26 must-do adventures in South Australia’s national parks

26 must-do adventures in South Australia’s national parks

From soak­ing in ancient hot springs to kayak­ing among ship­wrecks, SA’s parks have it all. Give these ideas a go.

In South Australia’s great out­doors there’s plen­ty of amaz­ing adven­tures that are just wait­ing for you to dis­cov­er and explore.

And with­in our nation­al parks are some of the best. It’s here that you can dive with great white sharks, snorkel through under­wa­ter gar­dens, walk among sea lions, swim in crys­tal clear rock pools and even cud­dle a koala.

Here’s 26 of our favourite nation­al park adven­tures for you to add to your must do’ list:

Ade­laide and surrounds

1. Get up-close with native animals

Cle­land Wildlife Park is famous for its lim­it­ed num­ber of enclo­sures, which means many of the ani­mals are roam­ing free. 

This is your chance to see, pat, feed and pho­to­graph kan­ga­roos, emus, pota­roos and wal­la­bies in their nat­ur­al habitat. 

The best way to get up-close to some of the most icon­ic native ani­mals is to grab a bag of ani­mal food and see who’s hun­gry and want­i­ng to say hi. 

Grab a take­away cof­fee from the café and wan­der down to the yel­low-foot­ed rock wal­la­by enclosure. 

Here you can take in one of the most amaz­ing views of Ade­laide, all the way to the north­ern beach­es and beyond. 

It’s the per­fect place to sip on your morn­ing cof­fee, while watch­ing the ear­ly morn­ing sun dance off the city land­scape and the water in the distance.

2. Kayak through a ships’ graveyard

Pad­dle through the remains of at least 40 aban­doned ves­sels hid­den with­in the Ade­laide Dol­phin Sanc­tu­ary, only 20 min­utes’ dri­ve from the CBD

The Gar­den Island Ships’ Grave­yard Mar­itime Trail is the largest and most diverse ship grave­yard in Aus­tralia and includes a vari­ety of sail­ing, steam and motor ves­sels, barges, pon­toons and dredges. 

If you’re lucky you might even spot some of the res­i­dent bot­tlenose dol­phins swim­ming by your kayak.

26 must-do adventures in South Australia’s national parks

3. Go for a wheel­ie good ride

The Craig­burn Farm sec­tion of the Sturt Gorge Recre­ation Park in south­ern Ade­laide is fast becom­ing a des­ti­na­tion for moun­tain bik­ing.

With a net­work of more than 10 trails over a vari­ety of ter­rains and sur­faces, there’s some­thing for every skill level.

4. See a red knot in breed­ing plumage

Vis­it the Ade­laide Inter­na­tion­al Bird Sanc­tu­ary Nation­al Park – Winaity­i­naityi Pangkara in Adelaide’s north-west, which is home to more than 50 species and more than 27,000 res­i­dent and migra­to­ry shore­birds, includ­ing red knots that fly from as far as Russia. 

The plumage of male red knot birds changes from brown­ish-grey to chest­nut-red when breeding. 

The best time to wit­ness them in their breed­ing plumage is in ear­ly autumn, just before they make their epic jour­ney back to the north­ern hemisphere.

5. Wan­der through a land­scape shaped by ice and glaciers

Hal­lett Cove Con­ser­va­tion Park in sub­ur­ban Ade­laide is home to one of Australia’s most out­stand­ing and inter­na­tion­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant geo­log­i­cal sites. 

Fol­low the inter­pre­tive walk­ing trail and explore an ancient land­scape shaped by ice and glaciers. 

The park is also a sig­nif­i­cant cul­tur­al her­itage site where more than 1700 Abo­rig­i­nal arte­facts have been found.

6. Swim with the fish in a sanc­tu­ary zone

Explore the under­wa­ter world of the Port Noar­lun­ga Reef with­in Encounter Marine Park.

This pro­tect­ed sanc­tu­ary zone, just 32 km south of Ade­laide, is one of the most acces­si­ble places to go snorkelling for begin­ners and families. 

The reef is home to more than 50 species of fish and more than 200 marine plants and animals. 

Don’t for­get to keep your eyes peeled for the under­wa­ter infor­ma­tion boards that will guide you along the under­wa­ter trail.

7. Hang out on the cliffs

Rock climb your way up the cliff face of the Onka­paringa Gorge in Onka­paringa Riv­er Nation­al Park in Adelaide’s south­ern sub­urbs. The 30-metre high cliffs are pop­u­lar with both begin­ner and expe­ri­enced climbers and are locat­ed only a short walk from Pink Gum campground.

26 must-do adventures in South Australia’s national parks

Fleurieu Penin­su­la

8. Walk part (or all if you dare!) of the Hey­sen Trail

The world-renowned Hey­sen Trail stretch­es 1200 km from Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Penin­su­la to Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Ranges.

While not every­one has the time to walk the entire trail, why not attempt a few hours or a few days? The trail starts in the Fleurieu Penin­su­la and the start­ing stretch of the trail from Cape Jervis to Vic­tor Har­bour has spec­tac­u­lar views over Back­stairs Pas­sage to Kan­ga­roo Island.

