Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

Don’t let the cool­er weath­er deter you from get­ting into parks. Here’s 28 expe­ri­ences per­fect at this time of year.

Unless you’re a pygmy pos­sum, an echid­na or a rep­tile, there’s real­ly no need to hiber­nate as the weath­er cools.

South Australia’s nation­al parks have plen­ty of things to see and do and it’s no dif­fer­ent when the tem­per­a­ture drops. In fact, some of the most unique parks expe­ri­ences in SA can only be enjoyed dur­ing the cool­er months.

Here are 28 activ­i­ties and expe­ri­ences that we recommend: 

In and around Adelaide

1. Chase water­falls at Mori­al­ta Con­ser­va­tion Park

You don’t have to go far from the city to expe­ri­ence the won­der of waterfalls.

Mori­al­ta Con­ser­va­tion Park, just 13 km east of the CBD, is home to 3 falls and has a great net­work of trails to bring you up-close-and-per­son­al with each of them.

Win­ter and spring are great times to vis­it to see the water­falls flow­ing at their best.

Top tip: Read our sto­ry to learn about oth­er parks with water­falls you can vis­it: 5 of South Australia’s water­fall-wor­thy nation­al parks.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

2. Ani­mal encoun­ters at Cle­land Wildlife Park

Pic­ture this: a misty morn­ing in the Ade­laide Hills, birds chirp­ing and a deli­cious hot cof­fee. Now make it hap­pen with a vis­it to Cle­land Wildlife Park, 20 km up the freeway.

Strolling around the park you’ll meet some of the most icon­ic native species, like koalas, kan­ga­roos, wom­bats and din­goes – and they tend to be more active in winter.

Or you can book in for an expe­ri­ence for some­thing extra spe­cial, like a koala hold or Break­fast with the Birds.

Top tip: Don’t for­get to duck into the Bark­ing Gecko Café for that cof­fee. And you can warm up in front of the fireplace.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

3. Moun­tain bike at Glen­thorne Nation­al Park-Itya­mai­it­pin­na Yarta (O’Halloran Hill section)

Moun­tain bik­ing will get your blood pump­ing year-round, but in win­tery weath­er you’ll get even more of a chal­lenge with mud and slip­pery trails to negotiate.

Glen­thorne Nation­al Park-Itya­mai­it­pin­na Yarta’s O’Halloran Hill sec­tion in Adelaide’s south­ern sub­urbs is a great place to hit the trails.

Its 8 km trail net­work includes easy, inter­me­di­ate and advanced options. There’s some great down­hill spots for the adven­ture-seek­er, flowy for­est trails for the kids to explore, and lots of tight cor­ners and bends for those look­ing for a challenge.

Top tip: Get a taste of what’s in store on these trails by check­ing them out in Google Street View first. All you need to do is go to the web­site, click on the See and do’ tab, click on Moun­tain bik­ing’ and list­ed under each trail you’ve find a link to Google Street View.

4. Hike to Mount Lofty Sum­mit – with a difference

Did you know there’s more than one way to reach Adelaide’s high­est peak, Mount Lofty Sum­mit?

The pop­u­lar Water­fall Gul­ly to Mount Lofty Sum­mit hike isn’t for the faint-heart­ed, so if you’re after a more leisure­ly walk you might like to give one of the oth­er 14 options a go.

You could take the 4.2 km loop from Cle­land Wildlife Park and fol­low the Har­ford Track to the sum­mit, or get set for a longer walk with the 11.5 km return trip from Stir­ling, which brings you through some of the town’s laneways and through Cle­land Nation­al Park on your way to the top.

Top tip: Keep your eye out for rare fun­gi in the cool­er months. Read our sto­ry to find out which types you might encounter: 5 fun­gi you’ll find in the Ade­laide Hills.

5. Explore SA’s old­est park – Belair Nation­al Park

Just 25 min­utes from Adelaide’s city cen­tre you’ll find Belair Nation­al Park, set in beau­ti­ful nat­ur­al bushland.

The cool­er months are per­fect for walk­ing, and there’s no short­age of things to see at this park. Explore the many walk­ing and moun­tain bik­ing trails, stroll through the wood­lands and around the lakes, and vis­it the her­itage sites like Old Gov­ern­ment House.

