5 secret places in South Australia to greet the sun with a smile
Glowing tangerine and gold as the sun begins to rise, Pildappa Rock takes me completely by surprise. Fringed by weathered walls that flare like cresting waves frozen in time, it calls me to climb, luring me up a gently rising spur of prickly granite.
Just four storeys up I reach Pildappa’s lichen-covered summit, undulating and pitted with tiny waterholes called gnammas that cradle sweet, clear rainwater and nurture verdant grasses with delicate white blooms. Clinging precariously to its slopes, eroded boulders shed outer layers of granite like onion skins, and far below my feet a vast patchwork of farming plots stretches endlessly south.
There’s nothing busy about this uplifting sunrise scene. Once buried seven kilometres underground, Pildappa Rock has taken its time to rise from the earth and remains an unhurried place where it feels just right to rest. There are no walking trails or must-do activities, preserving the serenity atop this lonely island of mottled pink granite for solitude-seekers like me, watching the sun begin to shine.
Once buried seven kilometres underground, Pildappa Rock has taken its time to rise from the earth and remains an unhurriedly place where it feels just right to rest.
If you’ve never found your way to Pildappa Rock, it might be because this little viewpoint is located far off the beaten track at the top of the Eyre Peninsula. To discover it, you’d need to be en route between Port Augusta and Ceduna, and even then, the far more celebrated Gawler Ranges National Park might draw your attention north.
We set out for the Gawler Ranges too, but in the end, Pildappa’s pink granite inselberg eclipses every step of our too-hot hiking adventure on rocky national park trails, soothing us with a shady campsite beneath its irresistible, flaring walls. We surf the rock at sunrise, dare each other up ever-steepening walls and find new routes to the summit to stand, breathe and stretch above Pildappa’s pancake-flat surrounds.
Despite flying under the radar, the summit of Pildappa Rock is one of the loveliest places I’ve ever saluted the sun; a little chunk of wild juxtaposed against a vast agricultural canvas that I’ll forever treasure for the solitude it offers.
Elsewhere in South Australia await joyful places to rise and shine, but this pick of lesser-known spots is for lovers of the path less travelled, chosen to connect you with nature and throw up magical morning-time scenes. All are unexpectedly unique and distinctly South Australian, and fine places for secluded morning strolls and meditation sessions, for surfing, swimming and kick-starting your day in perfect, uninterrupted solitude.
Safeguarded by its secluded location at the western end of South Australia’s 3816 kilometre-long coastline, Streaky Bay would be mobbed by holidaymakers in any other part of the country. Its wild stretches of sand are just the right kind of shabby chic — tousled and windswept and scattered with seagrass thrown from translucent meadows offshore.
Sea cliffs crumble into chilly blue bays where you can paddle a kayak alongside a curious Australian sea lion, or snare catches of snapper or swimmer crabs. There are beaches for camping and beaches for angling, and some just for the sea lions to haul up onto. But the shoreline I love most stares out over Eba Island, hugging a shimmering bay that washes from Streaky Bay township all the way north to the wild lands of Acraman Creek Conservation Park.
On Perlubie Beach I covet a rustic beachside swing and wait for the sun to turn first light to something more real. The water sparkles, undisturbed by power boats or birds, and as I sit and swing, a tiny mouse dashes across the seagrass piled close by, reminding me that grain harvesting season is in full swing too.
The sun rises high to silhouette Eba Island offshore, but still I have this incredible location entirely to myself. I take a long walk south on sand that’s hard enough to ride a bike on and wonder if my angling mate has reeled in enough tommy ruff or trevally to feed me a seafood feast. Streaky Bay’s reputation for incredibly tasty seafood is well deserved, and if fishing is your thing, you’ll find few better places to cast a line.
… the mysterious Blue Lake lures me back into town, and I take a bottle of pinot noir to the water’s enchanting edge. There, I salute the sun as it steals back from the Blue Lake its best shade of cobalt blue.
In season, it’s well known that grand catches of salmon, King George whiting, snapper and blue swimmer crabs are almost guaranteed, but if the fishing fails (or your not-so-dependable angler sleeps through sunrise), you’ll find ample supplies of fresh oysters, abalone, crayfish and scallops for sale around town.
While the South Australian coastline is full of small seaside towns just custom-made for beach holidays, Streaky Bay is the one I like the best. There’s the obligatory jetty for fishing and morning strolls, plenty of fresh local food to fuel your exploring, and a couple of quirky festivals to time your trip around (this is South Australia after all).
Arrive in November to catch Rodeo by the Sea or head to Perlubie Bay to see in the New Year and swell the local crowds celebrating with sporting beach fun, down on the sand.
With its rustic seascape of salty holiday shacks and seagull-studded shores, Coffin Bay is the personification of charm. It’s unashamedly unpretentious and an authentic place for city escapees to really unwind, spending lazy summer holidays sun-kissed and sandy, and devouring world-famous Coffin Bay oysters with abandon.
The natural backdrops couldn’t be more appealing. While the Southern Ocean crumbles overhanging sea cliffs on the edge of town, Coffin Bay turns its attention towards the tannin-hued waterways barely rippling in the breeze, luring paddlers into a stunning labyrinth of tranquil channels.
