Back to Bicycle Fish  

An Introduction to

Bicycle Touring In South Australia

Grace Newhaven < >

Revised 2008. July 17

Feel free to copy / print this document as "plain text" - attribution will be appreciated

Warning : Broken Links Ahead !

Please note : while the information presented here in 2001 remains basically correct, many Links have failed & are now unreliable; unfortunately they are impossible to detect & repair economically.If you wish to report them to me, please do , but please remember to report both “This Page Title” and “Link broken”

General | Environment | Roads & Traffic | Security | Accommodation | Food | Water | The Capital | Bicycle Culture in SA | The Regions | Bicycle Artisans | Maps for Bike travel |


South Australia has many attractive features for the bicycle traveller, and represents a markedly different experience to the better known - but much more crowded - Australian East Coast. In particular, population densities are lower, resulting in less motorised traffic than in other regions of Australia. In SA, destinations for the cycle tourist range from the forests and beaches of the South East to the desert wilderness of the Far North. These regions are easily accessible by bike, weather is generally reliable, food and camping costs are inexpensive, all making for a benign cycling environment.

There is, however, very little information available for independent cycle touring in SA, and this page hopes to provide you with a useful background which will make your trip a lot easier. Cycle touring in this part of the world is not always easy, but it is rewarding - especially with a little preparation for this refreshingly unusual environment. 


 For the bicycle traveller, South Australia falls into two general regions: a gently undulating temperate agricultural and forest zone around Adelaide and the South East, surrounded by a belt of generally flat, increasingly arid desert beyond. There are a few tall hills but almost no mountains. The highest point in SA is St Marys Peak in the Flinders Ranges, at 1166 m. 

The state has a "Mediterranean" climate - dry & warm for much of the year. Summer temperatures can be 40 degrees or more in Adelaide, (more in the interior, with some risk from bush fires) so January and February are not the best times for cycling. However, winter is short and never below freezing.

Australia generally can be hazardous for exposure to UV radiation - in part because the low density of population results in a broad dispersion of the atmospheric pollution, which is more obvious in other industrialised countries. Radiation warnings are broadcast on weather reports, and a range of sun protection products is now commonly available. A long distance cyclist needs to mindful of the risk of sun burn year round, and many will need sunglasses even in July. Insect repellents are also useful year round - local roll on's are recommended.

 Maps, roads & traffic

All roads are open to bikes, with the exception of about 20 kms. of freeways.

Main towns are connected by all weather bitumen roads, some wide, some narrow, with varying densities of motor traffic. Road shoulders are generally not sealed so there is not always a good separation of bikes and other vehicles. Highway speed limit is 110 km/h, but this is not well observed.

Road trains are common on the highways in the North of the state, but can be managed by cyclists who are aware of their unusual characteristics. While they can usually overtake a bike quite safely, a bike must leave the road if a road train needs to pass a third vehicle at the same place as the cycle happens to be ( particularly important when one road train passes another !) This does not happen often, as traffic is light on the roads where road trains operate.

Any cyclist on the highways needs to wear bright clothes, as an absolute minimum. Bright clothes allow motorists to see you faster, and thus prepare their overtaking approach that much more carefully - which is much better for the cyclist ! (bright clothes do not need to be lurid or even expensive !)

A bright helmet colour is also a very good idea - avoid dark helmets at all costs. A mirror is also very useful.

 As a safer and more pleasant alternative to the highways, there is also a network of dirt roads that vary in surface, but are mostly cycleable at a good speed, say , 20 km/h with a full camping load. Maps of a scale appropriate to travel by the dirt roads are readily available from motoring organisations, on a scale of approx. 1 Cm = 4 Km. Many of these roads were the highways of the last century, and as such have some historical interest which will be especially evident to a cyclist.

 There are / were a number of bicycle-specific maps, available from Information SA , and bike shops, generally on 1 :100 000 scale. ( These have recently been declared "obsolete" - for no good reason - and are now sometimes heavily discounted, around A$1.00, if they are still available. Otherwise, they are around A$7.00 each.) There is also a set of maps for the Mawson Trail, around A$8.00 each. There is not, however, a continuous bicycle map of the whole state. For a fuller list of bicycle-useful maps for South Australia, see below.

