Tennyson Dunes Conservation Reserve

  • Public Transport
  • Swimming
  • Dogs on Lead
  • Canoeing
  • Walking Trails
  • Bird Watching
PDF Park Brochure
Photo by Bill Doyle
Photo by Rose Fletcher
Photo by Bill Doyle
Photo by Kym Murphy
Photo by Bill Doyle
Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary state map image

Tennyson Dunes is the last of the three-tiered dune system that once stretched for more than 30 kilometres along the Adelaide coast. 

Download the Tennyson Dunes Discovery Trail app from your app store for a 1.5 km walking experience. Through the app, you can learn about this unique and ancient dune system with an audio walking tour.

This area is the Country of the Kaurna (pronounced ‘Gar-na’) people. Kaurna Elder, Frank Wangutya Wanganeen, welcomes you to the dunes and Kaurna Country.

About

Formed over thousands of years, these dunes were host to vibrant natural ecosystems and played a critical role in protecting inland areas from storm-caused sea intrusions. Left to their own devices, the dunes naturally eroded and replenished through a seasonal cycle driven by wind and wave action. This process served the area for eons until houses and industry began to cover the big peaks. Now we mimic nature, by replenishing our beaches, in order to sustain the beach-side lifestyle we have come to love. Everywhere, that is, except for here at Tennyson where nature continues to do what it does best. 

This area is the Country of the Kaurna (pronounced ‘Gar-na’) people. Kaurna people are the Traditional Owners and custodians of the Adelaide Plains, an area that stretches from Cape Jervis in the south, Crystal Brook in the north, Mount Lofty Ranges to the east and Gulf St Vincent in the west.

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Aboriginal communities of the Tennyson area and ask that you show respect for Country during your visit to the Tennyson Dunes. 

Opening hours

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When to visit

Tennyson Dunes are great to visit any time of year. Visit in summer and pack your beach towel and sun hut, in winter embrace the brisk sea air.

Getting there

You can access Tennyson Dunes Conservation Reserve via Military Rd, Tennyson. There are several places to park on Military Rd, you can then enter the dunes via the trails which start to the west of the carparks. 

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. 

Traditional owners

This area is the Country of the Kaurna (pronounced ‘Gar-na’) people. Kaurna people are the traditional owners and custodians of the Adelaide Plains, an area that stretches from Cape Jervis in the south, Crystal Brook in the north, Mount Lofty Ranges to the east and St Vincent Gulf in the west. Kaurna Elder Frank Wangutya Wanganeen welcomes you to the dunes and Kaurna country.

The Tennyson Dunes are a place of great significance to the Kaurna people who spent their summers here feasting on waterbirds, fish and shellfish over thousands of years. A place where Kaurna Elders passed on stories to the next generation about their people and their Country. Among them was the story of the Milky Way, ‘Wardlipari’.

European history

Since the early days of European settlement in Adelaide, human association with the Tennyson Dunes has caused significant changes to the area. From the building of Estcourt House in the 1880s to the major development of West Lakes, the dunes have, at times, been at risk of being built over. Historical activities such as sand mining and the introduction of pest plants and animals have also placed pressure on the dunes and the delicate ecosystems that exist here. In the 1970s the fate of the dunes began to change as passionate locals wanted to protect what was left.

Along a coastline dominated by houses and industry, the Tennyson Dunes stand as testament to the determination of these passionate locals. In recent years, the Tennyson Dunes Group and other community organisations have invested thousands of hours in restoring the habitat of the dunes and minimising threats to its plants and animals. Today the dunes are protected as a conservation reserve, and with the ongoing efforts of the local community, the future looks bright. 

Useful information

Dogs allowed (on lead)

Dogs are welcome in this park.

Please ensure you:

  • Keep your dog under control and on a lead no more than two metres in length.
  • Stick to designated walking trails.
  • Bring disposable bags to clean up your dog’s faeces (please be aware there are no bins in national parks).

Discover other parks you can walk your dog in on our find a park tool or read 12 dog-friendly walks in Adelaide Parks by Good Living for inspiration.

