Get insider tips on the best places to visit and ‘must do' activities from Ranger Aislinn McAleer.
Less than an hour’s drive north-east of Adelaide you’ll find Para Wirra Conservation Park. It’s a perfect park for immersing yourself in nature – for walking, picnicking, camping and observing native animal life.
After working in the park for the past two years, Ranger Aislinn McAleer knows the place like the back of her hand.
We asked her for some tips to help you make the most of your next visit to this little gem of a park. Here’s what she had to say:
What stands out at the park during each of the seasons?
Para Wirra Conservation Park is great to visit year-round. Each season offers different highlights:
As the heat of summer gives way to cooler autumn days and nights, the Wirra Campground comes to life.
Pack your bikes and explore the shared-use Tree Creeper Loop next to the campground. Admire the blooming wattles and look up into the canopies to spot any ring-tail possums, tawny frogmouths and night jars.
Outside of fire danger season you can enjoy nights around the campfire using the fire pits at each of the campsites. Just remember to bring your own firewood.
It’s also a great time of year for outdoor play, so let the kids use their imaginations while they explore the many features of the Nature Play Forest.
The refreshing winter rains transform the park as the South Para River fills with water and the green ferns, mosses and native plants come flourishing back to life.
Take a walk along the Hissey loop trail and look for the interestingly coloured fungi. Look at the bases of the stringy barks and you may spot a ghost mushroom. If you’re camping in the park overnight, head out for a night walk and try to spot them glowing in the dark!
Pack some bacon and eggs and head to the lake for breakfast with the birds.
Make use of the BBQ and picnic area as you’re serenaded by the hundreds of species of birds that call the park home.
After brekkie, take a walk along the Mack Creek Hike or the Lady Pearce Hike Circuit and look for colourful native wildflowers, including orchids such as banded greenhoods, donkeys and purplish beards that bloom in the spring.
Keep an eye out for the rare Mount Lofty Ranges grass trees that will have their flower spikes up and in full bloom for the bushland birds and other pollinators.
If you’re looking for solitude, summer is a quieter time of the year to visit the park.
Pack plenty of water and snacks and take the Devils Nose Hike out to the lookout for panoramic views.
Listen to the roar of the summer cicadas and walk through a wall of majestic monarch butterflies while you admire the flourishing Christmas bush flowers on your way.
On a mild day, pack the footy or bocce set and head to the Bush Oval for a fun afternoon with friends, family and the local emus.
What’s your favourite walking trail in the park?
The South Para Grand Hike encompasses some of the most dramatic views of the park, including the Devils Nose Lookout, Knob Lookout and steep gorge views from Lizard Rock. It’s about a 9 km loop and a good workout!
Head out in winter or spring and you’ll find an array of cool and colourful orchids on the track out to the Devils nose.
What’s the park’s best kept secret?
The giant river red gums along the South Para River and the Mount Lofty Ranges grass trees on the hills above are pretty spectacular. It’s a very impressive area of the park – you can easily forget where you are and mistake the area for somewhere like the Flinders Ranges.
What animals can visitors expect to spot in the park?
Emus, kangaroos, echidnas and tawny dragons. You’ll often find emus near the park entrance, down near the Para Wirra Central Picnic Area waiting for a sausage (but please remember not to feed them) or at the Bush Oval stretching their legs.
In summer you’ll sometimes find sand goannas in the northern end of the park, as well as peregrine falcons and square-tailed kites.
What’s your favourite campsite in Wirra Campground?
Campsite number 9 is my favourite at Wirra Campground. It’s down a short walkway and tucked in among a nice patch of yaccas.
It’s the most secluded site but also quite close to the facilities and camp kitchen.
Top tip: Campsites must be booked before you go. Book now to reserve one for your next adventure.
Throughout August, Para Wirra Conservation Park is being celebrated as National Parks and Wildlife Service's Park of the Month. Join a guided walk with the ranger, or explore this spectacular park in your own time. Check the website for all the details.
Too much to see in one day? Spend a few days instead. Check out our guide on How to spend a weekend in Para Wirra Conservation Park.
Main image: Ranger Aislinn McAleer
This story was originally posted in May 2019.