The Map Shop stocks a good range of specialised maps, available by www mail order. The Gregory's www map site is also useful.

Travellers by bike will notice that Bottle deposit laws, unique to Australia, serve to reduce roadside litter considerably, and visiting cyclists will see quite a few people with bike trailers engaged in collecting discarded bottles. (Unfortunately, these people earn the same rate of pay as they did 20 years ago, as the deposits have never been increased with inflation - think of that as you pass by.)


Apart from traffic dangers, there is nowhere in Adelaide that could be considered unsafe by day, but park areas may be dangerous after dark. Personal security in the interior is unlikely to be a problem.

Bike theft is unlikely outside large urban centres, but you should still use at least minimum security if you're out of sight of your bike.

In Adelaide, though, even loaded touring bikes are sometimes stolen - be very careful, especially in the CBD area.

A travellers' messaging and contact service, of particular interest to foreigners, is available commercially from Backpackers Connection.


There is a range of in-door commercial accommodation across SA, but an independent tour would be difficult without at least some camping, so a tent will be essential for most cycle tourers.

The "Warm Showers List" includes several members in Adelaide and elsewhere who are prepared to home stay visiting cyclists for short periods.

There are several commercial campsites in Adelaide, prices around A$12.00/double. Campsite prices are a little less in the interior. Camping grounds are often known as "caravan parks", [ North Americans will know these as " trailer parks" ] with prices around A$8.00 - $10.00 for one or two people. Some have basic cooking facilities (stoves and sinks) but no pots or eating utensils. The Big 4 chain of campsites offers a particularly high standard at reasonable prices, with the added bonus that no dogs are allowed.

 In Adelaide, YHA or backpackers' hostels are around A$15.00/pp in crowded (six bed +) dormitories. There are few YHA outside the metropolitan area, though there are a few new backpacker businesses in several towns.


Most small towns have at least one grocery store stocking an adequate range of non-perishable foods. There may also be small fast foods shops, and often "pubs" [bars] selling prepared food and alcohol. Trading hours are long - but not infinite! Generally however, don't assume food will be available away from main highways, unless you have reliable local advice. It is essential to carry emergency food rations for at least one meal.

In larger towns, supermarket chains are increasingly open for very long trading hours, usually seven days a week. While it is debatable what social effect such chains have on small towns, for visiting cyclists they are very useful. If you're on a budget, try the "short code" shelves for discounted perishable food to use quickly.

Supermarket generic branded products - sometimes with useful re-usable containers -are also an economical alternative to advertised brands.


In this dry climate it is particularly important to have the capacity to carry sufficient water for sometimes long stretches - distances between water points may easily be 20 km, often much more in the interior. Bikes should have a minimum capacity of two litres, and spare folding bottles would be advisable. You may wish to consider making a water bag.

Tap water in SA tends to be unpleasantly salty and "hard",- locals prefer rain water, collected in large metal tanks, and generally available from farmsteads, if you ask politely. Bottled water is available everywhere where money is useful. ( The "hard" water makes excellent British style beers, which SA exports to the world.)

 The Capital

 Adelaide was a planned city of the early nineteenth century, with broad straight streets and an attractive belt of open parkland. As such it is unique in Australia, and retains many of the better features of that planning, especially in the inner suburbs which have a distinctive and attractive character. For a visitor, these qualities may be well appreciated from a bicycle as one travels quiet shady streets with an imposing vernacular architecture. 19th century houses and pubs are still frequent in the inner urban areas, often elegantly preserved .

Further out from the centre is a flat sprawling city, about 80 km long and 40 wide, between the Hills and the sea. 75% of SA's 1.4 million or so people live in the metropolitan area, with almost all the rest living within a 300 km radius of the city. 25 % of the population has a non-English speaking family background, particularly Italian, Greek and German. 1 % of the population identifies as Aboriginal.

 Adelaide has every modern service, as well as its own distinctive attractions. The Central Market is a wonderful food experience, especially the Asian shops, which will have many interesting and useful dried foods for the cyclist. It's a good place to stock up on food for a supply parcel to mail further on - prices are cheap, as is postage within the State. Beer drinkers should sample Cooper's beer , a naturally brewed, a "real ale" product with a world wide market. Meat eaters should be sure to sample (wild) kangaroo, now widely available across the state.

