Prepare to be wowed by South Australia’s natural landscapes. From its green capital, fringed by open parklands, vine-clad hills and sandy shores, to its Outback where unfathomably ancient geological formations and fossils can be found. Then there is easy-to-reach Kangaroo Island where native flora and fauna thrive and rambling wetlands are set alive with birds. This state dazzles with its diversity. The best thing though, it’s all so easy to get to from Adelaide and there are myriad ways to enjoy it from hikes and bike rides to kayaking expeditions.
1. It is home to one of only two national park cities in the world
Cultural, creative and sporty with hip districts and a thriving dining scene. Adelaide has all the right ingredients for a cool capital. It also has an impressive point of difference from Australia’s other state capitals: it’s one of only two National Park Cities in the world (along with London). You never feel far away from nature in this easy-going city thanks to its many wild and green spaces. As well as spectacular inner-city botanic gardens, lush parklands cover 30% of the city, home to endemic birds and butterflies. Elder Park on the banks of the River Torrens, which flows through the city from the Mount Lofty Ranges, is one of many green spaces. The river is the focus of a rewilding project to bring platypus back to its waters while new wetlands are being established to boost biodiversity. Nature skirts Adelaide’s fringes too – in fact, you can go from bar hopping to bushwalking in less than 15 minutes.
2. It offers truly up-close (yet responsible) wildlife experiences
Top of everyone’s Aussie hitlist is seeing a koala and South Australia makes it easy. In just 15 minutes from the CBD, you can be staring up at the snoozy creatures in the stunning bushland of the Adelaide Hills. Kangaroos abound here too, as they do in many parts of the state. Kangaroo Island, a short 30 minute flight from Adelaide, is a prime habitat for native wildlife, including arguably the cutest creatures of the sea, Australian sea lions. Join small boat tours to play with them in the waves, along with bottlenose dolphins, or go on guided beach walks of Seal Bay to see the 800-strong colony on shore. You can swim with these “puppies of the sea” on the Eyre Peninsula too. As you can giant Australian cuttlefish. They might not have the cute factor, but they are one of the state’s most fascinating creatures. Masses of them congregate off Whyalla between May and August for a spectacular (and unique) mating and spawning event.
3. The birdwatching is out of this world
Avid ornithologists are in for a treat in South Australia. Its woodlands, wetlands, coast and craggy canyons are a magnet for birds. The state has over 450 species, with 250 found within a one-and-a-half-hour radius of Adelaide’s centre. Likely spots in woodlands near the capital include the brown falcon, Australian owlet-nightjar, rainbow lorikeet and white-naped honeyeater. Hooded plovers live on the city’s beaches year-round while tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds arrive along the coastline each summer. The Coorong, a 140km-long string of saltwater lagoons edged by sand dunes and islands, teems with shorebirds and waterbirds. Kayaking along this coastal wilderness is one of the best ways to observe the 240 species that exist here. Inland, the rocky outcrops of the Gawler Ranges on the Eyre Peninsula are also alive with birdlife – eagle-eyed adventurers can spot the Australian ringneck parrot, superb fairywren and maybe even the rare short-tailed grass wren. The mobs of emu are hard to miss, though, as they dart about the saltbush plains.
Hop over to Kangaroo Island for more great birdwatching. The island is home to over 250 species of bird including the most famous, the endangered Kangaroo Island Glossy Black Cockatoo. In 2017, this sub-species had recovered from 158 birds to 370 and they’re often found on the eastern reaches of the Island. For the best chance of viewing these critically endangered birds, book a tour with an expert local guide.
4. As are the natural landscapes
As well as astonishing wildlife, Kangaroo Island boasts extraordinary rock formations, shaped by the pounding Southern Ocean. Flinders Chase National Park is the place to see the surreal boulders that are aptly named Remarkable Rocks, and Admirals Arch, home to hundreds of long-nosed fur seals. On the mainland, the Gawler Ranges has incredible geological formations like the perfectly formed Organ Pipes, created by volcanic eruptions more than 1,500-million years ago. Just to the north lie salt lakes, their shimmering white surfaces fringed by fiery red hills. Lake Gairdner is Australia’s third largest salt lake, but you’ll find the largest in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges. Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre (about the size of Belgium) is an arid dry salt pan most of time, but every four years it floods to become a vast inland sea. It’s one of endless wonders in this startling landscape where rare fossils and ancient rock art have been unearthed. The most awe-inspiring sight is Wilpena Pound, an immense natural amphitheatre and meeting place for the Adnyamathanha people for millennia.
