I read many articles from all around the world sharing beautiful photography locations. However, there seems to be a lack of content about Australia. Having lived here for over five years now, I want to share with you some of the best landscape and wildlife photography locations that I have visited. In this article I am going to focus on South Australia, but I hope to keep building on it and adding new locations when I have the time.
South Australia, as you can probably guess, is a state on the southernmost part of the Australian continent. It is notable for being the driest state on the driest permanently inhabited continent. However, this does not seem to have limited the abundance of plants and animals.
Adelaide – the state capital, and the only real city in the state – has a population of about 1.3 million and is a very relaxed place. It has a reputation for being like a large, quiet country town where everyone knows everyone else. The rest of the state is sparsely populated, with numerous small towns and regional centres. To put this in perspective, regional South Australia has a population of about 400,000 spread over an area twice the size of France.
The climate in South Australia is that of a hot, arid Mediterranean country. In Adelaide during the summer, the temperatures are very hot, with temperatures averaging around 30 Celsius (85 Fahrenheit) and periods of over 40 C being somewhat common. Winters are generally dry and mild. The best seasons to visit are spring and autumn, when temperatures are warm and dry. At these times of year, the days are still long, and you will also have the added benefit of fewer tourists.
So, what is there to photograph? Well, South Australia offers a range of unique landscapes, from large eucalyptus forests, to long sandy beaches, to the outback. As for wildlife, Australia has a number of unique species. Among those found in South Australia are kangaroo, koala, emu, echidna, and platypus. For those with something more leisurely in mind, Southern Australia has some of the most renowned wine-making regions in the country. Also, being in the Southern Hemisphere, these areas of Australia also offer a different perspective on the night sky for most people – and with such a sparsely populated country, a large number of dark sky regions exist here as well.
People are often scared of the ‘deadly’ wildlife in Australia. While it is true that there are dangerous species of spiders and snakes in South Australia, these are really quite rare. Only twice have I encountered snakes while bush walking. As with most wild animals, common sense applies. Ensure you are wearing sturdy footwear and treading cautiously, and know what to do in an emergency.
As a final note, at the height of summer in South Australia, there is an ever-present risk of bushfires. The main piece of advice I can offer is to avoid going out when there is a total fire ban in place, and follow any directions given by the local or state services.
Conservation Parks: Landscape and Wildlife Photography
There are numerous conservation parks within very close distance of Adelaide Central Business District (CBD), many of which can be easily accessed by public transport. This is excellent for those looking for photo opportunities without major exertion. The top conservation parks which are certain worth a visit are Belair, Morialta, and Clealand. These are three of the biggest, and they also offer some of the best landscape and wildlife photography locations.
As with most landscapes, the best time for photography is the golden hour. Not only will this give you the best light, but it will help you to avoid the worst of the heat on summer days. Another excellent time to visit the parks is shortly after a spell of rain, when you will be able to see the (often dry) river beds and waterfalls in full flow. This is also a good time to see wildlife, as it is attracted to the water. Sturt River Gorge, shown below, is a good example of the transformation that can take place in summer after a short spell of rain. And it is hard to beat the “three falls” in Morialta conservation park when they are flowing.
One of the biggest attractions of the conservation parks is how likely you are to see the Big Three of Australian wildlife: koalas, kangaroos, and emus.
Most of the metro conservation parks have koalas, which can be easily seen either by looking up at the trees or looking for the groups of tourists with their necks craned skywards! However, locating koalas is only half the battle. Because the natural habitat of koalas is high up in gum trees, it is hard to get any pictures of them except from far away with a high-contrast background. This is made worse by the fact that koalas sleep for over 20 hours a day. But, as with most wildlife, a visit to the parks at dawn or dusk will give you a reasonable chance to see the koalas lower in the trees under better lighting conditions.
