No need to bring an alarm out here. You already blink with your eyes when the sky is turning blue at dawn, and as soon as you realise where you are – in the South Australian outback, on the third day of the Arkaba Walk – you quickly peel yourself out of your swag so you will not miss the morning. Because the first minutes out here are special, when the noises and the colours slowly penetrate the sleepy quietness of the outback. You sit in your pyjamas on a little wooden deck whilst drinking English breakfast tea. In front of you lies the Elders Range, and behind you, the sun is rising. Carefully, it paints the tips of the mountain chain a warm colour, moving across the rock with its rays, first red, then pink, then orange. When it reaches the tops of the eucalyptus trees and cypresses, a few green ringneck parrots start chattering. With the last sip of tea, all the light of the morning sun rolls out like a golden carpet at the foot of your sleeping place. Best breakfast TV ever.
The four-day Arkaba Walk combines two worlds: wilderness and comfort. That means during the day you walk through the wild, Australian bush, and at night you eat and drink like kings and enjoy a good night’s sleep in a deluxe swag – the typical Australian combination of tent and sleeping bag. The long-distance trail is 45 kilometres long and runs through parts of the Flinders Ranges National Park and the neighbouring Arkaba Station in South Australia which covers an area of 24,000 square kilometres. The area is ancient and was created 600 million years ago – a paradise for geologists. To get an overview, on the first day you climb up to the edge of Wilpena Pound which is a natural mountain amphitheatre 17 kilometre long and 8 kilometres wide. From there, you can see the horizon and the hiking trail. The outback is not as flat as you are used to; just before the horizon, there are some mountains.
You spend the first night at Black’s Gap Camp. It was already a campsite for shepherds in 1850. Back then, they ate bush tucker – everything edible from the bush – and drank tea out of the billy. Today, you are served a three-course menu. A stone chimney is remindful of that time, it seems a bit lost now. Since 2009, the property of the Arkaba Station has been owned by Wild Bush Luxury which has designated the area a private nature reserve. That means no sheep and no agriculture anymore. The land is to first recover from 150 years of sheep farming. You see the former sheep pastures on the following day when the path leads through the hilly landscape. You follow the Heysen Trail for two kilometres and which is named after the German-Australian artist Hans Heysen, who fell in love with the light, the colours and the eucalyptus trees on his first visit to the Flinders Ranges in 1926. Those very eucalyptus trees adorn the edges of the trail. And when you rub the leaves between your fingers – which releases a smell similar to your foam bath back home – and touch the light bark which flakes off the trunk, you will empathise with Hans Heysen. You feel like immortalising the landscape yourself and taking it with you as a memory, in Heysen’s water colours of red, ochre yellow, bronze and burnt sienna.
The colours have not changed over time, everything seems a bit scorched and red, bleached out from the blazing heat, yet speckled with bright green bushes. You pass dried-out river beds and sandstone rocks, and it all seems to be so quiet until a shadow jumps through the bushes. Yellow-footed rock-wallabies and big red kangaroos are at home here, and they jump with such ease you would think they were travelling on a path of little trampolines.
In the evenings you sit down at a table decorated with a white tablecloth and set for a three-course meal during which ever more stars appear in the sky. South Australian wine fills the glasses and it is like a dream. You feel the wild, vast outback around you, but as is the case with a nice dream, it is all a bit less arduous. You smell nice thanks to the outdoor shower, you eat well thanks to the high cuisine, and after two nights in a swag, you now sleep in a bed in the renovated farm house known as the Arkaba Homestead. You gaze at the crackling campfire. For sure, Hans Heysen would have mixed the perfect water colours for it. And you are already looking forward to watching the outback wake up the next day from your veranda.
The Arkaba Walk is one of the Great Walks of Australia and stretches a distance of 45 kilometres from Wilpena Pound Resort to the Arkaba Homestead. The hike takes part regularly from mid March to mid October and is of medium to demanding difficulty. A guide leads the group of up to ten people. The hike includes two nights in a deluxe swag, a night’s stay at the Arkaba Homestead, gourmet dinners and trail snacks, expert field guides, South Australian wine, luggage transport between camps and national park entry fees.
Information and booking: www.arkabawalk.com
About South Australia in general: www.southaustralia.com
15. März 2017, Text: Cindy Ruch