The Hey­sen Trail pass­es through numer­ous nation­al parks along the way and is in easy reach for most South Australians.

Learn more in our sto­ry about a trekker who com­plet­ed the trail end-to-end: A trekker’s per­spec­tive: nation­al parks you’ll vis­it along SA’s icon­ic Hey­sen Trail.

9. Watch kan­ga­roos graze at sunset

While you’re admir­ing the stun­ning views of the South­ern Ocean and Kan­ga­roo Island from Deep Creek Nation­al Park on the tip of the Fleurieu Penin­su­la, don’t be sur­prised if you’re accom­pa­nied by the large pop­u­la­tion of kangaroos. 

They are most active in the twi­light hours, so find a place to sit and watch nature at its best! 

Try Blow Hole Beach or Cob­bler Hill Pic­nic Ground, as they are the best places to spot kan­ga­roos in the park.

Yorke Penin­su­la

10. Take a dip in nature’s swim­ming pool

The rugged coast of Dhil­ba Guu­ran­da-Innes Nation­al Park on the Yorke Penin­su­la offers plen­ty of white sandy coves nes­tled among the cliffs. 

Slip into the tran­quil waters of The Blue Pool, a stun­ning nat­ur­al rock pool near Shell Beach. 

Also check out near­by Dol­phin Beach, which is a favourite among visitors. 

Plan your vis­it in spring or sum­mer to get the most out of your beach experience.

26 must-do adventures in South Australia’s national parks

Kan­ga­roo Island

11. Spend a night on the edge of the world

Perched high on the cliffs on the east­ern­most point of Kan­ga­roo Island, Cape Willough­by Light­house stands guard watch­ing over Back­stairs Pas­sage and the vast South­ern Ocean. 

For a tru­ly unique expe­ri­ence, stay in one of the cot­tages that were once home to the light­house keep­ers that oper­at­ed SA’s old­est lighthouse. 

The ren­o­vat­ed cot­tages offer very com­fort­able accom­mo­da­tion, sleep­ing up to nine people. 

You’ll also get to enjoy the stun­ning views of Back­stairs Pas­sage and the South­ern Ocean and in win­ter you might be lucky to see south­ern right whales as they pass by.

12. Walk among Aus­tralian sea lions

Step onto the beach at Kan­ga­roo Island’s Seal Bay and you’ll be sur­round­ed by Australia’s third largest colony of Aus­tralian sea lions. 

Book in a tour if you’d like to hear from an expe­ri­enced guide dur­ing a 45-minute tour. 

This is a tru­ly excep­tion­al wildlife expe­ri­ence that’s not to be missed if you’re vis­it­ing Kan­ga­roo Island.

Mur­ray, Low­er Lakes and Coorong

13. Unwind and camp on the river­banks of the mighty Murray

Noth­ing com­pares to sit­ting around a camp­fire on the banks of the Mur­ray Riv­er Nation­al Park on a star­ry night. 

Enjoy toast­ing marsh­mal­lows and sit­ting around a camp­fire – out­side of the fire dan­ger sea­son of course! – and remem­ber to book your camp­site in advance.

14. Tack­le the Bor­der Track

Ngarkat Con­ser­va­tion Park in the state’s upper south-east boasts more than 270,000 hectares of veg­e­tat­ed sand dunes and mallee bushland. 

The leg­endary Bor­der Track, which tra­vers­es the South Aus­tralian and Vic­to­ri­an bor­der, also runs through the park. 

The chal­leng­ing track cuts its way through dense veg­e­ta­tion and sand dunes, offer­ing a true wilder­ness four-wheel-dri­ve adventure. 

You will need to be well pre­pared for a trip like this, espe­cial­ly since a sec­tion of the Bor­der Track is only open from April 1 to Octo­ber 31.

15. Immerse your­self into Abo­rig­i­nal Culture

Ngaut Ngaut Con­ser­va­tion Park on the Riv­er Mur­ray is cul­tur­al­ly and his­tor­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant to its Tra­di­tion­al Own­ers, the Ngan­gu­raku people. 

Dis­cov­er unique insights with a guid­ed tour from the Man­num Abo­rig­i­nal Com­mu­ni­ty Association. 

Learn about their tra­di­tions and mar­vel at the rock art engraved into the lime­stone walls of the rock shelter.

16. See the stars shine bright

Swan Reach Con­ser­va­tion Park forms the core site of Australia’s only Inter­na­tion­al Dark Sky Reserve.

Light mea­sure­ments in the park are some of the dark­est in the world mak­ing it one of the best places any­where in the world to see the stars and planets.

Lime­stone Coast

17. Go under­ground and explore World Her­itage List­ed Caves

Vis­it SA’s only World Her­itage site. The Nara­coorte Caves in the state’s south-east for­mer­ly act­ed as a pit­fall, trap­ping and col­lect­ing ani­mals for at least 500,000 years. 

The caves pre­serve the most com­plete fos­sil record of this time peri­od, includ­ing Australia’s megafau­na species.

In an excit­ing new devel­op­ment, the Vic­to­ria Fos­sil Cave Megafau­na Expe­ri­ence was launched late last year pro­vid­ing a high­ly immer­sive, mem­o­rable and acces­si­ble learn­ing experience.

