1. ARCKARINGA STATION, THE PAINTED DESERT
About halfway across the Moon Plain, between Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta, a tractor tyre daubed with the station’s name in faded white paint marks the turnoff to Arckaringa Station, a surprising oasis by a braided creek in an arid, sun-scorched landscape. The outback SA station began its working life in the early 1900s as a pastoral lease over 2,500 square kilometres of gibber plains and palaeochannels on the western edge of the Mirackina Range.
The Williams family purchased the property in 1989 and augments its cattle activities by hosting eco-tourists in the nearby Painted Desert. This ancient seabed has been scoured by 80 million years of erosion into a stunning ‘breakaway’ topography of multi-hued mesas and sinuous gullies that protect rare plant species and the southernmost habitat of Australia’s largest lizard, the perentie.
Camping at the homestead is unpowered and the facilities are rustic, but the hospitality is genuine and the location incomparable for its proximity to this geological marvel in the heart of the South Australian badlands.
ARCKARINGA FAST FACTS
Arckaringa Homestead is 150km north of Coober Pedy, 80km east of Cadney Park and 90km southwest of Oodnadatta. All access road are unsealed and high-clearance vehicles are recommended.
Arckaringa Station offers cabin accommodation (bookings required) and unpowered camping with flush toilets, hot showers, camp kitchen, a wood barbecue and campfire area. Alternative accommodation is also available at Coober Pedy, Oodnadatta and Cadney Homestead Roadhouse.
Visitors to Arckaringa Station must be self-sufficient in fuel, food and drinking water, all of which can be obtained in Coober Pedy, Oodnadatta and Cadney Park.
Attractions: The Painted Desert, working cattle station experience, four-wheel-driving, camping, bushwalking, sightseeing and photography.
Contact: (08) 8670 7992, www.thepainteddesert.com.au
2. ARKAROOLA WILDERNESS SANCTUARY, NORTHERN FLINDERS RANGES
Arkaroola is South Australia’s first legally protected wilderness sanctuary, for many good reasons. In 1967, the Sprigg family bought this abandoned sheep station in the Northern Flinders Ranges and turned its 610 square kilometres of jagged peaks and plunging gorges into one of Australia’s premier ecotourism destinations. This multi-award-winning enterprise is a mecca for nature-lovers, bushwalkers and 4WD enthusiasts keen to experience this spectacular mountain landscape by an extensive network of walking trails and more than 100km of tracks rated from easy to extreme.
AWS also operates scenic flights around the nearby ranges and Lake Frome (Australia’s whitest salt lake), and further afield with half and full-day excursions over the Strzelecki Desert to Lake Eyre, the Oodnadatta Track and the Gammon Ranges.
Higher still, Arkaroola’s brilliant night skies provide some of the best star-gazing in the southern hemisphere and you can tour the universe using astronomical observatories acclaimed by professionals and amateurs alike.
In all, the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is thoroughly deserving of its place in the coveted SA Tourism Hall of Fame.
ARKAROOLA WILDERNESS SANCTUARY FAST FACTS
Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is 675km north of Adelaide via Leigh Creek and Nepabunna. Beyond Leigh Creek, the roads are unsealed and rough in places.
The caravan park has powered and unpowered sites, showers and toilets, laundry, gas barbecue facilities and access to the motel’s in-ground swimming pool. Other accommodation includes motel-style suites, self-contained cottages and a bunkhouse.
Facilities include a licensed restaurant, basic shop, fuel and mechanical repairs, gas cylinder refills and an internet café with wi-fi.
Attractions: 4WD Ridgetop Tour, astronomical observatory, scenic flights, bushwalking, guided walks, mountain biking, birdwatching and photography.
Contact: (08) 8648 4848, www.arkaroola.com.au
3. MALKUMBA-COONGIE LAKES NATIONAL PARK, INNAMINKA REGIONAL RESERVE
The Innamincka region stands tall in outback legend as the scene of early exploration by Charles Sturt and the tragic finale of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition. The iconic centrepiece of this vast inland reserve is the Malkumba-Coongie Lakes NP and its complex arid wetland system, internationally renowned for its diverse habitats and stunning array of plant communities and wildlife.
Nourished by the seasonal inundations of the Cooper Creek, this labyrinth of watercourses, floodplains and near-permanent lakes attracts huge congregations of birds across more than 200 species, making it one of South Australia’s most spectacular natural environments.
