Beltana Station, Northern Flinders Ranges

By Andrew

Beltana Station (incorporating Puttapa Station), 34kms north of Parachilna on the Hawker to Leigh Creek Road, has opened the property up to tourists and offers several treks for the four wheel drive visitor. Being located in the heart of the beautiful Flinders Ranges in northern South Australia means that it’s a must visit location for weekending South Aussies and for visitors from far afield. We were invited up to try out the tracks and provide comments prior to them being opened up to the public.

Beltana Station

The homestead is 8kms in from the bitumen highway, on a good gravel road that is suitable for cars and caravans as long as speed is kept down on corrugations, and about 4kms from the historic town of Beltana. The town is slowly coming back to life after many years as a ghost town and is well worth a visit. One of the three treks laid out so far ends in the old town so makes an interesting end to the trip.

Beltana Station has a history that started back in 1854, was owned for over 120years by the Elder and BarrSmith families and was in the 1870s the starting point for Giles’ successful expedition to Western Australia utilising camels from the Beltana property.

Sunset from the shearers quarters

This property opens up a large diverse region and offers an adventurous alternative to the tourist mecca of Wilpena Pound and compliments the similar activities available on the adjacent Warraweena property. This destination is more adventurous, more challenging and more rugged than the usual Flinders Ranges sanitised experience and therefore really offers something new for those of us that know what the funny little gearstick is for.

Our Beltana experience begins with a visit to the homestead to meet hosts Graham the property owner and Laura the accommodation manager. A friendly greeting, a chat about the property and tracks, some waving at flies and a run down on what the property has to offer and then it was a short drive to our room in the shearers’ quarters. These have been recently upgraded, painted and fitted out to suit tourist requirements of a comfortable bed, linen, lighting and power. A well fitted out communal kitchen, large barbecue, huge veranda and toilets and showers round out the basic package. There are eleven rooms available here or as an alternative there is also the old managers cottage available that will sleep ten to twelve and it has its own kitchen and bathroom. For those seeking something really basic or to get back to their pioneer roots there are a couple of 1860s outstations available that feature two bedrooms and an open fire place. Camping with facitilies is available around the shearers quarters, including power for campers and caravans, or bush camping is possible at several remote locations on the property. Our group of fifteen 4WDs and over fifty people was easily catered for with rooms to spare.

Stockyard with Flinders Ranges behind

Before moving on the station treks it’s worth giving a rundown on the nearby attractions as they include the Leigh Creek coalfields (a large open cut with good public viewing areas), historic towns of Blinman and Copley and the previously mentioned Beltana. Several of the excellent PARs (Pastoral Access Routes) are in the area and worthy of a drive. All of these can be comfortably covered in half day or day trips from Beltana.

Before attempting the tracks a few basic precautions should be observed and these include carrying a UHF Radio as a must and NextG mobile phone is handy with coverage over much of the property. A well maintained 4WD with tyres in good condition is necessary as is carrying water and food in case of being stranded out there. This is typical for remote area touring in this country and should be second nature for us but always worth checking. Building ruins make for wonderful photos but they are called ruins for a reason and unstable walls make it sensible to stay out of them. Wildlife and livestock are abundant on this property but give them a wide berth and everyone will be happy.

Our first trip on the property was out to the Lake Torrens salt lake. This is a 100km round trip and takes six to seven hours, including a lunch stop at the lake, and is on generally well maintained tracks with enough soft red sand dunes to keep the drivers interested and the photographers happy.

Red dune country on the way to Lake Torrens

The first feature encountered is the large crutching shed that is still in use. The track winds its way cross country on generally flat terrain with plenty of wildlife to keep the passengers busy while the driver makes good time on this section. Following the Trek Notes provided by Beltana Station and their regular well positioned blue arrows makes it easy to navigate across a myriad of tracks and junctions. After passing several small windmills and stock troughs and you come to Winnowie Hut. With large gums for shade and plenty of artefacts on the ground this is a good spot to stretch the legs, have a look around, take some photos and admire this classic stone building. There are plans to renovate this outstation Hut for future tourists to enjoy some rustic minimalist accommodation.

Winnowie Hut

Continuing on you come to “The Gap” which has a windmill in the middle of a huge expanse of flat country and makes a welcome stop for pictures and a look around. Not far from the windmill are the remnants of an old boiler and piping which must have once provided the energy to a pumping system.

Windmill at The Gap

For the morbidly curious you can try and work out what the floating bloated remains in the stone walled tank are, but for the rest of us it’s enough to know that this isn’t drinking water for people.

