South Australia is characterised by some of Australia’s most incredible landscapes. The state is located in the south-central part of the country and is home to vast, arid plains and spectacular coastlines.
One of the defining features of South Australia’s landscape is the Nullarbor Plain. It is considered one of the most unique places to visit in Australia, with a drive across the plain widely regarded as a top bucket list experience. This huge area of about 200, 000 square kilometres runs on the southern coastline on the edge of the Great Australian Bight. It’s home to some of South Australia’s best experiences and places to visit.
This article will summarise all the best places that South Australia has to offer, as well as, outline why the Nullarbor is such an incredible part of this state that can’t be missed on any trip in the state.
Table of Contents
- 1 About South Australia
- 2 What is South Australia known for?
- 3 Planning a visit to South Australia
- 4 When to visit South Australia
- 5 Places to visit in South Australia
- 6 The Nullarbor Plain
- 7 While you’re crossing The Nullarbor Plain
About South Australia
The state of South Australia has a total land area of 983, 482 square kilometres. This makes it the fourth largest state and territory in the country by landmass. The population of the state is around 1.76 million, with the majority living in the capital, Adelaide. Outside of this urban centre, the state is sparsely populated outside, with small country towns and settlements dominating much of the north and west of the state.
South Australia’s unique location and shape means that it borders almost all of Australia’s other states, including Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. The Great Australian Bight sits along the southern edge of the state and is shared with neighbouring Western Australia. The Southern Ocean of the Bight continues to stretch to the south until it meets the ice caps of Antarctica.
The state has a long history of human settlement with various Aboriginal tribes and languages occupying the land of which is now considered the state of South Australia. There is evidence of human activity as far back as 20, 000 years with some of the oldest rock art found around the Nullarbor Plain.
Its colonial history is also quite unique. It’s the only state in Australia to have never received British convicts and was set up as a freely settled British province in February 1836. It wasn’t long after this that the interior of South Australia was explored further. Edward John Eyre and his Aboriginal companion, Wylie, were the first known men to have crossed the Nullarbor Plain, which they did in an expedition in 1841. Both the Eyre Highway which now crosses the plain and the Eyre Peninsula which sits to the east of the plain, were named after the European explorer.
What is South Australia known for?
South Australia’s economy is dominated by mining, manufacturing and agriculture. It’s also leading in its commitment to renewable energy, producing the most wind power out of all the states and territories.
Tourism is also a huge industry in South Australia, with both local, interstate and international tourists exploring the various places and things to do. There’s so much to offer adventurous travellers and anyone who enjoys the outdoors.
There’s plenty of spectacular coastline and ocean scenery to enjoy with the Eyre Peninsula, Fleurieu Peninsula and Yorke Peninsula being the most well-known destinations in South Australia. On the other hand, the state has some incredibly rugged and arid landscapes, with the famous Nullarbor Plain that stretches into the Great Victoria Desert. It’s also home to a world-class food and wine scene with some of Australia’s oldest wine growing regions and some of the best seafood in the country. People come to South Australia searching for unique adventures and epic bucket list experiences and it’s impossible to be disappointed.
The state is also home to an abundance of wildlife. On land, you can find plenty of native animals such as wombats, kangaroos, emus and koalas. In the sea, the Great Australian Bight is considered one of the most biodiverse places in Australia with a variety of marine life. In particular, Southern Right Whales can be found off the coast in the winter months which draws plenty of visitors.
Planning a visit to South Australia
There are so many places to visit and things to do in South Australia that you can easily be occupied for weeks. Many people come to the state on a self-drive holiday, which is the best way to explore some of the remote and rugged landscapes like the Nullarbor. It also makes it easier to combine a number of the state’s highlights into the same trip, providing the freedom to explore at your own pace.
Many road trips begin in the capital, Adelaide, where you’ll find the state’s main international and domestic airport. From Adelaide, many of the top sights and places to visit can be easily accessed by self-drive tours.
