Mention the Flinders Ranges to any Outback traveller, and most know where they are, have enjoyed their ancient and rugged beauty in a variety of ways or have it on their to-do ‘bucket list’. However, very different responses such as ‘We’ve never heard of them.’ or ‘Where are they?’ are often received when we mention the Bendleby Ranges to people. We consider ourselves seasoned travellers of Australia’s Outback, but until several years ago we, too, did not know of their existence in our home state of South Australia!
Where is it?
The Bendleby Ranges form part of the Southern Flinders Ranges chain running parallel with the nearby Hungry Ranges to the east and the main Southern Flinders Range farther west of which Mount Remarkable is a recognisable peak soaring above the surrounding plains. An easy 4 to 5-hour drive north of Adelaide, the Bendleby Ranges are situated approximately 50 km north of the township of Orroroo.
How did adventure tourism develop in this remote location?
The adventure tourism business, taking its name from the Bendleby Ranges, centres on two adjoining properties, Gumdale and The Springs, 15,000 ha in total, of which the Bendleby and Hungry Ranges are a highlight. In the early days of settlement, these properties were part of the vast Pekina and Coonatto pastoral runs. However, following the Strangways land resumptions of the 1870s, the land was sold off as viable ‘agricultural land’. Situated over 50 km north of Goyder’s Line of Rainfall, the landowners soon experienced prolonged drought, discovering that farming was unstainable and Goyder right in his predictions. Many stone ruins lie scattered across the Bendleby Ranges, a testament to the harsh life experienced by those early settlers. The Ellery and Luckraft families have owned these stations for the past forty years. Because of the vagaries of climate and the economy, they have successfully created a multi-award winning, adventure tourism business, the aim of which is to be in harmony with nature, and in the process return Gumdale and The Springs to a more sustainable and productive state.
What’s on offer?
- Driving the challenging and exhilarating 4WD tracks over shimmering plains, through steep-sided valleys, up mountains and along ridgetops and drinking in spectacular panoramas and sunsets from vantage points along the way.
- Camping under the stars in secluded campsites nestled among native pines, in protected valleys and along creeks.
- Bushwalking along designated trails of various lengths and skill levels. Six walking tracks, varying in length from one to four hours are available through the Bendleby and Hungry Ranges.
- Ride the ranges either on horseback or mountain bikes. There’s 180 km of cycling tracks on offer and bicycles are available for hire from the office.
- Abundant wildlife inhabits the ranges and plains. Birders, ornithologists and serious twitchers, Bendleby Range’s birdlife is an experience in itself just waiting for you. It’s as varied and colourful as the ranges, themselves.
- A photographer’s dream location – vistas, panoramas, ridgetop sunsets and 4WD action shots are there for the taking!
A roof over your head.
While there is a range of accommodation choices at Bendleby Ranges, the main focus is on camping, either close to the homestead, or at remote campsites dotted throughout the ranges. Gumdale, the large, well-signposted campground near the homestead, provides powered or un-powered campsites, a camp kitchen, showers and toilet facilities.
Crotta Homestead, Gumdale Cottage, Acacia Cottage and the Shearers Quarters provide quality, affordable accommodation. The Shearers’ Quarters with its well-equipped kitchen/dining room, can easily accommodate a large group and is our preferred choice
On our most recent visit, over a long weekend when we stayed in the shearers’ quarters, we witnessed a never-ending stream of vehicles arriving over two days! It’s obvious word has spread, and Bendleby Ranges has become increasingly popular with campers and 4WD enthusiasts. In August Bendleby Ranges hosted the first night for the famous Variety Bash and all of its participants!
Bookings are essential for all accommodation. Camping fees (from $22/adult and $5/child per night) and vehicle fees ($90 for length of stay) apply. Firewood is supplied (the collection of fallen timber & use of chainsaws are prohibited). Water is a valuable commodity (particularly during a drought) with rainwater and bore water the only sources. It is highly recommended that visitors bring drinking water for the duration of their stay.