Assistance dogs

Assistance dogs are permitted in most public places and are therefore welcome in South Australia’s parks and reserves. Assistance dogs must be appropriately restrained on a lead and remain under your effective control at all times while in a park or reserve.

As per the dogs in parks and reserves policy, if the dog is not an accredited assistance dog, they must be trained to assist a person with a disability to alleviate that disability and meet standards of hygiene and behaviour appropriate for a dog in a public place. However, refusal may be given if the person with the disability is unable to produce evidence the dog is an assistance dog with the appropriate training.

Before taking your assistance dog into a park that does not normally allow dogs, it is highly recommended that you contact us so we can provide you with the latest information on any potential hazards within specific parks that may affect your dog. Please contact the park via the contact details provided under the contact tab or call the information line on (+61 8) 8204 1910.

Facilities

There are no facilities within the park. 

Geology

The sand dunes along the Adelaide coast formed after the last ice age when the melting of global glaciers caused sea levels to rise and Gulf St Vincent was flooded. Sand was then pushed from the gulf onto the beach over thousands of years to create the dunes you see today.

The fine white sand of the Tennyson Dunes makes its way here from as far off as Maslin Beach, moving north due to the process known as long shore drifts, pushed along by blustery south westerly winds. 

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.
  • Download the Tennyson Dunes Discovery Trail app to hear the history and environmental importance of the area as you walk. 
  • Sit quietly and try and spot some of the 50 species of birds which live in the dunes. 
  • Look closely at the sand dunes and try and spot the trails of insects and lizards left behind during the night. 

Contact details

Natural Resource Centre - Black Hill

Phone: (+61 8) 8336 0901
Email: DEWNR.AMLRBlackHillOffice@sa.gov.au

Stay in the park

Camping is not permitted within this park. However, you can stay nearby at the Adelaide Beachfront Caravan Park (approximately 1km north of the Conservation Reserve).

Use our find a park tool to find which national parks have accommodation, campsites and more.

Tennyson Dunes discovery trail and app

The Tennyson Dunes Discovery Trail is 1.5 km walk giving visitors access to an ancient dune system, the last of its kind along the Adelaide coast.

Along with encounters with the dunes’ iconic wildlife, the trail provides access to a botanical wonderland with more than 50 species of native plants on show. This special place and the rare and significant plants, bird life, reptiles and invertebrates it supports are brought to life on the app by Kaurna Elder Frank Wangutya Wanganeen, renowned environmental leader Professor Chris Daniels and a host of other local experts. 

The audio app features 16 wildlife and 10 plant audio tours, download it for Andriod here or for Apple here

Kayaking

You can go sea kayaking from the beach in front of Tennyson Dunes Conservation Reserve.

Flora

The green island that is Tennyson Dunes can be thought of as Adelaide’s fourth botanical garden as it encompasses so many of the important plants of this region. Of the 52 original species that are found here, 16 are of conservation significance, including the rare and spectacular looking cushion fanflower. Many of these plants only grow in a particular and very limited area, making them incredibly vulnerable to change and all the more difficult to protect.

Please don't pick or remove any plants from the Conservation Reserve. 

Dune colonisers

The plants of the Tennyson Dunes are coastal specialists that have adapted to thrive under the harsh conditions of this tough and blustery landscape. In fact, without plants the dunes as we know them wouldn’t be here at all. Tennyson Dunes Group coordinator Nick Crouch takes us through some of the species that can be found in each tier of the three tiered dune system and the role they play in stabilising the dunes.

Blooming beautiful

From the late 1830s the dunes attracted a succession of botanical experts that were eager to catalogue the plants of a new land. Many of the plants they discovered, and that can still be found here, were spectacular looking with stunning flowers and bird attracting berries.

Cushion fanflower (Scaevola crassifolia)

This frontline coastal dweller has light green fleshy foliage and fragrant fan-shaped flowers that occur mostly in spring. It is an important host plant for the caterpillars of the meadow argus butterfly. You’ll find it growing in the swale and hind dune.

Coastal bearded-heath (Leucopogan paviflorus)

The green foliage of this dense shrub is enhanced in spring when white flowers grow in clusters at the end of its branches. The pale white berries that follow provide a food source that is a particular favourite of the singing honeyeater. You’ll find it growing in the swale and hind dune.  

