South Australia's Adventures of a Lifetime: Drive the Road Less Traveled
Discover the best road trips in South Australia—from the wild west coast to Coober Pedy and beyond.
Away from the wineries, hills, and rich farmland around Adelaide lie vast tracts of arid outback country and lonely coastline. While a four-wheel drive vehicle is needed to get deep into the wilderness, less traveled highways provide easy access to the out-of-the way places and the remote beauty of South Australia. Head to the wild west coast for secluded beaches known only to locals, or drive deep into the outback on the road to Coober Pedy and beyond.
West Coast Drive
West of Adelaide, the coast winds around the long Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas, lined with scores of fine beaches. The abundant seas are paradise for fishers and seafood lovers alike, and plentiful wildlife includes dolphins, sea lions, great white sharks, and whales during winter. The farther west you go, the more remote the towns and the more deserted the beaches until the coast road meets the Eyre Highway, a classic outback road that will take you most of the way to Perth. Allow at least three days from Adelaide to the border.
From Adelaide, take A1—Australia’s main national highway—before detouring off to the Yorke Peninsula, a quiet farming district and beach holiday retreat for Adelaide residents. Head down the east coast past small beach settlements to rugged Innes National Park at the southern tip, noted for surfing, wildlife, and whales. Return via the west coast with more fine beaches and the old copper mining towns of Kadina, Wallaroo, and Moonta.
Back on the A1, continue on to Port Augusta, then head south on the B100 highway. The steel-production city of Whyalla doesn’t rate in the tourist brochures, but pleasant coastal towns such as Tumby Bay lie farther south.
Port Lincoln, at the tip of the Eyre Peninsula, is a thriving port with one of Australia’s largest fishing fleets. The seafood is fresh and plentiful and tourism drives sailing, diving, and game-fishing adventures, but the coastal scenery is the big lure. Head for the beaches and emerald waters of nearby Lincoln National Park, or to Coffin Bay to the west, a laid-back resort town famed for its oysters and superb beaches in Coffin Bay National Park. Wonderful deserted beaches lie all along or just off the Flinders Highway—a stretch of the B100—to Ceduna. Beach hamlets on this lonely road include Elliston, Venus Bay, and Baird Bay, where sea lions and whales congregate. At Ceduna, you rejoin the main highway, heading across vast flat plains, past the Head of the Bight for whale watching and other sea lookouts high on the Bunda Cliffs as you approach the border.
From Adelaide, it's three to four hours to the edge of the outback at Port Augusta, where the Wadlata Outback Centre provides a good introduction to Aboriginal culture and outback history. From Port Augusta, you can head north to the Flinders Ranges, one of the state’s main attractions, or take the Stuart Highway deep into the outback and the Red Centre.
From Port Augusta, it is 110 miles to the lonely outpost at Pimba, where you can turn off on the B97 to Woomera, once a top-secret base for rocket testing during the Cold War. The Woomera Heritage and Information Centre has displays and can arrange tours of the still-active rocket range. The B97 highway continues on to Roxby Downs and the giant copper-uranium Olympic Dam Mine.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Back on the Stuart Highway, you’ll pass vast white salt pans like Lake Gairdner. Lake Hart lies right next to the highway, about 30 miles from Pimba.
The highway presses on to Coober Pedy, the famed outback opal-mining town. With plenty of accommodations and attractions, most people spend at least one night here. You can press on to Uluru and Alice Springs, just across the border into the Northern Territory, with the Cadney Homestead roadhouse and the tiny hamlet of Marla the only stops before the you hit the border.
Practical Tip: These drives are on paved roads with regular traffic, and no special precautions are needed. Still, in more remote regions, it pays to carry plenty of water and always know where the next fuel stop is—it can be hundreds of miles away. Venturing off sealed roads is not permitted by most hire-car companies and not recommended unless you are well prepared and have a four-wheel drive vehicle, and preferably some bush experience.