to the far south and requires a trip along the rough Tea Tree Road, which is an almost 300km stretch of unsealed and remote outback road. These options are more remote and require a lot more planning and experience. They can also be closed for long periods of time after bad weather. It’s best to call ahead to check the road conditions before setting out.

When to go to Arkaroola

While Arkaroola is technically open all year round to visitors, we were told its only naïve foreign tourists who usually end up out there in the warmer months. The heat of summer can certainly reach unbearable levels and you should avoid travelling to Arkaroola from October to March, unless you’re prepared for a range of conditions including heavy rain and extreme heat.

The best time to visit Arkaroola is from April until September, over the cooler and drier months. This is also the high season for the entire region, including the Flinders Ranges, so you definitely won’t be alone out there. The days are usually quite moderate around 20 degrees, while the nights can be very cold, but it’s certainly the most comfortable weather for exploring.

Read next: A Complete Guide to the Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park

View of Griselda Hill from the campground

Why go to the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary

Having been described as “inspiring” by everyone, including Traditional Owners, adventurers, hikers, geologists, artists, astronomers, scientists and conservationists, it’s hard not to want to go there. It’s one of the most alluring outback destinations in South Australia, and has become a major stop for those on long expeditions to some of Australia’s most remote places including the Simpson Desert, Strzlecki Desert and Lake Eyre.

It also has simply spectacular landscapes, with incredible rolling hills and rugged, rocky escarpments that stretch in the distance until they eventually flatten out into the desert. Whether you hit the walking trails or 4WD tracks, you’ll be blown away with the beauty of this part of South Australia. Even after spending weeks in the Flinders Ranges, I still couldn’t believe some of the vistas around Arkaroola.

There’s also something about being so remote in the outback that is both exciting and dreamy. There are next to no services around Arkaroola until you reach one of the major sealed roads over 100km away, so the drive in feels like a real adventure. You also won’t find any real light pollution out there, so the night sky is as vivid as you’ll see anywhere else in the world.

Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is a pioneering sustainable tourism project and definitely one of the top ecotourism destinations in Australia. This is also a major drawcard, as you get to explore one of the most unique accommodation and conservation efforts in the country.

Arkaroola main campground

Arkaroola accommodation

As with most outback accommodation, Arkaroola has options for camping and those looking for private rooms. We stayed in the campground for three nights, which was relatively busy but certainly not crowded in June.

Arkaroola Motel | The motel has almost 50 rooms available from comfortable and spacious options to budget friendly rooms. They all have air conditioning, heating and an ensuite bathroom. Depending on the different options, some rooms have complimentary Wi-Fi, breakfast included and a TV.

Arkaroola Cottages | If you’re travelling in a large group, there are a few 2 and 3 bedroom cottages available as well. They all have a kitchen, lounge and bathroom for those wanting self-catering options.

Arkaroola Camping | The campground has 50 powered sites, surrounded by plenty of unpowered camping space. There is an amenities block with toilets and hot showers, as well as a separate laundry. You’ll also find a camp kitchen and dining shelter there.

If you want to escape the crowd completely, there is a bush camping area with 740 acres of land for you to find your ideal spot. You can either use the main amenities block in the powered camping area, otherwise, there are a few basic toilets around the bush camping but they are few and far between.

Our vans at Arkaroola

Facilities and services at Arkaroola

Bar and restaurant: There is a casual restaurant for breakfast and lunch with a basic but decent menu. They’re open from 7-9am and again from 12-2pm. The burgers and sandwiches are great, especially their veggie burger. Plus, you can also request gluten free bread. Dinner is a more formal (and pricier) affair, open from 6-8pm. You must book dinner in advance.

Fuel and shop: There are a couple of fuel bowsers with unleaded and diesel available, open from 7am until 5.30pm daily. You can also get basic supplies inside the reception area including bread and milk, but it’s very limited so don’t rely on it.

Swimming pool: There is a swimming pool for all guests to use, if you’re keen.

Wi-Fi: There is free Wi-Fi for motel guests but a charge of $10 is added for camping guests per site, if you need. 

Telephone and phone reception: There are Telstra payphones available in the camping area and reception. Otherwise, Telstra has good 4G network around the main Arkaroola Village. There’s no Optus reception at all. 

Water: There are rainwater taps available near the reception area and campground but they are only for drinking and not to refill tanks. There are plenty of signs informing you that water is a precious resource out there and they ask you not to waste it.

Fires: Open fires are allowed on the property in premade fire spots throughout the cooler months (don’t make your own new fireplace). However, there is a fire ban from November until April each year.

Pet policy: Dogs are allowed only in the camping area but must be kept on a leash. There is 1080 bait used on the property, so you need to be very mindful of where your pet is at all times.

