Sally O'Brien discovers a camping experience that indulges in its environment.
The thing that stays with me most about staying at Kangaluna Camp is the night sky. Our guide tells us a story about a group of Japanese tourists who visited and were awestruck by it, having never seen stars before. Even if you are familiar with a country sky, it's hard to stop staring at the ink-black apparition above, studded with diamonds.
We've come to the Eyre Peninsula, with 2000 kilometres of coastline and national parks the size of small nations. We're met at the airport by our guide, who couldn't be more laconic and Australian if he tried. He's been a shearer, a miner and a national parks maintenance manager, among other things. He tells us that the Peninsula is 'about the size of Tasmania', but it's obvious he knows the whole place like the back of his hand.
We're in for a long drive to Kangaluna Camp, through a landscape dotted with simple rural houses, sheep, hay bales and endless horizons. The sense of space is powerful, the hills parched. And the air? Like an oven, with flies. We soon learn to talk out of the side of our mouths, lest we spoil our appetites.
We travel through small towns such as Wudinna and then take the 4WD-only road to our luxury safari camp, Kangaluna, an oasis in the middle of what seems like endless bush and bright red dirt. Our tents are a cut above, boasting sisal matting, hand-made queen-size beds with artist-designed bedding featuring local fauna, large meshed windows, shower and flushing toilet and verandas. No land was cleared to make way for the luxury tents and we never feel hemmed in by other guests. The two-room tents' curved roofs keep the air flowing inside, and the thoughtful spray bottles of water provide instant face refreshment.
If this is 'glamping', then they've found a way to do it and still keep it relaxed and informal. Those in the mood to get closer to nature can arrange to sleep outdoors in a comfy swag.
On our drives through the 166,000 hectare Gawler Ranges National Park we spot western gray kangaroos, rainbow bee-eaters, stumpy-tail skinks, wedge-tailed eagles and emus. We also a good sticky-beak at pipe-organ rock formations, plus abandoned homesteads and shearing sheds, a reminder of the tough lives faced by early settlers to this area. Kangaluna is situated just outside the park's boundaries.
Sundowners are had at 'the beach' at Lake Sturt, a bone-white salt lake fringed by trees. Out of nowhere comes a table laden with pâté, cheese and crackers. Gin and tonics, or wine or beer are served and as the light fades and the day cools down this slice of isolated paradise comes into its own.
A dinner of steak, salad and good South Australian red wines takes place in an open-sided 'mess hall' at a communal table back at the camp, where we chat about the day and our plans for exploring more of the area over the next few days.
That night's sleep has the effect of an eight-hour rest cure, thanks to all that fresh air and the cooler night-time temperatures. We wake to birdsong and find a kangaroo and her joey enjoying a drink near the mess hall.
We drive to mammoth Lake Gairdner, a 160 kilometre-long and 48 kilometre-wide salt lake, shimmering like nobody's business and waiting patiently for the next land-speed attempt to be made on its crystalline surface. It's eerily quiet and the blindingly white salt offers a sharp contrast to the ochres and reds of the landscape we have driven through to get here. There are no signposts or directions available, making a trip here very much a 'local knowledge' affair.
If, after all the dirt and rock formations of the national park you need to cool off and get wet, you can head south about three and a half hours by 4WD from the camp to Baird Bay and swim with sea lions and dolphins with Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience. The well-being of the animals is a priority. It has one slight drawback - you can't wear sunscreen, lest it hurt the eyes of the sea lions, meaning you'll want to be extra vigilant about covering up your skin when you're out in the boat.
And then it's a drive back to the airport at Port Lincoln for an afternoon plane back to Adelaide, which might just be a good thing, because after three nights
of those extraordinary starry skies, a fourth might just make it too hard to get back into city life.
For more outback adventures see southaustralia.com or phone 1300 671 082.
Kangaluna Camp is just outside the Gawler ranges National Park, which is roughly 350km northwest of Adelaide. Cost per night is $476 per person, meals, drinks and tours included.
Regional Express flies from Adelaide to Port Lincoln, 35 minutes from $99. Phone 13 17 13.
South Australia Experiences is published by Fairfax Media in conjunction with South Australia Tourism Commission. Details are correct at the time of publication and may be subject to change. All writers travelled courtesy of SATC.