Port Augusta, South Australia, is about 3.5 hours drive north of Adelaide at the top of the Spencer Gulf. It is often called the “Crossroads of Australia” since it is at the intersection of the main north-south route between Adelaide and Darwin, and the east-west route between Sydney and Perth. It’s a really common place to stop while travelling through this area because there are not a lot of other reasonably sized towns in almost any direction. With so many travellers passing through, many of them are on the lookout for things to do in Port Augusta during their stay.
Things to do in Port Augusta
With a population of around 13000 people, Port Augusta is a good sized country town. Along with the Port Augusta attractions below, the town has all the facilities you would expect of a centre this size. There are plenty of shopping opportunities, as well as sporting facilities such as a public swimming pool, golf course and bowling green. There’s a skatepark and plenty of playgrounds and parks for the kids.
Stop into the library for wifi and other local information. Watch a movie at the local cinema (particularly good to escape the heat on hot days!) or just visit a local pub for a good meal and good stories from the locals.
But before that – here are the best attractions in Port Augusta.
Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens
Located just outside Port Augusta on the road to Coober Pedy is the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens. Here you can see all of the unique flora that the desert areas of South Australia (and some other states) have to offer. I grew up in a desert area so I thought I knew the kind of plants to expect, but I was surprised to see how weird and wonderful some of our Australian natives are. There are plants here that are being cultivated because they are endangered, and others that showcase bush tucker.
During your visit take a walk along one of the walking trails. Some are only short, others go for kilometres through the gardens. Keep an eye out on your walk for the native animals too as there are plenty of them that call the gardens home. Dedicated bird watchers can find information on local birds and spend some time in the hides to see what comes along.
After your walk, go into the cafe and taste some of those bush tucker fruits grown in the gardens. Try some scones with quondong jam, or perhaps some native lime ice cream.
Even if you don’t walk all the way there, ensure as you leave you drive around to the Matthew Flinders Red Cliff Lookout for views of the red cliffs falling into the Spencer Gulf. The colours are particularly vivid early in the morning as the sun hits the cliffs.
Wadlata Outback Centre
Right in the centre of Port Augusta is the Wadlata Outback Centre. This is the main tourist information centre in town, and the staff can help you out with all sorts of information.
While here, take a look at the “Tunnel of Time”, a fantastic display that walks visitors through the history of Port Augusta, from back when time began, through the Aboriginal creation stories, to local Aboriginal culture, discovery and exploration by the Europeans, to the building of the local communities and life today. I found it to be a great summary of the area and worth the entry fee.
Hint: For a small discount on tickets, buy them online on the Wadlata website before you go.
Make sure you also have a look at the gift and bookshop here. There are some great souvenirs and local crafts for sale. The cafe also serves good coffee, and while I didn’t eat, there were plenty of others enjoying light meals.
Port Augusta Heritage Walk
While at Wadlata Outback Centre pick up a map for the Port Augusta Heritage Walk (or you can download it here in advance). This self guided walk will take you around the small town centre and show you some of the historical and significant buildings while explaining their history and purpose. The walk takes about 60-90 minutes at a leisurely pace.
Water Tower Lookout
On Mitchell Terrace in Port Augusta West is an old, disused, water tower. You can climb the 90 steps to the top of the tower to enjoy 360 degree views over the town and the Spencer Gulf, all the way to the Flinders Ranges.
The tower is set in a nice garden location, so spend a few minutes resting after your climb enjoying the gardens and surrounds.
Pichi Richi Railway
If you are visiting Port Augusta between March and November take advantage of the cooler weather to ride one of the historic steam trains on the Pichi Richi Railway. Either driving to the town of Quorn to catch one of the various train services, or do a return journey from Port Augusta to Quorn on the “Afghan Express”.
For more information, read about my trip on the Pichi Richi Railway here.
Royal Flying Doctor Tours
The Royal Flying Doctor Service is the medical service that covers all of the remote interior of Australia. It’s services cover over 7.5 million square kilometres and thousands of people rely on the service for vital medical and emergency care. There are 23 bases all over Australia, and one of them is in Port Augusta.
While there are fantastic visitor centres in both Alice Springs and Darwin, here it is possible to visit an operational base for a short 30 minute visit. You will be shown a video about the service and then get to have a look at one of the planes that is used. Tours are run Monday to Friday at 10:30am and 2:30pm, and entry is a gold coin donation. It is best to give them a call on 08 8648 9500 the day before (or even the morning of) to confirm that the space and plane is available.