Belair Nation­al Park is also home to the pop­u­lar State Flo­ra nurs­ery. Pick up some native plants while you’re there – the wet­ter, cool­er months of the year are the ide­al time to plant them. 

Top tip: Love gar­den­ing? Read our sto­ry to learn more: 4 sim­ple steps to cre­at­ing your own native gar­den.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

6. Ride, hike or cast a line at South Para Reser­voir Reserve

South Para Reser­voir Reserve is min­utes away from Williamstown, south of the Barossa Val­ley, and is the sec­ond-largest reser­voir in SA.

Bring along your moun­tain bike or hik­ing boots and fol­low the net­work of trails to explore the beau­ti­ful sur­rounds of the reser­voir, or take to the water with your kayak or canoe for a short mean­der or a full-day adventure.

With a recre­ation­al fish­ing per­mit in hand you can cast your line out from the shore­line in the fish­ing zone, or on the water from your kayak or canoe. The reser­voir is stocked with Mur­ray cod (catch and release), gold­en perch and sil­ver perch.

Top tip: Make a day of it. There are 2 pic­nic areas, and one has toi­let facil­i­ties, so there’s no need to rush home.

7. Rock-climb at Onka­paringa Riv­er Nation­al Park

Onka­paringa Riv­er Nation­al Park, 35 km south of Ade­laide, has a ded­i­cat­ed rock-climb­ing area that’s per­fect for your next cool­er weath­er adventure.

Its rugged loca­tion fea­tures a gorge with cliffs up to 30 m high and large per­ma­nent rock pools, and there’s top-rope and lead climb­ing available.

The win­tery months bring cool and crisp con­di­tions that bode well for climbers, and you’ll like­ly have more of the park to your­self than dur­ing the busier, warmer months.

Top tip: Did you know Mori­al­ta Con­ser­va­tion Park is also a top rock-climb­ing spot? Read our sto­ry for all the details: Where you can rock climb in Adelaide’s nation­al parks.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

8. Take a hike at Hal­lett Cove Con­ser­va­tion Park

Winter’s chang­ing light casts new shad­ows on the spe­cial rock for­ma­tions at Hal­lett Cove Con­ser­va­tion Park in Adelaide’s south.

Spend a day explor­ing this park’s cul­tur­al and geo­log­i­cal her­itage, which includes evi­dence of an Aus­tralian ice-age some 280 mil­lion years ago.

Fol­low the Coast Park Path board­walk along the coastal cliffs, or take the Glacial Hike inland past the spec­tac­u­lar Sug­ar­loaf and Amphitheatre.

Top tip: If you’re feel­ing peck­ish, there’s a café right next door on the beach­front – per­fect for lunch or a post-walk beverage.

9. Learn about SA’s pris­on­er past at Ade­laide Gaol

In the heart of the CBD, Ade­laide Gaol is one of the old­est remain­ing colo­nial pub­lic build­ings in the city.

In its 147 years of oper­a­tion, about 300,000 pris­on­ers passed through the gates. Forty-five peo­ple were exe­cut­ed and their bod­ies buried with­in the grounds.

Take a tour on a cold, grey day and it’ll real­ly make the eerie nature of this place come to life.

Top tip: You can find your own way around the gaol or book in for a guid­ed tour.

Fleurieu Penin­su­la

10. Enjoy breath­tak­ing views at Deep Creek and New­land Head

About 100 km from Ade­laide on the Fleurieu Penin­su­la you’ll find Deep Creek Nation­al Park and neigh­bour­ing New­land Head Con­ser­va­tion Park.

Take in the amaz­ing coastal views, see if you can spot Kan­ga­roo Island in the dis­tance, and in the cool­er months, be sure to fac­tor in some time for whale-watching.

If you’re stay­ing overnight, it’s per­fect camp­fire weath­er (just make sure you check the web­site for any restric­tions), or you could bunker down by hir­ing one of the self-con­tained cot­tages or eco-retreats with­in the park.

