Top five road trips in South Australia
South Australia is wild, untamed and breathtaking – come see it for yourself.
(Parachilna to Hawker via Brachina Gorge and Bunyeroo Valley)
In places where extreme movements of the earth’s crust have twisted and folded the landscape and thrust it into the air, it’s fair to expect some dramatic scenery.
Rightly labelled ‘a corridor through time’, Brachina Gorge is flanked by escarpments that have been torn open by erosion to reveal 650 million years of geological history. There are rocks patterned with ripples from a prehistoric inland beach, imprints of stromatolites – some of the earliest creatures ever to appear on Earth – and even a layer of debris from an asteroid impact in the Gawler Ranges, some 300kms away.
Adding to the scene are gnarled river redgums that line the creek bed and native pines which whisper in the breeze. Elusive yellow-footed rock wallabies hop nimbly along the cliff face. These are just some of the reasons this drive through the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park is one of South Australia’s best.
Continue south towards Bunyeroo Valley, a pretty drive that leads to lookouts with spectacular views. Beyond that, it’s all about the world-famous Wilpena Pound – a natural amphitheatre of mountains that should be on every Australian’s bucket list.
Although this route’s unsealed in parts, there’s no need for a 4WD if the weather’s fine, however, decent ground clearance is important.
2. Fleurieu Peninsula
(Port Noarlunga to Cape Jervis)
Port Noarlunga Reef is an aquatic reserve with waters teeming with fish and other marine oddities. On a calm day it’s a great spot for snorkelling. A little further south at Seaford and Moana surfers are occasionally treated to small but well-formed waves.
From Moana the road heads inland, but a right turn at the Aldinga Hotel leads to a gorgeous stretch of beach at the base of the cliffs extending south from Port Willunga. At Aldinga Beach and Silver Sands you can drive onto the beach for a day of fun in the sun.
Heading back inland, the road climbs into the hills and winds its way through to Normanville, a popular seaside holiday town.
Then it’s on to Second Valley, a tiny village with an equally tiny beach dramatically squeezed between where the hills plunge into the sea. Rapid Bay, 5kms from the main road, is the last coastal town before the descent from the ranges towards Cape Jervis reveals panoramic views of Kangaroo Island. This road trip is one of the most accessible routes and well worth the drive.
3. The Rail Way
(Marree to Marla on the Oodnadatta Track)
Roughly following a line of springs that bubble up from the Great Artesian Basin – a natural underground reservoir – this route has been used over centuries by Aboriginal traders and more recently the overland telegraph and the Ghan railway.
The Ghan line has since been moved further west but several of the old rail stations and bridges remain. The station at Curdimurka has been restored and the Oodnadatta station is now a fascinating museum relating the history of the region. At 578m long, the Algebuckina rail bridge spanning the Neales River is a jaw-dropping testament to 1890s ingenuity.
The Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs sit in a particularly bleak part of the desert, highlighting just how crucial water is for survival. Experienced 4WDers can tackle the rattly track out to the Peake Telegraph Station ruins and the remote track from William Creek to Lake Eyre. Just beside the Oodnadatta Track there’s a lookout over Lake Eyre but to fully appreciate the enormity of the lake it’s best to book a scenic flight. This is the true outback so it’s essential to be thoroughly prepared.
4. Country Drive
(Gawler to Melrose, via the Clare Valley and lower Flinders Ranges)
Heading north from Gawler, the road first passes through farmlands before gradually climbing into the hills of the Clare Valley, one of the most scenic wine regions in the country. Home to well-known labels and smaller boutique wineries, there are plenty of opportunities to sample the local product.
Soak up the country air on a bike ride along the Riesling Trail following an old railway line through bushland, farms, vineyards and even past the odd cellar door. If you don’t have your own wheels bikes can be hired locally.
For a change of scenery check out Gladstone Gaol. This well-preserved prison housed inmates from 1881 until 1975 and was the setting for the 1980 film Stir starring Bryan Brown. Further north, the peaks of Mount Remarkable National Park in the southern Flinders Ranges rise up behind the pretty village of Melrose. The park is a bushwalking hotspot with treks ranging from 20 minutes to a couple of days.
5. Coastline Drive
(Port Lincoln to Ceduna, via the Flinders Highway)
Port Lincoln is one of the few places in the world where you can climb inside a shark cage and mingle with Great Whites. But there are plenty of other, less ‘sharky’ pleasures on offer along the state’s west coast.
Dozens of secluded beaches and sheltered coves dot the coastline and towering cliffs stand against the ferocity of Southern Ocean swells. The tranquil fishing village of Coffin Bay is a picture-perfect setting for a serve of the town’s famous oysters and the cliff top drive at Elliston will certainly keep the cameras clicking. Surfers can head for the waves near Streaky Bay while fisherfolk have nearly 400km of beaches, bays, rock pools and jetties to choose from.
The road doesn’t stick to the coast for the whole trip, but any detour to the seaside will be well rewarded with stunning scenery. The best part is that there’s no large-scale tourism development here, just a string of farming and fishing communities living their lives according to the seasons and the tides.