Catchya at Copley! Things to Do and See in Outback South Australia
Catchya at Copley!*
We leaped from the car and hit the ground running as a convoy of 4WDs pulled into the car park behind us. Car doors slammed. They were gaining on us, but we were still a few vital seconds ahead as we slid through the door and got to the counter first.
And that’s exactly where I needed to be to score one of the Quandong Café’s legendary quandong pies this late in the day.
Play fair? No way! Because if I missed out, things would’ve gotten UGLY. So as the wave of humanity washed up around me, I deployed my secret weapon.
That’s what ‘elbows’ are for, right?’
540 km (336 miles) north of Adelaide and deep in the South Australian Outback – driest place in the driest state of the driest continent on earth – isn’t where you’d normally expect to find an oasis of civilisation.
But the small town of Copley is no ordinary place. The Copley Caravan Park managers (and café owners!) made it easy to base ourselves there for a few days to discover its hidden secrets – and you might just find that the longer you stay, the longer you WANT to stay!
Not just to sample those fine quandong pies again. Or check out the array of Outback Scenic Loos!
Here’s a few of my favourite Copley things to do in a handy 4-9 Day itinerary – look out for the *STAY Another Day! signs for optional extra days if you’d like to extend your stay!
Day 1: Explore Copley
Aroona Dam Sanctuary
I never saw the ‘before’ picture.
Back in the 1990’s, a 200+ person community project turned 44 km² of once-degraded bushland around the 5000 megalitre Aroona Dam into a Sanctuary. So now all you’ll see is the ‘after’ picture – the stunning scenery of the northern Flinders Ranges AND a scenic Aussie Loo!
All this makes the sanctuary a cool place to hang out, have a picnic, take a walk and spot the wildflowers, and – if you get lucky – one or two of the yellow-footed rock wallaby reintroduced into the area.
The Retention Dam
It’s a tough choice between fishing and bird-watching so at the Retention Dam just out of town heading north, it’s just as well you can do BOTH.
Climb Flat Top
It’s big. It’s RED. It’s just out of town – and visible from pretty much everywhere in Copley. And if you can’t work out what the locals call a small mountain with its top sliced off, you’re just not trying.
Welcome to Flat Top (see photo above). There’s no marked walking track, but don’t let that stop you – the views from the top are sensational! Not that energetic? Walk around below it. Not THAT energetic? Sit out the front of the cafe and watch everyone else walking up or around it!!
Find the Head
To really experience the environment in which towns like this survive, drive up into the ranges west of Copley.
Better still, stop the car and take a walk along these remote country roads.
Expect a surprising array of wildflowers (in season), a starkly beautiful Outback landscape full of amazing colour, and a different perspective of Copley from the lookout point high above.
And the HEAD. But only if you get REALLY lucky 😀
Day 2: THREE Iconic Aussie Tracks in ONE DAY!
Yes, you CAN drive the Strzelecki, Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks in a day. And you don’t need a special rig, or even a 4WD to do it!
No, REALLY – as long as you don’t expect to actually drive the full length of each track, that is! But you can visit each starting point, and you can easily do it in one day from Copley.
AND see a lot of other great Outback attractions along the way.
Just 33 km north of Copley, you’ll find a bush philosopher’s gallery, an unexpected lake and famous bushranger Captain Starlight’s legacy, all wrapped up in the tiny town of Lyndhurst.
Drive out onto the Strzelecki Track’s tyre-shredding rock and stone and you’re on the original route Harry Readford – aka Captain Starlight – used to drive 1000 head of stolen cattle from Queensland to Lyndhurst.
PS Don’t miss the scenic public loo!
Want a great sunset shot?
Then leave the Ochre Pits a few kilometres north of Lyndhurst for the return trip to Copley, because the late afternoon sun makes the amazing colours of this Indigenous heritage site glow. Like this.
Farina – The Back-of-Beyond Bakery
I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw the ‘Bakery Now Baking’ sign on the side of the dusty road just 24 km north of Lyndhurst. It HAD to be an antique. Didn’t it?
Actually, no. You CAN combine outback travel with FAAAAABULOUS food!
How? Because in an astonishingly civilised move by the Farina Restoration Society, Farina’s derelict Bakery was the first building in this historic ghost town to be reconstructed. Now it operates for around 8 weeks a year raising funds to restore more of the Farina historic site.
Wandering the open air museum, strolling the walking tracks or visiting the campground’s scenic loo combined with awesome goods baked on the premises is a killer way to make history fun.
And it’s all the better for knowing my significant personal contribution to the bakery fundraiser will account for a LOT more upgrades!!
*STAY Another Day – Day #5! Return to Farina and book the 3-4 hour Farina Springs tour – travel in the Farina Station 4WD or Tag-along – the bakery will still be there when you get back!
