I had planned to count the kangaroos. That’s what I told myself I’d do as I made the five-hour drive to Arkaba from Adelaide, wending through wine country, across flood plains and through the small country towns that dot the Southern Flinders Ranges. I was going to tally up all the wildlife.
But just 15 hours in, as a mob of red kangaroos bounds across the path of our four-wheel drive, I realise I’ve lost count. A few moments later, when a shaggy clutch of emus darts alongside the vehicle, I give up entirely. The enterprise is impossible; there are simply too many animals to keep track.
An abundance of wildlife is just part of the allure at Arkaba. The 24,281-hectare property is in the heart of the Flinders, bordered by Wilpena Pound and the Elder Range. For more than 150 years, it was a sheep station but the last of the livestock went in 2013. Today, the property has a different focus: wildlife conservation and luxury accommodation.
It’s a savvy coupling, made even more attractive by the unique beauty of the region. In the distance, craggy cliffs rise up like dinosaur spines bedded into the earth. Some formations are undulating, ancient giants weathering over time. Others seem like they’ve been forcibly knuckled into place. At both sunrise and sunset, the ranges evolve, showing fiery ochres and blazing oranges set off by a cerulean sky. In short, the scenery here is awesome, remarkable and spectacular.
A stay at Arkaba means experiencing that landscape both up close and from afar, whether that’s on guided bushwalks through gum-lined riverbeds, four-wheel drive expeditions in the open-topped safari truck, outings to see nearby Aboriginal rock paintings or daytrips to Wilpena Pound. Each excursion is bespoke, depending on a guest’s preferences, but regardless, upon arrival back at the homestead, the chef meets you with a cool drink and chilled washcloth – a lovely, luxe touch. As to the daily activities, Arkaba manager Brendon Bevan explains that he and the guides operate on a policy of flexibility. “We try to offer advice on the best time of day, best light and when the animals are out.”
As far as I could tell, the animals were almost always out. At the end of my weekend, instead of a numerical tally, I calculated a list of species: wallaroos, red kangaroos, western greys, inland bearded dragons, shingleback skinks, more bird species than I can list and one particularly heartwarming scene that made up for my counting misgivings: a delightful emu dad pecking about with three scruffy chicks at his side.
Image: Richard Field
With no more than 10 guests at a time, Arkaba is a secluded and intimate retreat. The homestead epitomises outback architecture, featuring thick stone walls and deep, shaded verandahs. And while the building has a charming country feel, nowhere is luxury absent. In the rooms are plush beds, cosy sheepskin rugs and elegant amenities, as well as a private verandah. Ensuites are refined: two come with deep soaking tubs – and the tubs, naturally, have views.
Given splendid isolation is what Arkaba is all about, don’t expect wi-fi, television or mobile reception. But do expect warm and amiable service and a range of inviting facilities: a library for afternoon reading, soft couches on the verandah for contemplating the nearby Elder Range, deck recliners beside the pool and a fire pit that’s perfect for digestifs while stargazing.
Old Wilpena Road, Hawker, South Australia; 1300 790 561
Image: Randy Larcombe
The best restaurant in the Flinders is Arkaba’s dining table. Breakfast is a spread of homemade continental items, plus a cooked option, such as poached eggs on smoked salmon with spinach, avocado and hollandaise. Ever-changing menus for lunch and dinner showcase local produce: Spencer Gulf prawns, saltbush lamb from nearby Spear Creek and red snapper from the coastline just over an hour away. Native ingredients also regularly feature. For example, wild-lime marmalade and quandong jam at breakfast and, on night one, a lemon-aspen tart that’s so good, I beg the chef for the recipe. Dining, like all activities at Arkaba, is communal and Bevan is a consummate host, regaling guests with the history of the property and his passion for conservancy, all while topping up wine glasses from the open bar.
With more than 117 kilometres of track on the property, the options for exploration are vast. Hit one of the estate’s private paths or meander along South Australia’s most famous walking track, the Heysen Trail, part of which also winds through Arkaba.
Book in for a foraging fest with celebrated Biota chef James Viles. He’ll co-host a three-night foodie experience at Arkaba in October 2017. Keep an eye on the website for details.
If you decide to stay for more than two days, strap in for a helicopter ride over the remarkable geological formations of Wilpena Pound and the three gorges: Brachina, Edeowie and Parachilna. The $845 joy flight includes a pit stop for lunch at the famed Prairie Hotel.
Image: Randy Larcombe
Top image: Richard Field