Kangaroos are another wildlife must see for most visitors. While they can sometimes be hard to find, they are often seen in abundance when driving in through the countryside. A keen pair of eyes can spot groups of kangaroos in fields beside the road. The conservation parks I have mentioned certainly offer some opportunity to see kangaroos, particularly when going on some of the longer quieter trails. Alternatively, when traveling into the hills, countryside, or further afield you will likely see kangaroos from the car. On another note, kangaroos are regularly found near or on country roads, particularly at dawn or dusk, so when driving on country roads it pays to be vigilant and watch out for these animals.
Emus are the most uncommon of the Big Three. the best metro conservation park to visit for a chance to see one is Belair. The best piece of advice is to go on one of the longer, more remote bush walks and keep your eyes open. As with all wildlife, venturing out into more remote areas will likely lead to a greater chance of seeing animals, but don’t forego the metro conservation parks. If all else fails, a visit to Monarto Zoo will give you the chance to see emus in a semi-wild location.
These animals only count for a small amount of the diverse range of Australian wildlife. Some of the less common animals such as echidna, platypus and wombat can also be found. However, more patience is required – as is a greater knowledge of habitats and behaviour. But, even if you fail to see the wildlife you want, you will surely have some excellent experiences in nature.
Beaches Near the Metro Areas
The beaches in the Adelaide metropolitan area provide some of the most picturesque scenery the city has to offer. Being on the coast, Adelaide has a mix of sand beaches near the city with more rocky beaches and cliffs to the south. These are all within easy travelling distance of the CBD. They have the added benefit of being roughly westward facing, which means they are prime locations for sunset photography. While there are excellent photo opportunities at any of the metro beaches, I will try to narrow down the list to a few key highlights.
One of the first places worth visiting is Hallet Cove Conservation Park. Located just south of the city, it contains some fascinating geology, with interesting rock formations and cliffs. The Sugarloaf, below, is one of the most noteworthy features – a large white rock covered in rainwater channels.
The conservation park itself contains many clifftop paths with stairs to get down onto the rocky shore. The glacial patterns in the rock provide nice foreground interest for wide angle photography. If you are lucky, you may also see some of the local bird life; the area contains many species, with kestrel, osprey, and hobby all present. The coastal walkway that extends to the north and south of the park is a long walking trail, taking you past some very picturesque scenery for those with more time and energy.
The rest of the beaches in the metro area tend to be long and sandy with very calm seas. These are excellent at sunset, but the beaches closest to the city can be quite busy on warmer nights. Heading to the beaches slightly further north or south can help you avoid some of the busier locations. Alternatively, a bit of creative long exposure photography can also be used to remove people from your shots.
Most of the metro beaches have jetties, which are another source of interesting photographs. Some of these can be very busy, and you may have to wait your turn before setting up a tripod, but visiting outside of summer can certainly help due to the reduced crowds. Some of these photos are a bit cliched, but there is a reason for this, and they are an easy place to get some nice shots. It is worth spending a bit of time exploring different angles to experiment with creative compositions.
Heading further south of the city, you can reach the mouth of the Onkaparinga River (while heading upstream takes you through another stunning conservation park). There is a nice mix of cliffs and beaches in this area, combined with a few excellent viewpoints on the clifftop road. Getting onto the beach itself can be a bit of a long walk, so I recommend setting up in one of the car parks, or walking slightly down the paths to get the best viewpoints.
Very close by is another popular spot with photographers – Port Willunga. Not only does Port Willunga have one of the longest metro jetties, but it also has some interesting caves in the cliffs. However, the reason most photographers visit is to see the jetty pylons. Remnants of the old jetty, these pylons are partly covered at high tide, which can provide an interesting foreground for long exposure images. On busy nights, you will see numerous photographers set up here, and it can be a bit tricky finding space for your tripod and ensuring there are no people in your composition.
The metro beaches are also home to some excellent wildlife photograph opportunities. Large sea birds such as pelicans and cormorants can often be found on the quieter beaches. It may require some patience to locate sea birds and then get close enough to get a good shot, but it is worth the effort. As with most other wildlife photography, the best times to visit are early in the morning or late in the evening.
