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Content accurate at time of publication

01 Sep 2011

Known more for its sprawling outback and superb wine-growing region, arid South Australia isn’t typically associated with luxury lodges. But go off the beaten path and you’ll discover exclusive lodges tucked amid the rugged lands and vineyards in Australia’s fourth largest state. KENDALL HILL points the way.

To city-softened eyes, Flinders Ranges can seem like a desert. Its vertebrate ridges and spare terrain offer little by way of recognisable comforts. But this stunning landscape, a five-hour drive north of Adelaide, taught the Aborigines so much about life in the outback that the local Adnyamathanha people called it their university. For them, there is spiritual significance in every landmark, and in the tales of Akurra the serpent and Yurlu the kingfisher that are etched in its ancient rock formations dating back over 500 million years.

This region is home to Arkaba Station, one of several South Australian lodge-style accommodations offering utterly unique experiences. It sits in the more arid north of South Australia, a state with a landscape that varies wildly from opal-strewn deserts to dreamy coastal beauty spots. The lodge, a five-guestroom homestead, commands a 26,000ha sheep station that boasts its own mountain chain, Elder Range. As backyards go, this is really something. “When you actually get into it, you realise this little oasis is something quite special,” says Brendon Bevan, a South African who used to lead Big Five walks in Kruger National Park and now gives tours of the great Aussie outdoors.

And it really is something special. Station guests are pampered with bespoke furnishings – bedside tables made from branded wool bales, merino headboards – and an open bar, among other amenities. If you’re staying in, park yourself in one of the colonial armchairs on the verandah where a fascinating panorama awaits. The obliging local wildlife will even come to you – myriad birds visit during the day and, at dusk, kangaroos and wallaroos arrive to graze at the station gardens. In such a magical setting, it’s easy to rediscover what being at peace feels like.

And then there’s the best-known feature of the Flinders, Wilpena Pound, which looms over the property from its perch on the northern end of Arkaba. The stone amphitheatre is ringed by mountains that look like a giant cupped hand seeking alms from the heavens. “Wilpena Pound is the Uluru of the Flinders,” Bevan explains, referring to Uluru or Ayers Rock, a large sandstone rock formation in central Australia. “But at Uluru, you get a thousand people and there’s noise and crowds, while here there’s just 10 people in 26,000ha and no sounds other than nature.” There’s also the option of joining four-day walks that start at the Pound and wind their way back through grassy plains and rolling hills, with nights spent in purpose-built campsites where you sleep under the canopy of a million stars.