The best kind of road trip is one that takes you on an adventure before you reach your destination.
That’s why savvy road-trippers are taking a few extra days on their travels between Melbourne and Adelaide, allowing them to take in the beauty, unique experiences and hidden secrets of the Coorong.
Never heard of the place? Then you’re missing out! And, chances are, you’re spending far too long in the passenger seat (watching mind-numbing bitumen and bush whiz past) when you could be having some of the best holiday fun, on your way to your planned road-trip holiday.
The Coorong is the perfect place to break up the drive if you’re tackling the Adelaide to Melbourne Touring Route, the Great Ocean Road or going on a coastal adventure via the Southern Ocean Touring Route.
Think action-packed thrills, family-friendly sights, local brews, group adventures, premium food and wine and Insta-worthy backdrops that you won’t find anywhere else.
No idea where to start planning your stops? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in our locals’ guide to the best hidden gems of the Coorong, that will turn your interstate commute from ho-hum into an escape to remember.
Feeling cramped in the back seat? If your legs are desperate for a stretch, make Tintinara the place to stop.
Challenge your mates – or the kids – to a game of disc golf. It’s just like golf but instead of a ball you can whiz flying discs from a set tee to a chain basket. Tintinara is home to SA’s first Disc Golf Park at Lake Indawarra and you can play the nine-hole course for free – just pick up your gear from the Heart of the Parks info centre (also a great place to grab a coffee).
If nature floats your boat, exploring Lake Indewarra is a must. It’s a scenic spot for a picnic, or follow the walking trail. It’s also perfect for swimming and canoeing in warmer weather. It’s also a perfect spot to pull up for the night, with RV facilities and a campground.
Let the kids run wild in the Tintinara Adventure Nature Playground, or go on a bird-watching adventure with a visit to Ngarkat Conservation Park where there are easy hikes to prime bird spotting sites. If you’re lucky, you might spot the endangered Emu Wren, which is thriving there after a re-release of the species in 2018.
If you’re heading to SA from Victoria, one of the first tastes of the Coorong you’ll get is at Coonalpyn – this little gem has some super-sized reasons to stop.
The first of these is visible on your approach to the town. The world-famous Coonalpyn silo art, painted on the giant 30-metre high canvas of grain silos in the town’s main street by world-renowned mural artist Guido van Helten, is a beacon for travellers that you really need to see up close to appreciate.
While you’re stretching your legs, you’ll notice Coonalpyn has some serious artistic cred. That’s because the Coorong District Council and local community – made a significant investment into bringing public art onto the streets as part of the Coonalpyn Arts Trail.
Looking for something your tastebuds will admire? We bet a hot, fresh waffle will hit the spot. The crew at Waffles and Jaffles know how to keep travellers fuelled, with their fast and friendly service. We love the waffles with golden syrup and the old-school jaffles (just like Nan used to make).
Want to take your nature adventure to the next level? Then you’d better add in time to the Coorong National Park, it’s an outdoor-lover’s paradise.
There are some great quiet campsites here, like Tea Tree Crossing and 42 Mile Crossing (which are also two of the best access points) and you’ll have a host of adventure activities on your doorstep.
The peaceful waters of the Coorong are ideal for paddling and fishing, while the rugged terrain is a great challenge for 4WD enthusiasts.
Grab a park map and plan your own hiking expedition and pack the binoculars – you never know what bird and animal life you’ll spot along the way. After all, the Coorong is home to the legendary Storm Boy – so there’ll be pelicans aplenty. It’s also a RAMSAR-listed wetland of international significance.
Fancy a feed of the freshest seafood? Meningie, situated on the beautiful Lake Albert, is the place to taste the Coorong. First on your list should be Coorong Wild Seafood – the team do all the hard work of catching fresh and saltwater species so you can grab a sample from their factory to take away. (Or if you’re super keen, book a trip on their ‘Catch and Eat’ tour).
