Remote sheep and cattle stations—vast, isolated, and days from the nearest main town—are the stuff of Australian legend. Many are huge, like Anna Creek Station in northern South Australia, the world’s largest at six million acres, bigger than Israel and nearly as large as Vermont. Though whip-cracking, horse-riding stockmen are just as likely to ride trail bikes or helicopters these days, and station children get their education via satellite rather than radio, life on a working station is still often defined by adaptation to a harsh and isolated environment.
A number of outback stations take in visitors, offering the chance to experience a lifestyle as tough and rugged as the surrounding desert landscapes. Accom- modations may be in frugal workers’ quarters or in luxury homesteads. Hands-on participation is often encouraged, while others offer additional activities, including scenic flights and four-wheel drive tours.
Fourth-generation pastoralist Ian Fargher and his wife, Di, run merino sheep on their 150,000-acre property that lies six miles east of Blinman in the Flinders Ranges. Join in sheep shearing and mustering in season, or use the historic property as a base to explore the Flinders Ranges. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, drives through the gorges, and spotting wildlife such as kangaroos, wallabies, emus, and wedge-tailed eagles. The Farghers can arrange four-wheel drive tours and offer a host of “flightseeing” helicopter tours over the Flinders Ranges and deeper into the outback, or tag along on a station flight checking stock and water levels. The original 1850s shearers’ quarters provide comfortable renovated accommodations, or the beautiful stone Little Paddock Homestead is a step up in style. Both are fully equipped for self-catering, or nearby Blinman has dining options.
Mount Ive Station
Mount Ive Station is a sprawling sheep station a 200-mile drive west of Port Augusta. The rugged Gawler Ranges provide a red-desert backdrop, while to the north the property encompasses the white expanse of Lake Gairdner, a salt lake known for its land-speed records and annual Speed Week races. The property owners encourage participation in station activities such as sheep mustering, and the farm is at its busiest during shearing in February and March. Accommodations range from comfortable rooms in the stone building to more basic shearers’ quarters and camping. Dining is self-catered with cooking in the communal camp kitchen.
Near Jamestown on the edge of the desert, North Bundaleer is less outback hardship, more extravagant luxury. This grand homestead is set among 400 acres of farmland and forest. Built at the turn of the 20th century, the homestead reflects the wealth and optimism of the pastoral industry at that time, before economic realities saw the original vast property divided into smaller holdings. Expect antique furnishings, fine dining, and thoughtful touches at this beautifully restored four-room bed and breakfast. Ask for the Red Room Suite with its imposing canopy bed.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Practical Tip: Station Stays SA is a good reference and lists over a dozen station stays.
Work: For a total immersion experience, paid work on a station is also available, typically for overseas backpackers aged 18 to 30 on one-year work holiday visas. Websites such as Workstay specialize in work for backpackers and list station jobs when available.