Situated in the Ikara Flinders Ranges, about 450km north of Adelaide, the sign to Sacred Canyon doesn't give any clue to the beautiful rugged gorge you will find at the end of the 12 km dirt road that leads to the car park. When you arrive at the entrance, there is an information board telling you about the traditional heritage and cultural significance of the canyon, which is protected under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988. You can also get some hints about deciphering the engravings you'll see when you reach the canyon from the sign.
Sacred Canyon Information sign provides some clues to deciphering the rock carvings. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
The 200-metre easy walk begins in a creek bed lined by tall river red gums. There is no signage, just follow the creek bed until the tall trees give way to towering sandstone rock faces and the first of the ancient carvings. The age of the carvings is not known, some are difficult to find as they have been worn away by time and others are easily seen.
Cravings in the rock face in the Sacred Canyon. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
Animal tracks, people and circles are the most common engravings on the rocks in the narrow rocky gorge. It is believed that many markings were made by chipping away at the rocks with two implements similar to the hammer and chisel method, others were made by pounding the rock surface with a hard rock.
The carvings are a reminder of the Aboriginal people who lived in the area for thousands of years, the property of the Adnyamathanha people, a collective name for the Pankala, Wailpi, Kuyani, Jadliaura and Piladappa groups. Visitors are asked to refrain from touching the carvings, unfortunately some areas have been subjected to vandalism that may prevent future generations from visiting the canyon.
Look closely at the rock carvings. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
Continuing along the gorge, you'll come to a small cave. If you look carefully, you'll see faded markings indicating evidence that this land may have been a gathering ground many years ago. If you continue to the end of the canyon, you'll come to a park area, signalling that it is time to return to the trailhead.
The silence of the gorge adds to the appeal of a walk in Sacred Canyon, the age and size of the rock faces reinforces that you are walking in a region from the ancient times.
Arkaroo Rock Walk
Arkaroo Rock formations in the Flinders Ranges. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
Your walking journey from the car park will take you through a variety of native vegetation and large rock formations. Navigating over small rock steps and bridges are just part of the walk on the unsealed path which winds towards the ancient paintings on Arkaroo Rock. The circuit trail allows you to choose to start walking in either direction from the car park, located on Hawker Road, also known as Flinders Ranges Way, about 17km south east of the Wilpena village.
The path to Arkaroo Rock is a scenic moderate level walk. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
Take your time and enjoy the views of the Chace Range and the imposing Wilpena Pound. The sheer size of Wilpena Pound is amazing, appearing to grow in stature as you approach Arkaroo Rock, which is situated on the southern rim of The Pound.
Bridges and an unsealed path leads you to Arkaroo Rock. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
Crossing the final bridge to the rock, you might be disappointed to find tha paintings secured behind a sturdy wire fence, but sadly vandalism has made this a necessity to protect the ochre and charcoal paintings made by the Adnyamathanha people thousands of years ago. Despite the fence, you can still get a close view of the paintings, including charcoal images of emus and bird trails. Retelling the story of the creation of Wilpena Pound, the paintings are found on the underside of the huge rock, which remained undiscovered by European settlers until 1957. The area was a meeting place for the Adnyamathanha people, who believe that the paintings were produced by ancestral beings.
Photographers and artists have tried for many years to capture the detail of the artwork on the rock, named after Akurra, the dreaming serpent responsible for the creation of Wilpena Pound.
After viewing the artwork and reflecting on the significance of the paintings, you can complete the 3km circuit as you return to the car park. Before jumping back in your car to get to some of the more crowded sights in the Flinders Ranges, take a moment to read the information on the boards in the car park trailhead. Now that you have seen the paintings, the information will seem more significant and meaningful.
The information sign in the car park. Reread it after you have seen the paintings. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
A vehicle entry fee of $10 ($8 Concession) is payable to enter the Flinders Ranges National Park. Park Day Passes are available from the self-registration stations located throughout the National Park or you can purchase a multipass from the Flinders Ranges Information Centres in Quorn and Wilpena Pound Village. If you are purchasing a day pass, remember to take correct money as change is not available.
I have been to both places...fascinating and enjoyable.The photo of the small cave in the rockface is a gem.As much as I liked my visit to the Sacred Canyon..I was taken back a bit by it's miniature size...to call it canyon is a little bit over the top I feel.I have done many visits to the Flinders over the years and now would be a great time to visit, after heavy rains.If possible,every one should spend at least 1 week in the Flinders in their lifetime...they will be amazed at the incredible scenery there.