Coorong National Park

Coorong National Park, Mike Langford / Auscape International
Bike riding Campfire Caravan Disabled Fishing Park entry fee Swimming Toilets Watersports Wildlife Aboriginal site Camping area Four-wheel drive touring Information Lookout Picnic area Walking

Introduction

Coorong National Park is a long, narrow ribbon of saline wetlands, saltpans, coastal dunes and wild ocean beaches stretching for 150 kilometres along the Younghusband Peninsula on South Australia’s mid-south coast. Its beaches face the blustery winds of the Southern Ocean but behind a chain of tussocky dunes is a sheltered sliver of shallow lagoons, which is a world-recognised sanctuary for thousands of shorebirds.

This important wetland environment affords some unsurpassed opportunities for sightseeing, fishing, birdwatching and camping within earshot of the Southern Ocean surf. The Coorong’s soft landscapes and muted colours also formed the setting for Colin Thiele’s gentle novel Storm Boy, made into a feature film in 1976.

Fact file

Access

From Adelaide via Princes Hwy through Meningie; from Mount Gambier via Princes Hwy through Kingston S.E.

Best season

Spring and summer; winter can be windy and cool

Location

152 km south-east of Adelaide; 61 km south-east of Meningie to Salt Creek (Tea Tree Crossing)

Park information

  • Parks SA (08) 8204 1910
  • Parks SA Coorong (08) 8575 1200

Permits

Camping permit required

Size

50 000 ha

Visitor information

Meningie (08) 8575 1259

Featured Activities in the National Park

  • Learn about the time-honoured ways of the Coorong from Ngarrindjeri elders

    Follow the Lakes Nature Trail past ephemeral salt lakes, dunes and stands of mallee

    Canoe or kayak along quiet waterways, with the opportunity to observe the birdlife

    Camp behind the dunes within earshot of the Southern Ocean’s pounding surf

    Fish at Long Point and watch the sun set over the Coorong lagoon

See Also

A look at the past

Missed by Nicholas Baudin and Matthew Flinders and then bypassed by Charles Sturt when he explored the length of the Murray, the Coorong remained unseen by Europeans until 1838 when two vessels were wrecked on the coast, the survivors meeting up and rowing the length of the Coorong lagoon to Encounter Bay. By the 1840s a stock route, mail run and telegraph line had been established, but the area remained undeveloped. Landing in Adelaide to avoid Victoria’s ten-pound poll tax, Chinese fortune-seekers travelled through the area in the 1850s on their way to the goldfields.

Commercial ventures in the region were never very successful. In the late 1800s sheep farming was blighted by disease, and there were short-lived attempts to mine salt. Australia’s first oil exploration well was drilled at Salt Creek in 1892, but this enterprise also failed.

As early as 1914 some parts of the northern Coorong were protected and the present national park was declared in 1966 to protect the region’s exceptional natural features, with extra land added as a game reserve in 1968. In 1985 the placing of the Coorong on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance register, along with lakes Alexandrina and Albert, recognised the area’s global importance as a waterbird habitat.

Aboriginal culture

The rich landscape of the Coorong has been home to the Ngarrindjeri people for around 6000 years, their fishing culture flourishing in this environment of saltwater lakes and lagoons.

The Ngarrindjeri hunted kangaroos, wombats, snakes and goannas, and harvested fish and shellfish. They travelled along the lagoons in bark and reed canoes and made substantial shelters for protection from the wild and cold southerly weather. These people originally came from an Aboriginal nation further up the Murray River (near the Victorian border), where it was agreed that the most warlike tribes should invade the coastal country first, followed by more peaceful groups.

After Europeans arrived the Ngarrindjeri people suffered disease followed by dispossession – smallpox moved down the river as early as 1810 – decimating the population from over 3000 to just 511 by 1874. Today, however, the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal group is among the largest in southern Australia, with a strong culture. The Coorong is archaeologically and culturally significant, with burial sites, large shell middens, cooking ovens and campsites among the dunes.