For an authentic Coorong experience, look for ‘Coorong Mullet’ on the menu at any of the local eateries. You can even pair it with a pint of Lake Albert Larger, or a glass of local wine, at the Coorong Brewing Co.
A little further along the coast, where the Coorong meets Lake Alexandrina, you’ll find something completely surprising – an inland light house. It’s the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. But, no, the builders of the Point Malcolm Lighthouse at Narrung weren’t crazy – it was built to guide ships between Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert on the busy trade route connected to the Murray River.
While you’re taking in some local history, explore Raukkan. It was home to Ngarrindjeri preacher and inventor David Unaipon – who appears on our $50 note, along with the Raukkan mission church, which you can also visit. Remember the Coonalpyn silo art? Well, Guido van Helten’s also been busy painting murals on the walls around Raukkan, along with fellow artist Damien Shen. Pop into the town’s super-friendly general store for some snacks to refuel while you’re taking in the sights.
Need more time to see it all? Then why not make camp at the free campground at Narrung.
If you have kids in tow on your road trip – or if you’re just a big kid at heart – then you absolutely have to add Tailem Bend to your itinerary.
Remember the billy kart rides you went on when you were little? Well, what if we told you there’s something even better, and even adults can do it?! If you love motorsport, then The Bend Motorsport Park has to be your first stop in Tailem. It’s open seven days for coffee and meals (including breakfast), you can check out the incredible cars on display or watch the action on the track. Want some track thrills of your own? Then book an adrenaline-packed go-karting experience (options available for both kids and adults). If all that wears you out, you can even put yourself up for the night at The Bend in the Big 4 Caravan Park on site, or the luxury Rydges Pit Lane Hotel (which quite literally looks over the top of Pit Lane).
Tailem Bend’s main street is also the ideal place to stop and stretch your legs – and to let the kids (fur and human children) run free. It’s uniquely equipped with both a fenced dog park for your canine companions, and one of the best children’s playgrounds around these parts – complete with a genuine steam train.
Bit of a steam buff? Pop into the Tailem Info Station, which is in the historic Railway Station building right next door to the playground, where the local volunteers will be happy to guide you through the museum. Or, if you want to know more about the town’s history, grab a map and follow the Tailem Bend Historic Rail Trail.
One thing the locals might not want you to know is that you’ll find some of the best coffee in town at main street café Little Local Co (we’re not so good at sharing sometimes, okay guys?). This is the kind of cute, edgy café you’d expect to find tucked away in a Melbourne laneway. It’s the perfect spot for a premium caffeine fix, served with a smile, and we just dare you to walk away from the cake cabinet without taking a sweet treat for the road.
Prefer your treats super-sized? Then you’ll want to pay a visit to award-winning Tailem Bend Bakery for one of their famous giant donuts and also home to the best sausage rolls in SA (but, hey, save some for us!).
Want to really make the most of your road trip? The Coorong has some of the best hidden – and affordable – places to stay to break up the long drive (BYO tent optional).
Holidaymakers with their own RV will find a warm welcome along the Dukes and Princes Highways with all the right facilities in Tintinara, Coonalpyn, Tailem Bend and Meningie, or in Peake for those taking the Mallee Highway.
There are also some great caravan parks and campsites en route.
We love the Lake Albert Caravan Park at Meningie, with its beautiful lakefront location that puts you close to the action for water sports and swimming in warmer months, and has communal fire pits to ward off the chill on cooler nights. Westbrook Park out of Tailem Bend is ideal for river lovers – with campsites so close to the water’s edge you’ll be able to cast your fishing line from the comfort of your deckchair.
For something a well-kept secret spot, check out the options at Noonameena, including luxurious spots like the Coorong Cabins and Coorong Waterfront Retreat in the heart of the Coorong National Park. Want to really relax and enjoy all the Coorong has to offer? Book a holiday house – there are plenty of options available through Coorong Realty.
(So make sure you add this one to your favourites to help guide you along for your next cool, quirky, tasty, adrenalin-filled road trip.)