Did someone say Road Trip??? When in South Australia, one of the most unique places to visit is the Flinders Ranges. Unfortunately it’s not just around the corner, and will take some time to get to. But rather than a boring, long drive, why not turn it into a proper road trip, stopping off to see all the things there are to do when driving from Adelaide to Flinders Ranges.
Where are the Flinders Ranges
The Flinders Ranges start about 200km north of Adelaide and then continue north for a further 430km, taking up a huge chunk of rural South Australia (you can see the darker ranges on the map below)
With such a huge area to cover, I am going to give two different sets of driving instructions and things to do along the way from Adelaide to Flinders Ranges. The first set will take you to Melrose in the southern part of the Flinders Ranges, the second will be driving from Adelaide to Wilpena Pound. One of these routes will likely be primarily used to take you to any of the other places in the Flinders Ranges.
Driving From Adelaide to Melrose
Melrose is located at the foot of Mount Remarkable and is a popular long weekend getaway location. This is a great base for exploring the Southern Flinders Ranges. Melrose hosts lots of events and festivals throughout the year, mostly focusing on outdoor activities like biking or running, but also the local agricultural show and rural events such as sheepdog trials. There are some great walks that leave right from the centre of town, including climbing to the top of Mt Remarkable, or you can venture further afield to hike somewhere like the beautiful Alligator Gorge.
I recommend driving from Adelaide to Melrose through the Clare Valley. It is slightly quicker to go up the main highway and then come across from Crystal Brook to Laura, but it is a much prettier, more interesting drive through the Clare Valley.
Since the whole drive is relatively short at 278km, you could do the whole thing in one stretch, but I suggest making a day of it and enjoying some of the small towns along the way. Here I will talk about just a few of the towns and the main things to do in them.
After leaving the expressway north of Gawler and driving through farmland, one of the first towns on the route is Tarlee. This is an easy bathroom stop with public facilities right beside the main road through town. It’s also a great place to briefly stretch your legs. Cross the road to the Tarlee Bakery to pick up a coffee or snack to keep you going on your trip. The traditional meat pies are delicious.
While there are numerous small towns to pass as you make your way into the Clare Valley, my pick for one to stop at is Auburn. This is a picturesque little town popular with couples coming to spend a romantic weekend in the Clare Valley. If you would like to explore the town a little, there’s a great historic walk to give you an overview. Auburn is also the start of the Riesling Trail, a 32km walking and biking track through the Clare Valley.
One of the biggest wine producers in the Clare Valley has their cellar door at Auburn, so pop into Taylors Wines to pick up a nice bottle of Shiraz to enjoy once you reach the Flinders Ranges.
If you are passing through Auburn at lunch time, I recommend the Rising Sun Hotel for a great pub meal.
Clare, unsurprisingly, is the main hub of the Clare Valley. It is around the half way point on your drive to Melrose from Adelaide, and this is usually where I stop to get lunch along the way. There are dozens of options for food along the Main Street, ranging from chains such as Subway to fine dining restaurants and casual pub meals.
To really make the most of your lunch break, I suggest visiting one of the wineries and enjoying lunch with a view over the vineyards. Perhaps the Bush Devine Cafe at Paulette Wines which specialises in using Australian native ingredients in dishes with a twist.
If you need to pick up supplies for your visit to the Flinders Ranges, Clare has the last large supermarkets and general stores before you reach Melrose, so now could be the time to stock up.
Laura has two main claims to fame – it’s the home of both Golden North Ice Cream and CJ Dennis, a well known poet.
Golden North is coming up to celebrating 100 years of production in Laura in 2023. It is one of South Australia’s Heritage Icon, and has been named Australia’s favourite ice cream for the last three years. My favourite is their honey flavoured ice cream that I buy in tubs from the supermarket, but if you just want a taste on the go, pick up a Giant Twin in the original vanilla flavour, of one of the newer flavours – iced coffee, banana, honey, spearmint or strawberry. In Laura they can all be found at the IGA.
CJ Dennis grew up in Laura and you can see statues commemorating him in the main street as you wander it’s length. There are some lovely little stores from antiques and bric’a’brac to local produce and crafts. Call into the Laura Information Centre for even more local souvenirs and get all your information for the Southern Flinders Ranges, including hikes and drives in the local area.
This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town is one of my favourites to stop at. There is only one place to stop here, and that’s the Stone Hut Bakery. But what a place to stop! There are quite a few things to do here to break up your drive, especially if you have kids with you.
While you are enjoying a coffee and a snack in the bakery, the kids can check out the petting zoo. There are some native animals and common farm animals that can be fed and patted. They will happily pose for a selfie too! After the animals, make your way into the aviary to see some of the beautiful birds. Be warned though, they love visitors and will sit on your shoulders or peck at your fingers. I have a particular galah that seems to have taken a liking to me and comes straight over every time I visit.
Look out too for other events as you pass. I have seen wine tasting available, and there are regular “roast days” where a 2-course roast lunch is on offer. There is also holiday accommodation in cottages here, if you decided that Stone Hut is worth a stay on your next visit to the region.
Definitely stop in Wirrabara for a few minutes to admire the silo art. You will have to drive slightly off the main road, but the town is small and it’s not too hard to find the silos. There is also a nice park here to enjoy, and if you are a keen hiker, Wirrabara Forest is nearby and has a few different options along with picnic areas too.
If you happen to be passing through on the third Sunday of the month you will find a producers market in full swing. Here you will find local producers selling their wares direct to the public, along with some food and coffee stalls and some others such as second hand books and crafts.
It’s now just a short hop to your destination in Melrose. There are a variety of accommodation options for you stay in this part of the Flinders Ranges. For a cute budget cottage with personality for four people, try Yates Cottage AirBnB or for a romantic break try The Cottage at Bluey Blundstones. Just out of town is the Kookaburra Creek Retreat which has some unique accommodation option such as the budget Bedford Bus.
