Onkaparinga River National Park and Recreation Park

  • Picnic Areas
  • BBQ Facilities
  • Toilets
  • Rock Climbing
  • Dogs on Lead
  • Canoeing
  • Fishing
  • Walking Trails
  • Bird Watching
  • Cycling
PDF Park Brochure
Alerts 1

Partial park closure

Parts of Onkaparinga River National Park and Recreation Park will be closed on the following dates due to an upgrade of the parks’ facilities.
Details >

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Onkaparinga River National Park and Recreation Park park locator map

The Onkaparinga River is South Australia's second longest river, it flows through two very different parks on its journey to the sea, creating a contrast of gullies, gorges and wetlands.

Tag your Instagram pics with #onkaparingarivernationalpark OR #onkaparingariverrecreationpark to see them displayed on this page.

Camping will be available in this park from late 2017.

About

In Onkaparinga River National Park, diverse hiking trails take you to cliff tops with magnificent views, or down to permanent rock pools teeming with life. You’ll see rugged ridge tops and the narrow river valley of the spectacular Onkaparinga Gorge. This park protects some of the finest remaining pockets of remnant vegetation in the Southern Adelaide region. Wherever you go, you’ll be among native wildlife such as birds, koalas, kangaroos and possums - you may even spot an echidna. Areas of the park were used as farmland for many years, so you can also discover heritage-listed huts and the ruins of houses built in the 1880s. 

In Onkaparinga Recreation Park, the river spills onto the plains, creating wetland ponds and flood plains. The area conserves important fish breeding habitat and hundreds of native plant and animal species, many of which are rare. The Onkaparinga River estuary also provides habitat for endangered migratory birds. This park is popular with people of all ages and interests. You can go fishing in the river, wander along the wetland boardwalks, ride a bicycle on the shared use trails, walk your dog (on a lead), kayak the calm waters or just be at peace with nature.

From the rugged gorge to the river plains, the Onkaparinga River parks provide a natural corridor for wildlife moving from the natural and recovering landscapes, downriver to the wetland estuary, abundant with life.

Opening hours

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This park is closed on days of Catastrophic Fire Danger and may be closed on days of Extreme Fire Danger.

Listen to the local area radio station for the latest updates and information on fire safety. 

Contact details

Natural Resource Centre - Willunga

Phone: (+61 8) 8550 3400

After Hours Regional Duty Officer: 0427 556 676

When to visit

Visit the Onkaparinga River parks at any time of year and you’ll find something fun to do while you’re out enjoying nature.

Getting there

The parks are located 35km south of Adelaide. Access the Recreation Park from River Road, Noarlunga Downs and from Commercial and Sauerbiers Roads, Seaford Meadows. The main walking trails in the National Park are on the northern side of the gorge from Piggott Range Road.

If you're in your own vehicle, you can find this park on the map.

There is also public transport to this park from the Adelaide city centre. 

Pets in parks

You can walk your dog in the Onkaparinga River Recreation Park, between South Road and Commercial Road.

You must keep your dog on a lead and under your control at all times. Don't forget to bring your disposable 'doggie-doo' bag to clean up after your dog.

Pets are not permitted in other areas of the park.

Facilities

There are many spots for an informal picnic in the Onkaparinga River parks. If you’re walking in the National Park, just pick your favourite view or river rock and make yourself comfortable.

There are several more formal picnic areas in the park, with amenities, free barbecues and lovely views. Try the swing bridge, at the start of the Old Noarlunga Hike (Gate 1). It’s charming, picturesque, and there’s a playground nearby.

Next to Gate 25, you’ll find a shady picnic ground with shelters, amenities, and free BBQs. It’s tucked in behind one of South Australia’s best known wineries, so you can pick up a fine bottle of red to pair with your meal.

The location of these facilities can be found within our park maps.

Useful information

  • Mobile phone coverage can be patchy and unreliable in this park, especially if you are in low-lying areas.

  • Important: Collection of firewood within National Parks is prohibited.

Take a virtual tour

Take a virtual tour of this park. Get a taste for the beauty of the river gorges, the wetland boardwalk and more.