Swim with Giant Cuttlefish
While you are in Port Augusta you are so close to a unique phenomena that happens nowhere else in the world – thousands of giant cuttlefish congregate between June and August to breed about one hour south west, near Stony Point. While snorkelling in frigid waters in the middle of winter may not sound too enticing, how magical must it be to see these amazing creatures up close.
For some great pictures and more information, go to the Curious Campers website.
Yarta Purtli Gallery
The Yarta Purtli Gallery, also called the Port Augusta Cultural Centre, is the location of many art displays and other cultural events. There are various facilities available from galleries to theatres which will host various events and collections. While what is on offer changes regularly over time, this is a great place to see some local artwork, or to catch a visiting show.
To see what is on now and what is coming up, see the website here.
The waters around Port Augusta are well sheltered because it is at the top of the gulf. Combine this with mangroves and swamps, and this is a particularly good location for year round fishing. At various times anglers can catch garfish, whiting, tommy ruff, kingfish and snapper, just to name a few. Within Port Augusta you can through out a line from The Wharf or the Westside Jetty. There are also numerous nearby locations just out side of Port Augusta that provide great fishing. Ask in town during your visit to see if any of the locals will offer up their favourite secret spot!
RSL Military Museum
The Port Augusta RSL Military Museum is home to possibly the largest collection of military memorabilia in regional South Australia. You will find plenty of medals, military decorations and other bits and pieces, including the stories of some of the local people who have served. Out the front there is a great old tank to look have a look at.
After the museum, why not grab a meal at the RSL too. It has a great community vibe and you might even hear more war stories that aren’t in the museum.
Port Augusta Guided Tour
If you really want to get a local perspective about Port Augusta, Destination Town run guided tours for groups by arrangement. Choose a walking tour of the centre of town and learn about the history of Port Augusta as well as what is gong on today. Alternatively you could arrange a coach tour to visit some of the other attractions – a recent tour was the first to visit and learn about the huge Port Augusta Bungala Solar Farm.
For more details see Destination Town’s Facebook page here.
Port Augusta Train Park
The Port Augusta Model Engineers Society have been running the Port Augusta Train Park for years. They offered rides on small sit on trains to the public on the first and third Sunday of each month. At the time of writing they are closed for business because they are in the process of moving locations, but I will update as soon as I know more. Currently it looks like they will be up and running agin in early 2020. If you would also like further information, keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates too.
Take a Scenic Flight
Local company Arid Air offers scenic flights from Port Augusta to a few of the other regions in the area. Why not take advantage of this and see Wipena Pound in the Flinders Ranges from the air or spend a day flying over Lake Eyre and some of the adjacent desert and landscapes? This flight would be particularly special when Lake Eyre is full of water and life. Other options include a day trip to Coober Pedy, and a 2-day trip to even more outback locations.
For more information visit their website here.
Getting to Port Augusta
Port Augusta is about three and a half hours from Adelaide by road, and that certainly is the easiest way to get between the two places.
If you won’t be driving, there are some other ways to get there from Adelaide too.
Flights to Port Augusta
Rex Airlines flies to Port Augusta from Adelaide three times a week.
Bus to Port Augusta
Two different coach companies run buses that stop in Port Augusta.
Premier Stateliner runs four buses a day from Adelaide to various locations that pass through Port Augusta.
Greyhound Australia runs one service a day that goes through to Alice Springs and stops along the way.
Train to Port Augusta
Both The Overlander that runs between Sydney and Perth and The Ghan that runs between Adelaide and Darwin stop in Port Augusta. To see details of the train, visit the website here.
For travel from other locations, I recommend using the website Rome2Rio to show all the available options.
Port Augusta Accommodation
With so many people driving across the country, you may be looking for a Port Augusta Caravan Park. Discovery Parks – Port Augusta is the best rated park, with a huge selection or cabins available, with facilities such as a swimming pool on site too.
If you are looking at Port Augusta hotels, the Crossroads Ecomotel is relatively new and built from rammed earth and has many other eco-friendly features. For apartment accommodation, try the Majestic Oasis Apartments. Another reasonable option looks to be the Augusta Courtyard Hotel.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.