Old boiler remains with galahs flying past

As you travel across the plains towards the lake, enjoying driving the random array of red sand dunes, it’s hard to imagine how stock survive on the slim pickings of random clumps of grass and stock water during this ongoing drought. Harder still to imagine the hardship of people who worked the property 150years ago although graves scattered across the area are testament to how unforgiving this region is. Once past the dunes it’s a fairly leisurely run and arriving at the vast expanse of Lake Torrens it’s time for more photos and lunch if it’s that time of day. Being on the edge of a salt lake and being surrounded by crusted sand dunes there isn’t much in the way of shelter so ours was a relatively short stop. Walking out onto the lake there are plenty of motorbike tracks but only the foolish would try driving a 4WD out there as it was easy to dig your heel into the softish surface.

The return drive involves backtracking a couple of kilometres from the Lake and then taking a different but equally scenic route to get to the homestead. Overall this is a scenic 4WD touring trip that deserves it easy to medium difficulty rating but does require basic 4WDing skills, lowered tyre pressures (for the stones and rocks not just the sand) and keeping speeds down as there are many washaways and small creeks to catch you out. This trek is a good introduction to the area, and an ideal introduction to the driving techniques required for the area.

On the Mt Deception track

Having completed the Lake Torrens Track and being keen for more, we set off mid afternoon on the Mount Deception Track. Gotta love daylight saving! This is a four to five hour trip and covers about 60kms. This track is more serious 4WDing and more challenging for vehicle and driver than the Lake track and includes ridge runs, lots of sharply eroded dry creek crossings, rough sharp shale covered tracks and plenty of the best Flinders scenery. Like the rest of the region at the moment the land is dry and barren and would be better after some proper winter rains with green on the hills and water in the creeks. I’m sure the graziers would agree. It’s amazing though how the damned vermin – rabbits, goats and foxes – manage to survive out here. And the flies….

creek at Tea Tree

Running across the plains, following the trip notes and red arrows, you come to the first creek crossing. After the creek it’s an uphill turn into the hills and a drive past an old stone tank (some lasting quality workmanship there – these tanks date back over 100 years) and our first stop is at Tea Tree Station. This was once an outstation for the Beltana property.

After leaving Tea Tree you come across a reminder of how tough life was and is out here with the marked grave of an 18year old. This is a good spot to get out of the car and have a look around but please respect this final resting place. After the grave the country opens up again into a wide rock strewn plain with a good track leading to Mt Deception. A good track that is for 4WDers who like the rough stuff as it’s in and out of steep sided creek beds and winding tracks with random pot holes to keep your attention.

One of many creek runs

Passing the still used Deception Hut outstation, built in the 1880s, you continue on towards the picturesque ruins of St Rohnans Hut which would be a good spot for lunch if you time your arrival accordingly. The bald hills around and towering behind the hut are in sharp contrast to the giant gum lined creek at its base.

St Rohnans Hut ruins

The track beyond St Rohnans takes you through the best part of the whole property and what is, in my opinion, some of the most magnificent rock formations, mountain peaks in the Flinders Ranges. That’s a big statement but this section is on par with the much lauded Arkaroola Sanctuary, just over a hundred kilometres NorthEast of here in the Gammon Ranges, albeit on a smaller scale. Photographers will spend more time here stopped on the side of the track than they will driving through. The hardest part is trying to adequately capture its beauty and magnitude and deciding what angle and elevation to shoot from. It really is that good. If you’re serious about your photography then time your run through here to be either morning light or with a setting sun shining on its many faces. At the end of this track, at the turn-around point, is a valley that was used to film the opening footage of the movie “Stealth” and those in our group that had seen the film easily recognised it. Perhaps the concrete walled dummy cave entrance on the side of a hill was their first clue. Or maybe because it’s covered in the trip notes.

Views across the Ranges

The return leg is on a different route and is equally interesting and challenging with more sharp rocks, eroded creek crossings and barren plains interspersed with rows of gums following the ancient waterways. Everyone in our group agreed that this was the best of the three tracks we drove over the weekend and all thought that a return in winter after rain was a must. This return leg was interesting as we crossed the main highway, drove under a Leigh Creek railway bridge, and proceeded into completely different country that was all big gums and wildlife. Cresting one of the hills gives a view down over the Beltana Station building about 1km away. This signals that the trip is over and it’s time for a leisurely run on gravel roads back to our accommodation to cook dinner, drink a few, share stories, tell lies and go to bed. Interestingly and fortunately, given the type of country we were running in, none of our fifteen vehicles suffered a tyre puncture over the entire weekend.

The track returning to Beltana

Fuel availability:
Beltana Roadhouse at the main highway turnoff.
Parachilna 35kms South
Leigh Creek 30kms North

Leigh Creek has a well stocked supermarket.