We hear you. It’s no fun driving within city limits, especially when those four wheels are itching for off-road adventure...
As a mind-bending wait at the traffic lights gives (way) too much time to think about your great escape, we’re here to save your day. With a rich and varied landscape that’s chock-full of trails through secluded beaches, rugged mallee wilderness and towering sand dunes, a 4WD holiday to our neighbourhood means freedom with a capital ‘F’. Strap in for our favourite spots, off-road…
Ngarkat Conservation Park.
Go hard or go home, right? The Ngarkat Conservation Park is the kind of place that rewards intrepid spirits, being sprawled over some 270,000 hectares and decorated with a wild tapestry of dense mallee woodlands, heathlands and ancient coastal dunes. Straddling the Murray River, Lakes & Coorong region, this place is home to exceptional camping and four-wheel-driving – along with a menagerie of birds and wildlife, from echidnas and pygmy-possums to dunnarts, kangaroos and lizards.
Access to the park starts from the Ngarkat Highway, which runs north-south between Bordertown and Pinnaroo - the only section suitable for conventional vehicles. Alternatively you can take Snozwells Road straight off the Dukes Highway, about 15km north-west of Keith in the south. Just be sure to check the map before heading in – this place is big and rugged! Stocking up with a full recovery kit, spare tyres, food and water is also absolutely essential (as is a UHF radio or satellite phone).
There’s multiple ways to tackle this place, depending how much time you have and your level of 4WD experience, but the most famous route of all is the legendary Border Track - albeit for serious off-roaders only. It’s tough going, but those with experience will find loads of adventure along narrow, sandy trails that separate South Australia from Victoria. Best taken over a couple of days, this one-way gem is open from 1st April to 31st October, primarily to avoid the searing heat of summer - and tackling it with a couple of other vehicles is key, to ensure you’re well supported.
The best place to start your adventure along the Border Track is from the Scorpion Springs end at Pine Hut Soak campground, working your way from north to south. From here, you’ll also find a couple of great little walks to the historic Nanam Well and Cox’s Windmill, as well as the 17km Fishponds Hike, which is known for its prolific wildlife.
As you make your way south, don’t expect to break the land speed record. This is slow going with plenty of bumps, dunes and deep sand – in fact, you’ll be pushing it to travel more than 20km/h most of the time. Oh, just remember to reduce that tyre pressure to around 15psi too. That being said, the peace and tranquillity of this remote parcel of land is never lost on those who’ve driven it, with numerous lookouts and a swag of amazing photo opportunities en-route.
Of course, there’s a few other ways to tackle the park if you’re day-tripping, or just not quite as invested as the hardcore 4WD set. The Mount Rescue Loop is one of the better circuits to test your mettle in the south-west corner of the park, entering off Snozwells Road. First stop is the stunning Tyms Lookout, where you’ll have a chance to survey the vastness, from park to paddocks. As you’re soaking in the view across the mallee, keep watch for western grey kangaroos, emus and even the elusive mallee fowl making their way through the wilderness.
Onwards from here, you’ll travel via the Bucks Camp Ruins (campsite) towards the Rescue Track – which may be aptly named, but hey… nice to know it’s there, right? From here, you’ll head east to the Mount Rescue Lookout, high atop the dunes, where native orchids thrive below at the right time of year. From here, it’s a series of lefts and rights before finding your way to the Southern Boundary Track and Snozwell Road again, which you’ll follow all the way back into Tintinara.
Coorong National Park.
No doubt about it, Coorong National Park is steeped in 4WD folklore and one of the best spots to put your trusty (maybe rusty?) rig through its paces. This long, narrow ribbon of saline wetlands, saltpans, coastal dunes and wild ocean beaches is an off-roader’s dream, with a vast sandy highway stretching 190kms from the mouth of the Murray River in Goolwa all the way to Kingston SE.
Fringed by shimmering white dunes with a horizon as big as the Southern Ocean, this place is rich in Aboriginal history and home to an astonishing array of birds and wildlife. You’ll also find casting a fishing line, paddling a kayak or pitching a tent a perfect way to break things up and make the most of a wet and wild wonderland.
Access to the park comes via a number of detours off the Princes Highway, with five main ‘crossings’ leading straight to the beach across the lagoons and dunes. Be mindful… you’re heading straight for the sand here, so packing the vehicle as light as possible and adjusting tyre pressure goes without saying. Oh, and just check those tide times, okay? As entertaining as it is for your (somewhat un-hinged) mates, there’s nothing more deflating than seeing a fresh Landcruiser being swallowed by the sea!
