Dhilba-Guuranda-Innes National Park is one of the most beautiful parts of South Australia. I was blown away by the raw beauty of the coastline down on the wild and rugged Yorke Peninsula, and Innes National Park was the absolute highlight. The protected area on the southern tip of the peninsula could easily draw parallels with Wilsons Prom in Victoria for its variety of landscapes, wildlife and things to do.
While a long 300km drive from Adelaide, Innes National Park is an incredibly popular coastal destination for weekends and summer holidays. However, if you visit outside of peak times, you’ll likely have much of the place to yourself. When I visited in October, I had an incredible few days in the national park enjoying most of the spectacular beaches and walks without anyone else around.
If you’re looking for stunning coastal scenes, then a few days down at Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park is one of the best things to do in South Australia. This travel guide will outline everything you need to know about visiting Innes National Park on the Yorke Peninsula.
About Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park
Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park is an incredibly wild and rugged region on the southern tip of the Yorke Peninsula. The park is co-managed by South Australia Parks and Wildlife Service and the Narungga traditional owners. The Narungga nation are made up of four clans: the Kurnara, Windera, Wari and Dilpa. The oceans around the coast are also part of the Southern Spencer Gulf Marine Park.
It’s home to an abundance of wildlife, including emus, kangaroos, snakes, dolphins and birds. I managed to see all these animals within the first couple of days inside the national park, which is why the driving speed limit is quite slow. It’s important to look out for animals, especially around dawn and dusk.
The park is accessible to 2WD vehicles, with the main road right through the region being sealed. There are small off shoot roads to the beaches and lighthouses which are all dirt, but in good condition.
There is an Information Centre at the park entry at Stenhouse Bay. There is a ranger on duty to chat to and book campsites in person if you prefer instead of online. You can pick up any brochures, maps and information too.
There’s so many things to do in Innes National Park, including fishing, camping, walking, surfing, swimming, birdwatching and relaxing on the beach. Whether you stay for a day or a week, you can’t be bored.
While phone reception is limited inside the national park, I was pretty surprised to find Optus coverage across a lot of places. You can find phone reception at: Stenhouse Bay Campground (Optus and Telstra), West Cape Lighthouse (Optus and Telstra), Cape Spencer Lighthouse (Optus and Telstra), Pondalowie Campground (limited Optus), and Shell Beach Campground (limited Telstra and Optus).
When to visit
Innes National Park, like any other coastal area, is at its best in summer. The warmer weather makes it perfect for enjoying the world-class beaches, with the cool water enticing on hot days. However, this is also when it’s at its busiest and you may find it hard to book a campsite on a weekend in summer.
I would recommend visiting in either spring or autumn. This offers the best weather in terms of walking, fishing, camping and surfing. It also means you won’t have excessive crowds on the beaches and mid-week will likely be extremely quiet.
How to get there
Located on the southwest tip of the Yorke Peninsula, Innes National Park is 300km from Adelaide. This means it’s just over a 3-hour drive, via Port Wakefield, Adrossan, Minlaton and Warooka.
Marion Bay is the nearest town to the national park, although it’s very small with just a caravan park and general store. I would recommend coming with plenty of supplies.
Innes National Park fees
Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park is one of the parks in South Australia that requires a national parks pass or day entry pass.
The vehicle entry pass can be paid just for the day, which is $12 per vehicle per day. You can pay online here.
But I would recommend getting a Parks Pass for South Australia instead, which is multiple entry and covers most national parks for an extended period of time. This gives you more flexibility and allows you to explore the rest of South Australia too. It also saves you money, instead of having to pay for day entry passes all the time.
You can get a 2-month Parks Pass for $48 or a 12-month Parks Pass for $108 per vehicle. You can buy these online here.
Innes National Park accommodation
If you want to stay in Innes National Park, camping is the main accommodation style. There are a bunch of different campgrounds around the park, which I’ll outline below.
Otherwise, there is some more traditional accommodation in the Inneston Historic Township. SA Parks offer self-contained accommodation in lodges housed in heritage buildings. It’s an incredibly unique place to wake up in the national park. You can book through the Parks website here.
Otherwise, the other option is to stay outside of the national park boundary. A couple of nearby accommodation options include:
Marion Bay Holiday Villas || Situated in Marion Bay, this property offers a two bedroom villa within a 10-minute walk from the beach. The self-contained villa is great for couples or a family. Check availability here.
Hillocks Drive || Set outside of Marion Bay, you can book this entire holiday home which boasts four bedrooms. It’s perfect for a family holiday or big group getaway. Check availability here.
Innes National Park camping
There’s plenty of campgrounds in the national park, most with access to their own beach. It’s perfect if you want to enjoy some of the places without the day trip crowds and also appreciate the incredible sunsets and sunrises on the coast.
I managed to stay at around half of these campgrounds for at least a night each during my time there and I also drove around to check the others out as well. They all have basic drop toilets, but are otherwise very basic bush camps.
Camping in Innes National Park costs $17 per site per night as of 2022. You must book and pay online here.