For caravans, RVs or camping, the Melrose Caravan Park is beautifully located amongst the huge gum trees at the base of Mount Remarkable.
Driving from Adelaide to Wilpena Pound
Wilpena Pound is a great central location to explore the Flinders Ranges. Wilpena Pound Resort offers a wide range of accommodation, from hotel style resort rooms to glamping tents, and both powered and unpowered camping and caravan sites. While there are many other areas you may want to travel to in the Flinders Ranges, this will give you a rough idea of how to drive from Adelaide to Flinders Ranges.
The fastest way to get to Wilpena Pound from Adelaide is to make your way straight up Highway 1 towards Port Augusta. The total drive is around 460km and takes 5 hours without stops. I would definitely allow a whole day to do this drive, or even two with a stop in Port Augusta if you would like to explore a little further.
Here are the points of interest along the way
In the 1990s, local resident Stephen Jones started to use recycled materials to create sculptures protesting the proposed rubbish dump that was going to be built in the area. The protest was unsuccessful, but the sculptures remain. They have been nominated for heritage status as some of the sculptures are quite political, and as such are a great snapshot of that point in time. Located about 60km north of Adelaide, you will see a blowfly, a spaceship and a giant cockroach amongst other things.
As you reach the small town of Lochiel, look to your right and you will see a salt lake. Lake Bumbunga is one of Australia’s pink lakes. At certain times of the year, the algae in the lake turn it a pale pink colour. Take a walk right in town to the lake’s edge, or drive a little further to check out the Lochiel Monster, a local sculpture that has amused generations of people as they have passed by the lake.
Snowtown has an unfortunate claim to fame, especially since its name became the name of the movie depicting the horrible discovery made in the town. Snowtown was the centrepiece of the “Bodies in the Barrels” murders in the 1990s. None of the murders were actually committed there, and it wasn’t home to the protagonists either, it just happened to be the location of a bank with a vault that was perfect to store the bodies in.
It’s still a little too soon for the town to start using the macabre events as a drawcard, but it is still worth driving in off the highway. You will find “The Big Blade”, a full size windmill blade forming the centrepiece of a display explaining the renewable energy industry. The giant windmills can be seen dotting the hills surrounding the town.
Take a look at the water tower too. It has recently been painted to showcase some of the local volunteers whose time has been invaluable to the community. While you are here, grab a snack and drink at the local shop to help support this town that has been doing it tough.
Oh, and I know you won’t be able to help yourself, but see if you can spot the bank too. It is unmarked though.
By now you should be tired of sitting in the car and really need to get out and stretch your legs, and Port Germein has the perfect way to do it. Take a detour off the highway and head right into town, stopping once you reach the beach and the jetty. Now take a walk on the jetty – all 1.5km of it. Currently the longest jetty in South Australia, at one time it was the longest in the whole of the southern hemisphere, it was built to combat the large tides that occur along this eastern side of the Spencer Gulf.
If you are in a hurry to get from Adelaide to Flinders Ranges you will actually miss Port Augusta as you will turn off the main highway towards Quorn 5km before reaching the city. I’m going to include it here though because it’s worth calling in, if for no other reason than to pick up lunch at one of the many options in town. This will also be the last opportunity to visit larger shops, so could be a good time to stock up on supplies for your trip.
While in town, I recommend making a visit to the Wadlata Outback Centre. Here you will learn about the Indigenous and European history of the area, including the Flinders Ranges and Wilpena Pound to help with the days to come. I also suggest taking a walk around the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens to see some of the unique flora that grows in the dry centre of the country.
Quorn is about half an hour further on up the road from the turn off just before Port Augusta. It’s a small outback town with a few things to do and perhaps worth considering for an overnight stay. At a stretch you could base your whole Flinders Ranges stay here, but there would still be a lot of driving involved.
If you are visiting Quorn in the cooler months, ensure you time your visit for one of the Pichi Richi Railway trips and enjoy a historical steam train ride. All year round you can enjoy a hike in Warren Gorge and enjoy the Quorn silo light show after the sun goes down.
Hawker proclaims itself as the “Hub of the Flinders Ranges” and is a good place to stop in at the visitor information centre to find out about the attractions of the area. Weather and road conditions are important in remote locations and if you are concerned, Hawker is a great place to get local expertise and advice.
There are a few small galleries and museums in town worth a quick stroll through, and this is the last stop with a small supermarket. Fuel will also likely be a little cheaper here than further into the Flinders Ranges.
If you would like a sit down meal, there are some nice options in Hawker, including The Old Ghan Restaurant. Located in the historic railway station that was used by the Ghan from 1884 until 1956, it’s open for dinner from Wednesday until Saturday.
Wilpena is a tiny settlement consisting of the Wilpena Pound Resort and surrounding campgrounds. Facilities here are sparse with a small general store open for a few hours each day. Fuel is also available, but is not cheap so I would suggest filling up elsewhere if possible. There is a tourist information centre to help with information regarding attractions and safety in the area. You can book attractions such as Aboriginal experiences or flights over Wilpena Pound here.
The Resort has a bar & restaurant available to everyone, but hours are limited. Ensure you check the opening hours before assuming you will eat there (especially during Covid times. It was temporarily closed during my last visit, but is operating again with reduced hours at the time of writing). There is also a swimming pool for use during the warmer weather.
While the itineraries I have provided from Adelaide to Flinders Ranges above both contain driving only on sealed roads, there are many roads once you reach the Flinders Ranges that are unsealed and are therefore subject to flooding and other issues in bad weather. To find out the current road conditions, refer to the Outback Road Warnings on the Department of Transport website here.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.