Planning a fossil experience
Nilpena Ediacara National Park is currently closed to the public while work on the new visitor precinct and fossil site is completed. A lot of work is being done behind the scenes to create a very unique visitor experience and it will become a new attraction for the Flinders Ranges.
Nilpena is a site of huge international significance and to ensure it’s protected, visitors will only be able to visit by booking a guided tour. There will be no overnight facilities or areas to freely undertake recreation.
Set to open in the first half of 2023, the new visitor precinct itself is made up of three heritage buildings of the former pastoral station. These are the Blacksmith’s Shop, Woolshed and the Shearer’s Quarters.
The park is located on the western margins of the Flinders Ranges adjacent to Lake Torrens, 540 km north of Adelaide in South Australia. When the park opens, it can be accessed via the Outback Highway 30 minutes north of Parachilna and 40 minutes south of Leigh Creek. A new airstrip is currently under construction which will provide air access to Parachilna in the future.
The Blacksmith’s Shop experience
The former Blacksmith’s Shop is being refurbished to become a state-of-the-art interpretation centre. The new experience at the Blacksmith’s Shop is being created by a specialist project team from stonemasons to audio-visual technicians to furniture craftsman and finally palaeontologists.
Within the Blacksmith’s Shop, visitors will enjoy a one-of-kind fossil experience centred on Alice’s Restaurant Bed.
‘Alice’s Restaurant Bed’ — the focal point of the new fossil experience will be showcased within the repurposed Blacksmith’s Shop. Visitors will be able to see first-hand the evidence of multicellular animal life etched-in-time that once lived on earth 560 million to 542 million years ago.
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.
Technicians have been working together to ensure the 1000 or so pieces that form Alice’s Restaurant Bed come together inside the Blacksmith’s Shop in a seamless operation.
Different thicknesses of the excavated fossil pieces will be levelled using a specially designed table allowing for sections to be elevated before it’s grouted back into one solid level artefact.
Curated lighting will provide the best possible viewing conditions to see an array of fossils and a specially designed plinth will support the specimen.
This will be an all-accessible, visitor experience allowing everyone of all mobility types to view fossils up-close.
Adjacent to the Blacksmith’s Shop are the former shearer’s quarters which is currently used for researcher accommodation that work onsite. There are also plans for the former woolshed (opposite the Blacksmith’s Shop) to create an event and function space in the future.
The Fossil Fields
As part of the new visitor experience, visitors will be taken to the fossil fields which remains as an active research site. It’s here where many discoveries have occurred and where Alice’s Restaurant Bed was unearthed. A 4 km road that leads from the Blacksmith’s Shop to the fossil fields has been graded for comfortable vehicle access to the site which will be conducted by tour operators and researchers.
The fossil fields lie in Nilpena’s unassuming hills and where visitors will see where earliest life was discovered. Numerous fossil beds will explain the Ediacaran life that existed at Nilpena half a billion years ago.
A Class 2, all-accessible trail has been developed amongst the fossil fields which will allow those with mobility impairments to see the majority of the site. The trail includes nodes of excavated fossil beds, each with a unique story to be told.
The fossil fields are under security surveillance.
At the entry to the fossil fields, 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.
The Nilpena Gateway
The Nilpena gateway – a striking stone wall – is the entry area to welcome all visitors. The gateway provides a unique photo opportunity with panoramic views of the northern Flinders Ranges. In the future, the gateway will be the official location for tour guides to meet visitors and escort them to the visitor precinct and fossil fields.
Beyond the gateway, a 14 km journey leads to the visitor precinct. The road traverses a pastoral landscape passing through the privately owned Nilpena Pastoral Station (a current working cattle property) and the Nilpena Station homestead (no public access).
The environment is extremely scenic and includes several permanent springs and extensive creek lines that have cultural significance to the Adnyamathanha people.
Work has been undertaken to revegetate the environment with over 1,500 tubestock and 1.5 ha of direct seeding of plants endemic to the surrounding landscape. This has been made possible through funding provided by Flinders Ranges Ediacara Foundation.
In and around the gateway entry, around the built infrastructure and along roadsides to the fossil fields appropriate landscaping sympathetic to the environment has also been implemented.