Natural features

The Coorong wetlands are the tail end of the huge Murray–Darling drainage basin. The oldest dunes along the Younghusband Peninsula were formed 80 000 years ago when the sea level rose and flooded the natural valley behind the beach. More dunes filled in the gaps 10 000 years ago, creating a continuous narrow neck of sand. Behind this unbroken barrier the Murray’s water is trapped in the Coorong’s waterways. The shallow lagoons seasonally fluctuate in salinity and depth – at the southern end the water is saltier than the sea.

Native plants

Of the 278 species of plants in the Coorong many have adapted to survive in the salty environment – four of the state’s eight species of rare wetland plants are found here. On the sandhills of the Younghusband Peninsula, grasses and other dune plants serve to bind the sandy soil together while being subjected to fierce salt-laden winds. Plants rimming the lagoons are waterlogged for much of the year; in the particularly salty water of the southern lagoons a tiny aquatic plant called ruppia grows where few other plants can survive. The more established mainland areas are characterised by heathlands and coastal mallee scrub intermingled with some lovely pink-gum woodlands.

Wildlife

The Coorong has been designated as a refuge for migratory birds that are in danger of extinction. A total of 238 species of birds have been sighted here, including 85 species of waterbird. Red-necked stints and sandpipers are among those that terminate their migratory journeys at the salt flats of the Coorong. Some of these tiny birds weigh only 30 grams yet travel 12 000 kms from the Arctic Circle. Resident waders include stilts, avocets, plovers, lapwings and oystercatchers, along with waterfowl such as teal, shelducks and, in summer, black swans and Cape Barren geese. Rare fairy terns, and the even more endangered little tern, nest on islands in the lagoons. The wild ocean beach is home to waders, gulls and terns as well as endangered hooded plovers, which nest along its 150 kilometres of windswept sand. In addition to its prolific birdlife, the Coorong boasts over 40 mammal and reptile species.

Introduction

Apart from its attraction as an internationally renowned birdwatcher’s paradise, the park offers camping, sightseeing, coastal bushwalking, kayaking, sailing, fishing and four-wheel driving.

Beach and bushwalking

Walks are generally easy and fairly short. Lakes Nature Trail (3-km circuit) at Salt Creek passes different habitats from salt lakes to sand dunes. From the same carpark, Ngrugie Ngoppun, or ‘good walk’, links to a 27-kilometre trail that leads to 42 Mile Crossing.

Godfreys Landing (accessible by boat only) trail heads from the lagoon to the ocean beach just south of the Murray mouth. There are other short walks: at Chinamans Well, a trail (1.3 km, 1 hr) leads to disused quarries, ruins of a Chinese eating house and remains of an 1856 well; from Jacks Point carpark, a short stroll (10 minutes) ends at a lookout over pelican breeding grounds.

Canoeing and kayaking

Canoeing in the Coorong’s sheltered waters is one of the best ways to explore the lagoons and islands. Some islands are protected bird-breeding habitats and must not be approached closer than 140 metres.

Fishing

The northern Coorong lagoon is a great place to catch mullet, bream, salmon and flounder. Nets are best as the lagoon is shallow with rocky reefs that snag lines. There are boat-launching sites at Long Point and Parnka Point. Line fishing from the jetty at Long Point is worth a try and the kids are guaranteed to catch carp from the jetties at Meningie. On the ocean beach there is excellent surf-fishing for the Coorong’s famous mulloway, as well as salmon, shark, whiting and flathead. A fishing licence is not required for recreational fishing in South Australia but bag and size limits apply. Contact PIRSA Fisheries (08) 8204 1380.

Four-wheel driving

Central to the Coorong experience is to get across the lagoon onto the wild and seemingly endless beach of the Younghusband Peninsula. There are crossing points at Tea Tree, 32 Mile and Wreck Crossing, but 42 Mile Crossing, 18 kilometres south of Salt Creek, is the best access in all seasons. The first 3 kilometres of the track in from the Princes Highway can be negotiated by 2WD, but the last 1.3 kilometres is over loose sandy dunes and requires 4WD – alternatively, it is not too far to walk. From the top of the dunes there is a view of the whole Coorong landscape, from the ocean beach across the low-lying salt flats and marsh to the mainland.