Tours: Arkaroola has a few popular tours available to guests. The most famous of these is the Ridgetop Tour, a four-hour trip out to Sillar’s Lookout, one of the most dramatic viewpoints you’ll likely ever see (as of 2021, price is $190 per person). If you’re interested in a cultural tour, there is a walk with Sharpy, a Yura man, where you get to learn more about the Adnyamathanha culture. Lastly, Arkaroola is quite well-known amongst keen astronomers and there’s a couple of observatories dotted around the property. You can join an after dark astronomy tour depending on availability. 

Scenic flights: Doug Sprigg is himself a pilot and there are scenic flights offered from Arkaroola to Lake Eyre and over the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges. Find out more at reception upon arrival or by phone.

Guided 4WD tours: If you’re not quite an experienced 4×4 driver, then there are guided trips you can take. From half day to full day options, you can explore Echo Camp, Stubbs Waterhole, Paralana Hot Springs and a number of gorges. Prices start from $170 per person for half day.

Top of Acacia Ridge

Things to do in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary

While there’s plenty of tours to keep you busy, you can also head off exploring on your own, either on foot or by car. Four wheel driving and hiking are the two main activities to do in Arkaroola. We did a few of the Arkaroola walks during our few days there.

Arkaroola walks

Obviously walking was my favourite activity at Arkaroola. There are a few different hikes in Arkaroola from short steep climbs to long day walks through remote corners of the property. We tackled the three main walks, plus the longest day hike and all were worth taking the time to do. They are all well-marked and well-worn trails, so navigation should not be an issue for experienced walkers.

Mawson Spriggina walk

Acacia Ridge: This 6.5km one way hike is definitely the most popular of the Arkaroola walks. The scenic trail climbs a ridge just back along the road coming into the village. The little detour at the top to the viewpoint is a million times worth doing and is probably one of the best panoramic views in the entire state. From there you just need to follow the trail down the ridge towards Arkaroola Village. There is a bit of climbing on this hike but nothing overly strenuous. It’s best to get the shuttle service to the start and walk the one way trail back to the village.

Mawson Spriggina: This 8km loop option heads along the Mawson Valley and Spriggina Ridge. It’s a nice walk that can be started from near the campground and comes back out at Arkaroola reception. It has a couple of moderate climbs, but otherwise offers some nice scenic views of the property.

Read next: The Ultimate Day Hike Packing List

Griselda Hill: This steep climb is not for the faint-hearted. The hill protruding from the ground just outside the entrance gate to the property (there’s nice views of it from the campground) is Griselda Hill and yes, you can climb to the top of it. From the base it’s around 1km to to the top, which requires some decent rock scrambling at the end. Once you reach the top of the ridge, how far you continue along is entirely up to you. It offers an incredible 360 degree panorama of the village and surrounding mountains.

Mt Warren-Hastings

Oppaminda Nudlamutana: This lengthy 15km one way hike is definitely for those looking for a remote day hike in Arkaroola. We were the only people on the trail that day, so it’s definitely not as popular as the other options. It begins in the Gammon Ranges and makes its way all the way back to the Arkaroola Village, summiting Mt Warren-Hastings along the way. The view from Mt Warren is an incredible sight, as good if not better than the view from Acacia Ridge. The last few kilometres is an easier walk along a 4WD track, so it’s only the first half that will challenge you a bit.

Arkaroola shuttle service
For Acacia Ridge and Oppaminda Nudlamutana hikes, reception offers a shuttle service to the start of the walk as they are both one way trails. There are two daily departures for Acacia Ridge, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. For Oppaminda Nudlamutana, you only have the morning option as you will need most of the day to hike it back. They only request a small donation which goes to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

4WD tracks in Arkaroola

There are 4WD tracks to explore for a range of experience levels. Reception can supply maps and information booklets for a variety of tracks on the property.

Echo Camp: This is a paid self-drive option and is often considered a must-do by extreme 4×4 drivers. The track takes around 5 hours to complete and a map and brochure is provided upon payment at reception.

Paralana Hot Springs: Via the Stubbs Waterhole, this is a free 4WD destination inside the sanctuary to historic hot springs. While no swimming is allowed because the springs are radioactive, there is some incredible geology to admire out there with the map and brochure provided by reception.

Stubbs Waterhole, the Pinnacles, Bolla Bollana Springs, Barrarana Gorge, plus much more: There are plenty of other places to see on 4WD adventures through the sanctuary free of cost. Ask at reception for recommended routes and self-drive tours depending on your skill level.

Book your stay

Where to next?

If you’re heading further south to explore more of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, check out my other posts:

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