The SA Museum on North Terrace provides an excellent introduction to the animal and plant life of the region, as well as the histories of both Aboriginal and European communities.

Adelaide camping shops stock world standard equipment, though Australian prices are high.

 For the cyclist who wants to avoid the city, there is a bike friendly, local train system with exits to the North and South. You can take your bike on almost every train, simply walk on/walk off, though you will need a ticket for yourself (and another for your bike if you travel during commuter peak periods on week days.) Tickets are one-price, valid for unlimited travel within a two-hour period.

There is also a "linear park" along the Torrens River, with a gentle 40 Km cycleway from the Hills to the sea, passing through the city centre - worth doing on a rest day. Be prepared to get slightly lost for a while - the signage is hopeless!

The international airport is also close to the Torrens bikeway, though, at the time of writing, signage is not very clear from the airport. There is a useful bus with a trailer from the airport if you need it.

If you arrive by bus, the terminal is close to the city centre - but that is the best you can say of it at the moment.

Rail links beyond Adelaide are generally poor and not particularly bike friendly, with relatively high costs to carry bikes.

Email services are available cheaply or free at many libraries across the state ( walk in and ask ), and at an increasing number of "internet cafes" which charge commercial prices. Bus terminals in the interior also feature www access points. At most sites, you will be able to access a machine very quickly.

Bicycle culture

In SA - and throughout Australia generally - bicycle culture seems to be an extension of the USA West Coast, with an emphasis on "leisure", semi competitive MTBing, and fitness cycling. "Touring" bikes are generally unknown. There is a range of bike shops in Adelaide but - apart from racing- they stock only a limited range of products. Quality equipment for other cycling purposes is rare. Some bike shops have a small range of touring equipment, but are most interested in selling pseudo-competitive MTB's to off road "recreational" cyclists. For example, there are no real mudguards or quality touring panniers in the bike shops, and only one Ortlieb dealer - which is not a bike shop ! There are no full time touring frame builders in SA. Most self supporting touring cyclists seem to be Japanese or European, sometimes Americans, but very few Australians- this has something to do with our low population density. Local bicycle organisations cater mostly for supported tours.

The moral is : if you're a cycle traveller, bring whatever you need rather than attempt to find it here. 

 Adelaide has a flat terrain and very cycle-friendly weather. Main roads are wide, with fast traffic. However, there are alternatives, and the state Transport Department's bicycle section publishes a useful, if elaborate, set of city bikeway maps, ( "Bikedirect ") which are available free ( so far) - ask in any bike shop. You will also have to wear a helmet at all times when you're on your bike, or be given a $50.00 ticket - more than 12,000 tickets have been issued since the law arrived in 1991 ! There is - or was - a four person police bike squad, distinctive in their fluoro jackets, just about the only cyclists who can get away with going two abreast. Despite the bike squad's law enforcement successes against efforts against small time drug users, there are also plenty of bike thieves in Adelaide, so be careful - always lock your bike if you're not on it.

There are a lot of "outlaw" bicycle couriers on the streets of the CBD. Most of them will ignore anyone else on a bike.

The Regions

The central region near Adelaide is mainly agricultural. The Adelaide Hills offer some very pleasant day tour possibilities, with winding hilly roads, good views and a number of interesting small towns and Sunday markets. Camping possibilities in the Hills are limited (but not impossible), in part because of bush fire risks in summer .To the north are the wine growing Barossa and Clare valleys, with their German speaking history, always scenic and with a good network of small roads to avoid traffic. In the season ( March) , there are usually casual work opportunities in the wine industry. The Mawson Trail, a marked, long distance bicycle route, leads from Adelaide through the valleys, to the Mid North and on to the Flinders Ranges. The Mid North and York Peninsula produce enough malting barley to provide most of Australia's and Asia's beer. Agriculture is economically "efficient", but in this low rainfall zone, there is an increasing concern for its ecological sustainability. The cyclist will see the abandoned farms that are witness to the concentration of land ownership, and the increasing reliance on capital and mechanisation rather than the human labour force of a rural population. 

