Why visiting Nilpena Ediacara National Park should be on your 2023 bucket list

Why visiting Nilpena Ediacara National Park should be on your 2023 bucket list



South Australia’s newest nation­al park is a game-chang­er for the Flinders. Learn why it’ll be so spe­cial to visit.


If you haven’t heard of Nilpe­na Edi­acara Nation­al Park and have been dream­ing of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, our newest nation­al park is the rea­son to start plan­ning a vis­it there in 2023.

Nilpe­na’, as it is com­mon­ly referred, isn’t open to vis­i­tors just yet, but that’s because there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes to cre­ate a very unique vis­i­tor experience.

This nation­al park is unlike any oth­er in South Aus­tralia, pos­si­bly even the world, and will pro­file the state’s out­back region in a whole new light.

Here’s why it needs to be added to your buck­etlist for your 2023 adventures:

1. It has inter­na­tion­al his­tor­i­cal significance

On the west­ern fringes of the Flinders Ranges, about 500 km north of Ade­laide, rough­ly 60,000 hectares of land has been set aside to become a nation­al park.

And it’s also to cel­e­brate a dis­cov­ery that has already been attract­ing inter­na­tion­al atten­tion. In fact, Nilpe­na is at the cen­tre of a nom­i­na­tion cur­rent­ly being pre­pared to sub­mit a bid for World Her­itage list­ing for the Flinders Ranges in 2024.

Edi­acaran fos­sil site — Nilpe­na Sta­tion, South Australia 

Nation­al parks are pro­tect­ed areas for their sig­nif­i­cance relat­ing to wildlife, nat­ur­al fea­tures, land­scapes and espe­cial­ly for our Abo­rig­i­nal and cul­tur­al heritage.

Nilpe­na Edi­acara Nation­al Park has all of this but some­thing more that is extra spe­cial. The resound­ing fact is that Nilpe­na Edi­acara Nation­al Park has been iden­ti­fied as the place where evi­dence of the emer­gence of Earth’s ear­li­est com­plex ani­mal life has been discovered.

We’re talk­ing pre-dinosaurs or even pre-land plants. The likes of NASA have been back­ing the research at Nilpe­na for some time now, through the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side, to under­stand how ani­mal life evolves on a planet. 

2. It’s an active research site

A new 3‑year research project has been fund­ed to be under­tak­en at Nilpe­na from Jan­u­ary next year that will val­i­date com­put­er algo­rithms that exam­ine fos­sil evi­dence and match what has been dis­cov­ered in Nilpena’s ancient seafloor.

Why visiting Nilpena Ediacara National Park should be on your 2023 bucket list

Oné of sev­er­al fos­sil beds that have been unearthed in the hills of Nilpe­na Edi­acara Nation­al Park. 

Nilpe­na is an active research site and being able to observe and under­stand what is hap­pen­ing is all part of a new fos­sil expe­ri­ence that is being cre­at­ed in the nation­al park.

Dur­ing a future vis­it to the park, it’s very like­ly that you’ll be wit­ness­ing ground-break­ing research before your eyes that will be of ben­e­fit to the world as we know it.

3. It’s home to the crème de la crème of fos­sil beds

In the late 1960s, Amer­i­can folk singer Arlo Guthrie wrote a song titled Alice’s Restau­rant’ about being able to get any­thing you could ever want there to eat.

Fast for­ward to 2016, his song title was apt­ly used by lead­ing palaeon­tol­o­gist Dr Mary Dros­er and her team from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side to describe a sig­nif­i­cant fos­sil bed unearthed in the hills of the for­mer Nilpe­na Pas­toral Sta­tion – now the nation­al park.

Mary describes this fos­sil bed from a palaeontologist’s point of view to have every­thing you could ever want in a specimen.

Why visiting Nilpena Ediacara National Park should be on your 2023 bucket list

In Nilpena’s unas­sum­ing hills, Dr Mary Dros­er and her research team where vis­i­tors will be guid­ed to see the fos­sil fields.

This fos­sil bed now known as Alice’s Restau­rant Bed’ is the focal point of the new fos­sil expe­ri­ence and will show­case first-hand and etched-in-time evi­dence of mul­ti­cel­lu­lar ani­mal life that lived on earth 560 mil­lion to 542 mil­lion years ago.

More than 40 species have been record­ed at Nilpe­na, with oth­ers first dis­cov­ered in the near­by Edi­acaran Hills, which is also in the nation­al park, back in the 1940s by local geol­o­gist Reg Sprigg.

His dis­cov­ery was so sig­nif­i­cant that a fos­sil was named in his hon­our (Sprig­gi­na) and has become the South Aus­tralian fos­sil emblem. The Edi­acaran geo­log­i­cal peri­od of time was named after the loca­tion of this discovery.

Why visiting Nilpena Ediacara National Park should be on your 2023 bucket list

Unearthed in 2016, Alice’s Restau­rant Bed is Nilpena’s most sig­nif­i­cant fos­sil spec­i­men and will be the focal point of a new expe­ri­ence at the nation­al park.

4. It has sev­er­al unique – and famous­ly named – specimens

When the nation­al park opens in 2023, you’ll not only be able to see Sprig­gi­na spec­i­mens, but oth­er unique ones as well.

