How to spend a day in South Australia’s Onkaparinga River parks

How to spend a day in South Australia’s Onkaparinga River parks

Want to make the most of your vis­it to these local gems? We’ve got you cov­ered with this one-day itinerary.

Locat­ed with­in an hour’s dri­ve of Adelaide’s CBD, Onka­paringa Riv­er nation­al and recre­ation parks are hid­den gems of the south.

The rugged and spec­tac­u­lar Onka­paringa Gorge could be eas­i­ly mis­tak­en for the Flinders Ranges, and the peace­ful water­ways and wet­lands of the Onka­paringa Riv­er as it nears the sea is a par­adise for birdlife and per­fect for expe­ri­enc­ing by kayak.

There’s so much on offer, so we’ve asked Dis­trict Ranger Steve John­son to help us out with plan­ning the per­fect day in Onka­paringa Riv­er Nation­al Park and Onka­paringa Riv­er Recre­ation Park.

Here’s his itinerary:


There’s no bet­ter way to start the day than a peace­ful pad­dle or walk to explore the Onka­paringa Riv­er and wetlands.

Make your way to Perry’s Bend Reserve on Riv­er Road, Noar­lun­ga Downs. The reserve offers car park­ing and has a pic­nic area with toi­lets, a bar­beque and shel­ter. It is also a pop­u­lar fish­ing spot to try for bream, mul­let or an elu­sive big mulloway.

If you’re lucky enough to have a kayak, the pur­pose-built kayak launch facil­i­ty at the reserve makes it easy to access the water.

You have the choice of pad­dling up-stream through the mid­dle of Onka­paringa Riv­er Recre­ation Park or down­stream towards the riv­er mouth at Port Noar­lun­ga. If you don’t have a kayak, they can be eas­i­ly hired from the local area.

How to spend a day in South Australia’s Onkaparinga River parks

If you’re up ship creek with­out a kayak, you can still explore this area of the park on foot or by bike with the Wet­lands Loop Trail.

Leav­ing from Perry’s Bend Reserve, the trail fol­lows the riv­er where you’ll see a vari­ety of birds going about their business.

The trail can be done either as a short or long loop and includes a board­walk through the wet­lands. Keep an eye out for kan­ga­roos – they’re com­mon­ly spot­ted in this area.

Dogs are wel­come in the Onka­paringa Riv­er Recre­ation Park, so they can join you on this walk. Just remem­ber they need to be on a lead (2 m or short­er) at all times.

How to spend a day in South Australia’s Onkaparinga River parks


After your morn­ing pad­dle or walk you’ll have quite the appetite so why not take a pic­nic to the spec­tac­u­lar Punch­bowl Lookout.

To get there, make your way to the carpark sit­u­at­ed on Pig­gott Range Road, Onka­paringa Hills, and it’s about a 20-minute walk or 5‑minute ride from there. The com­pact­ed rub­ble Punch­bowl Look­out Trail pro­vides good access for prams and wheel­chairs too.

The trail mean­ders through grey box and sheoak wood­land and there’s a pic­nic set­ting just before you arrive at the lookout.

The look­out boasts the best views of Onka­paringa Gorge and over­looks the tran­quil Punch­bowl Water­hole. Look for yel­low-tailed black cock­a­toos, pere­grine fal­cons and the majes­tic wedge-tailed eagles as you admire the view.

How to spend a day in South Australia’s Onkaparinga River parks


After lunch it’s time for more adven­ture – this time on your moun­tain bike.

From the Punch­bowl Look­out you can begin the 6 km Punch­bowl Link Trail. This shared-use loop trail fol­lows the bound­ary fire track up to the Sun­dews Trail­head and then tracks along ridge con­tours over­look­ing the gorge through the beau­ti­ful wood­lands and grass­lands of Onka­paringa Riv­er Nation­al Park.

There’s so much to see as you nego­ti­ate cool sec­tions of trail, includ­ing tight turns, rocky out­crops and creek crossings.

Once you’ve had your fix of moun­tain bik­ing, head back at the look­out for a well-earned breather. If you don’t have a bike the trail is just as good on foot.

How to spend a day in South Australia’s Onkaparinga River parks


Take in the peace­ful tran­quil­li­ty of the of the Onka­paringa Riv­er water­holes via the Riv­er Hike, which starts on the south­ern side of the gorge on Chapel Hill Road at the Gate 15 car park.

The hike fea­tures spec­tac­u­lar views of the gorge and is an easy hike right down into the gorge.

Once you drop down to the riv­er bank, take a short walk upstream to see colour­ful ancient rock for­ma­tions, big riv­er red gums and peace­ful water­holes full of aquat­ic life.

Once you’ve fin­ished explor­ing, head back up along the Riv­er Hike to return to the carpark. The Riv­er Hike is rat­ed as a hard hike that will take about 2.5 hours to com­plete, so before you set off make sure you have enough time to return in daylight.

How to spend a day in South Australia’s Onkaparinga River parks


If you’ve got time, why not stay the night at the peace­ful Pink Gum Camp­ground, which is set amongst pink gum and grey box woodland.

The camp­ground is very close to the Riv­er Hike – in fact, you can begin the hike from the campground.

Camp­sites can be booked online and are suit­able for tents right through to large car­a­vans and RVs. Facil­i­ties include a flush­ing toi­let and a wash­ing-up area.

Out­side of fire dan­ger sea­son you can have a camp­fire and toast marsh­mal­lows on the handy fire pits pro­vid­ed on each site.

There’s lots of wildlife around the camp­ground. Lis­ten out for the love­ly calls of the boo­book owl dur­ing the night.

How to spend a day in South Australia’s Onkaparinga River parks

Park of the month:

In Decem­ber, cel­e­brate Onka­paringa Riv­er parks as the Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice’s fea­tured Park of the Month. Join a vari­ety of events and activ­i­ties, includ­ing a fam­i­ly cul­tur­al walk and reju­ve­nat­ing for­est bathing.

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living