To the immediate south of Adelaide is the scenic Fleureiu Peninsula, again with good views of undulating dairy pasture and plantation forest as well as several bush parks, some of which allow camping. There is an extensive up-market tourist infrastructure all around Adelaide, maps and general information are easy to find. Some species of native animals will be seen even relatively close to the metropolitan area, though their habitats are threatened by introduced predators such as cats and foxes. In winter and early spring, whale watching is popular on the coast near Victor Harbour.

 Kangaroo Island is a very attractive destination for the expedition cyclist - it is only a long day's cycle from Adelaide, and not many cars make the crossing because of the cost of the ferry and the rough roads. The island is excellent for a close experience of native animals. The roads are very rough, a carpet of small stones around 10 mm diameter, sometimes challenging even with fat tyres but nothing impossible for an expedition cyclist. There may be food at Parndana, otherwise food supply opportunities are limited outside Kingscote and Penneshaw. The island is some 4000 sq km, with a population of about 4000, half of them in Kingscote, so you see very few people. Nearly half is national park, with a variety of scenic attractions and some dense native bush. Kangaroos and reptiles are common, and there are good sites for sea lions and penguins. A camping cyclist could see everything in a week but at least two would be better. 

The Flinders Ranges offer spectacular desert landscapes, in beautiful colours of red stone, as well as an experience of great solitude for the cycle traveller . The sealed road ends at Wilpena Pound, an enormous and unforgettable geological structure resembling a crater many kilometres across. From there, dirt roads lead further into the Outback. There are food shops at Blinman and at the Arkaroola Resort, though with a limited and relatively expensive stock - you may wish to use the post office for re-supply. Water is the main problem, as there are few creeks. Bore water is available, but will be very salty. For drinkable water, you will need to ask at sheep "stations" [ ranches ] along the way, and be aware that local people may not always have a good impression of the tourist traffic which - apart from a few tour companies - is largely suburban Four wheel drivers, who can be quite a nuisance to the locals. You will have a better reception if you offer to pay for drinking water - remember these people are dependent on rain for all their drinking water, and they often don=t have much to spare, especially for arrogant visitors.

The South East is a temperate zone, with temperatures a little lower than Adelaide.There are beautiful , deserted ocean beaches, some dangerous for swimming. The Coorong lagoon is a particular attraction, with spectacularly beautiful sand dunes and beaches ( unfortunately, not practically accessible by bike). Further on, there is a local lobster industry to sample, and several pleasant seaside towns. There is also an extensive plantation forest system, with various quiet and easy bike routes. The region also contains a number of limestone cave complexes, some open to the public. Wineries, maritime scenery and reasonable distances between towns make for a pleasant journey, with plenty of camping opportunities.

 Eyre Peninsula can be visited as the beginning of the Nullabor journey to Perth , or as a tour itself, especially down to the fishing town of Port Lincoln. There are several wilderness National Parks in the area, with attractive coastal scenery. Historically the Peninsula has been wheat country, populated by small farmers. But many small towns are now closing as a result of changes in agricultural technology, and increasing degradation of the ancient soil. For the cyclist it means services become further apart, so one needs to be prepared and to proceed cautiously, especially regarding water. There is an ”expedition route” , following the Trans Australia railway line across the Nullabor, for the very serious camper cyclist.

 The Riverland is an agricultural region, producing high quality citrus and stone fruits with intensive irrigation based on the waters of the Murray river, which also supplies most of the state's tap water. The river supports an abundant native bird life, and provides various recreational opportunities for the Adelaide population. The meanders of the river system create interesting backwaters, and there are many pleasant camping opportunities.

The Far North is a challenge for cycle camping , with settlement increasingly sparse, and facilities for bicycle travellers very few. However, the unusual towns of Coober Pedy and Woomera may be of interest, while the desert itself presents spectacular views.

Recommendations & additions to this guide are always welcome!

Please e mail < > , (preferably with a meaningful title to your message - my inbox is full of irrelevant material )

South Australia Links | Adelaide for the Bicycle Visitor |  Back to Bicycle Fish


Bicycle Artisans in Adelaide : 2000

There are a number of small-scale businesses in Adelaide producing bicycle-related products. However, due to the cost of conventional advertising, many are unknown beyond personal networks.

This list is intended to make these services better known to the Adelaide bicycle community, both creating employment opportunities in a sustainable industry, and extending options for Adelaide's bicycle consumers.