Top tip: Work is under­way to devel­op the Wild South Coast Way on the Hey­sen Trail, a 5‑day, 4‑night hik­ing expe­ri­ence that con­nects these coastal parks. Now’s your chance to expe­ri­ence sec­tions of this trail before the expe­ri­ence opens.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

Yorke Penin­su­la

11. Stay in her­itage accom­mo­da­tion in Dhil­ba Guu­ran­da-Innes Nation­al Park

Anoth­er great place for a cool-weath­er retreat is Dhil­ba Guu­ran­da-Innes Nation­al Park, where you can take com­fort in the cosy sur­rounds of its her­itage accommodation.

This park, locat­ed 300 km south of Ade­laide on the south-west­ern tip, has plen­ty to see includ­ing Insta­gram­ma­ble loca­tions like Shell beach and Sten­house Bay, and the site of the land-based Ethel ship­wreck.

It’s also home to the new Gulawul­gawi Ngun­da Ngagu – Cape Spencer Look­out, which offers 360-degree views across the coastal landscape.

Top tip: Win­ter storms have been known to expose the Ethel in all her glo­ry. Time it right and you’ll get some great photos.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

River­land and Murraylands

12. Learn about Abo­rig­i­nal his­to­ry at Ngaut Ngaut Con­ser­va­tion Park

Just south of Swan Reach, about 170 km north of Ade­laide, is Ngaut Ngaut Con­ser­va­tion Park.

Explore the pic­turesque Riv­er Mur­ray land­scape, mar­vel at the tow­er­ing ochre cliffs that offer sweep­ing views over the riv­er, and see the gallery of beau­ti­ful rock art engraved into the lime­stone walls of the rock shelter.

Top tip: Ngaut Ngaut Con­ser­va­tion Park is on the tra­di­tion­al lands of the Ngan­gu­raku and Ngai­wang peo­ples, and the best way to expe­ri­ence it is with an expert guide from the Man­num Abo­rig­i­nal Com­mu­ni­ty Association.

13. Stargaze at Swan Reach Con­ser­va­tion Park

Clear win­ter skies are per­fect for stargaz­ing. And there’s no bet­ter place than Swan Reach Con­ser­va­tion Park, 100 km from Ade­laide, which is the core of the Riv­er Mur­ray Inter­na­tion­al Dark Sky Reserve.

Here you’ll see some of the dark­est skies – and bright­est stars – in the world and have first-class seats to the one of the best views of the Milky Way in Australia. 

Top tip: Swan Reach Con­ser­va­tion Park is 2000 hectares of untouched Mallee bush­land, but it can only be accessed by 4‑wheel dri­ve, so be prepared.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

14. Kayak at Mur­ray Riv­er Nation­al Park

The Riv­er Mur­ray is gen­er­al­ly qui­eter and more peace­ful dur­ing the cool­er months and the mild days are per­fect for spend­ing time on the water.

Head to the Katara­p­ko sec­tion of Mur­ray Riv­er Nation­al Park, about 220 km from Ade­laide, and take a pad­dle in the qui­et back­wa­ters. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for birdlife.

Top tip: SA has plen­ty of great places to kayak. Try these 8 parks that are per­fect for it or go some­where new alto­geth­er, like Mypon­ga Reser­voir Reserve.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

South East

15. Explore the World Her­itage-list­ed Nara­coorte Caves

Did you know Nara­coorte Caves are a con­stant 17 degrees all year round? This makes them the per­fect win­ter hol­i­day destination.

About 3.5 hours from Ade­laide, this World Her­itage site has plen­ty to keep you busy, like the UNESCO-recog­nised Vic­to­ria Fos­sil Cave and the Won­am­bi Fos­sil Centre.

Top tip: Not keen to head under­ground? The award-win­ning Roof Top Loop Walk is ful­ly acces­si­ble and pro­vides wheel­chair and pram access.

16. Go under­ground at Tan­ta­noola Caves Con­ser­va­tion Park

Anoth­er great loca­tion to explore caves is just north­west of Mount Gam­bier, at Tan­ta­noola Caves Con­ser­va­tion Park.

Enjoy the extra­or­di­nary dis­play of cave dec­o­ra­tions (speleothems) in beau­ti­ful shades of pink and brown, coloured by its dolomite base rock.

