Mt Remarkable National Park South Australia
Words: Walter Marsh
Photos: Sia Duff
Did you know there’s an ancient, long-since dried out coastal system three hours inland from Adelaide? Our pals Left Foot Right Foot recently checked it out, and came back with this walking guide to the region’s two main attractions: Alligator Gorge, and the Mt Remarkable summit.
A three-hour drive from Adelaide, Mount Remarkable National Park’s Alligator Gorge is one of the most accessible – but still relatively unvisited – natural spectacles at the southern end of the Flinders Ranges. The origins of the name are unclear: signs speculate that it’s either named for Ali, the Indigenous shepherd who worked the area, or the work of white explorers spooked by the local Goanna population. Personally I’m satisfied by the explanation that sometimes things just need names, and as far as they go “Alligator Gorge” is a pretty gnarly sounding one.
From the start of the walk the smell of eucalypts will put you right at home as you descend a steep flight of stairs down into the gorge. There you’re met by a long trench of towering quartzite cliffs, which are the kind of bright orange that could warm you up on a cold day.
Further down into the valley patches of wild garlic add a surprising whiff of hummus to all the eucalyptus – hope you had a good lunch beforehand. The gorge eventually tightens up to only a few metres wide as you enter the Narrows. Here the sporadic trickles of running water gather into a slow-flowing creek, which we were able to navigate pretty easily hopping from rock to rock. It would probably be a different story after more consistent rainfall, however.
The path threads back up to complete the first short circuit, where you have the option of either returning to the car park (lame) or pushing on (good call). Past Longhill Camp it’s a few kilometres of unremarkable dirt track up to Eaglehawk Dam, after which you’ll take a right turn and begin to head back down into the valley. Soon you’re back amongst those distinctive rock formations.
At this point, looming rainclouds opened up to give us a well-timed shower. Luckily there are plenty of clefts and outcroppings to shelter under, and judging by the amount of roo poo around the place we sure weren’t the first to take cover that day.
The gorge becomes even more spectacular with a decent bit of water in its system, so you’ll want to slow down to take it all in. (It’s also not a bad idea to pace yourself anyway, those rocks can get mighty slippery.) Just before you return to the start of the loop, you head through the Terraces, a neat run of descending platforms of rock dotted with ripple marks. These markings are a memento of the area’s days as an ancient coastal system some 600 million years ago, and it’s a fittingly ancient way to end the day’s walk.
Mount Remarkable Summit
The trek up to the Mount Remarkable summit starts in positively suburban surroundings. Melrose is the oldest town in the Flinders Ranges, and you can set off from just behind the town’s council-run caravan park.
Once you pass the tennis courts, rope bridge and War Memorial, the path presents you with a long, slow walk that hoops around the side of the mountain with a steady and not too challenging gradient. Terrains vary, from valleys of green at the start of the walk to rocky hillsides strewn with broken slate.
About two thirds of the way up you’ll pass the wreckage of a light plane that crashed into the side of the mountain in the early ’80s. There were no survivors, and it’s a strange site to see strewn down the barren-looking rocks below the track. It’s far from the only evidence of modern life around Mount Remarkable, though – you can view an endless sea of paddocks and unsealed farm roads stretch out from wherever you are upon the mountain.
About a kilometre from the peak, the path heads inwards from the mountainside and into a thicket of gumtrees and low-lying bushland as you make your way up to the top. Some summits promise breathtaking views, and you could be forgiven for expecting the same from something dubbed “Mount Remarkable”.
As it stands, all the tree cover means you probably won’t notice you’re at the top until you see the sign and mound of rocks marking the spot. But still, the air is clear, the birds are colourful and vocal and you’ll probably be inspired enough to mount a follow-up journey further into the Ranges the next day.
Smith Journal and LFRF acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land [or country], and pay our respects to the Elders, past and present, of all of South Australia.
This post originally appeared in a slightly different form over on Left Foot Right Foot, which publishes walking guides written by hiking enthusiasts across Australia and the world. They will make you want to close your computer and hit the open road (or at least follow them on Instagram).
Text and images © Left Foot Right Foot.