Listing at this space is free. No endorsement should be assumed. Services may have been discontinued since publication, and this site takes no responsibility for transactions conducted between these producers and customers.

Sewing bike clothes | Pannier maker | Frame Maker | Brazing work | welding & repairs |

Sewing bike clothes

Sally Hopton operates a specialty sewing business, with experience of bicycle clothing. Sally is prepared to consider customised orders. < >

Pannier maker

Neil Polley makes panniers to his own design, emphasing quality & durability. He is also prepared to consider customers' own individual requirements. By appointment only tel 8297 7800. Polley & Bailey 43 Flinders Street Edwardstown 5039. < no email >

 Frame maker

Wayne Roberts is an Adelaide frame maker. He is prepared to consider a touring frame order, at around $700.00. Contact: c/- Trak Cycles <>

Brazing work

Refer to Max at "Holdfast Cycles " 726 Anzac Highway GLENELG . Tel 8294 4537

TIG and oxy/acetylene welding

Bicycle frame and touring equipment repairs. By appointment as I'm retired from this occupation. Peter Good Phone 8331 7735


Bike-useful maps for South Australia

2001 / January 20

bicycle specific maps | bicycle-useful maps | General maps

The following maps are readily available in South Australia.

Bicycle-Specific Touring Maps

The "SA Cycle Route" series is a set of maps covering the temperate regions around Adelaide and the South East of the state. Scale generally 1:100 000 or 250 000.These are based on official topographic maps. Produced by experienced cyclists some years ago, they contain suggested routes and lots of background information & contacts, though some of these are now dated. Water-resistant paper. Price : around A$7.00 originally, now heavily discounted due to some minor inaccuracies arising from subsequent road improvements ( and perhaps official fears of litigation !). At any price, these are still very useful. The maps are available from Bicycle SA, Information SA , specialist map shops and some bike shops.

SA Cycle Route series consists of the following titles :

·         Mid North

·         Fleurieu Peninsula ( to the South of Adelaide)

·         Riverland

·         Barossa Valley

·         Kangaroo Island

·         Lower Murray

·         Yorke Peninsula

·         South East region

The SA Dept of Recreation and Sport also publishes a set of maps for The Mawson Trail ( Adelaide to Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges) . These are around A$7.00 each, a bit cheaper bought as a set. Scale : 1: 75 000.

Bicycle-Useful Maps (Non-Bike Specific)

The Royal Automobile Association ( " RAA" ) produces a set of regional road maps. These are free to members of car clubs ( local or foreign) ; or A$1.50 each to the general public. Scale varies , around 1 : 200 000 or 375 000. These maps show road surfaces in four different types, from highways to 4 X 4 tracks, no topographic details. Rather flimsy paper, but - with care - they should last a few weeks on the road.

The RAA has a head office in Adelaide, and several branches in larger urban centres across SA. Maps may also sometimes be obtained from reciprocal organisations outside SA. in small towns, bicycle travellers can usually find these maps at the local garage/service station showing the RAA contractor's logo.

While there is no catalogue of these maps, the following titles are available :

·         Central (Adelaide region) North & South

·         Outback ( Flinders & Far North )

·         Riverland

·         South East - Upper & Lower

·         Eyre Peninsula & Far West Coast

·         Mid North

·         Yorke Peninsula

General Maps

·         Government agency Tourism South Australia provides free give-away maps of the state & its regions, on a highway scale, and containing some useful information.

·         Motor fuel companies ( BP , Shell etc) sell maps for car travellers, covering the whole state, around 1 : 1 000 000 scale. These generally do not show minor roads. Around A$ 10.00 at ( car) service stations. Not as useful as those of the RAA ( above) but cheap for those cyclists who travel only on highways.

  • Specialised map publishers ( eg Westprint , HEMA) produce " tourist" maps , scale around 1: 1 000 000. These have lots of highway information, displayed in somewhat intrusive icons. They also sometimes have useful narrative information. Each company also produces " special interest" route maps eg Birdsville Track etc. You may find catalogues at their www sites ( above). In general , I wouldn't recommend these for bicycle travel.

Adelaide's Map Shop stocks a wide range of general maps, and may also have copies of the SA Cycle Route series.