Coast daisy-bush ‘Bluebush’ (Olearia axillaris)

This hardy shrub was traditionally used by Kaurna people for smoking purposes to provide protection on fishing expeditions. You’ll find it growing throughout the dunes.  

Sea box (Alyxia buxifolia)

This slow growing shrub has glossy evergreen foliage, fragrant white ‘pinwheel’ flowers that appear in summer and bright red berries that are favoured by the local birds. You’ll find it growing in the swale and hind dune.

Pigface ‘Karkalla’ (Carpobrotus rossii)

Kaurna people have long used the ‘Karkalla’ for medicinal purposes along with eating the flowers that appear from August through to October. You’ll find it growing throughout the dunes, particularly in the swale.

Coast saltbush (Atriplex cinerea)

The grey-green leaves of this bushy shrub are an important food for the caterpillars of the saltbush blue butterfly. This is a frontline bush that is fast growing and plays a critical role in stabilising the foredune, which is where you will find it growing.

Coast bitterbush (Adriana quadripartita)

This compact shrub has separate male and female plants with distinctive flowers on each that occur mostly from winter through to mid-summer. The caterpillars of the rare bitterbush blue butterfly feed exclusively on the leaves and flowers of the male plant. You’ll find it growing in the swale and hind dune.

Coastal lignum (Muehlenbeckia gunnii)

This climbing plant has tiny cream flowers and shiny arrow-shaped leaves. It is an important plant for wildlife, with its berries eaten by birds and reptiles. You’ll find it growing in the swale and hind dune.

Native juniper (Myoporum insulare)

This long-lived plant offers nesting habitat for various birds and its clumps of white or pale pink flowers provide nectar for butterflies. You’ll find it growing in the swale and hind dune.

Drooping sheoak ‘Karko’ (Allocasuarina verticillata)

This long lived tree was used by Kaurna people for making cultural artefacts and to quench thirst by sucking on leaves when going on long journeys. You’ll find it growing on the hind dune.

Reptiles

Of the 50 species of reptiles that occur in the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges, at least 10 to 15 can be found here in the dunes. Many are small and shy, like the iconic painted dragon. Others are quite large, including one that you might prefer not to come across! 

The sun-loving reptiles of Tennyson are most likely to reveal themselves to you in the morning and afternoon as they warm themselves along the trail, on fence posts and atop bushes. 

Painted dragon

The painted dragon (Ctenophorus pictus) is the iconic species of the Tennyson Dunes, which come alive with these spectacular looking lizards all through the spring and summer. Look for them basking in the sun along the trail or perched on the branches of low lying shrubs. 

Eastern bearded dragon 

The largest lizard that you will find in the dunes is the eastern bearded dragon (Pogona barbata). If you get too close it will puff up its characteristic beard in a warning to keep your distance. They are quick and agile climbers and will often perch on fence posts or bushes as they warm themselves in the sun or look for prey. 

Eastern brown snake

The eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis) often gets a bad rap because it is highly venomous, but it is a very shy snake and will usually keep out of your way. It is an essential part of the dune’s ecology and fulfills the important role of keeping mice and rat populations in check. Keep listening for Kaurna Elder Frank Wangutya Wanganeen’s insight on the species of reptile that the brown snake tends to avoid.

Birds

With around 50 species of bird occurring here throughout the year, the Tennyson Dunes are a bird lover’s paradise. Some birds are permanent residents, like the musical singing honeyeater. Others come from far off places to spend the summer and clock up thousands of kilometres in their journey to get here. 

Birds of prey

Look to the sky during your visit today and you might be rewarded with a spectacular aerial display by the dunes’ resident birds of prey. The black-shouldered kite (Elanus axillaris) and nankeen kestrel (Falco cenchroides) can often be seen hovering over the dunes as they hunt for small terrestrial mammals, insects and reptiles. Call: Black-shouldered kite ‘chee’ ‘skairr’, ‘kik, kik, kik’, Nankeen kestrel ‘keekeekeekeekee’, ‘keer, keer, keer’. 

