Flinders Ranges - a Bucket List Must

Words by Dorian Mode and photography by Lydia Thorpe

Experience the magnificent majesty of the Flinders Ranges

I’m on a coach in the South Australian outback with Christian Fellowship Tours. However, Christian Fellowship Tours could easily be dubbed Senior Fellowship Tours, as our entire group comprises spritely seniors. Moreover, they’re all ‘senior singletons’ – widowed or otherwise. Interestingly, our bubbly host Judy, who tirelessly ensures everyone’s comfort day and night, says romances are often kindled on these trips as one single senior inevitably meets another. In fact, she recently attended the wedding of two seniors who met on a CFT sojourn. Romance aside, these tours must represent value, as many of their number have travelled with CFT over a dozen times. Judy also says there’s a comfort in knowing someone in the group’s looking out for you. So we thought we’d tag along and check it out for ewes.

Not being religious I was apprehensive about this trip. But CFT is an ‘old school’ religious crew: a short prayer on the bus, the occasional spiritual, and grace at dinner. If you’re a Christian but not overly religious, it’s pretty low key, really. You can opt-in for devotions or opt out. It’s up to you.
For this Flinders trip, we meet in the aptly named City of Churches: Adelaide. So named, not for the profusion of places of worship, but for the extraordinary diversity of religions in the burgeoning colony. Most were Lutherans, escaping religious persecution in 19th century Germany and demanding the freedom to wear lederhosen without ridicule (I mighta made that last one up). So, our first pitstop is the German village of Hahndorf. Settled in 1839 by Prussian Lutherans, it’s here you’ll find the studio of German-born landscape painter, Hans Heysen. Here we enjoy a quick German sausage before happing upon the local museum, framed by curling wisteria. This museum narrates the story of the plucky Germans who settled the area. But with all the Teutonic fervour, swirling accordion music and the sweet scent of kransky, I fight an overwhelming urge to invade Poland. Und back to ze coach!

Enjoying a German sausage in Hahndorf, South Australia

Wending through the pretty Adelaide Hills and back-blocks of the Barossa, we find the historic copper town of Burra. One lady in our group, Margaret, has been following our trip via a paper map (remember them?) like a scout troop leader. Established in 1850 by Cornish miners, it’s de riguer to stop in Burra for a tasty Cornish Pasty. Once 5000 people lived here, with a third living in dugouts along the riverbank in the aptly named Burra. These dugouts are now a tourist attraction.
As we coach it along dusty highways to the Flinders we see an endless parade of abandoned stone cottages, each a heartbreaking narrative of boom and bust for the hardy pioneers north of the Goyda Line . This is made manifest in an articulate and mellifluous baritone by our erudite driver, Michael; arguably the most professional coach driver in Australia and ideal for seniors with hearing difficulties. His diction is amazing: each word clear enough for Helen Keller.
We overnight at the railway town of Peterborough, née Petersburg till it was anglicised due to anti-German sentiment during the war. Here we enjoy a steam and light show at the loco roundhouse before tucking into a lamb shank the size of golf club at our accommodation. Like all our food on this Christian Fellowship Tour, it’s hearty and country-sized.

Picnic in the desert with the CFT gang

Motoring through the semi-arid region, we pass one-horse towns like Yunta, before leaving the sealed road for the dirt to head north, skirting Lake Frome, before travelling along the eastern escarpment of the Flinders Ranges and up into the Gammon Ranges.
We make Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary on dusk. Perched in one of the earth’s oldest landscapes, this extraordinary resort has a range of accommodation from cottages to camping with a restaurant, swimming pool and bar. I note that all the CFT accommodation on this tour is on the upmarket side. There are lots of senior-friendly walks here and we enjoy them all.
The following evening we join Arkarloola’s loquacious owner, Doug Sprigg, for a fascinating astronomy session from one of the many observatories perched high on the ridge-tops at Arkaroola. Doug is the son of renowned geologist Reg Sprigg., who in 1967, purchased Arkaroola sheep station, re-establishing native flora and fauna, and transforming Arkaroola into a spectacular private wilderness sanctuary. Reg’s progeny is a Gatling gun of facts, one-liners and bon mots as he unpacks the outback-evening sky for us. It was indeed a highlight. Psst! Arkarloola’s opening a new observatory for seniors with eyesight issues such as cataracts so they can enjoy the stars on the big screen via the new telescope in this light-pollution-free region of Australia.

