30 ‘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 30 of our favourite national park adventures for you to add to your ‘must do’ list:

1. 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.

2. Hike through the pristine wilderness of Kangaroo Island

The unimaginable beauty of this part of the world has to be seen to be believed. The Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail is a 61-kilometre, five-day trek, weaving its way through the pristine wilderness of Flinders Chase National Park.

3. Get up-close with a koala

Cleland Wildlife Park is one of the few places in Australia where you can hold a koala, so it’s easy to see why this experience regularly tops the ’must do’ lists of international visitors. There’s plenty of other Australian wildlife favourites at the park too, making it a great day out for the whole family.

4. 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.

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(Image courtesy of the South Australian Tourism Commission)

5. 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.

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(Image courtesy of the South Australian Tourism Commission)

6. 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. An experienced guide will teach you all about these animals during a 45-minute tour. This is a truly exceptional wildlife experience that’s not to be missed if you’re visiting Kangaroo Island.

7. Have a whale of a time

Every year from mid-May to late-October, southern right whales migrate to the Australian coast to mate and give birth. The rugged and spectacular Bunda Cliffs in Nullarbor National Park, 300 km west of Ceduna, offer perfect vantage points to see these gentle giants. At the height of the season in July and August more than 100 whales can be in the area at the same time.

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8. 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.

9. Take a dip in nature’s swimming pool

The rugged coast of 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.

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The Blue Pool (image courtesy of Emma Smith)

10. 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.

11. 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. 

12. 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 to book your snorkel.

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13. 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 Conservation Park and Regional Reserve 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.

14. 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!

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

16. Encounter a world of sculptures

As if the view of the giant granite boulders against an ocean backdrop wasn't artistic enough, there are now sculptures dotted around Granite Island Recreation Park for you to enjoy. There are 10 sculptures dotted around the island, off the coast of Victor Harbor, such as the ‘Ocean Lace’ (pictured) by artist Britt Mikkelsen. As some of the sculptures are temporary and new ones are added every six months, this is the sort of exhibition that you can visit regularly and keep finding something new to enjoy.

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17. 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.

18. Devour local oysters in Coffin Bay National Park

Visit a local seafood supplier and devour mouth-wateringly delicious freshly-shucked local oysters on the beach in Coffin Bay National Park, 54 km from Port Lincoln. The calm, protected and pristine waters are not only perfect for growing oysters but also idyllic for swimming and kayaking. This park with its untouched wilderness and coastline is a favourite among visitors.

19. 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.

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20. Stare through nature’s picture frame

Stare through nature’s picture frame at Admirals Arch in Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island. This natural rock arch displays the power of the ocean and weathering that has shaped the coastline. This area is also home to a large breeding colony of long-nosed fur seals, which you can watch splash in the crashing waves.

21. 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.

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(This photo was taken with permission from the Department for Environment and Water)

22. 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.

23. 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.

24. 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.

25. Tune in to nature at the Organ Pipes

Created through volcanic eruptions more than 1500 million years ago, the Organ Pipes in the Gawler Ranges National Park are one of the world’s largest outcrops of volcanic rhyolite. It’s a 6-hour journey from Adelaide but well worth the visit. The cooling process of the lava and millions of years of erosion have left large symmetrical columns resembling the pipes of an organ. You can find equally stunning rocky outcrops at Yandinga Falls and Kolay Mirica Falls in the park.

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(Image courtesy of the South Australian Tourism Commission)

26. Watch kangaroos graze at sunset

While you’re admiring the stunning views of the Southern Ocean and Kangaroo Island from Deep Creek Conservation 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.

27. 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.

28. 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.

29. Discover new shades of blue

Memory Cove Wilderness Protection Area adjoins Lincoln National Park on the southern Eyre Peninsula. This pristine wilderness area, with its dense coastal vegetation, abundant wildlife, white sandy beaches and water of every shade of blue, is limited to only 15 vehicles a day (four-wheel drives only), ensuring this special place remains unspoilt.

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(Image courtesy of Cody Ackland @cody_ackland)

30. 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.

Insprired to visit? More details about all of these special places can be found on the National Parks 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) 

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