Adelaide has some great metropolitan beaches and some great hikes nearby the city that throw you into the wilderness for a couple of hours. These all make for great day-trips but what if you are looking for more adventure, something wild and natural. Only three hours out of Adelaide on the Yorke Peninsula is one of the most amazing natural ‘theme parks’ in Australia. Innes National Park is a drive-through safari of Australian wildlife, a collection of world-class beaches and a wilderness camping experience like no other.
I enjoyed just under a week camping in Innes National Park during the summer of 2016 and in this guide I will share my experiences regarding the wildlife, amenities, beaches, top things to see, campsites, costs and transport.
INNES NATIONAL PARK GUIDE
How to get to Innes National Park from Adelaide
The drive is a pretty simple journey, which is signposted the entire way. From Adelaide you drive north to Pt. Wakefield before continuing on to Ardrossan and then following the signs to Marion Bay, which is the last town before Innes National Park.
Innes National Park Accommodation & Fees
When you arrive at Innes National Park you must head to the visitor center. If you are only passing by on a day trip there is a $10 entry fee. I spent four nights camping at Pondalowie bush site, which costs $12 per night for 2 people. I found the cost quite reasonable especially considering the facilities provided. All of the boardwalks and roads were in great shape and each campsite had drop-toilets and toilet paper available. Make sure to grab a couple of maps from the front desk they were very helpful and much more detailed than google maps on your phone.
Facilities at Innes National Park
Each campsite has a drop-toilet with toilet paper and water to wash your hands. No drinking water within the campsite was available. However I discovered that there is a tap with safe drinking water at the Marion Bay community hall where you can fill your bottles. There are barbecues at most campsites but no power sources to charge your electronics. Mobile service within the park is more or less non existent and only Telstra and Optus was giving any coverage in Marion Bay (Thanks for nothing Vodafone). The roads around the park are all bitumen and then small gravel roads lead to the beaches. I drove a Hyundai i30 around with no problems. Plenty of people had great set-ups with huge tents, barbecues and all the bells and whistles, which looked great. However you can get by like me with a small tent, a sleeping bag and some nutella sandwiches. There are multiple different campsites to choose from with each having good access to the beach. Pondalowie was quite good with only a short drive to the Pondalowie Surf Break. Remember to bring a bag to keep your trash. What you bring in you must take with you!
Innes National Park wildlife
For an international tourist, Innes National Park is a dream come true. It is hard to drive anywhere in the park without bumping into kangaroos and emus. It is imperative to drive at the speed limit of 40 km/h if not slower because the wildlife will often cross the road or jump out in front of your car. During my stay at Innes national park I also was lucky enough to spot a large pod of dolphins frolicking around in front of Chinamans Hat Island.
When I first arrived at the campsite I began pitching the tent and came across a brown snake with black dots on it’s back, which was more than 1 meter in length. Over the course of the next few days myself and my cousin, Kyle Gatt, who was traveling with me would encounter numerous snakes and lizards on the paths and cliffs. Ospreys and other birdlife can also be sighted all around the park. Be prepared for a barrage of flies during the heat but they did seem to disappear at night.
My Favorite spots in Innes National Park
Pondalowie Surf Break
After setting up our camp this was the first spot we hit up. It blew me away that there were only a few people on the beach. Five surfers did their thing out in the waves which were a decent size. A huge boardwalk led to a viewing platform. I couldn’t believe how good the infrastructure was when considering the small number of people at the beach to utilize it. We hung around until the sun set over the horizon before heading back to our campsite at Pondalowie Bush Site.
Park the car and head down the boardwalk to enjoy this beach. We walked past a group of people fishing and headed north along the beach towards the rocky end of the beach. From here we climbed and explored along the coast while enjoying great views looking back along the beach. I love getting up on a cliff or viewpoint to really see the reef and the crystal clear water at Innes National Park makes that possible.
After exploring the cliffs near Dolphin Beach we continued walking along the cliffs in a northern direction. We eventually made it to the next beach which was Shell Beach. Once again the crystal clear water exposed the reef and rock formations beneath the surface. This is a great spot to go hunting for cowries and other shells.
This was a tough one to find. Although it is part of Innes National Park you actually have to drive out of the park to get to it. Drive to Marion Bay and there will be a sign that takes you on a ‘Scenic Drive’ that lists Gym Beach, Formby Beach and a few other points of interest. Follow this drive and then turn left again after 10-15 minutes down a gravel road until you reach Gym Beach. Like most of the beaches we visited at Innes National Park there was nobody there and we enjoyed it all to ourselves. A kick of the footy, a dip in the water and some chills in on a 40 degree day doesn’t get too much better in such a remote spot.