Traditional owners

Translated from the Kaurna language, ‘Ngangki’ means women, ‘Pari’ means river, and ‘ngka’ means location. So the correct translation for Onkaparinga is Ngangkiparingka, which means women only places along the river.

There were many Kaurna yarta (land) family groups in the traditional areas that have been recognised as Kaurna pangkara (country), and also along the plains and hills south of Crystal Brook and west of Mount Lofty to Cape Jervis. Many local place names such as ‘Onkaparinga’, ‘Noarlunga’ and ‘Willunga’ have their origins in Kaurna language.

Aboriginal South Australians are the first peoples of our State and have occupied, enjoyed and managed these lands and waters since the creation. For SA's First Peoples, creation ancestors laid down the laws of the Country and bestowed a range of customary rights and obligations to the many Aboriginal Nations across our state. 

Aboriginal peoples' oral histories and creation stories traverse the length and breadth of Australia’s lands and waters, including South Australian Parks. These stories interconnect land and waters with complex meaning and values and hold great cultural significance. We recognise and respect Aboriginal people's ownership of their stories and that they hold rights and obligations to care for Country. It is through these rights and cultural obligations and a shared goal to protect the environment for generations to come that DEWNR is committed to meaningful collaboration and involvement with Aboriginal peoples in the management of our shared parks.

History

Colonial settlement began in the Noarlunga district from about 1839. In 1831 Captain Collett Barker entered the Onkaparinga River and ventured inland to the Horseshoe Bend (Old Noarlunga). Other early explorers and survey teams also passed through the district in 1837-8. By 1841, over 150 settlers occupied land in the Noarlunga area. Settlers were predominantly engaged in establishing agricultural ventures but included early storekeepers. Growth and development within the district was rapid. A wooden bridge was constructed across the river in 1840. Early crops were transported by flat-bottomed barge down the estuary and out through the mouth of the Onkaparinga River to waiting coastal ships. In 1854-5 a towpath from Old Noarlunga to the tramway terminal at Port Noarlunga was constructed to facilitate the passage of horse drawn barges.

In 1846 John Jared, of Lincolnshire, brought his family to South Australia and farmed for 15 years in the Aldinga/Willunga district before purchasing 240 acres at Noarlunga. He called the property Clear Farm and gradually increased his holding to 400 acres, much of which was within the current Onkaparinga River Recreation Park. In 1862 he constructed the family home and continued to farm the land until succeeded by his son John William Jared in 1871.

John William Jared extended the house and with his wife Hannah, renamed the property Pingle Farm. The remains of Pingle Farm are conserved within the reserve today. The structures include the main dwelling, a large limestone barn and an underground cylindrical tank. Other historic sites within the reserves containing remnants of early settlement also exist but have yet to be researched or documented to fully understand their significance.

The majority of the land that comprises Onkaparinga River Recreation Park and National Park was transferred to the Department of Environment in 1982 and was dedicated in 1985 as Onkaparinga River Recreation Park. The gorge section of the park was reclassified to National Park in 1993.

See and do

Rangers recommend

We have picked the brains of our park rangers to find out what they would recommend you see and do whilst visiting this park.

  • Taking the Hardy’s Scrub Hike – this patch of scrub is a very important conservation area with excellent diversity and high quality native vegetation.
  • Discovering heritage-listed huts and ruins of houses that were built in the 1880s on the Echidna Trail.
  • Relaxing with friends and family at one of the gorgeous picnic areas in the park – some offer BBQs, toilets and shelter, and all are close to great trails.
  • Kayaking the Onkaparinga River from Old Noarlunga through the recreation park to the mouth of the river at Port Noarlunga.
  • Hiking in the eastern end of the national park in late winter and early spring to discover the amazing display of wildflowers and birdlife.
  • Taking your family on the Wetlands Loop Trail in the recreation park – it’s bike, pram and dog friendly (on lead), with great views of the river and a boardwalk over the wetlands.
  • Walking to the Sundews Lookout in the national park for spectacular views of the Onkaparinga Gorge.
  • Read about 5 treasures in Onkaparinga River Parks on the Good Living blog.  