Singing honeyeater

The musical tweets of the singing honeyeater (Lichenostomus virescens) are a signature sound of the Tennyson Dunes. Listen for them within the dense shrubs at the heart of the dunes and proceed quietly for your best chance at sighting these shy residents. Call: ‘prrit, prrit, pritt’, ‘crik-crikit-crikit-crikit’, ‘scree’.

Intertebrates

The hundreds of species of invertebrates that live in the dunes are part of an ancient group of animals that have been on earth for at least 360 million years. Most of these ‘minibeasts’ go about their daily business unnoticed, but the services they provide are vital to the dunes and the plants and animals that live here. 

Sugar ant

The ants of the dunes are often the easiest invertebrates to spot as they go about their daily business. They deliver a whole host of important services, but one of the most interesting is the sugar ants (Camponotus consobrinus) role as attendant and protector of the dunes’ resident caterpillars. 

Pie-dish beetle

The pie-dish beetle (Halea sp.) is a dune specialist with a body crafted to plane through the sand. These night time foragers feed mostly on decaying vegetation and are most abundant in the summer months. 

Antlion

The antlion (Myrmeleon sp.) is best known for the fierce predatory habits of its larvae which build conical pits to trap passing ants and other prey. Look for these death traps in the soft sand along the edges of the walking trail. 

Spiders

There are a whole host of spiders that inhabit the dunes, from primitive spiders with heavy set bodies and large fangs to more cryptic species with exceptional camouflage abilities. Wherever you are in the dunes, there is a spider nearby. 

Pollinators

The pollinating invertebrates that inhabit the dunes are vital in creating and maintaining the habitat that other animals rely on for food and shelter. Among the species found here are buzz pollinators like the spectacular looking native blue banded bee (Amegilla cingulata). Draw your eye to the tops of bushes and shrubs in flower for your best chance at spotting these insects.  

Mole cricket

Some of the most vocal of the invertebrates found at the dunes only reveal themselves at night, like the loud and persistent mole cricket (Gryllotalpidae sp.). The continuous song of this cricket is a recognisable sound of summer, which is the time of year when they are most active.

Butterflies and moths

A great number of butterfly and moth species inhabit the dunes. Some are more dazzling in their appearance than others, but all play an essential role in the ecosystem here. They can be difficult to spot when they are resting, so look instead for flashes of colour as they take flight. 

Praying mantis

The praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) is a formidable predator of the dunes that ambushes or patiently stalks its prey. When it is ready to strike it does so with lightning speed, attacking with large raptorial arms that pin their victim in place. These nimble carnivores have mastered the art of camouflage, so look closely among the twigs and stems of the plants of the dunes for a chance at spotting this charismatic creature.

Gall wasp

You don’t often see the adult gall wasp (Cynipidae sp.) flying about the dunes, but you are likely to come across its larvae hiding in plain sight. Look for funny looking galls or calluses on various plants that form in response to the presence of the wasp’s feeding larvae.

Volunteering

Want to help?

To find out how you can help in this park or nearby, please visit Natural Resources Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges – Volunteering.

Safety

Fire

Fire restrictions

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

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.

Dogs

Why does my dog need to be on a lead?

If your dog is off lead, it is more likely to impact on native wildlife and other visitors in a park and be at risk itself.

Risks to wildlife:

  • Dogs off tracks will leave a scent in the bush that will keep wildlife away.
  • Uncontrolled dogs may frighten wildlife and disrupt their natural behaviour.
  • Some dogs will kill or injure wildlife.

Risks to other park visitors

  • Dogs may be aggressive to other park visitors.
  • Even friendly dogs can knock people over causing injury.
  • Some people want to enjoy parks without dogs.

Risks to your dog

  • Poison baits may be laid to control foxes. Baits can be fatal to dogs.
  • Even if your dog is friendly, other dogs may not be.
  • Your dog can catch parasites (such as fleas and ticks) from wildlife.
  • Snake bites are a real risk in natural areas such as parks.
  • Wildlife such as kangaroos and koalas will defend themselves if threatened by a dog and can cause significant injury to or the death of your dog.

Maps

Fees

Entry fees

Come and enjoy this park for free. 

Camping and accommodation

There is no camping or accommodation available within this park.

PDF Park Brochure