If you love to paddle you’ll love Coffin Bay, especially over summer when holidaymakers return to crank up the towns’ laid-back vibe, and spend time stand-up paddleboarding and swimming and ordering up seafood at every meal. For me, the best place to wake up is on the water, pushing off silently across Kellidie Bay at first light, and separating great flocks of pelicans. As the light shifts slowly overhead, new shores urge me on, and the ridiculously translucent sea reveals schools of fish spooked as I pass.
Paddling on such tranquil water is a graceful meditation, and in a morning of sightseeing, you can circle Rabbit Island and stroll Long Beach before dipping your paddle back towards town. Out on the Coffin Bay Peninsula lies another week’s worth of paddling adventures, through Thorny Passage Marine Park all the way to Seasick Bay on the tip of Point Sir Isaac.
If the simplicity of camping offers you a meaningful return-to-self, a stay in Coffin Bay National Park is bound to soothe with endless beaches to wander, the drifting dunes along Almonta Beach to explore, off-road adventures to Sensation Beach, and a top surf break off the squeaky white sands of Mullalong Beach. To get into it all, pack kayaks and camping gear and set up base camp on the sheltered shores of Yangie Bay.
From our camp on the bay, my family and I beat the crowds to Templetonia Lookout in time for sunrise, taking in lofty views to the north of low-lying samphire swamps and black tea trees, and ogling the dramatically sculpted sea cliffs that eventually lure us to an overhanging viewpoint above Point Avoid.
Teetering here, we watch the unrelenting swell pound the limestone below, then slowly rockhop down onto the long, arcing Avoid Bay to beachcomb and chase the shadows that soaring white-bellied sea eagles cast on the sand.
To the south, beyond the glittering Golden Island, we spend a long, sunny day on Almonta Beach where the drifting Coffin Bay dunes form a monstrous, sandy backdrop. According to an Indigenous legend, ancestral tribesmen created the dunes in their efforts to stop a great fire raging on the ocean from spreading across the land. It’s a terrific story and one that always returns to mind when I’m crashing through the chilly, early-morning waves on the edge of Coffin Bay’s sea.
The Blue Lake
Every December for a few fleeting months, a stunning summertime shift mysteriously transforms Mount Gambier’s most impressive volcanic crater, turning it a brilliant, bold, cobalt blue. From April to October, this enormous water-filled maar is dull and steely grey, but as the weather warms up on South Australia’s Limestone Coast, micro-crystals of calcium carbonate form in the lake, scattering blue wavelengths from the summertime sun so that, to the human eye at least, the lake appears phenomenally turquoise blue.
That’s the best theory to explain why it glows, and the spectacle is grand enough to draw quite a crowd. But in the early hours around sunrise, I find much-needed solitude along the 3.6km-long walking trail that loops a lofty path around the lake’s rim. I’m able to work up just enough of a pre-dawn sweat without taking my eyes off the view, and stop to stretch and marvel at every lookout as the rising sun returns the lake’s lustrous sapphire shimmer for the day.
There are guided tours with fascinating information to glean, but the Blue Lake speaks to me loud and clear, and I enjoy my exploring without the need to comprehend its depth or breath. It’s utterly enchanting and slightly out-of-this-world, and enough of an attraction to build a mini-break around.
A few days at Mount Gambier might be filled with a side trip to World Heritage-listed Naracoorte Caves for deep, dark underground adventures, or in pursuit of the perfect pinot noir, sampling at cellar doors from Haig Vineyard to Caroline Hills Winery. You could scuba dive the frigid freshwater Piccaninnie Ponds on the coast, or 4WD across massive sand dunes through remote Canunda National Park.
I head south to the Blue Lake’s less famous neighbour — the very dormant Mount Schank, which hasn’t huffed or puffed for around 4500 years. The easily tackled trek to Mount Schank fills an energetic morning, teetering along its steep-sided volcanic rim that falls breathlessly away to a vegetation-filled crater. This thrilling, intriguing wander is best tackled in the very early, very cool hours around sunrise before the summer heat begins to sting.
Inevitably though, the mysterious Blue Lake lures me back into town, and I take a bottle of pinot noir to the water’s enchanting edge. There, I salute the sun as it steals back from the Blue Lake its best shade of cobalt blue.
Studding Australia’s longest beach like a beautiful exclamation mark, The Granites tumble into the sea: six rocky orbs clustered photogenically at the far southern fringe of Coorong National Park. For 200km from Port Elliot to Cape Jaffna, the beach that wraps around Lacepede Bay is otherwise bereft of boulders, bar these magnificent domes that photographers love.
Every sunrise and sunset ignites The Granites, casting a golden glow over their stunning, tricoloured seascape, and luring travellers across the sandy coastal plains 17km north of Kingston SE just to witness the event that bookends each and every day.
Some set up camp in the car park nearby, others leave the beds of their beachfront B&Bs armed with fishing rods, beach toys and breakfast mugs of tea. There are plenty of places along this coastline to stroll and swim and ride the waves, but none so scenic as where this enigmatic convoy rolls out of the dunes and makes a break for the sea.
Close to the action, Kingston SE offers beachy rentals and lots of laid-back seafood dining options, and its iconic Big Lobster is an unmissable tourist site. But though The Granites’ gravelly camp might be nothing more than a place to park your campervan, it always draws me in for the chance to spend a sunset down on the sand, and tackle the short trip again at dawn to watch the first rays set The Granites on fire.