Guide to Australia

Your Tour, Travel & Vacation Guide to Adventures in Australia!


When most people think of South Australia, they picture Adelaide, its fine elegant capital, or the wine-growing regions of the Barossa Valley or the Coonawarra, or perhaps the spine of mountains that is the Flinders Ranges, the great expanse of shifting sand of the Desert or the flatness of the Nullarbor Plain. All these are most definitely worth visiting, but the State has much more to offer than these.


Most of South Australia's 1.4 million population live in Adelaide; the remainder of people mostly live in and around the coast. Less than one per cent of the population lives north of Port Augusta, which is just 315 km from Adelaide.


Great Australian Bight in South Australia, Australia


South Australia has land borders with every other State, the only State to do so. Taking up 983,480 sq. km, the State occupies about one-eighth of the total land mass of Australia. More than 80 per cent of South Australia receives less than 250 mm of rain a year, making it the driest State in the driest continent on Earth -anywhere away from the more luxuriant south-east of the State is semi-arid to desert.


Much of the State is also flat, with more than 80 per cent less than 250 m in height. Only the Mount Lofty Ranges and their more spectacular continuation, the Flinders Ranges, can really boast mountains of any sort -the highest peak, St Mary Peak, in the heart of the Flinders, tops out at just 1170 m. The rugged and imposing Flinders cut right into the heart of the State, beginning their trail north in the more well-watered part of the State around Gladstone and ending up surrounded by stark desert country at Mount Hopeless, just south of the Strzelecki Track.


The lower section of the Murray River is the only major river in South Australia. It enters from the east, where it has formed the boundary between New South Wales and Victoria, winds its way west to the foothills of the eastern edge of the Mount Lofty Ranges and then turns south. It follows a slow, tortuous path through Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert, forming the long arm of the Coorong in the process.


Other rivers in the State are short, small or ephemeral. The only exception is in the far north, where the streams of inland Australia flow towards Lake Eyre, whose catchment area covers around 25 per cent of the Australian continent, most of it in South Australia. However, rarely do these streams reach the lake. These rivers offer long, coolibah-shrouded waterholes, along their lengths. In many parts of the north-east they are the only surface water to be found for hundreds of kilometres.


The long, indented coastline of South Australia is very spectacular, offering a diversity of landscapes, from sweeping beaches to sheer, rugged cliffs, to small, protected bays. There are also many offshore islands, the biggest being Kangaroo Island (the third-biggest island off the Australian mainland after Tasmania and Melville).


Deciding where to go in South Australia will depend on the time of year. Adelaide's mid-summer average maximum temperature is around 29 degrees C; mid-winter's maximum is around 15 degrees C. The south of the State is cooler all year round and late spring, summer and early autumn are the best times to visit. Summer is delightful along the coast, but if you want to see the ever-growing population of whales that visit the coast, go in winter. Winter is also, by far, the best time to visit the far north of the State -the Simpson Desert, one of the great 4WD journeys, is a crowded thoroughfare! For those visiting the Flinders Ranges, the best time is late winter and early spring, when the wildflowers bloom.


The road network also varies depending on which area of the State you are in. Major highways cut through the State from east to west, converging on Adelaide from Broken Hill in New South Wales, from Mildura and Ouyen in northern Victoria and from Horsham and Portland in central and southern Victoria. The latter is the main road link to Melbourne. From the west and the north come the two great highways that lead, respectively, from Perth (the Eyre Highway) and Darwin (the Stuart Highway) and converge at Port Augusta before heading south to Adelaide. These are the only bitumen routes through these areas. The Eyre Highway cuts across the Nullarbor Plain close to the spectacular coastline of the Great Australian Bight, and the Stuart Highway runs through the heart of the State, past the opal-mining centre of Coober Pedy to the Northern Territory border south of Alice Springs. Both these routes are devoid of habitation for hundreds of kilometres -it pays to stop at each and every lonely and remote roadhouse to revive.


The rest of the South Australian road network -in the far south, through the Murraylands, around Adelaide and throughout Yorke Peninsula and Eyre Peninsula -is, for the most part, extensive, with much of it bitumen. The dirt roads are, in the main, very good, but for those not used to travelling on such surfaces the smoothness can be seductive, so take care -a slight dusting of dirt on an otherwise hard clay or limestone bed can sometimes make it easy to lose control.


The Flinders Ranges at the southern end of Wilpena Pound in South Australia


In the Flinders Ranges the bitumen only goes as far north as Wilpena; the road along the western flank of the range is bitumen to Lyndhurst. North of here are the well-known outback routes of the Strzelecki, Birdsville and Oodnadatta Tracks -all dirt. These long, dusty dirt tracks, while not as bad as they used to be, can be a little daunting in the normal family car; they are much easier with a 4WD. Elsewhere in the far north and north-west of the State the routes are not suitable for normal cars.


From desert landscapes to beautiful coastlines, opal mining town to festival city, world-class wineries to fabulous national parks, South Australia has something that will appeal to each and every visitor.