Bushwalking

Walks in the parks range from easy walks to more challenging hikes. While you're bushwalking in the parks, you’ll be rewarded with magnificent views of the gorge, river and estuary.

Bushwalking is a fantastic way to connect with nature, keep fit and spend time with family and friends. 

South Australia's national parks feature a range of trails that let you experience a diversity of landscapes. Our trails cater for all levels of fitness and adventure and our classification system makes it easy to select an experience suitable for you.

Easy walks

  • Pingle Farm Trail (2 hrs, 4.5km)

    This trail takes you past a ruined farmhouse. Once the home of early settlers, it reminds us of their lives and work. You’ll also pass the Encounter Marine Park Sanctuary.

  • Wetlands Loop Trail (1 hr 30 mins, 4.5km)

    Follow the eastern bank of the Onkaparinga River where you’ll see two freshwater ponds. They support a variety of wildlife such as birds, frogs and fish, and some uncommon plant species. The wetlands loop is very accessible for families with strollers and for small children.

Moderate hikes

  • Echidna Hike (2 hrs, 3.5km)

    A narrow trail takes you over moderate slopes and through lovely pink gum, grey box and sheoak bushland. Enjoy the winter and spring floral displays, including stunning orchids. You will see some ruins, get great views of the gorge, and get a good workout.

  • Hardy’s Scrub Hike (2 hrs, 4km)

    This patch of native vegetation is a very important conservation area with excellent diversity of plants created by the varied soils. Grey box grows in fertile loam or clay soils, pink gums prefer soils with a sandy well drained surface and a clay or rocky base. Southern cypress pine grows only in sandy loam soil.

  • Nature Hike (3 hrs, 3.5km)

    An easy trail though regenerating pink gum and grey box woodland. This trail is a fine example of these unique plant communities. On the eastern section of the trail you’ll have fabulous views of the gorge.

  • Sundews Ridge Hike (2 hrs, 4km)

    Take a short hike to the Sundews lookout to see the rocky outcrops and the river flowing through the Onkaparinga Gorge. Sundews Ridge Hike is a moderate loop trail that runs along the ridge top, returning to the car park without descending to the river.

Hard hikes

  • Old Noarlunga Hike (2 hrs 30 mins, 3.2km)

    Cross the swinging bridge to start this trail. You’ll discover the re-vegetation that is returning this once heavily grazed land to its original state. There are extensive views over the township of Old Noarlunga and the Onkaparinga River estuary.*

  • Sundews River Hike (4 hrs, 4.5km)

    Experience the river, and the plants and animals that live in the gorge. This is a hard hike that descends steeply from the lookout to the bottom of the gorge. You’ll follow the river downstream for a short distance before returning up the steep slopes of the gorge to the ridge and the car park.*

  • Tatendi Hike (4 hrs, 3.5km)

    Walk across the gentle slopes of the upper gorge for great views. From there, narrow rough trails descend steeply to the river where the vegetation becomes thicker and more diverse.*

*Some sections of these trails are not well defined, particularly along the river. Hiking experience required.

Mountain biking

You can ride your bike on public roads and any specific cycling trails and tracks on offer in this park. 

Please obey signs and use the trail classifications and descriptions, where available, to select trails suitable to your ability. Many trails are shared, so always keep an eye out for others. Generally, cyclists give way to pedestrians. Please be considerate of all trail users at all times.

Jump on your bike and feel the wind in your hair on the shared use trails in the recreation park. It’s an enjoyable ride for the whole family. The surfaces are even and obstacle free, and you’ll have lovely views of the river.

Learn more about cycling in SA's parks, including other parks offering cycle tracks, trail classification and read the trail user code of practice for important points to remember when planning your bike ride.

Easy

  • Pingle Farm Trail (2 hrs, 4.5km)

    This trail takes you past a ruined farmhouse. Once the home of early settlers, it reminds us of their lives and work. You’ll also pass the Encounter Marine Park Sanctuary.

  • Wetlands Loop Trail (1 hr 30 mins, 4.5km)

    Follow the eastern bank of the Onkaparinga River where you’ll see two freshwater ponds. They support a variety of wildlife such as birds, frogs and fish, and some uncommon plant species. The wetlands loop is very accessible for families with strollers and for small children.

