Catchya at Copley! Things to Do and See in Outback South Australia

Copley Sunset, Outback South Australia

Copley Sunset, 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?’

Flat Top, Copley, Outback South Australia

Flat Top, Copley, Outback South Australia

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!

You’re welcome!!

Day 1: Explore Copley

Aroona Dam Sanctuary
Aroona Dam Sanctuary, via Copley, Outback South Australia

Aroona Dam Sanctuary, via Copley, Outback South Australia

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
The Retention Dam, Copley, Outback South Australia

The Retention Dam, Copley, Outback South Australia

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.

Or neither!

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
The 'Face' - back in the ranges behind Copley, South Australia

The ‘Head’ – back in the ranges behind Copley, South Australia

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.

Strzelecki Track, via Lyndhurst, South Australia

On the Strzelecki Track, via Lyndhurst, South Australia

Lyndhurst

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.

MORE about Lyndhurst and the Ochre Pits HERE

PS Don’t miss the scenic public loo!

Ochre Pits

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.

Ochre Pits at Sunset, via Lyndhurst, Outback South Australia

Ochre Pits at Sunset, via Lyndhurst, Outback South Australia

Farina – The Back-of-Beyond Bakery
Angels Rest, once a brothel in Farina, Outback South Australia

Angels Rest, once a brothel in Farina, Outback South Australia

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!!

MORE about Farina Bakery HERE

*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!

Clockwise from Left:  Afghan Cameleers Monument; Tom Kruse’s Mail Truck; Lake Eyre Yacht Club;
Railway Memorabilia from the Ghan at the Marree Railway Station

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.

Two Iconic OZ tracks meet at Marree

Two Iconic OZ tracks meet at Marree

In ONE DAY!

MORE about Marree HERE

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!

Coulthard Lookout, Arkaroola, Outback South Australia

Coulthard Lookout, Arkaroola, Outback South Australia

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!

MORE about Arkaroola’s Ridge-top Tour HERE!

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!

MORE about Arkaroola HERE

Final Ascent to Sillers Lookout

Final Ascent to Sillers Lookout, Arkaroola Ridge-top Tour

*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

Outback Road via Copley, South Australia

Outback Road via Copley, South Australia

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.

Ruins near Puttapa Gap, via Copley, Outback South Australia

Ruins near Puttapa Gap, via Copley, Outback South Australia

Puttapa Gap

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.

Beltana

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.

Sliding Rock
Sliding Rock Scenic Loo, via Copley, Outback South Australia

Sliding Rock Scenic Loo, via Copley, Outback South Australia

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.

Northern Flinders Ranges near Copley, Outback South Australia

Northern Flinders Ranges near Copley, Outback South Australia

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!

Copley Caravan Park, Outback South Australia

Copley Caravan Park, Outback South Australia

FAST FACTS

  • 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.

Want MORE?

*The phrase “Catchya at Copley” is from the excellent tourist brochure produced by the Copley Caravan Park.

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46 comments

  • Up to 9 Days in and around only ONE place deep in the Australian Outback? Wow, didn’t know there was so much to do. Copley is still far south from Alice Springs, right?

    • Well … there’s lots to do if these are the kinds of things you WANT to do, Dennis – personally, I got over driving past things many years ago 😀 But I’m lucky enough to have time to explore – if you’re just on a short holiday, you don’t have so much choice. And yes, Copley is WAY further south than the Alice – about 1500 km by road.

  • Man, Australia is really beautiful… I looked up quandong. What does it taste like?

    • It’s a VERY sour and tart fruit, Nuraini! You don’t want to eat it just by itself. But when it’s made into products like chutney, jam or pie fillings, it’s FAAAAAABULOUS!!

  • It is nice that you have featured this part of Australia. South Australia is the opposite of what I perceive about Australia. It is more adventurous. I was wondering if there are a lot of tourists who visit Copley. I would take a lot of photos of the landscape if I were here. The Ochre Pits look awesome! The color is so vibrant. I kept thinking that it must be an excellent idea to shoot a music video or movie at the Outback Road. Haha! It is picturesque.

    • A lot of people think the only things to see in Australia are Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Iza! But there are a LOT of other places to see in a country this big. Copley is not a big tourist destination, but a lot of travellers on road trips along the tracks (ie Birdsville, Oodnadatta and Strzelecki) pass through it. I think you should come and shoot that video/movie – I’d LOVE to see it!

  • There’s so much to do in the middle of nowhere!!! I spent 18 months in Australia but stuck to the coastal routes when I was road tripping, I wish I’d taken a detour into Outback SA, it looks beautiful!

    • You can’t do it all in one trip, Charli! That’s what ‘next time’ is for, right??!! The coastal areas ARE beautiful … it’s just like being in a parallel universe when you hit the Outback!

  • Wow..a degraded land turned into such a beauty. Even if you didn’t see the before pictures, just knowing this itself feels so inspirational. Hope we did it to all such places world wide and made them beautiful

    • Yes, it’d be great to see community projects like this all over the world, Neha! Out here it’s an amazing tribute to the locals who made it happen – and just another reason to visit this interesting area!

  • I finally got a glimpse of the Outback. I am inMelbourne for 4 months and the drive to Adelaide would be about a day and then the drive to Copley would mean an overnight stay at that caravan park! Doable!

    • Hey, that’s great planning, Carol! Hope you enjoy the Outback as much as I do – but even if you don’t it’ll be an experience to talk about I’m sure!!

  • This is awesome! I’ve not done the SA Outback, though we’re hoping to have more time to drive and explore the Outback soon. We’ve moved to Tas and should be able to get a quick shot to Melbourne on the Spirit, and drive to Adelaide where we can head north for a great Aussie roadtrip. Copley sounds like an awesome base, I love that you can drive the Strzelecki, Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks in a day, and don’t need a 4WD to do so. We’re itching to include some outback roadtrips in our future trips but are concerned about our 2WD. Exciting! Love hearing about your adventures, and hear about inspiring scenery we would have otherwise missed out on.