The Bendleby and Hungry Ranges 4WD tracks
Upon arrival, guests are provided with detailed, colour-coded maps outlining the 4WD and walking tracks, and the remote campsites available in both the Bendleby Ranges and the Hungry Ranges to the south-east. Each track is graded with a skill level varying from low to high, its highlights and estimated time of completion. Several tracks, because of their difficulty, are marked one way only. With over 150 km of tracks across the plains, through gorges and up and over ridgetops, it’s just a matter of planning what will be an adrenaline pumping four-wheel driving adventure, depending on the driver’s skills and the resilience of the passengers.
Before you head off into the ranges, you may like to brush up your 4WD skills on the training track located near the woolshed. As we discovered, even this experience can rattle some novice and back-seat drivers. A series of mounds, ditches and steep riverbank climbs gives a great introduction for what is to come out in the ranges.
The picturesque self-drive tracks on the property wind their way through a spectacular, rugged and very Flinders Ranges environment. Every track through the Bendleby Ranges offers varying degrees of off-road driving challenges, but more than that it’s the spectacular, geological formations of the weathered ranges, the ancient Aboriginal rock carvings, the early settlers’ associated history with the tracks and the ever-changing vegetation which adds to the adventure.
The Kokoda Trail one of the highlights on the Bendleby side, with its heart-stopping, steep gradient that drops into a series of creek crossings, that for the first-time 4WDer will guarantee a degree of shock and awe. If you take your time, there isn’t too much that can go wrong here. Kokoda was once part of the original vehicle passway through the ranges and was used to move sheep from one property to another in the 1980s.
Another must-do on the Bendleby side is Sunset Ridge, which as the name suggests, is best experienced at sunset. Get there in time, and you’ll be able to see across much of the property as the sun’s rays slowly disappear to the west casting mystical shadows and hues over the far-reaching plains and ranges in the distance. It’s an unforgettable experience.
The Bendleby Ranges offers the best tracks for anyone new to 4WDing, but for those that want to step the driving and the challenges up a significant notch, it’s the higher, more rugged and imposing Hungry Ranges that will deliver your off-road adrenalin fix.
The Hungry Ranges is famous for the challenging Billy Goat Ridge track, a steep, rocky, technical, one-way only track that runs straight up to the ridge. If there’s a stock vehicle in your entourage, then you’ll want to leave this track alone, as you’ll need decent tyres, and more ground clearance than most stock 4WDs provide, but if you’ve got the right vehicle for the job, then this track is a must-do. We had a couple of stock vehicles in our group, so The Goat was out, but there was plenty of fun to be had on the other side of the ridge, on the zig-zagging Middle Loop Block Track.
If you like steep ascents, then Pat’s Peak should be on your track list. You’ll need to head to the High Country to find longer and steeper tracks than this one.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, the property owners have recently carved a new track, that they’ve, somewhat creatively, called New Track, across the Hungry Ranges ridgeline. It needs a good rain to settle the chalk-like dirt into the track, but it offers drivers a challenging run across the ridge and some spectacular views of a huge valley from its lookout point.
The off-road challenges provided by the Hungry Range’s tracks aside, it was the consensus of our group that we unwittingly saved the best drive for our last day. Gum Gorge on the Bendleby Ranges side takes you through a meandering dry creek bed lined by River Red Gums, and there’s wildlife aplenty. We also spotted what must be one of the best campsites on the property. Gum Gorge eventually heads east out of the river valley up towards Dinnertime Springs, a small natural spring named by shepherds in the 19th Century, and from there turns south-west and works its way up into the ranges, through numerous washouts and dry creek crossings. It’s an excellent track for the driver looking for an exciting drive and for those along for the ride, there were breathtaking views in all directions through the thickets of native pine.
Up on the ridge is the track into Quarry Springs, a short, narrow and in parts steep track into the ridge-top lookout. The view from this vantage point is well worth the visit but if it’s busy, getting in and out on what is a tight, one vehicle at a time track can get interesting. The best time to be here is early in the morning when most station guests are still sorting out their breakfasts.
We’ve been blessed with the Flinders Ranges ‘bug’ for over fifty years now, so we know why many parts of the Flinders Ranges are addictive, and Bendleby Ranges in recent years, particularly so. With tracks that range from mild to wild and the beautiful Flinders Ranges as a backdrop, a 4WD adventure into Bendleby Ranges should be on your next South Australian adventure itinerary.
Bendleby Ranges contact information:
Owners: Warren and Jane Luckraft
Email: [email protected]