Sydney certainly exists. Most can confidently name Melbourne. A smug minority will inform you that, in fact, Canberra is the capital. But, from my experience, thus ends the familiarity with Australia for anyone living outside its borders. Before arriving, the vast island was a blank desert to my imagination, with Sydney and Melbourne posted somewhere on the north coast.
Of course, I’ve subsequently discovered precisely how wrong that ignorant impression was, though it’s definitely excusable. Having now traversed South and West Australia, I can confirm it’s relatively empty. People, settlements, and even identifiable features are few and far between, though that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a shortage of things to do.
South Australia is undeniably a place, complete with associated activities. Also, before I report on what I did, the title is deliberately click-baity. Every other site promoting this territory’s various wares employs similar language, but mine is irony, because I’m self-aware.
It would be remiss not to mention the capital. Of South Australia’s entire 1.8million population, over 77% is centralised in Adelaide, which frequently ranks as one of the most liveable cities in the world.
For permanent residents, much of the appeal is provided by the efficient education, healthcare, and infrastructure boasted by what is effectively a city entirely circled by parkland. The grid-like CBD district is meticulously organised and almost perfectly flat, making it incredibly accessible. Already heavily pedestrianised, free bike hire is also available, enabling anyone to breeze along the few streets.
Described as a ‘20-minute town’, this has both appeal and drawbacks. The most obvious? Everything is conveniently within reach. It does, however, mean a tourist can comfortably cover every inch of the city within one day.
Between the Central Markets and the Botanic Gardens are Rundle Mall, South Australia Musuem, and the Art Gallery of South Australia. Tick off four of the top-listed five attractions, before you hop on a tram to Glenelg, the most popular beach-side suburb, for an afternoon soak before the sunset, and you’ll be perfectly satisfied.
Visitors to Kangaroo Island might hear different accounts. Officially, it’s the third-largest island off Australia’s coastline. To residents, however, so-called ‘North Island’ is the largest off the shores of Kangaroo Island.
Home to a little over 5,000 people, this 4,500km2 land mass is often described as encapsulating Australia in miniature, from rugged coastlines to sweeping bays, lengthy arid stretches to low-lying hills, and classic native wildlife. It’s frequently recommended that Kangaroo Island be enjoyed over numerous weeks, if not a month. Intrepid explorer that I am, the task was tackled in just one day.
This meant departing Adelaide Central Bus Terminal at 6.45am, which didn’t prove too unpalatable, before traversing two hours of empty roads towards Cape Jervis. Wild kangaroos were spotted along this stretch, including pairs of juvenile males boxing. Exact tour itineraries might vary between operators, but Adelaide Sightseeing first show off Seal Bay conservation park, home to a large colony of Australian sealions, through which we waded, taking care not to intrude or impact their natural behaviours beyond what couldn’t be avoided.
Next, we were whisked into Flinders Chase national park, first to Remarkable Rocks (a pile of remarkable rocks), then to Admiral’s Arch and Cape du Couedic, from which one can expect to see long-nose New Zealand fur seals, bizarrely native to Australia despite their name.
We finished by visiting Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, where it’s possible to hand-feed and stroke rescued orphan kangaroos. The kangaroos of Kangaroo Island differ from their mainland counterparts by their black fur and friendly temperament, making them especially appealing. Koalas and quokkas also make themselves willing volunteers to be stroked, with the park also housing pelicans, servals, dingoes, wallabies, a wombat, capuchins, cockatoos, an echidna, and perhaps more that have slipped my mind.
The Adelaide Sightseeing tour is fantastically well organised, and the drivers exceptionally knowledgeable and informative. That might sound like an advertisement, but I have no affiliation with them. It’s just a genuine recommendation.
The day is long, for single day-trippers, almost exceeding sixteen hours, and I was exhausted upon my return, but satisfied.
There’s one big draw to this unassuming town: shark cage diving. Only one site in Australia offers potential encounters with the ultimate ocean predator. The iconic great white is one of the most terror-inducing and most misunderstood animals on the planet. Tours departing Port Lincoln frequent the Neptune Islands, 70km from the coast, in hopes of glimpsing the pelagic monsters in action. It’s chosen because fur seals also call these shores home.
Being brutally honest, the average tourist will likely find little else to justify their visit. Lincoln National Park on the doorstep is more garnish atop an existing trip than destination in itself, whilst the town is reduced to its tour operators. Necessitating a ten-hour drive from Adelaide, or forty-minute (but more expensive, financially and environmentally) plane journey from the capital, think hard before visiting if you’re scared of sharks.
My shark cage dive, I hate to say, ended in disappointment. None were hungry. For five hours we hurled Berley, a minced mixture of natural fish products, including tuna guts and gills, into the water, delighting only albatross, kingfish, and trevally. Calypso Star Charters, with whom I booked, do offer compensation in the event sharks fail to materialise, so I will probably try again with them.
As a quick note on Calypso, the boat was equipped with hot showers and a coffee machine, with three substantial hot meals provided throughout the day. I would thoroughly recommend them.
I did, the following day, depart on another of their tours, to swim with sealions (yes, they do this in a different place to the shark cage diving). This was initially done on a whim, and I entered with no particular expectations or hopes, but found the experience amazing. The sealions were delightfully playful and possessed zero inhibitions. I repeated this fantastic opportunity to equal enjoyment from Jurien Bay, on the west coast, as well.
Will I return to South Australia?
Yes. Had I seen a great white, no. South Australia the state is largely flat, arid, and featureless. The drive I undertook was beautiful in a specifically stark, bleak sense, primarily fascinating in its lack of engagement.
Realistically, there are few advantages over the east coast, which has become more developed precisely because there is more to do, and more spectacular scenery.
Thanks for reading! If you live outside of Australia, how many states/cities/towns can you name, and how confident are you with locating them?
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