Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park
At the northernmost end of the Flinders, the weathered Vulkathunha–Gammon Ranges are the last cluster of ancient mountains before the vast plains of central Australia. Few travellers venture here compared to national parks further south, but this place has a beauty of its own with rugged twisted ridges, rock-strewn valleys, sheer cliffs and sheltered gorges hiding plunge pools and rocky creeks.
From Adelaide to Leigh Creek then Copley–Balcanoona Rd; from south via Wirrealpa; from Innamincka via Strzelecki Track and Moolawatana
Autumn, winter and spring
750 km north of Adelaide; 65 km east of Leigh Creek
- Parks SA (08) 8204 1910
- Parks SA Balcanoona (08) 8648 0049
- Parks SA Augusta (08) 8648 5300
- Transport SA Outback Hotline 1300 361 033
Camping permit required
128 200 ha
Hawker 1800 777 880
Featured Activities in the National Park
Watch for yellow-footed rock-wallabies
Drive through Illinawortina Pound (4WD access)
Camp among magniﬁcent outback scenery
Learn about the rich Adnyamathanha culture and their links to the land
- Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges, Eco-friendly activity
- Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park, Hiking and walking, Hiking and walking
A look at the past
The ﬁrst European traveller in the region, in 1840, was explorer Edward Eyre, who trekked to the top of Mount Serle and spotted Lake Frome to the east, whereupon he was convinced he was surrounded by a crescent of impassable salt lakes. At Mount Hopeless he turned for home, deciding that there was no route north.
Balcanoona was established as a sheep property in 1857 and was worked until 1982 when it was incorporated in the national park. Visitors can inspect the remains of the station complex including a historic wool press in the old shearing shed. Information boards detail the geology and history. Copper was discovered in the 1850s and in 1873 the Bolla Bollana copper smelter was built but lasted only three years. Other mines were developed for phosphate, gold, silver, magnesite and uranium. The legacy of early European pastoral ventures in the area, apart from Balcanoona, is evident at Nudlamutana Hut and windmill, Illinawortina stone ruins and Grindells Hut.
The ﬁrst section of the park was set aside in 1970 as the Gammon Wilderness National Park, speciﬁcally for remote-area bushwalking. Some ten years later part of the Balcanoona Pastoral Lease was added and in 2002 the name Vulkathunha was adopted in recognition of the Adnyamathanha people’s enduring ties to this area in the state’s outback.
The Adnyamathanha, the ‘rock’ or ‘hills’ people, including the Wailpi, Yadliyawara, Kuyani and Pilartapa, lived in these harsh stony ranges. Their songlines traverse the area, and the natural features of the country are woven into their traditional stories and have great signiﬁcance for all phases of life from birth through to death. They tell of places that are munda, or dangerous, to visitors and where access is prohibited.
Today the Adnyamathanha live at Nepabunna, Nantawarrinna, Mount Serle and other locations throughout the ranges; their knowledge, language, ceremonies, kinship systems, traditional cultural sites and hunting and food-gathering techniques are being passed on to new generations. As custodians, the Adnyamathanha people jointly manage the park and continue to conduct cultural activities within its boundaries. A cultural-use zone has been established between Balcanoona and Lake Frome speciﬁcally for this purpose (see map).
The ranges of the northern Flinders were once a vast low-lying basin until around 600 million years ago, when the sea ﬂooded in, bringing masses of marine life, and their remains became fossilised in layers of rock (some of the oldest invertebrate fossils on the planet have been found here). These ancient sedimentary layers were pushed and squeezed to become the contorted hills and valleys of the park. Hard quartzite forms the dramatic higher bluffs and peaks such as Mount McKinlay at 1053 metres, and the rest of the ranges vary in height from around 400 metres to 1000 metres.
In valleys, such as Mainwater Pound, softer reef limestone and shales have escaped erosion, and in some places, such as Illinawortina Pound, even the hard quartzite layers have eroded, revealing deposits from ancient glaciers and rivers. Where volcanic intrusions have heated and twisted sedimentary layers, rich veins of metallic ores have developed. These mineralised patches were the reason for the area’s early mining history in the second half of the 19th century (see A look at the past).
