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.

Artist impression of the reconstructed Blacksmith's Shop
Artist impression of the reconstructed Blacksmith's Shop

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.

Nilpena's former Blacksmith's Shop under construction - November 2021
Nilpena's former Blacksmith's Shop under construction - November 2021

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.

Alice's Restaurant Bed - Nilpena's most significant fossil bed in over 1000 pieces in the fossil fields.
Alice's Restaurant Bed - Nilpena's most significant fossil bed in over 1000 pieces in the fossil fields.

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.

Final stages of repurposing Nilpena's former Blacksmith's Shop - June 2022
Final stages of repurposing Nilpena's former Blacksmith's Shop - June 2022

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.

Grading of the road that joins the new visitor precinct to the fossil fields
Grading of the road that joins the new visitor precinct to the fossil fields

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.

The Class 2 trail that leads to the fossil beds in Nilpena's unassuming hills.
The Class 2 trail that leads to the fossil beds in Nilpena's unassuming hills.

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. 

National Parks and Wildlife Service South Australia

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. 

National Parks and Wildlife Service South Australia

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.

Revegetation of the national park is underway.
Revegetation of the national park is underway.

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.

Landscaping at the gateway and adjacent to visitor parking
Landscaping at the gateway and adjacent to visitor parking