Bird watching

You’ll see all kinds of birdlife in the Onkaparinga River parks, particularly if you take a few moments to be still. There are over 190 species that live in, or visit, the parks – many of conservation significance. Hunting birds, such as the peregrine falcon, scour the landscape in search of birds, small mammals and lizards. You’ll probably hear the yellow-tailed black cockatoo long before you see one, their raucous cries announce their presence well in advance.

Down on the flats, the white-faced heron, great egret and royal spoonbill are commonly seen feeding in the estuary. Many birds migrate from the northern hemisphere to escape the arctic winter. Every Australian summer they come from Siberia, China and Japan to feed.

Fishing

All manner of marine life breeds and thrives in the clean environment of the recreation park estuary. This popular fishing haven attracts many keen anglers, fishing the waters for mulloway, jumping mullet, black bream, and yellow-eye mullet. There have been about 20 fish species recorded in the estuary and river.

Please note fishing is only permitted in Onkaparinga River Recreation Park and NOT in Onkaparinga River National Park.

Kayaking and canoeing

The estuarine waters of the Recreation Park are a perfect environment for canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding. Beginners will feel safe learning to paddle in the calm waters of the river between Main South Road and Commercial Road. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, you’ll love the scenery, as the river meanders through floodplains and wetlands on its way to the sea. There are many spots along the river suitable for launching your craft, but remember the estuary is tidal so it can get shallow and muddy at low tide.

Rock climbing and abseiling

For those with the appropriate training, experience and equipment, rock climbing and abseiling opportunities are available at the Onkaparinga River National Park Rock Climbing Zone.

Access via gate 15 carpark Chapel Hill Road, Blewitt Springs. Large groups are advised to call the Willunga Natural Resources Centre to check availability.

Commercial operators must be licenced.

Flora

In the eastern area of the National Park a low open forest of Grey Box and Sheoak can be seen. On the upper ridges and higher valleys a low woodland of pink gum, dryland tea-tree and sheoak is present. On wetter sites throughout the eastern section of the reserve, an open forest formation of blue gum and manna gum can be seen. Along the creek and riverbanks a riparian association dominated by river red  gum occurs.

Within the floodplain and estuary area of the Recreation Park, important samphire flats occur. These areas, along with their saline  margins, support communities of samphire, chenopods, saltbush and sedges. Samphire's include Sarcocornia blackiana and Arthrocnemum halocnemoides. Aquatic estuarine flora is dominated by Garweed and various algae.

Fauna

Mammals present within the reserves include western grey kangaroo, common brushtail possum, common ringtail possum and echidna. The lesser long-eared bat and the southern forest bat.

192 bird species have been recorded in the reserves. White-faced heron, great egret and royal spoonbill are commonly seen feeding in the estuary. During the summer months, waders feed on the samphire and tidal mudflats. Many of these birds migrate from the northern hemisphere to escape the arctic winter; they come from siberia, china and japan every australian summer to feed, but not to breed. They include the common sandpiper, sharp-tailed sandpiper and curlew sandpiper. Occasional sightings of black-tailed godwit, bar-tailed godwit and greenshank also are recorded for the estuary.

Approximately 20 fish species are recorded for the estuary and river. The major fish species include jumping mullet, black bream and yellow-eye mullet. Algae, molluscs and garweed form the major diet of the fish species.

Amphibian records include: common froglet, banjo frog, spotted marsh frog and brown tree frog. At least 20 reptile species have been recorded in the reserves. These include cunningham's skink, eastern bearded dragon and barking gecko.

Common butterfly species include: meadow argus, cabbage white, saltbush blue, australian painted lady, common grass-blue and lesser wanderer. Gahnia filum sedge-lands in the estuary may provide habitat for populations of the endangered yellowish sedge-skipper.

Volunteering

Friends of Onkaparinga Park

FOOP is a community-based group of volunteers who work with park staff to conserve and rehabilitate the natural and cultural heritage in the park. They also assist with the maintenance of park infrastructure and facilities. FOOP work on a diverse range of conservation based activities and projects, and have a great time doing it.

