Although international travel is well and truly up and running after Covid’s 2020 – 2022 peak, it turns out that us South Aussies don’t have to travel far to see some stunning scenery. But with such a vast landmass, where does one start?
Well Mitsubishi Motors Australia’s recently carried out a mammoth study, Secret Road Trip Hotspots that analysed over 38,000 Trip Advisor attractions to reveal a final list of 141 nature-based spots in Australia. And they’ve revealed the best places to visit to avoid the crowds and inspire different road trip and destination planning.
As for South Australia, the final top ten locations that made it to the list are the most highly rated, yet least searched for locus, ensuring that you avoid typically overcrowded tourist attractions to experience the most beautiful, and more untouched parts of the country.
Whether you are an Aussie looking to plan an interstate trip, or if you are set to explore Down Under for the first time, then there’s nothing quite like taking the road less travelled. From day trips to longer breaks with breathtaking beaches, hiking trails, and wondrous waterholes, check out the ten spots which highlight South Australia’s hidden gems.
1. Painted Desert, Oodnadatta
The Painted Desert is located 50 kilometres south-west of Oodnadatta and has been crowed the number one secret road trip hotspot location in South Australia due to its rocky outcrop of spectacularly coloured hills. Said hills were formed thanks to over 80 million years of weathering and erosion, and at sunset, hues of deep red and crisp yellows illuminate the vast landscape.
2. Strokes Beach, Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island is located just across the waters of the Fleurieu Peninsula’s most southern point, and is accessible by ferry. The island itself has plenty of offer in terms of natural wonders, but Strokes Beach takes the hidden gem cake. The beach cove is a secluded serenity on the island’s north boasting rock walls which protect the beach from ocean swells, creating calm waters that are ideal for swimming and relaxing. The soft white sands, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and sweeping views combined make for a sensory celebration worth the ‘overseas’ trip.
3. Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges
Venture 200 kilometres north of Adelaide and you’ll find yourself in the breathtaking Flinders Ranges, home to Wilpena Pound – an 800-million-year-old natural amphitheatre that’s made up of rocky ridges that rise sharply from gritty desert flatlands. Wilpena Pound spans 83 square kilometres and resembles a gargantuan meteorite crater, but is actually an eroded mountain range. Travellers comes from all over to bushwalk, camp under the stars, and bear witness to the dramatic peaks, gorges, and surrounding landscape, as well as the abundance of Australian wildlife such as kangaroos, emus, reptiles and eagles.
4. Admirals Arch, Kangaroo Island
Circling back to the southern Kangaroo Island locale; Admirals Arch is a natural rock archway created once again by the forces of nature. Its jaggered window makes for a surreal position to view the pounding waves of the Southern Ocean through. It’s an unusual, but significant geological formation situated within the Flinders Chase National Park, and accessible by a purpose-built boardwalk.
5. The Blue Lake, Mount Gambier
Considered the gem and the main attraction of Mount Gambier, The Blue Lake is a ginormous body of water which sits in a dormant vlcanic maar. It’s just over 1 kilometre in length, and 657 metres wides, with a mean depth of 72 metres, which means there’s a 3.6 kilometres road and walking track around the circumference of the Blue Lake where you can take in all of that sweet, sweet scenery. As the water warms each year in November, the lake’s darker blue transitions to an intense deep turquoise blue which remains until late February – but it’s a stunning vision all year round.
6. Brachina Gorge Geological Trail, Flinders Ranges
The Flinders Ranges makes the cut again, but with the lesser known Brachina Gorge Geological Trail; an unsealed driving route home to some of Australia’s most significant paleontological and you guessed it, geological records. The 20-kilometre self-guided trail passes through 130 million years of Earth’s history, with mind-blowing rocks, fossilised animal remains, sediment deposits, and debris from the impact of a large meteorite. Best travelled from east to west, the Brachina Gorge Geological Trail provides signage with eye-openers into past climates, the formation of the ranges, and the evolution of early life forms. And if you’re hoping to see some wildlife, the gorge is known for being an important refuge for the Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby.
7. Lake Hart, Woomera
Lake Hart in Woomera, 522 kilometres north of Adelaide is debatably one of South Australia’s most impressive salt lakes. The surrounding area is mostly uninhabited outback, but complete with picnic tables, Lake Hart makes for a nice stop on your way up to Oodnadatta and Coober Pedy. The salt is visible, which is a sight in itself, but if you’re lucky enough with the right weather conditions, the algae in Lake Hart produce carotene, turning the lake a brilliant shade of pink.
8. Ewens Ponds, Port MacDonnell
Who would’ve thought that you can snorkel and scuba dive in inland Australia. At Ewens Ponds in Port MacDonnell, just 25 kilometres south of Mount Gambier, such things are quite possible. The ponds are a series of three, freshwater-filled, limestone sinkholes about 10 metres in depth which are interconnected by a series of shallow channels. The water in Ewens Ponds is incredibly clear, and the pristine conditions enables plants to thrive underwater to a depth of about six metres. A number of the foliage aren’t found growing fully submerged underwater anywhere else in the world.
9. Bowman Scenic Drive, Beachport
The Bowman Scenic Drive is a fully sealed driving route just four hour south from Adelaide’s city centre via the Princess Highway. Located along the Limestone Coast, the drive offers fabulous oceanic views across the Southern Ocean just metres from your steering wheel, beaut beaches, rave rock pools and reefs. Along the route, you’ll also have front and centre views of the spectacular rugged coastline where you can contemplate life’s natural wonders, oh and also spot the passing Southern Right Whales. The Bowman Scenic Drive length spans 3.91 kilometres, so pace yourself, and drive conscientiously while taking it all in.
10. Sleaford Bay, Port Lincoln
Sleaford Bay, also referred to as Wreck Beach of Mary Ellis Wreck Beach, is located on the south coast of Eyre Peninsula, approximately 21 kilometres south-west of Port Lincoln which is home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in the southern hemisphere as well as a culinary destination. But just a short way off of the beaten track, Sleaford Bay offers a high energy beach which opens out into the Southern Ocean where you can surf, swim (carefully of course), dolphin watch, and sandboard on the dunes. The dunes are what are said to make the area exciting, along with the vibrant ocean colours with its 50 shades of blue. Take in the fantastic views from the two lookouts or spot the abundance of kangaroos and emus. Sleaford Bay is a must see when visiting Port Lincoln.
The full findings of Mitsubishi Motors Australia’s Secret Road Trip Hotspots study with an interactive map to help planning can be found here. Happy exploring!