Despite the park’s isolation, it has become a unique and distinctive outback destination, rewarding intrepid travellers with the spectacle of expansive minty-green lakes nestled among rich-red sand dunes, their shores fringed by lush banks of reeds teeming with wildlife.
Camping with basic facilities among the gums beside Cooper Creek or in sandy nooks around the lakes’ edge serves to accentuate the park’s qualities of peaceful seclusion and natural splendour. People don’t come here for five-star amenities but to immerse themselves in wilderness and experience the outback in all its pristine glory.
MALKUMBA-COONGIE LAKES NP FAST FACTS
The Coongie Lakes are about 1290km north of Adelaide via Innamincka. The Strzelecki Track from Lyndhurst to Innamincka is unsealed and the last 100km to the lakes is rough and best suited to 4WD and high-clearance vehicles.
In the national park, campsites with toilet facilities are located near Cooper Creek and unserviced bush camping is available around the lake’s edge. Kudriemitchie campground is located on the edge of the park, where campfires and generators are permitted.
Innamincka has a hotel, general store, fuel, toilets, showers, phones, ranger station, information centre, rubbish disposal, and mechanic and tyre repairs.
Activities: four-wheel-driving, birdwatching, photography and canoeing; attractions near Innamincka: Burke and Wills grave sites, Dig Tree Historic Site and Cullyamurra Waterhole.
Contacts: Innamincka Regional Reserve Park Headquarters, Leigh Creek: (08) 8675 9909, www.parks.sa.gov.au; Desert Parks Hotline: 1800 816 078, (08) 8648 5328; Innamincka Trading Post: (08) 8675 9900, www.innaminckatp.com.au
4. MT IVE STATION, GAWLER RANGES
In South Australian tourism, Port Augusta is known as the ‘Gateway to the Outback’ and Mt Ive Station, some 250km west of it, is well ‘out there’.
Established in the heart of the Gawler Ranges in 1864, this 93,000ha family-owned station is the only property offering private access to some of the region’s most spectacular scenery. A mud map is your passport for a journey on remote station tracks to a panoply of historical and geographic landmarks that include rocky ravines, ‘organ pipe’ ridges with panoramic views and the brilliant white salt crystal basin of Lake Gairdner. At more than 160km long and 48km wide, this is Australia’s fourth largest lake and the venue for ‘Speed Week’, hosted annually by Dry Lake Racing Australia.
Mt Ive Station lies at the edge of the Gawler Ranges National Park, a vast complex of volcanic hills and gorges that shelter an amazing diversity of native plants and animals in one of the state’s harshest environments. Here, you can immerse yourself in the cultural heritage of the Parnkalla Aboriginal people and the pioneer history of Old Paney Homestead, and enjoy remote bush camping among honey myrtles and crimson mallee.
MT IVE STATION FAST FACTS
Mt Ive Station is 500km north-west of Adelaide via Port Augusta and Iron Knob. The route is sealed to Iron Knob and the unsealed section from there to Mt Ive can be rough but is suitable for 2WD vehicles with care.
Accommodation at Mt Ive Station includes the Stone Rooms, shearing quarters, and a campground with powered and unpowered sites, a large communal kitchen, barbecue area, dining/recreation room and hot showers. Bush camping areas with minimal facilities are available within the national park suitable for tents, camper trailers and offroad caravans. Vehicle entry and camping fees apply.
Campers are advised to be self-sufficient and carry adequate supplies of drinking water. Fuel and supplies are available at Wudinna, Minnipa, Kimba, Iron Knob and Port Augusta. Mt Ive Station has a basic kiosk, liquor store, fuel and Eftpos.
Attractions: four-wheel-driving, bushwalking, photography, guided adventure tours, scenic flights, Gawler Ranges NP and Lake Gairdner.
Contacts: Mt Ive Station: (08) 8648 1817, www.mtive.com.au; Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Port Lincoln): (08) 8688 3111 or (08) 8204, www.environment.sa.gov.au, www.parks.sa.gov.au
5. VENUS BAY, EYRE PENINSULA
Known as the ‘Outback by the Sea’, South Australia’s arid Eyre Peninsula basks in a Mediterranean climate of hot summers and temperate sea breezes. Its west coast is one of the state’s most spectacular and dynamic landscapes, a littoral of crumbling orange cliffs, golden beaches and secluded bays pounded by Southern Ocean rollers.