Where to Take Bird Photos in South Australia
South Australia has some excellent spots for bird photography and is home to species that cannot be found anywhere else. I will give a very brief rundown of some of the best locations to see a variety of birds.
One of my favourite spots is Greenfields Wetlands. This is an extensive network of wetlands to the north of the city. The water levels in the wetlands vary quite significantly between summer and winter, which – combined with migrations – means there is a large diversity of species. The two most northerly sections of the wetlands provide the best viewing points, and an entry near the Watershed cafe provides access to a set of boardwalks and a hide. This is a good spot for those not wanting to venture too far from the car, and it provides a good chance to see some of the larger water birds: ibis, egrets, herons, spoonbills, and swamphens. However, being a reasonably popular and therefore busy location, this can sometimes limit the diversity of species here.
Heading further west takes you to the Magazine Road entry to the wetlands. This is more secluded and much quieter location, where seeing other people is rare. From the entry car park, a large flock of pelicans and cormorants is easily visible, with the same species as above often seen as well. Walking out along the narrow path into the heart of the wetlands brings with it the chance to see some less common species: tern, species of duck, black swan, and occasional predatory birds. There are a few benches along the path to set up on, but it is best to avoid the hide at the northern end of the track, as it is often far from where the birds actually are.
Now, I will move on to another set of excellent locations which will provide a contrasting set of species: the metro conservation parks. The trees in these parks, particularly at dawn and dusk, are full of different parrot, cockatoo, parakeet, and lorikeet species with the occasional kookaburra (best known for its distinctive laughing call). These species are smaller and often fast-moving, so a longer lens or good bushcraft skills are required to get close.
Several of the bigger species of cockatoo can be found in surprisingly large flocks, particularly near the grassy entrances to some of the parks, such as Morialta and Black Hill. These larger birds are found near sunset flying in large groups between the trees.
One final location to note is Adelaide botanic gardens, which is home to many cockatoos and other species. However, it is currently also home to a large flock of flying foxes (bats). These are migratory, so they may not be around forever, but currently they are located on the western edge of the park occupying several large trees.
Kangaroo Island Photo Spots
Kangaroo Island is an island off the coast of South Australia. It can be reached by a short flight, or more commonly by driving to Cape Jarvis (2 hours from Adelaide), then getting the ferry over to the island. Even though it is so close to a major city, the island feels like a true wilderness. You can visit at any time of year, and the island is generally very quiet. The size of the island (150 km long) and its small population mean that it is not uncommon to drive for long periods of time without seeing another car. It would be easy to spend a week on Kangaroo Island and still not see every location it has to offer. For those who only have a couple of days and want to maximise the places they visit, I would recommend the following.
The first location to visit is Remarkable Rocks. They are located in the Flinders Chase National Park. The National Park covers most of the western end of the island and is home to lots of wildlife. Visiting the National Park is a full day trip from the major towns, which are on the east of the island. The Remarkable Rocks stand atop a cliff at the southwestern edge of the park. They are a collection of uniquely shaped granite blocks which stand over the surrounding landscape, offering spectacular images.
While in Flinders Chase National Park, it is also work visiting Admirals Arch, a sea arch where a population of New Zealand fur seals live. They can be easily seen from a walkway which takes you into the arch – close to the large swells from the Southern Ocean which batter the coast. There are also a number of nature walks into the conservation park which give you the opportunity to see much of the native wildlife, including, if you are lucky, the elusive platypus.
Near the Flinders Chase National Park is Seal Bay, a misleadingly-named beach which is the home to a population of sea lions. For a small fee, you can go on a tour. Or, going along the boardwalk will take you down to the beach, where you can watch the sea lions playing. Depending on the time of year, you may have the opportunity to see pups up close as they pass under the boardwalk between the dunes and the beach. It would be easy to spend a few hours here taking images.
Another short stop away from Flinders Chase National Park is Vivonne Bay, an amazing shallow bay with crystal clear waters. This is one of the numerous bay areas on KI. Vivonne bay is one of the more easily accessible beaches with amazing views, as well as a long jetty out into the sea.