Tea Tree Crossing at Salt Creek is accessible only during the summer months. Once on the ocean beach take care to drive below the high water mark and watch out for changed conditions and soft sand. The beach is a great place for relaxing, fossicking for shells or surf-fishing. The beach stretching north from Tea Tree Crossing to the Murray Mouth is closed between October 24 and December 24 to protect the rare hooded plover during the nesting season – the female lays her eggs in a shallow scrape above the high-water mark.

Heritage and nature tours

Visitors to the Coorong can learn about Ngarrindjeri culture and beliefs from gifted storytellers and guides based at Coorong Wilderness Lodge (08) 8575 6001 and at Camp Coorong (08) 8575 1557. Nature lovers and birdwatching enthusiasts can join a 4WD Coorong Nature Tour, or Spirit of the Coorong eco-cruise.

Scenic views

There are a number of lookouts along the eastern side of the lagoon. In the north, Pelican Point offers good birdwatching; further south, Parnka Point has scenic views up and down the lagoons with the possibility of seeing a rare orange-bellied parrot; at Jacks Point Pelican Observatory there are high-powered binoculars to look over nearby breeding islands, home to pelicans and fairy terns.

Campsites

28 Mile Crossing camping area

One of several locations for self-sufficient campers in the southern reaches of the park, 28 Mile Crossing is 30 km north of Kingston SE, with access off Old Coorong Rd. A permit is required from the self-registration... Find out more


32 Mile Crossing camping area

An exposed coastal site close to the beach access track, this camping area for self-sufficient campers is reached from the Princes Hwy, 39 km north of Kingston SE. Pick up a permit from the self-registration station.... Find out more


42 Mile Crossing camping area

The most popular entry to the main ocean beach, this camping area for self-sufficient campers is accessible to all vehicles in all weather, although the final 1.3 km to the beach is a 4WD and walking track. The camping... Find out more


Barker Knoll camping area (boat-based camping)

This is a great beach location for self-sufficient campers, right at the Murray Mouth and reached only by boat via Goolwa or Mundoo Channel, or from Hindmarsh Island. Pick up a permit from the self-registration station.... Find out more


Godfreys Landing camping area (boat-based camping)

Beach camping just south of the Murray Mouth is accessible by boat only. Come equipped for self-sufficient camping, and pick up a permit from the self-registration station. There is a limit of 6 people per site.... Find out more


Long Point camping area

There are good views of the northern lagoon from this site for self-sufficient campers on the eastern shore, and there's access to a small jetty. It’s 26 km west of Meningie off Long Point Rd. A permit is... Find out more


Loop Road camping area

Pleasant bush sites are scattered among the mallee and tea-tree scrub close to Salt Creek, with good nature walks nearby. It is situated 60 km south of Meningie, 4 km south of Salt Creek, on Loop Rd.... Find out more


Mark Point camping area

Close to the water, with a boat launch, Mark Point is reached from Mark Point Rd, 35 km west of Meningie. Permits are available from self-registration stations within the park.... Find out more


Ocean Beach camping areas (bush camping)

Bush camping sites are available at different points along the ocean beach. Only designated sites can be used, and vehicles and tents must be kept within marked areas. Beach access by 4WD only is via 28 Mile Crossing,... Find out more


Old Coorong Road camping areas (bush camping)

In the far south of the park there are bush camping options along Old Coorong Rd, starting from 26 km north of Kingston SE. Follow the signs, bring water and wood as fires are allowed between high and low tides, and pick... Find out more


Parnka Point camping area

There are fine views and sheltered sites from this peninsula, 23 km south of Meningie, close to the narrows marking the boundary between the north and south lagoons. Accessed from the Princes Hwy, the camping area is 2.1... Find out more


Tea Tree Crossing camping area

This camping area for self-sufficient campers has 4WD access only in late summer, owing to lagoon levels. It’s 9 km south of Salt Creek via Loop Rd; a permit is required.... Find out more


See Also

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