Arkaroola - this is a definite bucket-list destination

As we coach away from Arkarloola we pause at the historic railway town of Terowie. It’s here passengers once changed from narrow gauge to broad and it’s where Douglas MacArthur famously said to a scrum of reporters: “I shall return” before looking around the dusty town and thinking “but not here!”
We then lunch at the Pioneer Hotel at Parachilna for their famous feral menu. One of the many upsides of group tours like CFT is you’re often forced to try things you would otherwise avoid. Bruce, an 86-year-old retired electrical engineer with white eyebrows swept up to points like two meringues, pokes at his kangaroo and emu fillet with trepidation. But the coat of arms never tasted so good!
Our next destination is the equally extraordinary Wilpena Pound, recently handed over or the Adnyamathanha people (meaning “hill people” or “rock people”) in 2009. Framed by river red gums, this lush resort comprises sixty hotel rooms, glamping safari tents, a restaurant, bar and swimming pool. There are guided cultural walks, bush walks, however many of the CFT group choose to fly over the Pound to see the majesty of the Flinders from the air: a backbone along the landscape. Our seniors are as game as Amelia Earhart and up for anything.

Warren - our guide on the four-wheel-drive tour at Wilpena Pound

Later, the Christian Fellowship crew join aboriginal guide Warren for a fascinating four-wheel-drive tour of the region. Post-tour I buy Warren a beer and get to know him better. Turns out he knows chums I taught with at NAISDA Aboriginal College. “We ask visitors not to enter the Pound as its sacred to us,” he says. “Much like climbing Uluru. Most respect our wishes but some don’t. “When they get lost but, we aren’t in a hurry to find em!” he laughs.
After three days at this fabulous indigenous resort, we wind our way back to the City of Churches via coffee stops at Quorn, where films like The Sundowners and The Shiralee were made. The following day we visit pretty Victor Harbor and enjoy a tram ride, drawn by a hairy Clydesdale. Later we take the famous Cockle Train along the foreshore only to be met by the ever-reliable Michael, our CFT coach driver.
On our final day, we visit Adelaide’s oldest church. For nostalgia, I stay for the service. As I perch in austere oak pews, I recall the legion of outback churches we passed now lying derelict. Gazing at the coloured light raining through the stained-glass, I contemplate a time when those isolated communities came together for fellowship or to simply pray for rain.

Judy at Parachilna – she was a fun person on the trip

At the airport we say our goodbyes, exchanging hugs. Christian Fellowship Tours’ tag line is: travel the world with likeminded people. But that could easily read: travel the world with kind people because that’s what they is. CFT are a fun bunch. We loved Joan, a retired maths teacher from Blaxland with the brain of a small planet. And Judy, a retired commercial artist who regaled us with her yarns and gifted each of us her beautiful drawings of fairies in native flora. And the aptly named Anita who joyfully devoured ice-creams at each stop. So if you’re a senior not comfortable travelling on your own, or you’d like to meet fellow seniors who equally enjoy travelling on their own, you’d be most welcome with this fun bunch. Psst! even if you’re a shameless heathen like me.

Travel with CFT to enjoy faith-based experiences and to have fun with like-minded people. Whatever holiday you choose, with CFT you will find opportunities to connect, form friendships and enjoy true fellowship. CFT holidays are fully escorted by Christian Tour Leaders who are there to care for you and guide you along your journey.
For more information visit the CFT website.