With clifftops overlooking the mighty Murray, magical pink salt lakes, a world-renowned national park, endless wildlife photography opportunities, and the chance to try your hand at adventure activities like mountain biking, fishing, or 4WDing – the Coorong is a dream destination.
We’ve planned the perfect trip, full of ‘off-the-beaten-path’ stops that will show nature lovers the finest of the Coorong and surrounding regions.
We’re beginning our journey in Tailem Bend, a one hour drive from Adelaide. If you’ve been curious to see the river’s high flows recede, the clifftops that line the Murray make for the perfect lookout spot. Cosi’s Rhino is a great stop to stretch your legs and offers a great lookout across Dickson Reserve and the Tailem Bend ferry.
If you’re keen to explore on foot, the River Bend Heritage Trail links Tailem Bend and Wellington in a moderate 25-kilometre circuit by weaving you through the bushland with clifftop scenery of historic dairy properties at Jervois. Loved by locals, Pangarinda Botanic Garden is actually one of our region’s best kept secrets, with 30-hectares of rare and threatened native flora. During a walk through here, you should keep a keen eye out for small quails darting from bush to bush, or New Holland Honeyeaters chirping to each other.
The heritage trail will also bring you to Mowantjie Willauwar Conservation Park, a beautiful native pine forest that will become part of the 450-kilometre Murray Coorong Trail stretching from Cadell to Salt Creek (follow the trail updates, and post-flood reopening on the Facebook page here).
If paddling is more your thing, then experience the natural beauty from the water with the Lower Murray Canoe Trail. Spanning 21kms of the river from Tailem Bend to Wellington, this interactive experience has signage and geocaches throughout your path – featuring information on topics such as the 1956 floods, ferries, locks, native fish, birds, vegetation, and environmental water use.
Tip: If you’re into Geocaching, make sure you have the app open and search for some local caches. A community program undertaken a few years back saw extra treasures being placed across the district!
Before heading to the Coorong, why not take your time and meander through the mallee and the region referred to as “the Heart of the Parks”
On the way to Tintinara, you’ll get to the small town of Coonalpyn, renowned for having the best waffles in the region, South Australia’s First silo art and a township of quirky and creative public art. Wanting to spend a night here, then the Coonalpyn Caravan Park offers free camping and during the warmer months you can cool down in the local pool.
Tintinara is known as the “heart of the parks”, and you’ll soon understand why. Stop into the visitor information outlet for a wonderful selection of local produce (and toilet pit stop). Lace up your sneakers and discover the scenery with a visit to Messent Conservation Park (the natural habitat of the MalleeFowl and Silky Mouse), and Mount Boothby (featuring the famous Tolmer Rocks).
If you’re travelling with the family, the Tintinara Nature Play space (including the much-loved flying fox) will make for a fantastic stop to stretch your legs after some driving. And if you’re looking to stay the night, Lake Indawarra just over the road, is a great option with free campsites for RVs, caravans and camper trailers, a disc (frisbee) golf course, a BBQ shelter, and picnic tables.
From here, you’ll be close to the border of Ngarkat Conservation Park, South Australia’s largest patch of remnant native vegetation. Whether you want to 4WD on the remote tracks, or wander one of the 10 walking trails, reality will slip away in this paradise of bushland.
To keep the fun times rolling, wind your way back through the Mallee scrublands until you hit Meningie. You’ll be welcomed to this small waterfront town by panoramic views of the gorgeous Lake Albert.
If you like Lake Albert, you’ll love the loop drive that follows it’s edge, boasting sweeping views of the Narrung Peninsula, and offering a chance to understand the local Ngarrindjeri culture with a stop into Raukkan. Here you can discover the history of local legend David Unaipon (the face on the Australian $50 note) – a famous inventor and author born at Raukkan and honoured through displays at the local museum. You’ll also drive past the famous Raukkan Church which adorns the other side of the $50, while also passing a giant mural (created by Guido van Helten and Damien Shen), new nature play space and more.
When it comes time to cross over the Narrung ferry, take the opportunity to visit Australia’s only inland lighthouse. Point Malcolm divides Lake Albert and Lake Alexandrina, and while it’s no longer operational, it was used to mark the narrow passage for ships between 1878 and 1931.
In all of these places, you’ll want to have your camera on hand, because the incredible birdlife and Coorong environment will provide you with the shot of a lifetime.
If you’re looking to refuel after your journey, you can’t go past a fresh fillet of Coorong mullet. This regional delicacy is featured on numerous menus of local restaurants and pubs (and it doesn’t get any fresher). If you have the time, dedicate a breakfast in Meningie for Freshies Café and Bar on the edge of the lake and adjoining the local cheese factory. While you’re in town, check out Coorong Cottage Industries for some fun art and craft supplies. Their team displays the work of local artists and artisans – from paintings to jams.
If it’s adventure you’re after, take a trip out amongst the Coorong with fisherman Glen from award-winning Coorong Wildside Tours. The “Wildman of the Coorong” will give you an immersive experience like no other, spotting wildlife, reeling in your own catch, and getting a look at their seafood processing factory.
Now for the grand finale, our wild wonderland of biodiversity and endangered flora and fauna -the Coorong National Park. Explore the land between where the river meets the sea and journey through the iconic country that inspired Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy.
For keen bushwalkers, make use of the walking trails. Our favourite is the Jack Point Pelican Observatory Walk, which is a 20-minute stroll that winds through the sand dunes to a viewing area overlooking pelican hot spots (you may even find your own Mr Percival).
To squeeze in a bit more action, strap your helmet on and mountain bike through the trails, or better yet, 4WD over the dunes at Salt Creek and on to 90 Mile Beach for one of the best views you’ll ever see. [Tip: This is for experienced 4WDers. Make sure you have appropriate equipment and read information on navigating the 4WD trails here.]
While’s you’re on the beach, why not catch your own dinner? Cast a line on the oceanside and wait for a bite – or if it’s the right time of year, you could have a go at collecting cockles.
For boat fishing, set your sights between the Murray Mouth and Mark Point. This lagoon is where the action is, brimming with Coorong mullet and Mulloway.
On the other side of Coorong National Park, you’ll find Goolwa. Here, sightseeing and adventure tours are offered by the Spirit of the Coorong’s local experts who are unmatched in their knowledge of the local area.
If you’re heading up in late April, make the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival a point of call – this two-day biennial festival of maritime history will amaze you. This year, the finest wooden boats will gather at a new location for a unique event at Alexandrina Cove, Hindmarsh Island.
The Coorong National Park offers several designated campsites with access to toilets allowing you to pitch a tent or bring in a caravan on Loop Road, 28 Mile Crossing and at Parnka Point. The 42 Mile Crossing camp ground is great for families with spacious lawned areas and a walking trail from the campground to the beach. Don’t forget to book your campsite and check for details on Park closures and beach access
There’s also free campgrounds located on the Lakefront by the ferry, offering views of the Point Malcolm Lighthouse.
Those looking for all convenience of a fully serviced caravan park try the Lake Albert Caravan Park (with powered sites and cabins).
Those travelling the Dukes highway will find a tree lined caravan park in Coonalpyn, free RV parking in Tintinara, plus local motels you can spend a night or two at.
Upgrade to a more luxurious place nearby with River Shack Rentals’ riverfront holiday homes for families or groups in Tailem Bend or Wellington, or enjoy contemporary waterfront accommodation inside the national park at Coorong Waterfront Retreat or the eco-friendly Coorong Cabins.
Experience the magic of the Coorong as a local and explore our hidden gems! Add this to your itinerary below.