There’s a few places in South Australia that have huge reputations, and rolling into Arkaroola I wondered if it would actually live up to the hype or not. We’re from WA, and many of the names of places that are mentioned on the other side of the country are unfamiliar to us, but Arkaroola is a name we did know, and we were looking forward to seeing what it was really like.
Our drive started off from Moolooloo Station, after a night of fairly steady drizzle, and Sarah and I were both pretty cold and damp by the time we hopped in the car. With only 10 – 15mm of rain falling, I was surprised at how slippery and muddy the road was into Blinman, and it didn’t get much better heading out to Arkaroola, with both the Dmax and Reconn R2 covered in mud by the time we arrived.
Once again, we marvelled at the amazing changes in scenery, and pulling into Arkaroola I was thoroughly impressed with the natural beauty. In my mind, Arkaroola was the El Questro of the Flinders Ranges, and opening the door at the reception reminded me that it’s a well setup business.
We checked in, paid our money, and headed off to camp, with a sneaky suspicion that this place was going to be a whole lot of fun, and the next few days proved just that.
Where is Arkaroola?
You’ll find this giant wilderness sanctuary at the end of a gravel road in the northern parts of the Flinders Ranges, butting up against the Gammon National Park. Its 312km from Quorn and 133km from Leigh Creek.
What’s the scenery like?
I mentioned earlier that I was thoroughly impressed driving into Arkaroola, and that feeling improved as we headed off on the first afternoon, ducking for cover from the rain and hoping to find a couple of nice 4WD tracks to do. Pulling over the hill to the pound, on the way to Stubbs waterhole, I was left speechless, and it only got better in the coming days as we explored more of the property.
The natural beauty on this property exceeds that of most places I’ve been to in Australia, and that’s a seriously high compliment. We spent the next few days exploring as many nooks and crannies of the property as we could find, and would rate the scenery here as some of the best in Australia by a long shot.
The views from some of the 4WD tracks (particularly the Echo Camp one) left me absolutely mind blown, and I’m not sure I can explain just how magnificent it is. Hopefully some of our photos will do it a slice of justice, but it really is unreal.
Can you get to Arkaroola in a 2WD?
Yes, you can, and we saw a couple of 2WD’s there, as well as a big tour bus. The roads are generally well maintained but gravel, and its accessible to most vehicles.
If you want to explore the majority of the property safely though, you need a 4WD. They do have some ‘2WD’ friendly tracks, but I wouldn’t be taking any 2WD vehicle down there that wasn’t ready for a bit of a beating, and that had some clearance.
If you want to camp at Arkaroola, you have three options. There’s powered sites at the top of a hill, near the toilets and showers. Around the powered sites, are unpowered sites, which are also in the open on the hill. Both areas have spectacular views of the nearby hills and rock formations, and whilst I’m told it can get dusty and windy, its not a bad place at all.
Alternatively, you can drive for kilometres down the bottom in the bush camping area, and find yourself a private little spot away from everyone else. We chose to stay in the first bush camp spot, which was within walking distance (up a fairly steep goat track) to the amenities, had good reception (so I could get some work done!) and was still private enough that the kids could run around without getting hit by a car, and make a bit of noise without upsetting anyone.
The amenities at the top are old, and smell a bit, but they do the job and we had warm showers every night, and had nothing really to complain about. Yep, they could be upgraded and made more flashy, but then you’d probably pay more to stay, so it’s a double edged sword. For us, it was pretty awesome, and we thought it was decent enough.
Swimming at Arkaroola
Before we go in, I want to point out that swimming in the natural waterholes at Arkaroola is not permitted. Granted, there’s probably only a few that you could anyway, but they ban it to look after the natural wildlife, who only drink the top portion of water. If you want to swim, Arkaroola has a swimming pool located behind the restaurant.
What does it cost to stay?
Given the reputation of this place, and how similar it is to El Questro, I was expecting to have to cut out half of my liver and sell it on the black market to stay here, but its actually really reasonable. We paid $105 for three nights, for an unpowered bush camp for two adults, one kid and one baby (I’m sure Cooper should have been charged an extra $5 per night, but I won’t complain).
If you want a powered site, you’ll pay $35 a night for 2 adults.
Overall, really reasonable value, but what impressed me most was that most of the attractions are free, and accessible to all. There’s a couple of areas on the property that you must pay to access via a tour, or a 4WD track that you need to pay and get a key for, but the camping fee gets you a fair bit of access, and its not a rip off at all. There’s a huge amount to see as well; we stayed 3 nights and still didn’t see everything on the property.