The final spot on the south coast is Little Sahara, a small collection of tall sand dunes. These are excellent for landscape photography, and, if you want a bit more excitement, you can go sand boarding. Getting a composition without footprints can be a bit tricky, but, by walking to the quieter areas and using a creative composition, you can find some good spots.
There are numerous other excellent locations of Kangaroo Island which are a bit further off the beaten track, but the locations above will fill a couple of days of travel. If at any point you somehow get tired of the stunning views and long sandy beaches, you can visit some of the local tourist attractions. There are a multitude of wineries, spirits, and breweries for those wanting to relax in the sun with a drink. The honey, dairy, and oyster farms are excellent places to sample the local produce.
Photographing the Wine Regions
Adelaide is surround by wine regions on three sides (and the sea on the other). To the north, the Barossa valley is famous for its red wines. To the south is McLaren Vale, famous for its whites. To the East is the Adelaide Hills region. While I can thoroughly recommend a trip to each of these regions to sample the local wines and produce, this is a photography article, so I will try to stay on topic.
The wine regions offer some excellent opportunities for photographing vineyards all year round. In the summer, you will see bright green vines, while the winter offers bare vines contrasted with green grass between the rows. The best way to find good locations is to pick one of the wine regions and go for a drive. There are numerous spots just off the side of the road which offer great opportunities for composing images of the vines. However, if this relaxed way of photography isn’t your style and you prefer to plan your trips more thoroughly, you can go onto Google or Apple maps and use the satellite view. This helps you to see where the vines are, including their orientation (useful for sunset photography). You also can work out if there are places to park nearby.
Another excellent time to visit the regions, particularly the hills, is autumn. Though not as spectacular as the leaves found in other places around the world, there are still some great spots to view the changing colours of the season. In the area around Adelaide, the predominant forest is eucalyptus trees, which are evergreen – but up in the hills there are a number of introduced decorative species, both in the villages and in the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens.
By heading to the gardens, you can spend time walking around finding some great foliage to photograph. Then, afterwards, take the short drive to Mount Loft summit, the highest point above Adelaide, which offers commanding views of the city and is a stunning place to visit at sunset.
I hope that you found these suggestions useful for finding places to photograph in South Australia! Thank you for reading. Sincerely, Candid Llama.
If you want to do night Photography go to swan reach one of the darkest places in Australia.
I enjoyed this detailed and thoughtful article, Richard. I am a local Adelaide person who is delighting in finding interesting places to photograph in SA. In the CBD I am exploring the River Torrens which, although small by contrast with the rivers in many cities of the world, yields interesting vistas. At dawn, the CBD section, with rowers out on the water, the lines of the University Footbridge and the new pedestrian bridge leading to the Adelaide Oval, provides lots of possibilities; sunset too. Because we’re a small city, our tall buildings aren’t that tall so my eye is drawn to fascinating images produced by the juxtaposition of one building with another. I love being able to take photos when travelling to new places but I also delight in seeing my local environment anew through the lens of photography. And you’ve made me realise that I need another trip to Kangaroo Island–it’s been too long.
Thanks Richard – I enjoyed your article and pictures immensely. Having lived for 45 years in various parts of South Australia it bought back many memories. I have been in the USA in Georgia for the past 18 years. I always liked to go down to Victor Harbor to see the penguins on Granite Island and about this time of year Southern Right Whales come incredibly close to shore and calve and mate in the area. Thanks again. Allan.
Thanks for the article, Richard! I’m a resident (Murray Bridge) and – with only a slight bias, of course – agree that the State is a hidden gem. For example, Cambrai, Sedan in the Murray-Lands is hopefully soon to be listed as a “dark sky reserve” – and that’s less than two hours from Adelaide. Thanks again for the article and photos of this great State.
Fantastic article Richard, I truly enjoyed reading it, especially as an Australian expat!
What a wonderful article accompanied by excellent photographs, thank you so much.