If bush walking or hiking is your thing, then a visit to Mount Remarkable National Park in the southern Flinders Ranges will not disappoint. A recent trip rekindled my interest in this area and I was relieved to find visitors can still experience the unique, untouched wilderness this area provides.
The park is situated about 250 kilometers (156 miles) from the State’s capital, Adelaide. Not as well known as the Flinders Ranges National Park and Wilpena Pound, Mount Remarkable National Park still offers travelers plenty.
I chose Mambray Creek as my camp ground on this occasion. This area offers the easiest access point to the park and is the only vehicle based camp ground. The camping area had been extended since my last visit and there are now over 50 individual sites. Another welcome addition was an improvement in facilities, with hot showers now provided.
In the week prior to my visit, during early March, the northern areas of South Australia had been subjected to an unseasonal amount of heavy rain. Although the rain had passed, there was still heavy cloud cover and this would have obscured the spectacular scenery evident on many of the hikes, so I decided to head to a nearby native pine grove.
Numerous kookaburras perch in the lower branches of these trees as the pine needles provide an ideal home to insects and small reptiles, both favorites on the kookaburra’s menu. I could hear the maniacal laugh of the kookaburras as I neared the grove. They were particularly numerous on this day and it was possible to creep quite close to some of the birds, allowing for some great photographs.
That first night I had the camp ground to myself except for the local kangaroos and emus. At dusk they come out to forage around the banks of the creek alongside the camp ground. They are not tame animals, but have obviously become used to the presence of humans. It is a great opportunity to view these animals up close in their natural environment.
The hikes are what most people visit this park for, so the next morning I headed for my personal favorite. The walk from Mambray Creek to Alligator Gorge is 13 kilometers (about 8 miles) one way. It is a magnificent walk and passes through creeks and gorges and across hill tops, offering views to the coast.
By this time, the weather had cleared. There were no clouds and it was quite humid. Although the temperature was only forecast at 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), the humidity made the walk hard going and I was relieved to arrive back at the camp ground. I was even more relieved when I remembered the hot showers!
It was late March and, although that is technically Autumn here, it is not unusual for temperatures to reach the mid to high 30’s (Celsius). During summer, the heat will make hiking through these semi arid areas almost impossible. Late Autumn (April and May), Spring (September "“ December) and even Winter (June "“ August) are the best times. Winter can be a bit chilly, with daytime temperatures averaging around 17 degrees Celsius (63 Fahrenheit) and nighttime temperatures averaging about 7 degrees Celsius (45 Fahrenheit), but adequate preparation will counter this.
I was exhausted that night but was woken early by a strange drumming noise, almost like the soft beat of a bass drum. I stuck my head out of my swag to be confronted by two emus leaning over my camp stove. These are huge, ugly birds close up and I don’t know who was more startled. The drumming noise they make seems to be some form of communication and it is a little unnerving if you’ve never heard it before.
It was another warm, humid day, and I tackled two of the shorter (but steeper) hikes that start from the Mambray Creek camp ground. Along the Sugar Gum Lookout hike, I had a close encounter with a brown snake that steadfastly refused to move off of the path. Normally they will feel the vibrations when someone approaches and slither off into the bushes, but this one was determined to remain on his rock. I didn’t argue (mainly because brown snakes are highly venomous), so I detoured around.
Snakes and lizards are common throughout the area, so it pays to keep an eye out for them. They are quite frequently seen, but will pose no threat if left well alone. Also bear in mind that almost every snake you see will be venomous, so it’s best to keep away.
If you are feeling adventurous, there are longer hikes available and these offer the opportunity to camp at walk in bush sites so it is not necessary to complete the walk in one go. Camp grounds such as Alligator Gorge and the summit of Mount Remarkable offer such opportunities. (If you are planning such a walk it is a good idea to let the park ranger at Mambray Creek know where you are going and a rough time of return).
However, because of the threat of bush fires, bush camping at the walk in sites is not allowed during the fire danger season. This is normally between 1st November and 30th April every year. Camping at Mambray Creek is OK all year round.
After two full days of walking, I subjected myself to another quiet and completely relaxing evening watching the local wildlife go about it’s business. I had seen only two visitors in the two full days I was there. A chat with the local ranger was the only human contact I had. However, it does become busy during holiday periods, but off peak it is very quiet.
Entry and camping fees are quite reasonable with $15 a night being the most expensive. However, this is at Mambray Creek (during holiday periods) and hot showers, rainwater and flushing toilets are provided. Pamphlets with detailed maps of the walking trails are available at the registration stations or from the rangers station at Mambray Creek.
Within easy reach of Adelaide, day trips are possible and it is a must see if visiting South Australia. For the backpacker or hiker, visitors are virtually guaranteed to find a great trail.
Written and Photographed by Steven Pike