Around 1000 plant species have been recorded in the park, some endemic to the Flinders Ranges and one found only in the Gammon Ranges. Drought-resistant species cling to the stony ridges while the taller trees are found rimming the watercourses. Along sheltered creeklines and waterholes are tall stands of river red gum and inland paperbark. On exposed rolling hillsides there is a sparse shrubland of wattles, with mulga woodland on the lower sandy areas. In the Mainwater and Illinawortina valleys there are woodlands of tall and beautiful gum-barked coolibahs. Endemic to the park is curly mallee, which is found in Illinawortina Pound and through the foothills of the Balcanoona Range. Pure grasslands of barley Mitchell grass are found on the Balcanoona Plains, rare because this type of vegetation has been depleted by stock in many other places.
In the gums along the creeklines galahs and corellas are frequently seen, while the grasslands are a refuge for zebra ﬁnches, pigeons, parrots and cockatoos. Groups of yellow-footed rock-wallabies display their effortless agility as they leap up the sides of the steep gorges. The population of these creatures is recovering as feral competitors are removed from the park. In the open plains country there are mobs of red kangaroos and the smaller euros. By arrangement, the park has an agreement giving the Adnyamathanha the right to hunt for food. This is one of the purposes of the cultural-use zone that has been established between Balcanoona and Lake Frome.
The park offers four-wheel driving, sightseeing and camping in a remote outback terrain, and a number of opportunities to explore European mining and pastoral heritage. Due to the isolation, bushwalking is generally for experienced wilderness walkers only. The area has Aboriginal cultural importance and you can experience Adnyamathanha traditions at Iga Warta, just outside the park in the south-west. There is a shady picnic area at Weetootla Gorge campsite, and day-visitor areas at Balcanoona, Grindells Hut, Italowie Gap and Arcoona.
The park is remote terrain and bushwalkers must take particular care as there are virtually no facilities. Before embarking on any extended hikes, notify a responsible person of your intended route and estimated time of return. At Italowie Gap, Italowie Gorge Trail follows the narrow gorge between ﬂat, red quartzite cliffs. Along the creek bed are tall river red gums and noisy ﬂocks of resident corellas. An extended hike for experienced walkers heads north from here into the centre of the park. From Weetootla Gorge, Weetootla Trail (14 km) is a medium-grade hike to Grindells Hut. A shorter stroll along the gorge, which is particularly scenic, offers the possibility of wildlife-watching. North of the park, the Mawson–Spriggina, Acacia Ridge and Bararranna trails offer great views of the country east of Arkaroola.
At Iga Warta (outside the south-west corner of the park, just west of Nepabunna) there is accommodation in swags or cabins and the chance to share damper and stories around a campﬁre, or take a tour with Adnyamathanha guides to ochre pits and art sites dating back 35 000 years. Food is prepared in traditional ways and cooking methods are demonstrated and taught.
Four-wheel driving and touring
The main road to Balcanoona is sealed and very scenic, passing through low hills and across creeks until cutting through Italowie Gap and then heading out to the ﬂat plains at Balcanoona, with glimpses of the vast Lake Frome to the east.
A 4WD track crosses the central plateau of the park and along the side of Illinawortina Pound to Lochness Well and back along the Wortupa Loop via the Balcanoona Creek, where there is a good chance to see rock-wallabies drinking in the gorge. From here tracks head east to join the Balcanoona–Arkaroola Road or west to a lovely camping spot at Mainwater Well, before heading out of the park to Yankaninna and further on to Copley or Arkaroola.
In the north of the park the drive to Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is spectacular. Arkaroola has all facilities, tours, and attractions such as Paralana Hot Springs and Nooldoonooldoona Waterhole.
CampsitesFind out more
Find out more
Find out more
Find out more
Find out more
Find out more