Stenhouse Bay Campground: The main campground, located near the park entrance. With 25 large campsites, it’s perfect for all set ups including caravans, camper trailers, tents and vans. It’s within walking distance to Stenhouse Bay Jetty and Little Emu Beach.
Cable Bay Campground: A small campground with views across to the islands in the sea, there’s only nine campsites, but it’s suitable for all different set ups including caravans and tents.
Pondalowie Campground: There’s two different Pondalowie Campgrounds, one for tents only and the other for caravans and camper trailers. It has access to Pondalowie Bay and isn’t far from the surf break.
Shell Beach Campground: A small and secluded campground for camper trailers, small vans and tents, this spot has eight campsites with plenty of shade and within walking distance from Shell Beach.
Browns Beach Campground: Another nice campground, this is within walking distance from Browns Beach with seven campsites behind sand hills.
Gym Beach Campground: The most secluded spot out of all campgrounds, there’s six campsites with caravans, tents and camping trailers. It’s only accessible from Gym Beach Road, from outside of the park.
Where to eat
There’s no where to get food inside the national park boundary, so you should be fully self-sufficient. However, there is a General Store in Marion Bay just outside of the park, where you can get fuel, hot food and basic supplies.
Top things to do in Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park
There’s plenty of things to do in Innes National Park, with many of the top attractions actually being within a short drive of each other. You could easily spend a couple of days driving through the park, stopping off at every beach, lighthouse or lookout. So, here are the must-see spots to add to your itinerary:
1. Stenhouse Bay Lookout Walk
The bay at the entrance to the national park, Stenhouse is a very popular place for families to head on the Yorke Peninsula. There is a long jetty for fishing and the water can be good for swimming when it’s calm.
However, a real highlight is the Stenhouse Bay Lookout Walk. This 2km loop trail leaves from the car park near the campground and jetty and takes you up and around the cliffs above the bay. The views along the coastline of Investigator Strait are incredible, plus you can read the information boards along the way to learn a bit more about the history of the area.
2. Innes National Park road viewpoint
Just after you pass through the park entrance and pass Stenhouse Bay campground, the road comes over a rise and then drops down again. This offers one of the most incredible spots to stop for a photo op. You can see the rugged coastline in front of you with the road winding its way over the terrain.
Just on the rise, there is a pullover on the left side with plenty of room. You can safely pull off the road here and stop for a photo. However, be careful taking photos on the road, as it’s on a bit of a bend and you may not see cars coming.
3. Cape Spencer Lighthouse
A really iconic place in the national park, Cape Spencer Lighthouse sits at the very southern tip of the Yorke Peninsula. It’s just a short few hundred metres walk from the car park along a sandy trail towards the lighthouse, but the views are simply breathtaking.
The coastal cliffs drop off either side and the sparkling blue water surrounding the point makes it very tempting to jump straight into the water. It really is a must see spot, and is perfect for keen photographers, especially around golden hour.
4. Inneston Historic Township
These ruins are an abandoned gypsum township which you can explore on the 2km loop walk called the Inneston Historic Walk. Signs along the way take you back in time to the early 1900s of the tight community which lived and worked in the area.
It’s incredible to think that around 200 people lived there in the self-sufficient community, which was very remote and cut off from much of the rest of South Australia at that time.
You can also stay in some of these old buildings, information is above.
5. Ethel Beach and Ship Wreck
While there are over 40 ship wrecks off the coast of the national park, the most famous wreck is that of Ethel. The Ethel came to ground in 1904 during a severe storm, and the remains of the ship lay across the beach. Over time, the wreck is slowly fading away into the ocean, but it’s still worth a visit.
Depending on the tide, the ship wreck can be seen sticking out of the sand. There’s a viewpoint just at the car park from where you can look down to the beach and wreck. However, I would recommend walking down the stairs to the left which gives you access to the beach as well. You’ll be able to see the old ship up close from down there.
6. West Cape Lighthouse and Beach
A more modern looking lighthouse, but one that does its job standing around 70 metres above sea level on the western coast of the national park. There is a worthwhile 1km loop walk around the headland and lighthouse from the car park.
It’s not well-marked but you just need to follow the cliff edge around until you get back to the starting point. The entire headland is bare so the 360 degree views stretch in all directions.
There’s also a beach just to the left of the lighthouse, with a wooden staircase leading right down to the sand from the car park. When I was there, a few surfers were heading down there and they said it can get even better waves than Pondalowie at times, but rarely sees anyone in comparison. It looked like such a beautiful beach if you had the time and wanted a secluded spot.
7. Pondalowie Surf Break
Pondalowie Bay offers some of the most consistent surf on the Yorke Peninsula. The beach can be accessed via a 10-15 minute boardwalk which links the car park with the surf beach. There is a nice long viewing platform where you can stand and watch the surfers catch a break.
It attracts a crowd on weekends, with some surfers making the long drive from Adelaide if the waves aren’t breaking well over on the Fleurieu Peninsula. I found a handful of surfers there in the afternoon on a Sunday, and I stayed for a while to watch them.
