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 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 second half of 2022, 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 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 experience a one-of-kind fossil experience centred on Alice’s Restaurant Bed.

‘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.

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.

Adjacent to the Blacksmith's Shop are former shearer’s quarters which is currently used for researcher accommodation that work on site. Also there are plans for the former woolshed, opposite the Blacksmith’s Shop, to create an event and function space in the future.

Alice's Restaurant Bed - Nilpena's most significant fossil bed that is the focal point of the new visitor experience
Alice's Restaurant Bed - Nilpena's most significant fossil bed that is the focal point of the new visitor experience

Technicians are already underway 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.

The Fossil Fields

As part of the new visitor experience, is being taken to the research site where many discoveries have occurred and where Alice's Restaurant Bed was unearthed. Currently a 4 km road that leads from the Blacksmith's Shop to the fossil fields is being developed which will allow access to the site for tour operators and researchers.

Construction of a road to join the new visitor precinct to the fossil fields
Construction of a road to join the new visitor precinct to the fossil fields

The fossil fields lie in Nilpena’s unassuming hills and will allow visitors to see first hand 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.

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. During the early stages of opening up the National Park, official tour guides will meet visitors at the gateway and escort them to the visitor precinct and fossil fields. The 14 km journey to the visitor precinct traverses the pastoral landscape. The property is extremely scenic and includes several permanent springs and extensive creek lines that have cultural significance to the Adnyamathanha people. The road passes through the Nilpena Pastoral Station (a current working cattle property) and the Nilpena Station homestead, which is privately owned (no public access). The visitor precinct includes Nilpena Station’s former blacksmith shop, woolshed and shearers’ quarters.

In the future, Nilpena shearers’ quarters will be repurposed to provide accommodation for research scientists and the woolshed for functions and events.