However, it’s also common for people to visit South Australia on extended road trips coming across from other states. Some of these roads are incredible adventures and remote trips, such as the Stuart Highway from Northern Territory or the Outback Highway and Birdsville Track through from Queensland. Although the most well-known of these remote highways is the Eyre Highway, which crosses the Nullarbor Plain to Western Australia. There are also major highway connections to Victoria and New South Wales that are commonly used by people coming from interstate.
When to visit South Australia
There’s never a bad time of the year to visit South Australia. However, many people try to avoid the hot summers and cold winters, with some extreme temperatures out in the semi-arid regions like the Nullarbor. Autumn and spring are often considered good times to visit South Australia, when the weather is more mild but still dry. These are also shoulder seasons, meaning that you’ll find fewer tourists and quieter beaches.
If you’re interested in catching some of the unique marine life, winter does have an incredible advantage. Southern Right Whales can be spotted off the southern coast from May until September each year, making winter the perfect time for whale watching tours. South Australia also has relatively mild winters, so the weather is not as bad as you might think.
Places to visit in South Australia
There are so many incredible places to visit in South Australia with something to suit every type of traveller. The state is characterised by stunning natural wonders, a variety of wildlife and plenty of outdoor activities. No matter what type of holiday you’re after, South Australia has something for everyone. Here are some of the must visit places in South Australia.
The capital of South Australia often draws visitors into its laidback charm. The city is located in the southeast of the state and has a mixture of high-rise buildings, heritage listed structures and green park spaces. It’s particularly known for its great cultural festivals and markets with an infectious youthful vibe. There’s always something going on in the city. From WOMADelaide in March to the wine vintage festivals in the nearby Barossa Valley, there’s never a shortage of things to do no matter what time of the year you visit.
If you’re a foodie, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of the Barossa Valley. It is one of Australia’s oldest wine growing regions and often considered one of the country’s best. The fertile soils of the valley produce world-class wine, as well as, plenty of locally grown produce. It’s a popular day trip from Adelaide at just an hour’s drive away from the capital. However, it can also be combined with a trip to nearby Clare Valley, for the ultimate wine tour in South Australia.
Clare Valley is another world-class wine region in South Australia. It’s similar to Barossa in that it has a range of small towns, boutique wineries and beautiful rolling hills. It’s just a 90-minute drive north of Adelaide, making it another popular day trip or weekend away from the city. It can also be a nice stopover on the way from Adelaide to Port Augusta.
Kangaroo Island is considered one of Australia’s true natural gems with incredible scenery and an abundance of wildlife. The beautiful island off the coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula is the third-largest in Australia, with over a third of its area being protected by nature reserves and national parks. It has an incredibly diverse and vulnerable ecosystem and is adored by all nature lovers. It’s reachable by direct flights from Adelaide or via ferry from Cape Jervis.
This stunning peninsula is just less than an hour south of Adelaide and is known for its beautiful coastal scenery and culinary scene. It’s home to McLaren Vale, another of South Australia’s wine regions, as well as a rugged coastline to the south and an abundance of marine life. It’s the best jumping off port for Kangaroo Island.
Flinders Ranges National Park
The Flinders Ranges is a haven for hikers and nature lovers. The beautifully mountainous national park stretches northward above Port Augusta into the outback in the eastern part of South Australia. You’ll find plenty of native wildlife in the park, as well as, Aboriginal art and cultural sites to admire. It’s a great place to visit to get outside and camp under the stars, but there’s also a range of accommodation nearby to suit everyone.
Mount Gambier is close to the Victorian border and an extinct volcano with beautiful blue crater lakes. The area is also known for its caves, with the World Heritage listed Naracoorte Caves being considered one of the most special fossil sites in the world. The city of Mt Gambier is the second largest in South Australia and a great base for trips into the surrounding volcanic landscape.
Many people on self-drive tours visit this well-known opal-mining town in the centre of the state. It’s famous for its underground dwellings where residents escape the extreme weather conditions by living in dugout homes in the ground. The surrounding landscape is dotted with opal mines, which has created a moonscape that people travel from far and wide to see. It’s also a popular and convenient stop on the long drive to the Northern Territory from South Australia.
