Flinders Ranges: Why we agree it should be a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Like you, we’ve known for decades that the Flinders Ranges is a special place. Now, the rest of the world has been put on alert.

This fossil-rich area, once dubbed a ‘great outdoor museum’ by explorer Douglas Mawson, was recently nominated for listing as a world heritage site in the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) system.

World heritage sites are designated for containing ‘cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity’, according to the United Nations.

Fabulous Fossils

To be sure, the main reason for the Flinders tentative designation is the fossils. These beautiful mountains in eastern South Australia boast extensive fossils from the 96-million-year-long Ediacaran Period that cannot be found anywhere else on earth.

Fossils from before and after the Ediacaran Period (the Cryogenian and Cambrian Periods, respectively) complement the Ediacaran fossils making the Flinders, ‘the only place on Earth where 350 million years of near-continuous geological sequence can be seen, demonstrating the rise of a habitable planet and the dawn of animal life’, according to the South Australian government.

While the fossils are certainly unique, there’s a lot more to the Flinders than fossils that make these scorched orange and red mountains special.

Wilpena Pound |  <i>Michael Waterhouse Photography</i>

Strange, Layered Cakes

There’s the wild geography—the Flinders mountains look like strange, layered cakes, crumpling and bending as if gravity was pulling the mountains down from random spots on a kitchen table.

They’re a classic example of a folded mountain range, formed when two continental plates butted heads and agreed to go their own ways.

Wind erosion shaped the mountains further. Then there’s Wilpena Pound, a vast, tilted amphitheatre of stone that seems to defy gravity—one of the great geographical hiccoughs of the southern hemisphere.

An Ancient Seabed

There’s the geology. The Flinders are the remains of an ancient seabed, and the rocks here have been squashed and crunched, worn down and split apart.

There are plunging gorges and soaring peaks, hidden waterholes and parched ravines. The rocks themselves are a dizzying kaleidoscope of colour and whimsy, with mauve quartzite layers separated by bright orange ribs that look like rumpled cloth in a dressmaker’s shop.

Of course, with such an active warped geography, we’d expect the folklore to be as fanciful—and it is.

Akurra and the Makara

The rocks and landscapes in the Flinders have buoyed stories by the Adnyamathanha people, the traditional custodians of this land, for thousands of years—stories about the creator serpent, Akurra, and the Makara, marsupial-like women with pouches (represented on their flag by the Pleiades star constellation).

Their stories of powerful forces and strange characters are stories that only a specially shaped land like the Flinders could produce.

Settler ruins in the Flinders Ranges |  <i>Tim Morris</i>

Dunarts, Wallaroos, and Mice

There is wildlife in abundance here, too.

Several species of macropods (including red kangaroos, western grey kangaroos, wallabies, and wallaroos) are common to the Flinders Ranges, as are smaller critters, like the common dunnart, the little long-tailed dunnart, the desert mouse and Bolam’s mouse.

Bee-eaters, Honeyeaters, Bablers, and Whistlers

The birds of the Flinders have whimsical names, too: apostlebirds, rainbow bee-eaters, red-capped robins, crimson chats, diamond doves, welcome swallows, singing honeyeaters, white-eared honeyeaters, yellow-faced honeyeaters, hooded robins, jacky winters, chestnut-crowned bablers, rufus whistlers, malee ringnecks, and weebills. You might also see cockatoos, parrots, emus, galahs, and falcons.

Flinders birdlife is so vast it has its own kind of crimson rosella—an orange variant of the generally red and blue variety found elsewhere in Australia.

Surprisingly, there are many species of water birds in the Flinders, including grebes, cormorants, herons, spoonbills, ducks, and coots.

At night, you might encounter barking owls and Australian boobooks. It’s a lively place.

The magical, tangled rocks of the Flinders Ranges are good spots for lizards to hide.

Views overlooking the Flinders Ranges |  <i>Earle Westbury</i>

Lizards, dragons, and goannas

Species you might encounter include tawny dragons, red-barred dragons, sand goannas, and shingleback lizards, plus many species of skink. Grumpy-looking bearded dragons are found throughout the range.

Flinders nights are dominated by geckos, like the barking gecko, the prickly gecko, the velvet gecko, the beaked gecko, and the marbled gecko as well as Butler’s legless lizard, often mistaken for a snake.

The wildlife here is related to the fossils.

The oldest evidence of animal life on our planet was found in the fossils here, indicating animals might have been on earth 70 million years earlier than previous fossil evidence suggested.

And while the plant life might seem minimal, there is a lot of variation in it.


Trees like cypress pine and black oak are common in the Flinders, and in wetter areas species like grevilleas, lilies, and ferns can be found. Water-hungry reeds and sedges grow near springs and waterholes.

The land here, then, is like a carefully restored museum crossed with a modern experimental garden. And that’s why we visit.

You can’t get this diversity or flora and fauna combined with the geologic and geographic wonders anyplace else on earth. It’s simply a must-have adventure for anyone curious about our plant.

Especially welcomed for us is the fact that you can walk through many of these sites and experience the mountains in a raft of different ways.

Gammon Ranges, South Australia |  <i>Ben Christie Johnstone</i>

Many Ways to Enjoy It All

You can watch wildlife, photograph sweeping vistas, hike secret gorges, star gaze, study the rocks, ponder the fossils, and paint images of a wonderful wilderness that is a truly special place. It’s worth a visit even if you don’t like travel or the outdoors.

This place is a living catalogue of the earth’s history, a stark representation of its present, and a suggestion of what’s to come.

We offer six separate active Flinders Ranges trips, all of which will help you understand why the Flinders is one of Australia’s most special mountain areas.

You can walk barefoot in sandy riverbeds, sleep under a shimmering Milky Way, and see oddities of our earth that you won’t see anyplace else.

The Flinders Ranges are a genuinely special place, and we recommend you come soon—before the UNESCO World Heritage listing makes it ever more popular.

You’ll be really glad you did.

Flinders Ranges walking, Flinders Ranges trek, Flinders Ranges trekking, Flinders Ranges cycling, Flinders Ranges fossils

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