This is the last beach you can access from within Innes National Park. The view from the carpark is supreme. I love looking at the patterns the shrubs make in the dunes and the contrast between the dry coast and the pristine azure waters of the ocean. The beach runs almost further than the eye can see and we shared it with a couple of fisherman who waved at us as they walked back after a morning of fishing. We spotted a huge, bright red octopus in the shallows at the beach before laying out on the rocks and enjoying some tunes from the portable speaker.
West Cape Lighthouse
The lighthouse itself is not one of those historic looking structures that makes you feel incredibly young. It was there to do a job and looked out over the vast ocean.
The beach to the left wasn’t named on my map but it had a boardwalk leading all the way down to edge of the dunes.
We wandered around the coastal cliffs, watching our step as we peered over the edge spotting a seal swimming in the shallows.
I highly suggest spending one sunset of your stay out on the Pondalowie Cliffs. This area feels like you are on another planet. Red rocks, white rocks, crazy formations and bays had me feeling like I was on the moon.
The sun sets right over the ocean while waves crash into the rocks below. This part of the coast is rugged and winds in and out making it a spectacle to look back towards Pondalowie surf break. We also spotted a few kangaroos and emus on the walk from Pondalowie Bush Camp Site.
One of the biggest spectacles within Innes National Park is Ethel Wreck. A beautiful boardwalk leads down to the shipwreck. Resting on a 500 yard long beach, Ethel Wreck has been resting ashore since it found trouble in 1904. Ferret wreck also lays at rest on the beach after running to ground in 1920. At different times of the year the wreck is more visible depending on the tides, sand and other natural elements. My parents told me much of the ship used to be intact when they visited but it must be slowly falling to bits. This is a bit of an eerie beach, especially as no-one else was there with us. One member of the crew died while trying to swim a line to shore however the rest of the crew survived. Informative signs about all the wrecks along the coast are a great way to learn a little bit of history while enjoying the views.
Cape Spencer Lighthouse
I was blown away as we started walked along the coast to the lighthouse. Looking back down the beach I couldn’t help thinking why no-one was here to enjoy these views with us. A beautiful stretch of white sand, a backdrop of towering cliffs as beautiful waves come rolling into the empty beach. We hung around the lighthouse for a while reading the signs about all of the ships that have come to grief in the area.
A beautiful bay that is the holder of many family holiday memories. A hotspot for fishing off the jetty and for kids to play in the shallows. This is what Aussie family holidays are all about. The day we arrived at Stenhouse Bay it was a little choppy but I have seen photos of the bay when the weather is calm and it looks amazing.
Chinamans Hat Island
A quick look at the Chinamans Hat Island turned into half an hour of gazing at a pod of dolphins. We got extremely lucky as the dolphins hung around right in front of us for almost 30 minutes.
Chinamans Hat Beach
This little cove is just another private beach within Innes National Park you can enjoy all to yourself. The privacy of most of the beaches is quite unbelievable. There are not many places in the world you can enjoy a beach all to yourself.
There are a number of lakes within the Innes National Park but this one makes the list as when we went – in the summer – it was completely dry and just felt like hard sand. It made me think about the harsh weather conditions and the supply and demand for water even when a stone’s throw away from the vast ocean.
The Inneston Lake is very noticeable from the road as the azure blue will catch your eye from between the thick trees that line the lake’s edge. We stopped to take a closer and look and as we went to the highest vantage point we managed to look down on the lake and see circular formations beneath the surface which puzzled me. Still not sure what they were please comment if you are the wise one amongst us.
While I was out swimming in the surf at Pondalowie Surf Break one of the surfers turned out to be my old goalkeeper Luke Ostbye. He is more of a local than I and suggested I look for a windmill that has four poles next to it blocking cars from driving down a blocked off road. It is between Ethel Beach and Cape Spencer Lighthouse. It is a solid 30 minute walk from the windmill to the beach and we encountered two snakes,and lots of kangaroos and emus along the way.
Once we reached the coast all we could see was a huge drop with a backdrop of haze over the ocean. Looking down was pretty scary as we saw a huge drop. We had found “The Gap”. After treading carefully and admiring the scale of this fragile part of the coast we began to wander in north along the cliffs.
We came across a number of bays and beaches that look inaccessible but extremely beautiful. Sunset from the cliffs was magnificent before we quickly hurried back along the path not wanting to find any more snakes in the dark.
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If you have any spots within Innes National Park you think should be added to this list or any tips about camping at Innes National Park please leave a comment below.