Aroona Dam - a surprising outback oasis
The Aroona Dam Sanctuary offers spectacular views and peaceful surroundings for a picnic lunch. It also has a wonderful 5.5 kilometre interpretive walk, which starts below the main wall of the 5000 megalitre dam, the largest of its type outside of Adelaide. The trail traverses wetlands below the dam, mountainous terrain, rocky outcrops and red-gum lined creeks. You might even see the endangered Yellow-footed Rock wallaby which were released into the area in 1996.
In the past this was the water supply for residents of Leigh Creek. Now, it is a gem of a place to relax and explore. There is a picnic area and toilet facilities at the lookout/parking area. Non-powered boating is welcomed there are canoes for hire in Leigh Creek and there is an improvised launch ramp with a floating jetty to come. Birdlife abounds and other wildlife makes use of the plentiful water supply, so unusual in this normally arid environment. The dam is also stocked with Murray Cod.
The recently developed Akurra Trail connects the town of Leigh Creek with Aruuna Awi (Aroona Dam) providing an interesting 10.5 km half-day hike with rich interpretive signage along the way.
Fossil Heritage - Heritage listed Ediacara fossil site
The Flinders Ranges are home to many eons of fossilised life forms. In 1946, while exploring for minerals, geologist Reginald Sprigg discovered fossil imprints in rocks around the low hills of the western Flinders Ranges at the old Ediacara minefield.
Reg Sprigg’s discovery was extremely important, as it was the first time the fossilised remains of an entire community of soft-bodied creatures had been found in such abundance anywhere in the world. Reg’s discovery was so significant that fossils were named after him and the Ediacaran Period was named after the location where the fossils were found. The Ediacaran Heritage site is on Nilpena Station only few kilometres to the south. Tours can be booked through the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna.
Fossils may be found all over the Flinders Ranges, so if you have a keen eye and like exploring, you may even discover some yourself.
The Retention Dam - an absolute Mecca for waterbirds
A 2018 survey conducted by Birds SA discovered that Leigh Creek/Copley is home to several species of rare birds.
The blue billed duck, elegant parrot, musk duck, Australasian darter and great crested grebe are just some of the species that were discovered by 12 experienced Birds SA birders at the Leigh Creek Coal Mine site.
Thousands of birds of 68 different species were spotted during the two-day observation, with the greatest concentration of birds found at the Mine’s Retention Dam.
Local naturalist Anne-Maree Taranto said the area has proven to be a flourishing habitat for several species.
“The Retention Dam has naturalised over the past 37 years into a unique, thriving habitat for land, shore and water birds alike, and is an important wetland for many endemic and migratory species,” she said.
In an attempt to stop creek flow into the mining production area, Leigh Creek Coal Mine workers created the retaining dam in 1981. While operations at the coal mine were ceased in 2015, the dam has gone on to become a complex wetland habitat.
Marco Balsamo, The Transcontinental
Dramatic mountain scenery - everywhere you look
No matter which direction you look, the scenery around Leigh Creek is spectacular.
The famous painter Hans Heysen said of the Flinders Ranges that they were, “natures bones laid bare”. It is such an apt description because the stratified layers of ancient seabeds have lifted and tilted and twisted and bent to reveal an insight into the underlying structures of these magnificent mountains. No wonder they’re geologists and paleontologists dream-come-true.
Sometimes hard and jagged, other times gentle and subtle, the patterns and colours are endlessly varied and often surprising.
Nature's bones laid bare
The plants and animals that have adapted to this harsh environment are similarly unique and interesting. To experience this country in the furnace-like Summer season, you would be forgiven if you thought that nothing could survive here.
But, survive it does, and some of the most delicate of plants animals can be found, if you take the time to explore and discover.