Lake Eyre is the largest salt lake in Australia and the lowest point on the mainland at approximately 15m below sea level. It’s a true natural wonder with the real highlight being when it floods with desert rain to create a mirror-like effect. It’s located in the northeast of South Australia and is usually explored either by a self-drive tour or scenic flight over the lake.
This peninsula is one of the most pristine and spectacular coastal areas in the country. It’s just over an hour from the capital, which makes it a popular place for city residents to escape to in summer. From the remote and secluded Innes National Park to the Coastal Way road trip, the white sand beaches and delicious seafood restaurants draw plenty of visitors every year.
This is Australia’s longest river which runs from New South Wales through Victoria to the ocean in South Australia. It’s considered the food bowl of the country with plenty of farming communities around the area. It is also a very popular holiday destination for families, with plenty of water sport activities from water skiing to boating and camping on the sandy banks.
This triangular-shaped peninsula off the central coast of South Australia is one of the country’s most beautiful places to visit. It offers plenty of great experiences from cage diving with sharks to swimming with dolphins and whale watching in winter. The peninsula’s two national parks also have some incredible coastal scenery and native wildlife. It’s a popular place to visit on the way from Adelaide to the Nullarbor Plain, with just an easy detour off the Eyre Highway. It has a few major towns to stop at, including Ceduna on the western side of the peninsula, Port Lincoln further south, and Port Augusta in the northeast corner.
Ceduna is a large coastal town along the Eyre Highway around eight hours west of Adelaide. It’s in a very unique position for travellers, being on the eastern edge of the Nullarbor Plain and western corner of the Eyre Peninsula. It’s a popular destination, with nearly a quarter of a million vehicles passing through the town each year.
It has plenty of sights and attractions in the town itself, as well as, in the nearby places of Smoky Bay, Denial Bay and Penong. Ceduna also has a range of accommodation options, restaurants and places to pick up supplies like a supermarket and hardware store. This makes it a convenient place for a last-minute stop before heading across the Nullarbor, or as the first main stop after the long drive from the west.
Stretching along the coast of the Great Australian Bight in the west of the state, the Nullarbor Plain covers around 200, 000 square kilometres. It is the largest exposure of limestone bedrock in the world, characterised by an almost treeless, semi-arid landscape. It’s one of the most unique places in the entire country and is best explored by driving across the entire length of it on the Eyre Highway.
This road trip is often considered a bucket list experience for many Australians and is one of the most popular things to do in South Australia. The highway runs from Port Augusta through Ceduna to Eucla and beyond in Western Australia. However, the plain is also home to a number of things to see and do on the way, meaning that you can easily extend the drive along the highway for days.
There are roadhouses along the Eyre Highway, which are multipurpose complexes where travellers are able to pick up essentials along the way. They provide fuel, food, water and accommodation at well-timed intervals so you can easily find a place stop for the night. They have become well-known icons of the long drive across the Nullarbor.
Some of the other well-known and iconic things to do and see out on the Nullarbor include:
90 mile straight:
The Nullarbor is home to the longest, straight road in Australia. It begins in Balladonia and runs until Caiguna, with. A sign marking the start and end.
These towering cliffs are the longest uninterrupted sea cliffs in the world, stretching for 100km and often being up to 100m high. You can view these incredible cliffs as you drive east of Eucla on the Eyre Highway.
Head of Bight:
This point marks the northernmost extent of the Great Australian Bight. The spectacular lookout offers incredible views across the coastline and is also known as one of the best land-based viewing platforms for whale watching in winter.
This is the longest golf course in the world and takes up to four days to complete. The 18-hole par 72 course begins in Ceduna and stretches all the way to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia across the Nullarbor Plain.
Surfing at Cactus Beach:
At the eastern end of the Nullarbor on the coast near Penong, you’ll find avid surfers riding the world-renowned breaks at Cactus Beach. This is one of the most famous places to surf in the country and attracts experienced surfers from all over the world.
While you’re crossing The Nullarbor Plain
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