Top tip: Tan­ta­noola Caves is one of Aus­trali­a’s few wheel­chair acces­si­ble caves.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

17. Spot ghost mush­rooms in One­Forty­One Plantations

Expe­ri­ence the glow of the lumi­nous ghost mush­room at Ghost For­est Lane at One­Forty­One Plan­ta­tions, a com­mer­cial pine for­est 16 km north­west of Mount Gambier.

These mush­rooms’ soft green glow is a result of a chem­i­cal reac­tion between fun­gal enzymes and oxy­gen. It can be bright enough to read the words on a page

Top tip: You have to be quick to enjoy this expe­ri­ence, as ghost mush­rooms only pop up in May and June each year. So put this one in your diary for next year!

Kan­ga­roo Island

18. Get a pho­to at Remark­able Rocks in Flinders Chase Nation­al Park

Win­ter is a great time to go walk­ing in Flinders Chase Nation­al Park on the south-west end of Kan­ga­roo Island – in fact, it’s the park rangers’ favourite time to go.

While there’s plen­ty of hikes you could pick, the short stroll to Remark­able Rocks is one of the most rewarding.

You’ll want to have your cam­era handy when you see the sur­re­al shapes and gold­en orange colours of these enor­mous boulders.

Top tip: There’s lots to see close-by to Remark­able Rocks, like the impres­sive Admi­rals Arch for­ma­tion at Cape du Couedic.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

19. Spot a seal pup at Seal Bay

Right now is pup­ping sea­son at Seal Bay, on the south­ern coast of Kan­ga­roo Island. Pup­ping sea­son only comes around every 18 months, so now is a par­tic­u­lar­ly spe­cial time to visit.

At Seal Bay you’ll be tak­en into the heart of the sea lion colony where the expe­ri­enced guides will teach you about these endan­gered animals.

Or if you pre­fer, you can set your own pace on the wheel­chair acces­si­ble board­walk which mean­ders through the dunes to a num­ber of view­ing platforms.

Top tip: Learn more about these gor­geous babies with our sto­ry: 5 things you didn’t know about sea lions and their pups.

20. Stay in a her­itage light­house at Cape Willough­by Con­ser­va­tion Park

On Kan­ga­roo Island’s east­ern end you’ll find Cape Willough­by Con­ser­va­tion Park, where you can stay in a light­house keep­ers’ cottage.

It’s the per­fect win­ter retreat, espe­cial­ly when there’s the chance of spot­ting whales from the kitchen window.

Top tip: Learn more about this spe­cial site with our sto­ry: Your guide to Kan­ga­roo Island’s most famous light­hous­es.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

Eyre Penin­su­la

21. Go whale-watch­ing in the Far West Coast Marine Park

Win­ter is whale watch­ing sea­son in SA, and one of the best places to see these crea­tures of the deep is in the Far West Coast Marine Park.

Pack up the car and enjoy the scenic 12-hour dri­ve from Ade­laide to Head of Bight Whale Watch­ing Centre.

You’ll be amazed by the num­ber of south­ern right whales nurs­ing their young beneath the view­ing platform.

Top tip: There’s lots of great spots to whale watch in SA. Read our sto­ry to find out where: Top spots for whale watch­ing.

22. Swim with giant Aus­tralian cut­tle­fish in Upper Spencer Gulf Marine Park

Have you heard about the giant Aus­tralian cut­tle­fish that con­gre­gate in SA waters each winter?

They con­gre­gate off the coast of Whyal­la, along a 10 km stretch of the Upper Spencer Gulf Marine Park, from about May and num­bers gen­er­al­ly peak in June and July when the breed­ing sea­son is in full swing.

They are expert colour-chang­ers and mas­ters of cam­ou­flage, and can change shape and tex­ture to look like rocks, sand or sea­weed – a spec­tac­u­lar sight to see.

Top tip: Won­der­ing why they con­gre­gate in these waters? It’s because of the rocky seabeds, which pro­vide the per­fect envi­ron­ment for females to lay and del­i­cate­ly attach their eggs.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

23. Dive with great white sharks at Nep­tune Islands Con­ser­va­tion Park

Heat up your win­ter by get­ting the blood well and tru­ly pump­ing with an expe­ri­ence like no oth­er – shark cage diving.