There’s the Atten­bori­ties janeae, named after Sir Richard Atten­bor­ough who has been to Nilpe­na and doc­u­ment­ed about first life at Nilpe­na a few years ago, and Oba­mus coro­na­tus, named after Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma for his com­mit­ment to sci­ence research.

5. It has film-wor­thy landscapes

Nilpe­na Edi­acara Nation­al Park is a new des­ti­na­tion in the Flinders Ranges and one that is very much untouched.

The lease­hold­ers of the for­mer pas­toral sta­tion took care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion to pro­tect the sur­round­ing land­scape that now forms the nation­al park.

Evi­dence of the Adnya­math­anha peo­ple, the Tra­di­tion­al Own­ers of the land, exists in the form of ash and char­coal mid­dens around Nilpena’s per­ma­nent springs.

In what seems dry and rugged out­back, see­ing water flow­ing is quite captivating.

The park’s unique land­scape is prob­a­bly why film-mak­ers con­tin­ue to use Nilpe­na as a film set – but we’ll dis­cuss the land­scape in more detail shortly.

Why visiting Nilpena Ediacara National Park should be on your 2023 bucket list

The per­ma­nent springs that flow through the nation­al park were where ash and char­coal mid­dens of the Adnya­math­anha peo­ple are still evident.

When can I vis­it, and how?

With the antic­i­pat­ed open­ing of the nation­al park in the first half of 2023, there is vis­i­ble work under­way with a stone gate­way already con­struct­ed and can be seen from the Out­back High­way, 30 min­utes north of Parachilna.

The gate­way is the wel­come point for all vis­i­tors to enter the park and has ample park­ing. It’s also a shared access point for the res­i­dents of the Nilpe­na home­stead that lies adja­cent to the nation­al park.

Gain­ing access to the park feels like a priv­i­lege but in fact, once you under­stand the impor­tance of the site and what it con­tains, you quick­ly realise it’s a nec­es­sary measure.

This is a site of huge inter­na­tion­al sig­nif­i­cance and to ensure it’s pro­tect­ed, you’ll only be able to vis­it by book­ing a guid­ed tour.

There will be no overnight facil­i­ties or areas to freely under­take recre­ation. From the gate­way, a 14 km jour­ney as part of the guid­ed tour will lead you to a new vis­i­tor precinct that is cur­rent­ly under construction.

Why visiting Nilpena Ediacara National Park should be on your 2023 bucket list

The new­ly con­struct­ed Nilpe­na Gate­way where vis­i­tors will meet a guide for the jour­ney to the vis­i­tor precinct and fos­sil field site.

The tour will also include a vis­it to Nilpena’s unas­sum­ing hills where a Class 2, all-acces­si­ble trail has been devel­oped amongst the fos­sil fields.

It’s here where you’ll see where ear­li­est life was dis­cov­ered. The trail includes nodes of exca­vat­ed fos­sil beds, each with a unique sto­ry to be told.

The sur­round­ing land­scape is quite spec­tac­u­lar and pro­vides a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive of the Flinders Ranges.

Rolling hills frame the dis­tant land­scape and at dusk, you’ll be able to cap­ture panoram­ic pho­tos of the ranges in all their pur­ple hue glory. 

Why visiting Nilpena Ediacara National Park should be on your 2023 bucket list

The entry point of the fos­sil field site with views to the north­ern Flinders Ranges.

What exact­ly is in the new vis­i­tor precinct?

The new vis­i­tor precinct itself is made up of three her­itage build­ings of the for­mer pas­toral station.

When the park opens for vis­i­tors, the old Blacksmith’s Shop will have been repur­posed as a state-of-the-art inter­pre­ta­tion centre. 

Why visiting Nilpena Ediacara National Park should be on your 2023 bucket list

A pre­view of the repur­posed Blacksmith’s Shop at the nation­al park’s vis­i­tor precinct. It’s here vis­i­tors will see evi­dence of ear­li­est life on earth sup­port­ed by an audie-visu­al experience.

It’s being cre­at­ed by a spe­cial­ist project team: there’s every­one from stone­ma­sons to audio-visu­al tech­ni­cians to fur­ni­ture crafts­man and final­ly palaeon­tol­o­gists.

Togeth­er they are cre­at­ing what will be a one-of-kind fos­sil expe­ri­ence cen­tred on Alice’s Restau­rant Bed, which requires the care­ful instal­la­tion of its 200 or so pieces.

Curat­ed light­ing will pro­vide the best pos­si­ble view­ing con­di­tions to see an array of fos­sils and a spe­cial­ly designed plinth will sup­port the specimen.

Dif­fer­ent thick­ness­es of the exca­vat­ed fos­sil pieces will be lev­elled before it’s grout­ed back into one sol­id artefact.

This will be an all-acces­si­ble, vis­i­tor expe­ri­ence allow­ing every­one of all mobil­i­ty types to view fos­sils up-close.

The adja­cent shearer’s quar­ters is cur­rent­ly accom­mo­da­tion for researchers that work on site. Plans for the for­mer wool­shed, oppo­site the Blacksmith’s Shop, presents a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty for an event and func­tion space in the future. 

Why visiting Nilpena Ediacara National Park should be on your 2023 bucket list

Nilpena’s his­toric wool­shed where the sto­ry of the most sig­nif­i­cant dis­cov­ery began.

To know more, you’ll need to vis­it to get the low­down. But in the mean­time, vis­it the web­site to uncov­er more about Nilpe­na.


This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living