Venus Bay is a tiny township on a sheltered lagoon, both named after the Venus, a 60-tonne schooner that traded along the coast in the 1850s. The resident population is boosted by seasonal influxes of tourists who come for the recreational fishing and water sports on the bay’s placid waters.
A delightful caravan park stretches along the scenic foreshore, providing easy access to the water and a short walk to the local jetty and boat ramp. For those who tire of casting a rod or lounging in a camp chair, the South Head Walking Trail is a great way to stretch the legs and take in some of the spectacular local coastline. The town is also within an easy drive of other attractions up and down the coast: Talia Caves, Hally’s Beach, Whistling Rocks and Blowhole, Smooth Pool, Point Labatt and, of course, Streaky Bay oysters.
VENUS BAY FAST FACTS
Venus Bay is 660km west of Adelaide via Port Augusta and the Eyre Highway (A1) to Wudinna, then minor sealed roads to Port Kenny and the township of Venus Bay.
The Venus Bay Caravan Park offers powered sites, a fully equipped camp kitchen, gas barbecues, laundry, kiosk, gas refills, limited groceries, fishing tackle and boat hire. There is also guesthouse and cabin accommodation in Venus Bay and a hotel and caravan park at Port Kenny.
Venus Bay General Store stocks alcohol and a limited range of supermarket items and the nearest towns for fuel and provisions are Elliston and Streaky Bay.
Activities: Scenic driving, boating, fishing, swimming, waterskiing, sailing, canoeing, walking, sightseeing, birdwatching, photography and surfing at nearby beaches.
Contacts: Venus Bay Caravan Park, 32 Matson Terrace, Venus Bay: (08) 8625 5073, www.venusbaycaravanpark.com.au; Port Augusta Visitor Information Centre: 1800 633 060 or (08) 8461 9194, www.eyrepeninsulavisitorguide.realviewdigital.com
6. COOBER PEDY
At first glance, Coober Pedy doesn’t look particularly inviting but it repays closer inspection with some surprising and fascinating attractions. Founded in 1915 with the discovery of opals, the town has since established itself as the undisputed ‘Opal Capital of the World’, dominating global production with 90 per cent of Australia’s national gemstone.
Opal mining fuels much of Coober Pedy’s tourism, with many award-winning attractions like Old Timer’s Mine and Museum, Tom’s Working Mine and the Umoona Opal Mine & Museum. The region’s fascinating geology is also showcased in the amazing lunar landscape of ‘Moon Plain’, rich with fossil deposits and opalised remains of prehistoric marine creatures, and the ‘Breakaways’, spectacular multi-coloured outliers of the Stuart Range.
The town’s name, stemming from the Aboriginal ‘kupa piti’ (‘white man’s hole in the ground’), aptly describes Coober Pedy’s famous underground lifestyle, with more than half its residents living in ‘dugouts’ carved from the rose-pink sandstone hillsides to escape the scorching summer heat and occasional dust storms.
Many tourist attractions are also found underground, such as shops, churches, art galleries, and the award-winning Desert Cave Hotel, the world’s first four-star luxury property of its type, complete with mining display and opal gallery. While it may not be pretty in the conventional sense, Coober Pedy is undeniably South Australia’s ‘Queen of the Desert’.
COOBER PEDY FAST FACTS
Coober Pedy is 850km north of Adelaide via the Princes Highway (A1) and Stuart Highway (A87).
Accommodation: Hotels, motels, backpackers, B&Bs, camping and caravan parks.
Attractions: The Breakaways, Desert Cave and Gallery, Faye’s Underground Home, Old Timers Mine, The Big Winch Scenic View Cafe & Opal Shop, Saint Peter & Paul’s Catholic Church, The Underground Art Gallery, Umoona Opal Mine and Museum, Origin Energy Fossil Gallery, Tom’s Working Opal Mine.
Contact: Coober Pedy Visitor Information Centre, Hutchison St, Coober Pedy: (08) 8672 4617 or 1800 637 076, www.opalcapitaloftheworld.com.au
7. FLINDERS CHASE NATIONAL PARK, KANGAROO ISLAND
Kangaroo Island (or ‘KI’ as the locals call it) is Australia’s third-largest island and one of South Australia’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting over 140,000 visitors each year for its coastal splendour and pristine bushland. The island retains more than half of its native old-growth vegetation, much of which is dedicated to national parks and wilderness protection areas.