18. Snorkel through an under­wa­ter garden’

Explore the spec­tac­u­lar under­wa­ter world of Pic­canin­nie Ponds Con­ser­va­tion Park in the state’s south east, which is recog­nised as a wet­land of inter­na­tion­al importance. 

The crys­tal clear water is nat­u­ral­ly fil­tered through the lime­stone, pro­vid­ing incred­i­ble clarity. 

Snorkel through the under­wa­ter gar­dens of the First Pond before star­ing into the blue abyss of The Chasm, a sink­hole that is more than 100 metres deep. 

Just make sure you bring a full length wet­suit as the water tem­per­a­ture is a con­stant and chilly 15 degrees. You’ll also need tobook your snorkel per­mit.

26 must-do adventures in South Australia’s national parks

Eyre Penin­su­la

19. Grab your board and head for the dunes

Look­ing for an extreme speed expe­ri­ence? Areas with­in Cof­fin Bay Nation­al Park and Lin­coln Nation­al Park are now open to sand board­ers under strict reg­u­la­tions designed to pro­tect the land­scape from damage.

Sand board­ing is a pop­u­lar recre­ation­al activ­i­ty on the Eyre Penin­su­la but until now there’ve been lim­it­ed opportunities. 

Spe­cif­ic areas have been iden­ti­fied with­in these parks where sand board­ing can be under­tak­en with min­i­mal envi­ron­men­tal impact and where there is exist­ing pub­lic access.

20. Dive with great white sharks

Get up-close and per­son­al with an apex preda­tor – the great white shark – from the safe­ty of a pro­tec­tive cage in the Nep­tune Islands Con­ser­va­tion Park, off the coast of the Eyre Peninsula. 

Watch them tran­quil­ly glide past in what is a pre­mier eth­i­cal wildlife experience.

Shark cage div­ing tours depart from Port Lin­coln on Eyre Penin­su­la, which is about 30 min­utes by air or sev­en hours by car from Adelaide.

21. Drop in on an under­wa­ter disco

Every win­ter in the waters north of Whyal­la in the Upper Spencer Gulf Marine Park, thou­sands of giant Aus­tralian cut­tle­fish gath­er to mate. 

Watch as male cut­tle­fish put on incred­i­ble colour shows, pul­sat­ing through all the colours of the rain­bow at the blink of an eye.

26 must-do adventures in South Australia’s national parks

22. Explore Wilpe­na Pound

Wilpe­na Pound in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges Nation­al Park, about 500 km north of Ade­laide, is one of South Australia’s most icon­ic destinations. 

This ancient and rugged land­scape can be explored from the ground with numer­ous walk­ing trails, but for a tru­ly breath­tak­ing expe­ri­ence, book a scenic flight and see it from the air.

26 must-do adventures in South Australia’s national parks

23. Go on the ulti­mate out­back adventure

Test your four-wheel dri­ving skills by Cross­ing the Simpson’. 

The Simp­son Desert extends across an area of up to 500 km in the state’s far north and includes Munga-Thirri – Simp­son Desert Nation­al Park and Witji­ra Nation­al Park.

The strik­ing red dunes and blue desert skies make this a stun­ning land­scape to explore. 

The best time to vis­it is from May to August when the tem­per­a­tures are milder.

24. See Lake Eyre in flood

When there’s water in the lake, water­birds descend in their thou­sands to Kati Than­da-Lake Eyre Nation­al Park, 850 km north of Ade­laide, to feed and breed in this desert oasis. 

If you plan to vis­it you will need to per­fect­ly time it as the flood­wa­ters only cov­er the lake once every eight years on aver­age and the lake has only filled to capac­i­ty three times in the past 160 years!

25. Soak in the ancient hot springs

The water in the Dal­housie Main Spring in Witji­ra Nation­al Park in the state’s far north is con­stant­ly between 38 and 40 degrees, mak­ing it per­fect for a relax­ing, warm soak. 

The waters rise from deep below the sur­face through cracks and fis­sures after orig­i­nal­ly enter­ing the Arte­sian Basin sys­tem mil­lions of years ago.

26 must-do adventures in South Australia’s national parks

26. Get up ear­ly for a desert sunrise

There’s noth­ing like a desert sun­rise, and our favourite place to see one is in the Kanku-Break­aways Con­ser­va­tion Park.

The Break­aways are a col­lec­tion of colour­ful hills and mounds that rise from the plains of the Great Vic­to­ria Desert, just north of Coober Pedy. They come to life dur­ing sun­rise and sun­set with rich reds, oranges and whites.

Inspired to vis­it? More details about all of these spe­cial places can be found on theNation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice SA web­site. If you’ve already seen some of them for your­self, share your expe­ri­ence with us in the com­ments sec­tion below.

Main image: Dive with great white sharks (image cour­tesy of the South Aus­tralian Tourism Com­mis­sion and Adven­ture Bay Charters)

This sto­ry was orig­i­nal­ly post­ed in Feb­ru­ary 2019 and has been updat­ed with new and excit­ing experiences!

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living