The Coorong National Park offers a superb weekend adventure from Adelaide, with plenty to do amongst this remote coastal wilderness.
Two words come to mind when I think of the Coorong – ‘sand’ and ‘freedom’. A weekend getting the ocean breeze into your lungs is a great recreation for those wanting an accessible, yet remote escape.
Wild and windswept – the Coorong meets the Southern Ocean.
Where is it?
Access to the Coorong National Park is at various points off the Princes Highway after Meningie and Salt Creek, approximately a 2 ½ hour drive from Adelaide. The Coorong proper is a lagoon which separates the mainland from the Younghusband Peninsula and southern beach where most 4WD recreational activities take place.
Five ‘crossings’ allow access to the beach over the lagoon and dune system: Tea Tree (Tidal, full of water in winter, don’t drive on the salt pan), 42 Mile (boring but quickest access), 32 Mile, Wreck (interesting drive) and 28 Mile (plenty of dunes).
The beach is closed north of Tea Tree Crossing between November and April each year to preserve the habitat of birds nesting on the foreshore.
Not much beats a sunset with a bunch of mates, especially in a location like this.
What to do: fishing, swimming, kayaking, birdwatching and walking
As well as the challenge of sand driving, there are plenty of activities to do at the Coorong such as fishing, birdwatching, photography, swimming and kayaking. With the right winds, a surf is possible, and a few hours spent beachcombing will turn up some interesting finds. Cable drums, cray pots, rope, buoys, logs, sharks, penguins and all sorts wash up from the Southern Ocean.
If you are so inclined, try metal detecting in pursuit of the fabled treasure of the ‘Birdman of the Coorong’, an ostrich-riding highwayman from the 1900s who buried his golden loot somewhere in the Coorong dunes.
There are several short NPWS walks, including a stroll to the birdwatching hide at Jack Point Pelican Observatory – take your binoculars. Parnka Point/Hell’s Gate separates the Northern and Southern lagoons and kayaks can be launched from here depending on where the water has run and the time of year.
There are plenty of places where you can pull off the beach track for lunch or some other activities.
A smidge of history
The Coorong has a rich Indigenous heritage, being the land of the Ngarrindjeri people for thousands of years, along with the added, and more recent, European presence.
An oily substance ‘Coorongite’ discovered in 1878 raised hopes of the area becoming Australia’s Texas and motorbike speed trials occurred on the vast salt pans dotted around the Coorong. Interestingly, recreational camping began way back in the 1890s with visitors sailing from Goolwa for a picnic and overnight camps.
Wreck Crossing brings you out to the site of Margit (cargo ship), which ran aground in 1911. There is still a chance of seeing the wreck at low tide.
This area has a rich indigenous cultural history going back thousands of years.
Where you can pitch your tent
In the south of the park, official camping areas are provided at each of the crossings as well as Parnka Point and Loop Road. All of these are accessible by 2WD except for Tea Tree (unless you’re brave). These range from large grassy paddocks at 42 Mile and Tea Tree, to more secluded camping at the others which would better suit families or smaller groups.
The alternatives are the Ocean Beach camping areas, which are designated with posts/wire and found along the beach between Tea Tree and 42 Mile Crossings. The old honesty box system is no longer in use, so remember to book and pay for your campsite online here before heading off.
Driving and free camping in the dunes is a really bad practice. It’s damaging to the environment and will also attract a fine if the ranger comes along.
Camping simply on the Ocean Beach site, in my trusty Companion Pro Hiker 1.
An ideal 4WD weekender in Summer would be to arrive late afternoon and make camp at one of the many grassed spots at 42 Mile Crossing. The next day, take a relaxed 2-3 hour drive south along the beach, stopping for lunch and fishing along the way to the Granites (impressive boulders that have somehow landed on the shore).
Then pump the tyres for a quick run up the Old Coorong Road, spotting birds amongst the salt pans nearby. There you have your choice of staying at either 32 Mile or Wreck Crossing campgrounds for the second night.
Not the most ideal conditions for driving – must be high tide!
Meal ideas for your trip
A recipe that’s good at home seems to taste even better in front of the campfire under a blanket of stars. Our staple Coorong dish is curried sausages and mash. This involves browning a pack of snags and curry paste and then simmering for half an hour with coconut milk and a tin of tomatoes.
Another hard-to-beat classic is freshly caught fish with lemon and pepper, baked in the coals of the fire.
There’s nothing better than a hearty meal cooked out under the heavens.
“Minimise your impact, fool!” – Mr T
Humans aren’t always the most considerate creatures. Unfortunately, this is becoming very evident at the Coorong with the increasing popularity of 4WD vehicles. Piles of empty bottles, full rubbish bags, or even those thrones of discomfort they sell as $7 camping chairs, are just left behind in the dunes.
It’s hard to believe some people are so forgetful they even ‘forget’ to take their own rubbish home. The Coorong is a wild, precious environment, so help do your bit to keep it that way.
Leave no trace behind, there’s nothing worse than coming across rubbish like this.
4WDing – don’t be ‘that guy’
Conditions on the beach change each season, but the usual advice for sensible beach driving still applies. Pack the car as light as possible, lower tyre pressure to 20psi or less, carry a shovel and stay in the compacted wheel tracks on the high ground.
If you get truly stuck, don’t panic, just hop out and start digging. Hopefully, one of your mates will be feeling generous and bring over a set of GT Boards. This will get you unstuck much faster than digging and with a lot less physical exertion.
Plenty of experienced fishermen will tell you otherwise, but it’s not recommended to be a solo vehicle. Unless you enjoy the feeling of terror when the tide starts lapping at your wheel arches.
Ensure that you take into account safety precautions and the environment when driving.
The important stuff
Fuel use is higher on the beach and, unfortunately, without it, your car will stop. Petrol/Diesel/LPG available at Salt Creek and Meningie.
Carry all the gear that you need and check restrictions before lighting a fire.
If you need more information about visiting the area, there are a couple of really helpful resources. For guided kayak tours and hire you can contact Canoe the Coorong here, or call them on (+61) 424 826 008.
Have you ever explored Coorong National Park?
About the writer...
Chris frequently attempts more adventures than he really has time for.