Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park

Campfire Caravan Drinking water Park entry fee Shower Toilets Wildflowers Aboriginal site Accommodation Camping area Four-wheel drive touring Information Lookout Ranger Walking
Grindells Hut, Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges, Mike Langford / Australian Geographic


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.

Fact file


From Adelaide to Leigh Creek then Copley–Balcanoona Rd; from south via Wirrealpa; from Innamincka via Strzelecki Track and Moolawatana

Best season

Autumn, winter and spring


750 km north of Adelaide; 65 km east of Leigh Creek

Park information

  • 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

Visitor information

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

See Also

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.

Aboriginal culture

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).

Natural features

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).

Native plants

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.

Cultural tours

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.


Arcoona Creek camping area

Camp among the pines and red gums close to this major creek system draining the north-western corner of the park, which acts as a staging post for wilderness walks to the plateau and Gammon Hill. Signposted access is 23... Find out more

Grindells Hut camping area

A good base for exploring Weetootla Gorge and the various branches of Italowie Creek, this 4WD route via the Wortupa Loop Rd is 26 km north-west of park headquarters. The road is suitable for off-road camper trailers,... Find out more

Italowie Gorge camping area

Two easily accessible sites – one a sheltered nook on the south-western side of the gap, the other to the north-east at the head of the Italowie Gorge Hike – are signposted off Copley–Balcanoona Rd, 82... Find out more

Lochness Well camping area

The closest vehicle-based camping to the plateau’s major gorges and peaks is reached from Wortupa Loop Rd, 31 km north-west of the park headquarters. Access is 4WD only. Check road conditions and bring a permit... Find out more

Mainwater Well camping area

Secluded self-sufficient camping here on the park’s northern fringe is a good kick-off point for exploring Mainwater Pound. Signposted access is 18.5 km along Idninna Rd from the Mt Serle–Yankaninna Rd.... Find out more

Weetootla Gorge camping area

Close to Balcanoona, this site for self-sufficient campers (permit required) gives easy access to the popular Weetootla Gorge hike. It’s signposted along Weetootla Track, 7 km north-west of the park headquarters.... Find out more

See Also

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