Are you looking for the best things to do at Arkaroola? If you’re planning an outback South Australia Road Trip, make sure Arkaroola is on your list.
The Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is an award-winning eco-tourism destination in the northern Flinders Ranges area. You’ll see rugged mountain ranges, deep gorges, red cliff faces that change colour beautifully throughout the day and if you’re lucky, some very rare wildlife.
We had never heard of Arkaroola but when we asked out South Australian friend for recommendations around the Flinders Ranges, he said we must go there. We were so glad we did! This is one of our favourite stops on our South Australia Road Trip. In this post we’ll let you know all the best things to do at Arkaroola.
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About the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary
This area is the traditional lands of the Adnyamathanha people who have many creation stories based in this area. One of their spirit ancestors, Arkaroo, drank Lake Frome dry, and created the waterholes as he retreated into the mountains.
The geological history of the area goes back over 160 billion years, and the area has been a mecca for geologists since Sir Douglas Mawson brought it to the attention of the world.
More recently the area was prospected by miners looking for uranium deposits. They didn’t find any uranium in the mountains, but they left an extensive network of 4×4 tracks.
Reg Sprigg was one of Australia’s pre-eminent geologists, and spent a lot of time working and studying in this area both with Mawson and later on his own. Reg and his wife purchased the property in 1967. It was Griselda who had the idea to establish the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary as a place for tourists to come and marvel at this landscape.
Reg’s son Doug Sprigg is the 69yo current patriarch of the family who is very hands on with the sanctuary. He meets guests for a talk about the endangered Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies at sunset each evening.
Doug also drives the mini-bus that took us to the Acacia Ridge trail head and pilots a lot of the scenic flights over the area.
Arkaroola is located in remote outback South Australia around 630km from Adelaide. Most people combine a visit to Arkaroola with the Flinders Ranges. From Blinman to Arkaroola is 155km along unsealed gravel roads. Despite recent rain, these roads were in good condition when we visited in July 2023.
The alternate route from Adelaide is to take the Outback Highway north from Hawker and turn off at Copley. This route only involves 130km of unsealed road. We drove into Arkaroola along this road and came back out via Blinman.
If you’re coming from the north, from the Birdsville or Oodnadatta Track, turning off at Copley will be the best route.
Before you go – preparing for Arkaroola
Arkaroola is in the remote outback, so you should ensure your vehicle is in sound mechanical order before you head onto the dirt roads. Remember to check your spare tyre. Get the most up-to-date road conditions at this website.
If you’ve come from the north, we recommend staying the night at the Copley Pub (official name Leigh Creek Hotel). Hosts Emily and Peter and very welcoming. You can camp out the back of the pub, there are toilets, showers and laundry facilities here, along with taps so you can refill your water tanks.
You can stock up on groceries at Leigh Creek, which is only a short drive from Copley. The supermarket here is closed on Sundays – which we found out the hard way!
Best time to visit Arkaroola
The Outback can be very hot in summer with temperatures well into the 40s. Autumn, Winter and Spring are all popular times to visit Arkaroola. We had freezing temperatures overnight. A bucket of water we left out had a thin crust of ice in the morning. However the days were pleasant and sunny.
In 2023 Arkaroola was named an international Dark Sky Sanctuary, so visiting when the skies are clear with no moon will be best for astronomy buffs and Astro-photographers.
Where to stay at Arkaroola
There is a good variety of accommodation at Arkaroola. They have lodge rooms, self-contained cottages and a large caravan park with 50 powered sites. Bookings are essential for the lodge, cottages and powered sites.
We stayed in the off-grid bush camping area, which is a large area down the hill from the main caravan park. If you’re staying in this bush camping area you still have access to the toilet and shower facilities up the hill.
The facilities at Arkaroola include:
- Swimming Pool
- Camp Kitchen
- Fuel & General Store
- Restaurant and Bar
- Tour booking and information desk
- Phone and Internet/wifi – there is a Telstra tower on-site and wifi at reception
Things to do at Arkaroola
You’ll find several tours and experiences on offer, which you can book on your arrival at reception.
Ridge Top Tour
The best way to get up close to the rugged beauty of Arkaroola is on the Ridge Top Tour. This half day tour takes place twice daily, at 8am and 1pm. You’ll ride in an open top Landcruiser sitting sideways on bench seats.
Your experienced driver/guides take you up rough dirt tracks stopping off at Coulthard lookout, another lookout and finally Siller’s lookout. The final 100m up to Siller’s lookout is crazy steep, but when you step out of the vehicle you will be blown away by the 360 degree views across the ranges.