One of these, Flinders Chase NP, in KI’s south-west corner, offers some of the world’s best nature-based recreation, with numerous hiking trails in bush wilderness, secluded high-energy beaches and ready access to abundant wildlife.
The park contains two iconic geological marvels: ‘Remarkable Rocks’, naturally sculptured formations precariously balanced atop a granite outcrop, and ‘Admirals Arch’, a natural rock arch shaped by the powerful Southern Ocean and home to a large breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals. Cape du Couedic Lighthouse is an elegant link to the island’s rich maritime past and beautifully restored pioneer cottages provide unique visitor accommodation amid the west end’s pastoral heritage.
The park’s rocky coastline is the graveyard of numerous ships whose wrecks form another chapter in the island’s fascinating history. Don’t be fooled by the park’s coastal setting. Standing on a soaring granite cliff or a deserted beach looking out on a limitless ocean, Flinders Chase feels as starkly remote as any ‘outback’ location in South Australia.
FLINDERS CHASE NATIONAL PARK FAST FACTS
SeaLink operates a vehicle and passenger ferry daily between Cape Jervis, 110km south of Adelaide, and Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island. The Flinders Chase NP Visitor Centre is 140km west of Penneshaw via sealed roads. Unsealed roads within the national park are accessible by 2WDs with care.
There are three campgrounds within the national park. The Rocky River Precinct is caravan-accessible and has toilets, showers, gas barbecues and water. Heritage accommodation is also available at Mays Homestead, Postman’s Cottage and lightkeepers’ cottages at Cape du Couedic. A wide range of accommodation is available outside the park, the nearest being the Western KI Caravan Park.
Attractions: Admirals Arch, Remarkable Rocks, Cape du Couedic Lighthouse, bushwalking, surfing and photography.
Contacts: SeaLink: 13 13 01, www.sealink.com.au; Kangaroo Island Visitor Information Centre, Penneshaw: (08) 8553 1185 or 1800 811 080, www.tourkangarooisland.com.au; Natural Resources kangaroo Island: (08) 8553 4444, www.naturalresources.sa.gov.au/kangarooisland; Flinders Chase Visitors Centre: (08) 8553 4490; Western KI Caravan Park: (08) 8559 7201, www.westernki.com.au
8. INNES NATIONAL PARK, YORKE PENINSULA
Occupying the toe of the boot-shaped Yorke Peninsula, Innes National Park is blessed with some of the wildest and most spectacular coastal scenery in South Australia. Its majestic cliffs, rugged headlands and long, sweeping beaches are pounded by Southern Ocean swells to create a high-energy coast that contrasts starkly with the placid salt lakes and serene bushland nestled behind the dunes and limestone ridges.
As many as 200,000 visitors are drawn to the park each year to tramp the clifftop trails, surf world-class breaks on the ocean beaches, fish from rocks and jetties or scuba dive in sapphire waters.
It’s not just nature-based activities on offer here; a wealth of mining and maritime history awaits discovery at the Inneston heritage precinct near Stenhouse Bay and along the Investigator Strait Shipwreck Trail from Cape Spencer lighthouse to the remains of the Ethel on the beach that bears her name.
Families come for the simple pleasure of camping in secluded bush sites surrounded by a passing parade of birds and wildlife or strolling on deserted beaches where the only footprints in the sand are their own.
INNES NATIONAL PARK FAST FACTS
Innes National Park lies at the south-west tip of Yorke Peninsula, 300km from Adelaide via Port Wakefield, Ardrossan and Marion Bay.
A good sealed road runs through the park from Stenhouse Bay to Pondalowie Surf Break carpark; an unsealed road continues to Browns Beach campground and unsealed side roads to Cape Spencer and Inneston Historic Township are suitable for 2WDs.
There are seven campgrounds within the national park; those at Stenhouse Bay and Pondalowie Bay have toilets and gas barbecues and can accommodate caravans and camper trailers. Campers need to be self-sufficient. There are also self-contained cottages for hire. A range of alternative accommodation, including caravan parks, is also available at nearby Marion Bay and other towns in the lower Yorke Peninsula.
Attractions: Mining and maritime history, Inneston Historic Village, shipwrecks, lighthouses, bushwalking, wildlife, birdwatching, photography, fishing, surfing and scuba diving.
