Onkaparinga River Recreation Park

  • Picnic Areas
  • BBQ Facilities
  • Toilets
  • Dogs on Lead
  • Canoeing
  • Fishing
  • Walking Trails
  • Bird Watching
  • Cycling
PDF Park Brochure
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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.

Just next door, to the east of the recreation park, Onkaparinga River National Park boasts cliff top views, deep gorges and rock climbing. 

About

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. 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.

Just next door, to the east of the recreation park, Onkaparinga River National Park boasts cliff top views, deep gorges and rock climbing. 

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 Recreation Park 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 to the Recreation Park from River Road, Noarlunga Downs and from Commercial and Sauerbiers Roads, Seaford Meadows.

  • Park maps

Pets in parks

You and your dog can enjoy the Onkaparinga River Recreation Park providing you 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.

Please note you can NOT walk your dog in the nearby Onkaparinga River National Park. 

Facilities

There are many spots for an informal picnic in the Onkaparinga River Recreation Park. There is parking, a BBQ, picnic tables, a kayak and canoe launch and a toilet located at the main entrance on River Road.

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

Useful information

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

Videos and virtual tours

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.

  • Relaxing with friends and family at one of the gorgeous picnic areas in the park – some offer BBQ's, toilets and shelter, and all are close to great trails.
  • Kayaking or paddle boarding the calm waters of the Onkaparinga River from the Kayak launch area at Perrys Bend west, head upstream to Old Noarlunga or downstrem to the mouth of the river at Port Noarlunga.
  • Taking your family on the Wetlands Loop Trail – it’s bike, pram and dog friendly (on lead), with great views of the river and a boardwalk over the wetlands.

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.

Moderate 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.

  • Noarlunga Downs Wetland Trail (30 min, 1.2 km return)

    Discover the stories of the river, wetlands, water and traditional owners through the interpretative artwork of Paul Herzich. A major rehabilitation project has helped to return this part of the wetlands to a thriving habitat for native plants and animals.
  • Wetlands Loop Trail (Short loop = 1 hr, 3 km / Long loop = 1.5 hrs, 4.5 km loop)

    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.

Cycling

Jump on your bike and feel the wind in your hair on the shared use trails in this 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 (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.

  • Noarlunga Downs Wetland Trail (1.2 km return)

    Discover the stories of the river, wetlands, water and traditional owners through the interpretative artwork of Paul Herzich. A major rehabilitation project has helped to return this part of the wetlands to a thriving habitat for native plants and animals.
  • Wetlands Loop Trail  (Short loop = 3 km / Long loop = 4.5 km)

    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.

Kayaking and canoeing

The estuarine waters of the recreation park are a perfect environment for canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding. Beginners 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 is a brand new kayak and canoe launch at the Recreation Park main entrance at Perry's Bend which includes steps and a ramp to enable you to safely slide your boat down to the water.There are a few other 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. 

Bird watching

You’ll see all kinds of birdlife in the Onkaparinga River Recreation Park, particularly if you take a few moments to be still. There is a diverse range of species species that live in, or visit, the park – 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.

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.

Flora

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 park 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 recreation park and neighbouring national park combined. 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

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.

Want to join others and become a Park Friend?

To find out more about Friends of Parks groups please visit Friends of Parks South Australia.

You could join others to help look after a park. You can take part in working bees, training and other events.

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?

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 and solid fuel fires are prohibited from 1 November 2017 to 30 April 2018.
  • Gas and liquid fires are prohibited throughout the year.
  • Ensure you are familiar with the fire restrictions for this park.

Water

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.

Maps

Cycling 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. 

Camping and accommodation

There is no camping or accommodation available within the Onkaparinga River Recreation Park, however camping is now available nearby in Onkaparinga River National Park.

PDF Park Brochure