5. It's easy to explore by foot
South Australia is a walking wonderland with a variety of landscapes, terrains, and wildlife to encounter along the way. Trails run the gamut from short loops through stringybark forests in the Adelaide Hills and easy coastal strolls to secluded beaches to multi-day treks in the untouched wilderness. For an incredible adventure on foot, try one of Great Walks Australia’s private guided hikes. Its three-night Arkaba Walk leads into the Ikara-Flinders Ranges, traversing craggy sandstone bluffs and dry creek beds lined with river red gums that shelter a plethora of native wildlife. Walkers sleep under the stars in swag bags (with the luxury of showers and chef-prepared meals). Another epic trek traverses part of Australia’s largest river system, the Murray River. The four-day Murray River Walk goes through ancient red gum forests and spectacular floodplain wetlands with accommodation onboard a houseboat that moves along the river with you every day. To really stretch your legs, take on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. The 61km, five-day trek covers swamps, lagoons, woodlands, coastal scrub, towering cliffs and white sand beaches.
6. Or on two wheels
From its cities and coastline to its wine-growing regions and national parks, South Australia is laced with scenic cycle trails. Whether you’re up for a gentle pedal-powered pootle or high-octane adventure, you’ll find it here. Adelaide has plenty of bike paths and a free bike scheme, encouraging people to explore by bike. One rewarding route goes from the CBD to Glenelg Beach. Stretching 33km along an old railway track in the Clare Valley, the Riesling Trail meanders through farmland, vines, eucalypt forests and pretty villages. There are plenty of spots to stop enroute from art galleries to cellar doors for a tipple or two. Or embark on an electric bike expedition on Kangaroo Island or around the Eyre Peninsula – you can cover longer distances without the thigh burn. If that all sounds too relaxed, get your heart pumping and tyres dusty zipping along dirt tracks in Cleland National Park or Sturt Gorge Recreation Park. Just outside Adelaide, both have a range of mountain bike trails.
Escapegoat Adventures are Adelaide’s number one bike tour company, and whether you’re after a day trip or an epic multi-day adventure, they can help you to explore the region on two wheels.
7. Its coastline is incredible
From family-friendly beaches and dazzling white-sand coves to unique rock formations and superb dive sites, South Australia’s coastline is spectacular. The popular beaches of Glenelg, Henley, Brighton and Semaphore are a stone’s throw from Adelaide’s CBD, where you can swim, paddleboard and spot wild dolphins. Just south, the Fleurieu Peninsula is peppered with pretty bays and seaside towns. For a spot of sandy solitude, the Yorke Peninsula lies just an hour away with footprint-free bays and soaring cliffs for an exhilarating stroll and swim. Further west, the Eyre Peninsula has endless empty beaches lapped by sapphire-hued water and edged by bushland. Although you may spot a kangaroo or emu enjoying the scenery too. Known as the “seafood frontier”, this is the place to enjoy the bounty of the sea: freshly plucked Pacific oysters at Coffin Bay are a highlight. Edge east to the Limestone Coast and you’ll find long sandy stretches, surfing, prehistoric caves and cenotes you can dive in.
Make it happen
Fly to Adelaide with Qatar Airways, named World’s Best Airline at the 2022 Skytrax Awards. Stretch out in comfort, onboard one of the youngest fleets. While you dine, sleep or watch some of the 4,000-plus entertainment options, you’re sure to enjoy the inflight experience.
A 12-night holiday to Australia with Trailfinders including flights, 2 nights Adelaide, 10 nights motorhome hire for travel to Flinders Ranges and return ferry transfers to Kangaroo Island costs from £2,399 per person (based on two sharing). Call Trailfinders on 020 7368 1354.