Arkaroola do a heap of tours, and I suspect they do fairly well from them. There’s a heap of scenic flights, the ridgetop tour (which is hugely recommended by many), astronomy tours and plenty more.
Yellow Footed Wallaby guide
If you want to do something pretty neat, find out when the yellow footed wallaby guide is on, and head to the visitor centre (opposite reception), to watch it. At 6:30PM (or this might change slightly) a whole heap of wallabies come down from the rocks to feed on a big rock outside of a little viewing area.
We took the kids, and had a pretty special time with the owner explaining a heap of information about the history of the station and the wallabies, which at one point in time Arkaroola had over 50% of the worlds population!
Arkaroola 4WD tracks
If a private property has great scenery, camping and amazing 4WD tracks, we are all over it, and Arkaroola has a pretty big reputation when it comes to exploring the station on four wheels. When you check in, you’re given a map of the station, and there are a number of 4WD tracks that you can do.
These are proper 4WD tracks too; not just station tracks that take you around the property, and a number will have you reaching for the locker button, or at least being very cautious about where you put your wheels.
We spent the better part of 3 days exploring the property and still didn’t see everything, but combining technical 4WDing with incredible scenery, great weather and a camp you can roll back into at the end of each day is rare. For a more in depth post on the tracks around, check out Arkaroola 4WD tracks.
Upon arrival, you’ll get an informational booklet that tells you where to go, but you can call in at reception before heading out and they’ll give you more information on each track that you want to do, which is pretty handy.
A good introduction to the property is to head back out the driveway, and turn left. This takes you past a number of attractions including the Welcome Pound, and you’ll eventually end up at Stubbs Waterhole. You can walk through the gorge for some time and get to a couple of nice pools, but the views in this area are nothing short of stunning.
Echo Camp 4WD track
This track is the only paid 4WD track on the property, and is classified as extreme 4WDing. It’s $45 to do the track, and you have to pay a $50 deposit on the key, which you get back when you return it. This was quite possibly the best 4WD track I’ve ever done, with amazing views, a number of places that required careful wheel placement, some super steep descents and a couple of places to stop and enjoy a snack or two.
We thoroughly rated this track, and rate it a 10/10.
On our first day, we took this track back to the homestead. It’s one way, and can only be started from the road into Arkaroola, but it’s a cracker 4WD track with amazing views, a lookout along the way and plenty to keep your eyes watching where you are driving, and picking a suitable line.
The first hill climb is probably the hardest, which we did without a locker to see how it would go, but there was a lot of bouncing and wheel lifts, which was entertaining. From then on, I did make use of the rear locker a few more times, but it winds its way through some pretty spectacular scenery and is 100% worth a look. If you have a vehicle with limited clearance, this track is not for you.
Hikes at Arkaroola
Arkaroola has a huge number of hikes, and if you are into walks, you could stay here for a week and still not do them all. Most of them are a decent length as well, and we only did some short walks into the gorges. Our youngest is simply not able to walk more than 1.5km, and there’s no way I’m carrying him that far; he’s too heavy these days!
The maps are good, with decent instructions and signage for where to walk, and you can even walk into the gorge off the paid 4WD track, from the other side.
Restaurant and bar
Arkaroola has a restaurant that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you can get your coffees and everything else. If you want to visit for dinner you need to pre book at least a few hours before, and they have a bar serving everything you need.
On the one night that we did pop our heads in things were bustling, happy and it’s a pretty amazing little oasis indoors.
Can you get fuel at Arkaroola?
Arkaroola has diesel, 91 unleaded and 98 unleaded. We paid $2.65 a litre for diesel, which we thought was reasonable given Hawker was charging $2.32, and Port Augusta was around $2.10. Admittedly I did work out we only needed 40L so we saved some money, but its not a bad price given its location.
Is Arkaroola worth a visit?
In the back of my mind, I wondered if Arkaroola might be a giant money grab, chocked full of tourists with it being the poster boy of South Australia. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It blew my mind on so many levels. Its affordable, the camping is fantastic, the 4WD tracks are even better, the staff were extremely friendly and helpful, and the scenery is out of this world. If not number 1, Arkaroola gets number 2 place of everywhere we went in the Flinders Ranges. Argadells is a very competitive alternative, although quite different again.
I’d even go as far as to say that Arkaroola is better than many of the places we’ve been to in the Pilbara, and we really rate them. If you are wondering whether Arkaroola is actually worth the visit, and you have a 4WD with a sense of adventure, put it on the list. It’s absolutely fantastic, and we’ll be back again without a second thought!