Working south from Salt Creek, you’ll come across Tea Tree Crossing first (note: access north of here is still possible but closed to vehicles from 24 October to 24 December). This is a dry weather only track, usually being full of water in the winter months. Alas, once it bakes in the sun for a bit, it’s possible to drive across the lagoon (with local advice) to the flat and grassy campground, which is one of the more remote and chilled out little spots to pitch your tent.
One of the better year-round campsites is 42 Mile Crossing, where you’ll find toilets and shelters and quick year-round access to the stunning Ocean Beach. A short drive through the dunes will lead you straight onto its silky shores, where keen anglers are known to pull in hefty hauls of salmon, mulloway and gummy sharks. Just to note – these are wild waters, and while surfers will find great sport, the nearest help is a long way away if you get into trouble. If unsure, stay on the sand!
From here, it’s a fantastic run along the beach all the way to The Granites and Kingston, with access to and from the Princes Highway at 32 Mile Crossing, Wreck Crossing (check out the remains of the doomed 1911 cargo ship at low tide) and 28 Mile Crossing (sand dune central)! This is a good stretch for newbies to feel the exhilaration of gliding across sand with salty air whizzing past your windows. But just be mindful that this place can be as bracing as it is beautiful – stick between the low and high tide marks, keep your speed down and watch for softer areas of shell grit that can act like quicksand in seconds!
Long Beach, Robe.
Alright. You’re no expert at this 4WD thing, but you’ve got yourself a new tank and you’re keen to explore a little… The cool coastal village of Robe is a perfect spot to trial that shiny suburban rig, with Long Beach being the number one draw in town.
The very aptly named - and seriously iconic - Long Beach sits right on the edge of the village, glistening with 12-kilometres of powder-white sand and vivid blue waters that seriously crave attention, especially when the Sun’s out. While the southern-most section is pedestrian-only (between First and Second Ramps), the area to the north is an easy run for cars – in fact regular vehicles can almost reach the third ramp without too much struggle at all – but it’s 4WD only from here.
While this legendary beach can get a little busy over peak periods (school and summer holidays), you’ll find plenty of elbow room at other times, with loads of space to field a beach cricket team, roll out a picnic rug, or bust out a boogie board (just look out for rips). Keen anglers will be glad to know they can also catch dinner off the beach, with whiting, flathead, salmon, mullet, garfish and the odd snapper all on the daily menu, while surfers will catch a few waves around the Third Ramp.
Oh, and as always… just be mindful of tide lines and soft sand to avoid that sinking feeling of water lapping at your wheel arches, okay?
Little Dip Conservation Park.
Just south of Robe, the dramatic landscapes of Little Dip Conservation Park are a four-wheeler’s paradise, with giant dunes, lakes and thick coastal scrub providing a stunning backdrop to some seriously good beaches. Driving here requires a bit of knowledge and a tough-as-nails 4WD, so it’s not something to tackle lightly (or alone) – but those with a bit of know-how will be justly rewarded with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the region. While winter months can see a few alternative routes chucked in for added surprise, any mad-keen off-roader will have a field day getting their duco dirty in these parts.
You’ll find most tracks in this park lead straight to the sand and surf, with a couple snaking through thick groves of melaleuca, dense rushes and samphire flats. You’ll want to keep your eyes open for wildlife here, with wombats, wallabies, echidnas and kangaroos all in good numbers. If you’re around in spring, you’ll also spot the park’s namesake Little Dip Spider Orchids in bloom, as well as the endangered Hooded Plovers nesting around the dunes and lakes.
From the open, shallow marshes of Lake Eliza (look for the 10,000-year-old middens left behind by the Boandik people) to the salty Big Dip Lake and depths of Fresh Water Lake, you’ll find plenty of eye candy between brackish brine and sea. If you’re exploring around Old Man Lake, you’ll also find it’s not too far from Little Dip Beach, where letting down your tyre pressure for a drive on deep white sand is as tempting as those turquoise waters. But before you go reaching for your bathers – this one’s not recommended for swimming… The awesome Stony Rise Track does however happen to lead to a sneaky little beach with beautiful rock pools that are safe to take the plunge.
From here, you can drive along the sand all the way to Beachport, albeit with a small detour at Nora Creina, where you’ll find a secluded little bay that’s perfect for a dip after, well… tackling Little Dip!
Beachport Conservation Park.