In SA, the place to go is Nep­tune Islands Con­ser­va­tion Park, which can be accessed by boat from Port Lin­coln on the tip of the Eyre Peninsula.

Male great whites inhab­it the islands year-round, but it’s from April to August that the females are around – and they’re about a metre big­ger than the males, mea­sur­ing up to 6 m long.

Top tip: You need to take a tour for an expe­ri­ence like this. Check the web­site for all the details.

24. Go glamp­ing at Lin­coln Nation­al Park

A toasty camp­fire at your feet, glow­ing stars above and the crea­ture com­forts to keep you cosy and warm at night – that’s what you can expect when you go glamp­ing at Lin­coln Nation­al Park near Port Lincoln.

The park over­looks Boston Bay, the largest nat­ur­al har­bour in Aus­tralia, and is a great spot for boat­ing, nature walks and whale watch­ing at this time of year.

Top tip: Always make sure you check the web­site for any fire restric­tions if you’re plan­ning on light­ing a camp­fire. Glamp­ing expe­ri­ences can be booked with Kata & Belle.

Flinders Ranges and Outback

25. Moun­tain bike at Mount Remark­able Nation­al Park

With­in easy reach of Ade­laide, at the south­ern end of the Flinders Ranges, is Mount Remark­able Nation­al Park.

It’s about 45 km north of Port Pirie and is a pop­u­lar park for moun­tain bik­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Wil­lowie For­est area.

Cool days, stargaz­ing and camp­fires make vis­it­ing at this time of year an ide­al choice. Just be sure to check the web­site for any fire restric­tions before you go.

Top tip: Did you know that work is under­way in Mount Remark­able and oth­er parks in the area to cre­ate a new adven­ture-based tourism des­ti­na­tion in the South­ern Flinders Ranges? Learn more by vis­it­ing the web­site.

26. See Wilpe­na Pound from the air in Ikara-Flinders Ranges Nation­al Park

Win­ter is the per­fect time for an out­back adven­ture at Ikara-Flinders Ranges Nation­al Park, 450 km north of Adelaide.

The days are gen­er­al­ly milder, but the nights are cool – so crack out that camp­fire if con­di­tions per­mit. The stargaz­ing is spec­tac­u­lar when you’re so far from any city lights.

Some­thing pret­ty spe­cial to book in for is a flight over Wilpe­na Pound, the park’s icon­ic amphithe­atre. If you think the view from with­in is amaz­ing, just imag­ine what it looks like from above.

Top tip: If you’re head­ing to the park towards the end of win­ter, take a look out for the wild­flow­ers that begin to bloom near spring.

27. Go four-wheel dri­ving in the Simp­son Desert or Ngarkat Con­ser­va­tion Park

Time for some extra adven­ture? Four-wheel dri­ving might be the answer.

Munga-Thirri –Simp­son Desert Nation­al Park, 957 km north of Port Augus­ta is a pop­u­lar choice, with the best time to vis­it between May and August when the weath­er is milder.

Then there’s Ngarkat Con­ser­va­tion Park near Pin­na­roo in the state’s east, home to the famous Bor­der Track, which is only open from April to October.

Top tip: These types of trips need care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion, as there’s lots of safe­ty aspects to fac­tor in. Always check the web­site before head­ing off.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

28. Soak in a hot spring at Witji­ra Nation­al Park

Witji­ra Nation­al Park, 887 km north-west of Port Augus­ta is home to the world famous Dal­housie Springs.

It’s per­fect for a winter’s day when the out­side tem­per­a­tures are cool but the water in the main spring sits at a con­stant 38 to 40 degrees.

Top tip: Learn about this mag­i­cal place, and oth­ers like it, in our sto­ry: Your guide to vis­it­ing mound springs in SA’s desert parks.

Your guide to enjoying South Australia’s national parks in the cooler months

Main image: Deep Creek Nation­al Park (image cour­tesy ofJohn Mon­te­si)

This sto­ry was orig­i­nal­ly post­ed in May 2021.

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living