Steve Robertson takes Fleurieu Peninsula resident on a walk through the gorge

To experience what the landscape of our region looked like long before the arrival of Europeans, head north for Onkaparinga River National Park, where an astonishing variety of hiking trails take you to cliff tops with magnificent views, through dry forests full of flowers and birds, down to permanent rock pools just waiting to be photographed.

Onkaparinga Gorge protects some of the finest remaining pockets of remnant vegetation in this part of the state. Autumn with its warm but mild days is a great time to visit – spring, for the wildflowers, is excellent too. We went via Upper Penny’s Hill Road to where it joins Piggott Range Road. There’s gate #11 and parking there, as well as the start of three good tracks, the very easy and flat Nature Walk, the Echidna Walk and the harder two-hour Sundews Ridge Hike, also a loop track with just one steep bit in the middle.

This is dry eucalypt forest, home to ‘roos, echidnas, possums and an impressive variety of birds including honeyeaters, thornbills and fairy wrens. What makes the walks special is a chance to descend to lovely permanent pools and river plains that offer safe habitat for dozens of migratory bird species. Another plus for us was discovering the crumbling stone ruins of an 1880s farmhouse. The rooms are tiny and standing amongst the collapsed walls gives you an appreciation of the hardships of pioneer life that no book can equal.

After one or two hikes here, reward yourself with a picnic along the banks of that same Onkaparinga River in the heart of historic Old Noarlunga. The river does an impressive loop through the town – our favourite part was the lesser-visited north side, with its comfy benches, picturesque steep river banks and contended ducks swimming this way and that.

You’ll see rugged ridge tops and the narrow river valley of the spectacular Onkaparinga Gorge. This park the Southern Adelaide region. Wherever you go, you’ll be among native wildlife such as birds, protects some of the finest remaining pockets of remnant vegetation in Areas of the park were used as farmland for many years, so you can also discover heritage-listed huts and the ruins of houses built in the 1880s. 

In Onkaparinga Recreation Park, the river spills onto the plains, creating wetland ponds and flood plains. The area conserves important fish breeding habitat and hundreds of native plant and animal species, many of which are rare. The Onkaparinga River estuary also provides habitat for endangered migratory birds. This park is popular with people of all ages and interests. You can go fishing in the river, wander along the wetland boardwalks, ride a bicycle on the shared use trails, walk your dog (on a lead), kayak the calm waters or just be at peace with nature.

From the rugged gorge to the river plains, the Onkaparinga River parks provide a natural corridor for wildlife moving from the natural and recovering landscapes, downriver to the wetland estuary, abundant with life.

Local travel writer and photographer Steve Robertson explores locations in the region where you can walk, photograph and learn.