I even managed to see a pod of dolphins playing with the surfers, which was beautiful. Apparently, it’s pretty common in Pondalowie Bay, but I sadly didn’t get to snap a photo in time.
Pondalowie Bay itself is huge, and the sandy beach stretches for around 5km. It’s a great place for a walk to explore the coast, with a boat ramp and access point down the southern end of the beach.
8. Royston Head
My favourite spot in Innes National Park, Royston Head is truly spectacular. If you enjoy a walk, then this has to be added to your itinerary. Jutting out from the western coast of the national park, the rugged headland is a very secluded spot to find yourself standing amongst some of the most incredible views.
The relatively flat trail is a bit sandy but not overly difficult as it takes you out towards the edge of the peninsula. It skirts around the coastline and then basically ends there, but you’ll notice a faint trail dropping down to the actual end of the headland which is where I went.
I spent quite a while out there enjoying the view. It blew me away with how many hidden beaches there are along the coast which are basically inaccessible to us humans. You’ve got to then follow the trail back again to the carpark. It’s around 5km return.
9. Dolphin Beach
This might just be one of the most beautiful beaches in South Australia. Dolphin Beach is a stunning display of white sand beach, clear blue water, colourfully stained rocks and rugged cliffs. It’s accessible just 100m from the car park, with some wooden stairs to get to the sand.
It’s perfect for swimming, with very calm and clear water in Dolphin Bay. Plus, true to its name, you might spot some dolphins swimming in the small cove.
Inside tip: If you walk over the rocks to the left of the wooden stairs and follow the coast right around, you’ll come to an incredible natural rock pool. It’s only safe in low tide, but it’s a secret spot that not many people know about.
10. Shell Beach
The next beach over from Dolphin Beach, Shell Beach is another stunning white sand bay. Similar to Dolphin Beach, it’s accessed by a short walk from the car park and down wooden stairs. It’s another great place to relax on the beach and go for a swim, with calm water.
There is also a more well-known rock pool that is accessible from Shell Beach. If you get down to the sand from the stairs and then walk to the right all the way to the end of the beach, you’ll have to then climb over the rocky outcrop. If you continue to climb to the end of the rocks, you’ll see a big rock pool which is great for snorkelling. However, ensure you know tide times so you don’t get stuck when the water comes in.
If you camp at Shell Beach Campground nearby, you can enjoy the beach without the day trip crowds.
11. Browns Beach
A less visited beach in Innes National Park, Browns Beach is further around from Shell Beach. It’s the last beach you can access from the main road in the national park, so far fewer people bother to check it out.
The beach stretches right around the coast, which you can see as you walk from the car park. You need to walk down to the sand, and then you can explore the beach. It’s most popular with fishermen who go for some great salmon fishing opportunities.
The campground nearby is also one of the quieter ones in the national park, if you want a more secluded spot.
12. Gym Beach
While inside the national park boundary, it’s a bit confusing because you actually have to drive outside of the park to reach it. It’s only accessible off Marion Bay Road and then by taking Gym Beach Road. The latter is a dirt road, but is usually in good condition and accessible to 2WD vehicles.
The beach is very quiet, with few people making it out there. There’s plenty of rocks to explore and sand to wander along of an afternoon. The campground offers sea views from the sites, so make sure you book before you head out there.
For something different, you can also reach Gym Beach on foot from Browns Beach. The Gym Beach Hike takes you across the sand dunes on a skinny trail connecting the two beaches. It’s 12km return, so allow a few hours for this moderate walk and take plenty of water with you.
A Weekend in Innes National Park itinerary
Day 1: Drive towards Innes National Park and stop at Marion Bay for last minute supplies. Enter the park and drive towards Cape Spencer Lighthouse. Stop at the road viewpoint and Chinamans Hat Island lookout on the way. Walk to Cape Spencer Lighthouse and enjoy the view from the cape. Then head back to Stenhouse Bay. Set up camp for the night. Head off on the Stenhouse Bay Lookout Walk in the late afternoon and enjoy Little Emu Beach at sunset
Day 2: Drive deeper into the national park, past the places you stopped at yesterday. Head into the Inneston Historic Township, if you want to learn more about the history of the area and admire Inneston Lake. Otherwise, keep driving to Ethel Beach to stop and see Ethel Wreck. Then, drive to West Cape Lighthouse to do the 1km loop walk. If you’re a surfer, stop in at Pondalowie Surf Break for an afternoon surf and camp at the nearby Pondalowie Campground. Or, you candrive a bit further, to enjoy Dolphin Beach and camp at Shell Beach Campground instead.
Day 3: Get up early and enjoy Dolphin Beach, Shell Beach or Browns Beach all to yourself. You can go for a swim or relax on the sand. Next, head to Royston Head for the 5km return walk for some incredible views. Then, your time in the national park is up and you’ve managed to tick off most of the sights. You can drive back to Adelaide or elsewhere.
Explore more national parks in South Australia
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Another peninsula near Adelaide? 10 Best Things to Do in Fleurieu Peninsula
A similar coastal national park? Essential Guide to Deep Creek National Park