8 Surprising Places to Visit in South Australia
South Australia is so much more than Adelaide’s city buzz or the Barossa Valley’s exquisite wine – it’s filled with curious places in every corner.
Discover 8 Surprising Places to Visit in South Australia
Wilpena Pound’s natural mountain amphitheatre
In the vast expanse of the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park you will find Wilpena Pound, a majestic mountain range with a natural amphitheatre at its centre. This spectacular feat of nature covers eight times the area of Uluru, yet is relatively unknown, even among Australians.
While Wilpena Pound may fly largely under the radar, we heartily encourage you to soar above it on a scenic Bush Pilots Australia flight. Take in the Elder Range, St. Mary’s Peak and the Chace and Druid Ranges during a 30-minute scenic flight. Complementing your flight with exploration on foot is highly recommended. Take a hike through Wilpena Pound’s natural amphitheatre, admiring the crater-esque landscape and keeping any eye out for Indigenous rock art.
Wilpena Pound is around six hours’ drive north-west of Adelaide and makes up part of the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, an extraordinary 800-million-year-old landscape that has been home to Adnyamathanha people for tens of thousands of years.
Ethereal pink lakes
It’s difficult to find a more dreamlike experience than South Australia’s vibrant pink lakes. Contrasting with the greens and blues of regional South Australia, this otherworldly phenomenon has a rather scientific explanation: the lakes’ high salinity levels combine with salt-loving algae and halobacteria, turning them a deep shade of pink.
The undisputed star of the show is Lake MacDonnell on the Eyre Peninsula. The super-high salt concentration here turns the lake an extra-vibrant pink, resulting in an intense clash of colours. Lake MacDonnell sits pretty 865km from Adelaide and can be reached via the dirt track in Penong (the closest town). Follow the road through the lake to Cactus Beach, an ocean wonderland with super swells for surfers.
Other pink lakes well worth a visit include Lake Bumbunga in the Clare Valley, the outback’s Lake Hart and Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre (on the rare occasions it fills with water), and Lake Albert on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
Australia’s largest salt lake and the mysterious Marree Man
The humbling, otherworldly experience of a visit to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is not to be missed. With the north lake an incredible 144 kilometres long and 77 kilometres wide, this is Australia’s largest salt lake – and, at 15.2 metres below sea level, also the lowest point in Australia.
The lake is normally dry, allowing visitors to experience true isolation as the seemingly endless desert stretches as far as the eye can see. Flood waters cover the lake once every eight years on average, causing it to burst into life as water birds descend in their thousands.
By the south lake waits one of South Australia’s biggest mysteries – the Marree Man, an outline of a giant man in the earth, believed to depict an Aboriginal hunter. Etched into the remote desert, its origins and creator remain unknown, making this one of the most intriguing sights in South Australia.
Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is 697 kilometres north of Adelaide and accessible by standard vehicle (provided it hasn’t been raining).
Spectacular coastal scenery at Flinders Chase National Park
As Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island recovers following the 2019 bushfires, visitors are encouraged to experience the rejuvenation of this incredible part of South Australia. A self-drive route winds its way through the park to iconic destinations including Remarkable Rocks, Weirs Cove, Cape du Couedic Lighthouse and Admirals Arch.
Take the boardwalk down to Admirals Arch, a picturesque spot that affords glimpses of the sea through the natural rock formation. Watch the waves crash against the rocks below, where New Zealand fur seals can often be spotted. Less than 10 minutes’ drive from Admirals Arch, you can marvel at the aptly named Remarkable Rocks, an impressive cluster of granite boulders, precariously balanced on the edge of the coast.
Flinders Chase National Park is in the west of the island, around 1.5 hours’ drive from Kingscote. Guided tours of the park are also available, showcasing the remote and spectacular coastline of the Southern Ocean and the animals that call it home.
The world’s largest open-range zoo
Discover a wildlife lover’s paradise at Monarto Safari Park, the world’s largest open-range zoo and home to more than 500 animals. Showcasing 50 species of exotic and native mammals, birds and reptiles, Monarto offers the largest safari experience outside of Africa.
Animals freely roam the park’s 1,500 hectares, best explored by hopping on the Zu-Loop Bus. Traverse the open plains and view Australia’s largest giraffe herd and lion pride in a natural, safari-style setting – making sure to hop off at the designated viewing platforms. Other animals you may spot include zebras, meerkats, monkeys, hyenas, wallabies, cheetahs and rhinoceroses.
If you’re feeling adventurous, explore the park by foot on one of its many walking trails. Those feeling brave can try the Lions 360 experience (the only of its kind), where you'll walk through a tunnel and (safely) emerge inside a cage surrounded by one of Australia’s largest lion prides.
The park is located 60 minutes’ drive (70 kilometres) from Adelaide and is the gateway to the picturesque Murraylands region.
d’Arenberg Cube’s awe-inspiring optical illusion
Set among the Mourvèdre vines in McLaren Vale, on the Fleurieu Peninsula, the d’Arenberg Cube is one of South Australia’s most awe-inspiring icons. Based on a Rubik’s Cube design, the unique structure creates an optical illusion of floating in the vineyard, offering spectacular vine views from every level.
This A$14 million-dollar piece of architecture crafted from glass and steel, was dreamed up by d’Arenberg’s chief winemaker, Chester Osborn. It houses a cellar door, tasting rooms, restaurant, art installations and an Alternate Realities Museum, offering tactile experiences such as a wine aroma room (via the help of a smartphone app).
Dine among the vines at the Verandah Restaurant in the Cube. The degustation menu is best enjoyed with matched wines and features impeccably created dishes such as seared Hervey Bay scallops with cauliflower purée and fried chorizo, lobster medallion with blue swimmer crab and prawn ravioli, and a roast beetroot and caramelised onion tart.
Mount Gambier’s glowing Ghost Mushrooms
Every year between May and June, one of South Australia’s pine forests lights up with the ethereal glow of green ‘Ghost Mushrooms’. A bioluminescent species of fungus native to Australia, the Ghost Mushroom (Omphalotus nidiformis) lights up after dark as the result of a chemical reaction between fungal enzymes and oxygen.
Ghost Mushroom Lane opens annually, inviting the curious to experience the soft green glow firsthand. Ghost Mushrooms can reach a size of up to 20 centimetres wide and glow bright enough for visitors to read in the dark.
Ghost Mushroom Lane opens after dark during May and June and is located on the Limestone Coast in OneFortyOne Plantation’s commercial pine forest near Glencoe, 16 kilometres from Mount Gambier. Parking is available on site, and ForestrySA runs tours with trained guides, who can help you get the most out of your visit with photos and educational commentary.
The Barossa Valley, from above
That the Barossa Valley is home to fantastic wine is no secret – but did you know that you can take a hot air balloon ride over the world’s oldest vines? Equal parts peaceful and exhilarating, a hot air balloon ride in the Barossa Valley lets you soar above this world-famous wine region at sunrise, with expert commentary and countless photo opportunities along the way. Let your experienced pilot take you up, up and away for panoramic views of the vineyards, Barossa Range and even the ocean.
Hot air balloon rides last around an hour (flight time) and, depending on the tour provider, can be complemented with additional experiences such as champagne breakfast once you’re back on solid ground.
The Barossa Valley lies 75km from Adelaide, with a number of providers running bus tours between the city and the Barossa.