By Julietta Jameson
With 300 or so national parks covering an incredible 20 per cent of the state, you’re never far away from wild nature in South Australia. Find them 20 minutes from the CBD in the mountains, an hour away on the coast, or way north 700 kilometres and beyond in the outback. Take a half-day trip, a day trip, a week, or spend as long as you like exploring the extraordinary diversity that awaits in these spectacular natural reserves.
Equally as amazing as the sheer volume of South Australian national parks is the dazzling diversity. From ancient rocky fossil sites, to delicate spring blooms on a mountainside, to dramatic, ocean-carved coast, there is an ever-changing array of outdoor beauty to discover. Best bit? You’ll find most, if not all of them, uncrowded.
Easy from the CBD
Some of South Australia’s most loved parks are also here: including Cleland Wildlife Park and Morialta Conservation Park.
Alongside them lies Belair National Park, South Australia’s oldest national park and an important habitat for native plants and animals. It’s a great place for adventure and exploration and you can take it relaxed or intense. Within it is Old Government House, a heritage-listed icon and State Flora, the oldest plant nursery in South Australia. Amble around or hit biking and hiking trails hard or at an easy pace.
Adelaide’s highest peak, Mount Lofty is also in the Adelaide Hills region and affords unsurpassed views across the city and its coastal suburbs.
Shipwrecks and spring flowers
A kaleidoscope of dazzling natural wonder awaits at Innes National Park, on the western tip of the Yorke Peninsula.
Secluded white sand beaches, wild vertiginous cliffs and offshore islands heralded by lighthouses are the hallmark of a stretch also known evocatively as the Shipwreck Coast.
In fact, 22 ships met their fate in the area, making it a fine scuba diving destination and the waters teem with marine life. The Southern Spencer Gulf Marine Park, just off the coast, is a sanctuary for a rich diversity of creatures and plants.
Inland, the region bursts with spring wildflower colour and more than 120 species of native birds call it home. You might encounter ospreys, boobook owls, colourful cockatoos and nesting water birds, including beautiful sea eagles in the cliffs. That’s not to mention a who’s who of South Australian native mammals.
Caves and fossils
World Heritage listed Naracoorte Caves National Park, on the Limestone Coast is an 800-thousand-year-old wonder of history. Archeologists have discovered 500 thousand years of fossils due to animals falling into the caves. The fossil records span multiple ice ages and the arrival of humans in the region and include some spectacular megafauna specimens.
While the majority is closely guarded for science, four of 28 caves are open to the public and there’s a range of self-guided, guided and adventure caving tours available.
These too, run the gamut from easy strolls to serious caving. Kids will love the Wonambi Fossil Centre and its displays and life-size megafauna replicas.
A huge portion of Kangaroo Island is national park. Flinders Chase National Park is the biggest – and one of Australia’s largest – and warrants days to explore. You can camp or organise accommodation reasonably close by. It’s a wild, remote place where kangaroos and many other native mammals roam and with coastline that sees whales and dolphins pass by.
Walking trails lead you through rampant endemic foliage and the sunrise is breathtaking over Remarkable Rocks. You can commune with a large fur seal colony at Admirals Arch and seek out pristine deserted beaches for an exhilarating swim.
An ancient landscape that changes dramatically across the day awaits at Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. Its breathtaking gorges and dramatic rock formations are habitat for unique species of kangaroo and other, often endangered mammals and birds.
You will be wowed by Wilpena Pound, a gargantuan natural amphitheatre formed by mountains including St Mary Peak, the highest in the Flinders Ranges.
You can stay here – either camping in a caravan or permanent tent, or book luxury options – to witness the changing colours from dawn till dusk and a big, starry night sky like few places on earth afford.
Also out north, the dramatic desert landscapes and Australia’s largest salt lake at the lowest point on the mainland are at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park, nearly 700 kilometres out of Adelaide. Take a helicopter ride to take in the otherworldly beauty. You might find it full and attracting plentiful wildlife. Even if not, it’s still a spectacular sight.
With jewels like this waiting, it’s easy to see you’ll be richly rewarded by deep exploration into South Australia.
Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are at Adelaide Airport.