If you think you might be interested in volunteering opportunities within this park please contact our Volunteer Support Unit.

Stay in the park

Camping coming soon!

We will be spending $1.7m on improvements to the park to make it an ever better place to spend with family and friends.

You can look forward to new camping facilities, expected to be complete by December 2017.

Find out about exciting new developments in this park.

Safety

Bushwalking

The international Trail Users Code of Conduct is to show respect and courtesy towards other trail users at all times.

Ensure that you:

  • when hiking, wear sturdy shoes, a hat and sunscreen
  • be aware of weather conditions and avoid walking during the hottest part of the day
  • make sure you have appropriate weather proof clothing
  • carry enough water to be self-sufficient
  • please be respectful of other users at all times
  • stay on the designated trails and connector tracks for your own safety, and prevent the spread of declared weeds to other areas in the park
  • ensure someone knows your approximate location and expected time of return
  • take appropriate maps.
  • Walk, hike or trek - what's the difference?

Mountain biking

To protect the surrounding environment and to ensure the safety of all riders and shared trail users, please be aware of the international Trail Users Code of Practice when using shared trails. Important points to remember include:

  • plan your ride
  • comply with all signs
  • ride only on formed tracks/trails
  • share the trail - obey give way rules
  • avoid riding in wet, muddy conditions
  • ride lightly and leave no trace or rubbish
  • control your bike within your limits
  • clean your bike to avoid the spread of weeds or plant diseases
  • carry sufficient food and drinking water
  • respect the rights of others
  • tell others about the code

Know before you go

Every national park is different, each has its own unique environment, it is important to be responsible while enjoying all the park has to offer.

Please ensure that you:

  • keep your dog on a lead at all times and check if there are areas of the park where dogs are not allowed
  • do not feed birds or other animals, it promotes aggressive behaviour and an unbalanced ecology
  • do not bring generators (except where permitted), chainsaws or firearms into the park
  • leave the park as you found it - place rubbish in the bins provided or take it with you
  • abide by the road rules (maintain the speed limit)
  • respect geological and heritage sites
  • do not remove native plants
  • are considerate of other park users.

  • Important: Collection of firewood within National Parks is prohibited.

Fire

This park is closed on days of Catastrophic Fire Danger and may be closed on days of Extreme Fire Danger.

Listen to the local area radio station for the latest updates and information on fire safety. 

Fire restrictions

  • Wood, solid fuel, gas and liquid fires are prohibited throughout the year.
  • Ensure you are familiar with the fire restrictions for this park.

Water

Please take care on the trails during winter. The river is deep and fast-flowing and should not be crossed. There are also occasional environmental flows released seasonally.

Maps

Park maps

Maps on your mobile

If you have a smartphone or tablet you can download the free Avenza PDF Map app and have interactive national park maps on hand when you need them.

The app uses your device's built-in GPS to plot your real-time location within the park onto a map. The app can be used without a network connection and without roaming charges. You can also measure area and distance, plot photos and drop placemark pins. 

How to get it working on your device:

1. Download the Avenza PDF maps app from the app store whilst you are still in range (its free!).
2. Open up the app and click the shopping cart icon.
3. Click ‘Find’ and type the name of the national park or reserve you are looking for.
4. Click on the map you are after and install it (all our maps are free).
5. You will now find a list of your installed maps on the home page of the Avenza app.
6. Use our maps through the Avenza PDF map app while in the park and never take a wrong turn again.

Fees

Entry fees

Come and enjoy this park for free. 

Park pass

This park is not included in the park pass system. 

Camping and accommodation

Camping coming soon!

We will be spending $1.7m on improvements to the park to make it an ever better place to spend with family and friends.

You can look forward to new camping facilities, expected to be complete by December 2017.

Find out about exciting new developments in this park.

Other fees and permits

There are no other fees or permits associated with this park. 

PDF Park Brochure
Alerts 1

Partial park closure

Parts of Onkaparinga River National Park and Recreation Park will be closed on the following dates due to an upgrade of the parks’ facilities.
Details >