    • The SA Outback is a much overlooked travel hot spot, Meg! IMHO, anyway. It’s amazing how much you CAN do with a 2WD – I’ve written another post about the accessible Outback which can all be reached on bitumen roads. Some people say that’s ‘cheating’, but I say give it a go in the 2WD, and I bet you’ll be coming back for more! See you on the road somewhere!

  • What a beautiful opening photograph. It really captures the essence of the outback for me. I’m heading to Oz this December, I can’t wait.

    • There’s nothing quite like an Outback sunset, Mike! It’ll be killer-hot in lots of the Outback in December, but there are lots of places to cool off downunder in summer! Enjoy your trip 😀

  • I had no idea there were so many interesting things to do in the south of Australia. I am just planning my trip for autumn, so I will definitely include Sliding Rock and couple of other tips to my itinerary.

    • It’s different in South Australia, Veronika – a lot less touristy, and a lot of wide open spaces! If you like natural attractions, the rugged outdoors and being off the beaten track, then you’ll probably like South OZ!

  • These photos are amazing! I’ve never been to Australia but I hope to go soon. When I do finally go I’ll definitely have to check this area out.

    • The Outback isn’t for everyone, Nathan – but if you want to see a part of Australia that many other travellers never get to, then this is the place to be 😀

  • I have not been to Australia yet, but it is on my bucket list. There are so many things to do there.

  • Copley looks really beautiful. The landscapes seem to have a great wild beauty which is so endearing. I get a feeling of great liberation of the outdoors, just by looking at the pictures. I would definitely have a great time if I were able to get out there some day.

    • Outback travel doesn’t appeal to everyone, Sandy N Vyjay – but you’ll most enjoy it if you appreciate the wild beauty and natural attractions of remote areas!! Hope you make it one day 😀

  • This terrain was made for adventure! I’d love to hike and explore at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and also venture around on a 4WD vehicle! It looks super hot and dry. Is that the case even in the peak season May-October because I always love to spot wildlife when exploring the natural landscapes like this?

    • You’re right about the adventure, Jackie! In the peak season it’s what passes for winter in Australia, so it’s not so hot – but it IS warm!! And if you don’t see at least a kangaroo on your Outback adventure, then don’t buy a lottery ticket because it’s just NOT your lucky day 😀

  • Oh, what a fun article and entertainingly written. I rode a horse through the Australian outback for four days once, in a recreation of a historic cattle drive. I fell in love with it, but I had no idea there were wilderness preserves and sanctuaries. How wonderful.

    • Wow, what an adventure, Carol! I can only imagine what 4 days in the saddle through the Outback would feel like 😀 There’s so much variety in the Outback you could explore for quite a long time without repeating yourself!!

  • Wow the Outback has always been somewhere I have wanted to go and your post makes me want to even more!

    • The Outback is so vast it’s sometimes hard to know where to start, Candiss! This section is accessible – bitumen roads all the way to Copley – and while some of the surrounding roads are dirt, there’s a lot to see around here! Hope you make it one day!

  • What is a quandong pie? I’d love to have seen a before photo of the Aroona Dam, maybe I’ll google it. It look absolutely breathtaking now. Copley seems like a fun place to visit..

    • A quandong is a native Australian fruit – a bit like a small, sour plum – that grows very well in arid areas. Stewed it up (a bit like apple), add some sugar and put it in sweet pastry for an unusual sweet treat 😀

  • That scenery is amazing. It looks so desolate and so beautiful. And to find a bakery there is just a win win! I’d love to see all this in person.

    • A good bakery ANYWHERE is a win, Lois – but if you find one out in the middle of nowhere it’s your duty to patronise it fully so it’ll be there next time you come!!! That’s my theory, anyway …

  • I have to admit, there doesn’t seem much to do. (Joking). But there is something about this landscape which wants me to go here and check it out. Would love to take a 4WD and go crazy out there. 🙂

    • Haha, it’s not at all like Movieworld, Danik!! But you’re right – the landscape really DOES suck you in and make you want to explore. Unless it’s 45 degrees, of course!!

  • The Farina bakery and the station tour sound like the perfect reasons to go there. One day.
    I love the Sliding Rock image and that “head”

  • Beautiful out back scenes. Have visited few of those towns. It is a tantalising place.

  • Such fabulous scenery Marion. The Flinders Ranges are on our bucket list. We may even be visiting here early next year all going well. I haven’t heard of Copley so I will be looking forward one of those pies!

  • Looks absolutely stunning. I look forward to my next trip that way.
    I could imagine myself legging it to get to the yummies Before anyone else ? In fact I do this regularly for jam donuts at the local bakery ?
    I’ll definitely have to try out these pies ?. Hubby reacons my pies are the best he’s had, these quandong pies sounds likely to convert him ?.

    • Being the pie queen can be a heavy burden, Charlotte!! It can sometimes easier to let someone else do the hard yards – that’s my bakery philosophy anyway 😀 So time your visit to this great spot right, and you’ll be spoilt for choice with both the Copley AND Farina Bakeries to pick from!!!

  • If you’re going to Farina I’d strongly recommend taking the 3-4 hour station tour with owner, Kevin Dawes. You can “tag-along” or ride in his 4WD and see some amazing countryside and discover the outback’s Desert Goby fish, not to mention wedge tailed eagles on their large nests. Morning tea is straight from the Famous Farina Bakery!

    • Sounds fantastic, Gawain! Getting the insider view of the area is always a wise move 😀 And, of course, you’d be a fool to pass up ANYTHING from the Farina Bakery!!!

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