Hitting the sand again from Nora Creina, you’ll find a hallowed stretch of 4WD (and camping) heaven at Beachport Conservation Park, where you’ll be well tempted to turn off into the towering dunes and a treasure-trove of beaches that await without a soul in sight.
Oh, and if you haven’t been bogged yet, it’s probably your turn… The soft sand in this place has swallowed countless vehicles over the years, so before heading in it’s a wise idea to get your house in order. A set of tracks and a recovery kit are a pretty good start, as well as a few mates to help pull you out of the inevitable hole you’re about to dig yourself into!
After letting your tyres down and throwing on a sand flag, winding your way along Stinky Bay (it’s just seaweed, okay?) is always entertaining before carefully making your way past the Millicent Sand Buggy Club. Beyond this point, you’ll find ample challenges await with Five Mile Sand Hill providing loads of fun and fury. This bowl-shaped dune system is the ideal spot to put your sand driving skills to the test (and test your opposite lock steering) before venturing out of the maze and following those markers across some seriously dramatic limestone cliffs.
Perched on the precipice, you’ll get a front row ticket to some of the greatest shows Mother Nature ever produces, with blues and greens washing over an ancient, rugged landscape that’ll make you feel like you’re about the last person on Earth.
From here you’ll detour through the dunes again and emerge at Three Mile Rocks, where you’ll be confronted by some of the purest, whitest sand fronting the windswept Southern Ocean. And hey, if getting a little space was your reason for heading this way, well… rest assured, you’ll find it soon enough.
Canunda National Park.
After rambling your way around the curve of Rivoli Bay (take the bitumen if you’re keen for something different), the low-key coastal village of Southend is your gateway to the breathtaking Canunda National Park, where sea-ravaged cliffs and shimmering white beaches are the trademarks of a genuine maritime masterpiece. In fact, if you worship the off-road lifestyle you may have found your mecca, with the north dominated by towering limestone cliffs, sea stacks, reefs and bushland, and the south by vast dunes and beaches that stretch to the park’s outer edge.
In the north, those with SUV’s and regular vehicles (or nervous learners not wanting to stray too far) can easily access the well-known spots, with the 2.5km, 1-hour Cape Buffon Walk a perfect introduction to the tortured seascapes the area is renowned for. Dominated by surreal sea stacks, razor sharp reefs and native flora, there’s plenty to explore around here, with the 3.4km Seaview Walk also weaving its way between a series of jaw-dropping beaches and lookouts.
Heading south it’s 4WD only, and off-roaders will relish powering their way through the peaks and troughs of the dunes, with the soft sands of Geltwood Beach (again, double-check tide times and tyre pressure first) providing endless sport for those able to get themselves out of sticky situations. In winter, you’ll want to take care along this stretch, with the first tides producing steep sands and loose gravel.
Extending down from Little Rock, the unbroken beauty of Canunda Beach runs for over 16km, with its wild and untamed swells providing an uncrowded sanctuary for advanced surfers and anglers, with salmon, sharks and mulloway all tipping the scales as heavyweights. From here you’ll also get a good a run through to the park’s southernmost point at the Cape Banks Lighthouse, which has surveyed the treacherous waters around Carpenter Rocks since 1883 – the information bay being your prime spot to pump up those tyres before hitting the bitumen.
No 4WD? No Worries...
Our mates at Stillwater 4x4 Scenic Tours have you well and truly covered, specifically around the Beachport area. Because hey, not all of us are as keen on getting bogged and tackling giant sand dunes as these guys!
If you're ready to dial up the adventure without driving the tough stuff, Stillwater 4x4 Scenic Tours will get you to all the hard-to-access places from Southend to Nora Creina, to Carpenter Rocks and everywhere else in-between. With tour options covering sunrise, sunset, half day and full day adventures, you'll get a taste of the intrepid life without the ego dents. With plenty of stops for photos, beach walks, wildlife spotting and more, this is one of the cruisiest ways to see it all without burying your axels in sand.
Just one more thing… Before you go too crazy out there, it’s important to remember that as rugged and harsh as our landscapes appear, they’re just as fragile beneath the surface. Our stunning coastline and mallee country can be easily damaged by vehicles, so it’s super important to stick to marked tracks and do the right thing. Because hey, nobody wants to be ‘that guy’ that ruined everyone else’s party, right? If we all tread lightly and do the right thing, this pristine environment will be enjoyed by many generations to come. If in doubt, don’t check it out!
Looking for more 4wd advice? The Limestone Coast has friendly Visitor Servicing experts across the Region's Visitor Centres so give them a call or visit in person for the latest in the moment 4wd advice!