The guide gives a running commentary throughout the drive. You’ll learn about the 160 billion years of history of this region and come to understand why it’s a mecca for geologists.
You’ll also learn the more recent history of the region when mining companies came here looking for uranium. None was found in the mountains, despite years of prospecting, but large deposits were found on the plains just nearby in 1969. The Beverley Uranium mine is very close to Arkaroola.
After enjoying a wonderful morning tea (complete with lamingtons) the tour returns the same way. The trip down is no less spectacular.
The Ridge Top Tour costs $195 per person. You can book your tour at the Arkaroola reception. We don’t normally do tours, and we thought the $195 seemed a lot but after doing the tour we agreed it was great value and well worth the money spent. We highly recommend this tour.
Note: The Ridge Top Tour takes place on private roads. It isn’t possible to drive your own vehicle along these tracks.
Being so remote (the closest town is over 100km away), there is very little light pollution at Arkaroola. In 2023 Arkaroola was named an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. You’ll find several options for star-gazing at Arkaroola, including the Ningana Observatory “Explore the Cosmos” digital experience.
There is also the “Under the Stars” outdoor guided astronomy experience, with reclining camp chairs, or even remote-controlled reclining chairs that rotate to give you the best views along with the astronomer’s commentary.
Arkaroola Scenic Flights
Pilot Doug Sprigg has over 30 years commercial flying experience, and is passionate about showing guests the Arkaroola region from the air. Choose between flights over Arkaroola, Lake Frome (the whitest salt lake in Australia) or even go as far as Lake Eyre.
Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby feeding
Each evening at sunset, Doug Sprigg welcomes guests to a small shelter near the main reception area. Doug begins calling out “Wallabies” and lo and behold, several of these rare Yellow Footed Rock Wallbies begin to appear. Yes, Doug does feed them!
From where we were sitting we had a great view of the cliff and we were able to watch the wallabies hopping down the cliff to come closer for their food. There is a small rocky outcrop just here and at one point I think there were close to 10 wallabies.
Initially we were a bit concerned that these wild animals were being fed for a tourist show. However, Doug explained that the wallabies are really endangered, and in recent drought years have only been kept alive due to the care, food and water provided by the Sanctuary.
We did see several wallabies out on the Ridge Top Tour the next day, so its great to see them thriving in the wild.
Hiking at Arkaroola
There is over 40km of hiking trails around the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. We checked with the staff at reception to get their recommendations on the best hikes at Arkaroola.
Acacia Ridge walk
The Acacia Ridge hike is a 5.6km trail that climbs up and along the ridge with fantastic views over the valley and Gammon Ranges. The climb up to the ridge is gradual but long, but you’ll definitely be rewarded at the summit.
The path back down to the village is somewhat rougher and steeper. We recommend good hiking shoes and walking poles if you have knee issues. You should take plenty of water and sun protection as there is very little shade on this hike.
Along the way you’ll see plenty of acacia bushes, and a bush known as the Queen Victoria bush. This native bush is so named because of the thorns between each leaf: it’s beautiful but prickly.
Doug drives a free shuttle bus down to the Acacia Ridge trail head twice daily at 9am and 1pm. We absolutely loved this hike, it has it all – good physical challenge and fantastic views.
This 8km loop hike is a combination of the Pinnacles hike and the Spriggina hike. You leave from the Village and head west, following the hills until you come to several rocky outcrops known as the pinnacles.
You’ll arrive at a small carpark overlooking the Pinnacles. The trail then heads up to a lookout where you can see some of the lower ranges, before returning to the village along a valley.
To be honest, we were a little underwhelmed by this hike, but we admit it might be because we did the Ridge Top Tour in the morning just before this.
This hill dominates the vista from the Arkaroola Village. Griselda Sprigg was Reg’s wife, and it was her idea to open the destination to tourists. This hill looks like it has been toppled 45 degrees onto its side.
This trail is 2.5km return. A short, steep climb takes you to the summit. There is a bit of rock scrambling at the top, making this even more exciting. From the top you can see right over the village and also back along the valley you drove along to get here.
4×4 Tours and self-drive Tracks
In addition to the Ridge Top Tour, there are several other 4×4 tours available at Arkaroola. Keen 4×4 enthusiasts will want to tackle some of the self-drive tracks. The track out to Stubbs Waterhole and Paralana Hot Springs is very popular. But be warned! The Paralana Hot Springs is radioactive, so swimming here is definitely not recommended.