Marree and the Postal Delivery Route from Hell
If you can tear yourself away from the fleshpots of Farina and drive another 45 km up the road, you’ll find remote outback town Marree, end of the Old Ghan railway line and start of the legendary Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks.
Actually, ‘legend’ is a word that’s used a lot around Marree.
Especially about Tom Kruse, the (legendary) outback mailman whose (legendary) adventures delivering mail along the 517 km of rocks, sand dunes and gibbers that make up the (legendary) Birdsville track in his (legendary) Leyland Badger Truck were immortalised in a (legendary) movie “The Back of Beyond”.
Experience the legend yourself – for a few minutes, at least – and drive a short way along the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks which, together with Lyndhurst’s Strzelecki, mean you’ve travelled on three legendary Aussie roads.
In ONE DAY!
Now all you have to do is drive back to Copley – the setting sun should be lighting up the Ochre Pits right around now 😀
*STAY Another Day – Day #6! Drive back to Marree, then have a longer experience the Birdsville Track and drive about 50 km to Clayton Station.
*STAY Another Day – Day #7! Alternatively, take a drive on Witchellina Nature Reserve – 3 4WD nature drives show you the rugged outback at its best.
Day 3: Wilderness Adventure
Saying Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is an eco-adventure wonderland is a bit like saying Uluru is quite a big rock.
From the painted hills surrounding the tourist village to the stunningly scenic hikes through amazing gorges and chasms, super-challenging 4WD tracks through wild mountain ranges, historic sites and astronomical marvels courtesy of unpolluted skies, Arkaroola is a total outdoor adventure package surrounded by the best collection of geological marvels in Australia.
Yes, it’d take more than just a day trip to see all THAT!
But if you want to see the very BEST of Arkaroola and you’ve only got a day to spare, then book in to the AMAZING Ridge-top Tour – a 4.5 hour drive to Sillers Lookout through rugged ranges on rough tracks in a purpose built 4WD tour vehicle. Be warned though – if you want to do this in a day, you’ll have to leave early to get there in time! But it’s SO worth it!
Luckily, Arkaroola has its own campground with powered and unpowered sites. But if your rig’s not up to the 130 km all-weather dirt road east of Copley, leave it at the Copley Caravan Park and stay in one of the lodges or cabins. And if your vehicle isn’t up to it, leave that at Copley as well and hire a 4WD!
*STAY Another Day – Day 8! The road to Arkaroola can be an interesting day trip in itself with Indigenous Cultural tours run by the local Adnyamathanha people at Iga Warta, Italowie Gorge walking trail and picnic area, views over Lake Frome and Grindells Hut in the Gammon Ranges.
Day 4: History and Heritage
As we sped, bouncing and bumping over a stretch of road so rocky I was practically levitating, I felt grateful for just one thing.
Praise be we weren’t travelling in OUR car!
But our travelling companion’s 4WD managed the drive south of Copley without mishap. And as we drove a network of dirt tracks through the stunning northern Flinders Ranges, we explored some significant sites in South Australia’s colonial history.
You won’t see anything much just driving through the gap where the old Transcontinental Railway line once ran through the ranges en route to Beltana.
But stop the car, hop out, and discover some of the old structures around the rock cutting and the classic outback country through which it once ran.
Shifting the railway line a few kilometres away was the end of the viability of State Heritage Area town Beltana, built in 1870. The town is still inhabited, but an interpretive trail leads past some of the remaining building ruins, including the old Dunesk Mission building with links to the Rev. John Flynn, instrumental in founding the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
22 km further on along that rocky stretch of road above is the ruins of a copper ore mine at Sliding Rock with the only combination loo/visitor information depot I’ve EVER seen in OZ!
This remote State Heritage listed site with its duelling chimneys – one round (Cornish) and one square (Welsh), hunks of copper ore and picturesque setting is a great place to explore.
*STAY Another Day – Day 9! Return to Sliding Rock and keep going to the privately owned Warraweena Conservation Park with its own campground and series of self-drive 4WD tracks.
SO … with its amazing array natural attractions, small towns, historic sites, hikes, self-drive tours, wildflowers, scenic loos AND the opportunity for Bakery mega-overload, Copley just might be the ultimate accessible Outback destination!
- Where: Copley is 540 km (336 miles) north of Adelaide in the Northern Flinders Ranges
- Stay: Copley Caravan Park, or nearby Leigh Creek Caravan Park. Other campgrounds are at Lyndhurst, Farina, Marree, Arkaroola, Warraweena
- When: The best time to travel is from May to October when temperatures are cooler and more attractions are open
- How to get there: Self Drive is the best option.
*The phrase “Catchya at Copley” is from the excellent tourist brochure produced by the Copley Caravan Park.
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