Contacts: NPWSA Yorke District Office: (08) 8854 3200, www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks; Yorke Tourism: http://yorkepeninsula.com.au; Yorke Peninsula Visitor Centre: 1800 202 445, www.visityorkepeninsula.com.au
9. LINCOLN NATIONAL PARK, EYRE PENINSULA
Lincoln National Park is one of the South Australia’s oldest reserves and, together with the Memory Cove Wilderness Protection Area, conserves 31,500ha of magnificent coastal wilderness at the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula. The park’s northern coastline stretches to historic Cape Donington to enclose beautiful Boston Bay, Australia’s largest natural harbour. Its east coast faces Spencer Gulf in a series of low granite hills interspersed with rocky platforms, narrow inlets and secluded beaches.
Rugged headlands and steep limestone cliffs form an impressive rampart against the mighty Southern Ocean from Cape Tournefort to Cape Catastrophe, a prominent navigational landmark for 19th century shipping. To the west, deserted beaches and massive, wind-sculpted sand dunes fringe Sleaford Bay and the Thorny Passage Marine Sanctuary, renowned as a nursery for southern right whales.
The park’s main camping areas are accessible by 2WDs but the wilderness area is strictly 4WD all the way to the pristine isolation of Memory Cove’s sugar-white beach. In 1802, Matthew Flinders erected a plaque here in honour of eight of the Investigator’s crew who disappeared while searching for fresh water. A monument to Flinders himself stands atop Stamford Hill, with panoramic views across this outback wilderness by the sea.
LINCOLN NATIONAL PARK FAST FACTS
Port Lincoln is 680km from Adelaide and 345km south of Port Augusta via the Lincoln Highway. The entrance to Lincoln National Park is 13km south-west of Port Lincoln via Proper Bay Rd.
Camping within the park ranges from well-developed campsites, with pit toilets and limited drinking water, accessible by conventional vehicles, to secluded, undeveloped sites accessible only by 4WDs. Campers must be self-sufficient. Donington Cottage offers self-contained accommodation for up to six people. There are hotels, motels, cabins and caravan parks in Port Lincoln.
Attractions: Bushwalking, four-wheel-driving, bush camping, snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming, fishing, birdwatching, photography and beachcombing.
Contacts: Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre: (08) 8683 3544 or 1300 788 378; www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks
10. WILLOW SPRINGS STATION, CENTRAL FLINDERS RANGES
The Flinders Ranges is regarded by many as South Australia’s ultimate outback destination, with rich Aboriginal heritage, pioneering history, incomparable natural beauty and 4WD adventure. The experience is all the more memorable for living it on a fair dinkum working sheep station like Willow Springs, which has all these things and more.
Nestled in a valley of cypress pines among the ochre hills north-east of Wilpena Pound, the station offers true bush hospitality and a range of accommodation that includes the former family homestead, rustic cottages and secluded campsites, all with 300 square kilometres of outback at the doorstep.
Marked walking trails explore stony creek beds lined with towering red gums and rocky gorges with Aboriginal etchings. Wildlife roams the hills and corellas call among the pine groves and grass trees.
The station is also home to ‘Skytrek’, an exhilarating 80km 4WD adventure linking station roads and old mining tracks through ochre-red gorges, across mulga plains and along ridges with panoramic views of the surrounding ranges. You can self-drive it with the aid of an informative mud map or you can jump on board a guided tour that comes with morning tea and lunch. Whichever way you do it, this is the South Australian outback at its very best.
WILLOW SPRINGS STATION FAST FACTS
Willow Springs Station is 467km north of Adelaide via Hawker and the Flinders Ranges Way.
Camping options include bush camping with fire rings and barbecue plates and unpowered campsites suitable for caravans near the homestead with access to an amenities block and camp kitchen. Self-contained accommodation is also available in The Homestead, Overseer’s Cottage, Jackaroo’s Cottage, Shearer’s Quarters and Moxan’s Hut.
Attractions: Central Flinders Ranges, SkyTrek 4WD Tour, guided 4WD tours, horse riding, bushwalking, sightseeing, photography and local history.
Contacts: Willow Springs Station, (08) 8648 0016 or 1800 777 889, www.skytrekwillowsprings.com.au; Wilpena Pound Visitor Information Centre: (08) 8648 0048 or 1800 805 802; Flinders Ranges Visitor Information Centre: (08) 8620 6419 or 1800 220 980, www.frc.sa.gov.au/tourism