We rode our Mountain Bikes out to Barrarana Gorge and Stubbs Waterhole. This ride was a bit hillier than we had anticipated, but the views near Stubbs Waterhole were well worth it. Sadly, the waterhole was completely dry when we arrived, which was surprising after so much recent rain. We chatted with a man there who said he had been in March when the waterhole was full.
Suggested 4-day itinerary
This itinerary is based on driving from the Flinders Ranges to Arkaroola via Blinman, and then back out to the Outback Highway and Copley, where you can continue your journey north to the Oodnadatta Track or head south back towards Adelaide.
Day 1 Wilpena to Arkaroola
Leaving Wilpena head north along the Flinders Ranges Way. Leave the National Park and arrive at Blinman. This small outback town has a rich mining history, and you may like to check out the Mine Tour. There is a good café here and a pub. There is no fuel here, so fill up before you leave Wilpena.
After Blinman you’ll be leaving the sealed road and the mountains as you head through rolling hills towards the Gammon Ranges National Park on the North Flinders Road. You’ll pass through the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park and drive along a deep valley before arriving at Arkaroola Village.
Visit Reception and check in to your accommodation. This would be a good time to book the Arkaroola Ridge Top Tour and any other tours you plan to do.
That evening, come back up to the visitor centre just opposite reception to see Reg Sprigg welcoming the Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies for their evening feed.
If the sky is clear, check out the stars and maybe try some Astro-photography. Or check out the Arkaroola Observatory for Explore the Cosmos or Under the Stars.
Day 2 Explore Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary
An early morning to join the Arkaroola Ridge Top Tour, which leaves reception at 8am. (Alternatively, you could join the 1pm tour). We chose to do the morning tour as we figured it would be cold and we would rather warm up as the tour progressed. You’ll be in an open vehicle, so wear plenty of layers.
In the afternoon, hike up Griselda Hill for the sunset.
Day 3 Hiking and 4×4 exploring
Choose from any of the hikes near the village. There is over 40km of hiking trails here so something to suit everyone. We recommend the Acacia Ridge Hike which gives you a great overview of the area. Don’t miss the short detour up to the “summit” for the best views.
There is a shuttle bus that drives to the trail head twice daily at 9am and 1pm, and from there you simply walk back to the village.
If you have a 4×4 head out to Barranara Gorge and Stubbs waterhole to see some of these red cliffs up close. This track is not too difficult so you won’t need to be a hard-core 4×4 driver to get out here. If you’d like to go further afield, there are several 4×4 tours available from the village.
Day 4 Arkaroola to Copley
Leaving Arkaroola head out the way you came. At Balcanoona turn right and continue down the Gammon Ranges Road towards Nepabunna and Copley.
On the way you will pass through the Italowie Gorge. You can stop off at the Italowie Gap Campground which is near where RM Williams was camped when he learned the art of leathercraft, and in particular making boots from a single piece of leather.
Arrive in Copley in time for a cold refreshment at the Copley Pub. We camped behind the pub and enjoyed the outback hospitality.
You will not require any permits for Arkaroola or for driving through the Vulkathanha-Gammon Ranges National Park. A valid Entry Permit is required for Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park and you can buy your permit online if you are driving through that park.
Food and Water
There is a restaurant at the Arkaroola Village, serving meals and drinks. You can buy snacks at the reception shop, but note they do not sell tobacco products.
Water is a precious resource here. Rainwater taps are available throughout the campsite but they ask that you don’t fill your tanks here. We filled out tanks at the Copley pub before we came to Arkaroola.
Unleaded and Diesel fuel is available from the Village store. They also have an electric vehicle charge station. LPG is available for gas bottle refills but not for vehicles.
Your pets are welcome in the campground (on a leash) but not in the rooms, restaurant, bar or on any of the paid tours.
Watch our Arkaroola Travel Film
See all the highlights of our trip and things to do at Arkaroola on YouTube
Do you need a 4wd to get to Arkaroola?
You will need to drive along at least 130km of dirt roads to get to Arkaroola (depending on which way you come). The road is generally well maintained but conditions can vary. A 4wd vehicle is recommended but the journey is not impossible in a 2wd.
Is the road to Arkaroola sealed?
There are no sealed roads to Arkaroola. The route with the shortest unsealed section is via Copley, which is 130km of unsealed road. From the Flinders Ranges and Blinman, the unsealed road is around 155km.
What is the road like to Arkaroola?
The roads to Arkaroola are unsealed and conditions can vary. The roads can be closed during and immediately after rain. You can check the latest road conditions on this website.