5 Fantastic Nature Walks for Under-5s
Get out and about in nature with these family-friendly adventures around Adelaide
The idea occurred to me on a Sunday morning late last year, as we grouched at each other over the remote control. The four year old wanted her shows and was whinging for the iPad. My husband was watching a cooking program with me, although he probably would have preferred the soccer. The baby was making a racket, oblivious. I had a headache.
So a New Year’s resolution was born: to take the family on an “adventure” every Sunday, a walk together somewhere we’d never been before. To dust off the hiking backpack we’d bought, ambitiously, when Sally(names have been changed) was a baby, but had never cut the tag off, let alone used.
We haven’t managed every Sunday, of course. And we liked our first adventure so much that we went back there a few weeks later, with visitors. But that regular family time, out in the natural environment, without distractions, devices or household drudgery, has a remarkable impact on the family dynamic. Fewer tantrums, a better connection, and genuine memories for all of us.
There are plenty of resources for inspiration to get out there with the kids. Nature Play Week kicks off this week, capitalising on the autumn weather, which is ideal for adventuring. Nature Play SA offers fantastic resources, including lists of activities in a variety of South Australian Parks, and is holding a Nature Play Forest Festival in Kuitpo Forest on 18 and 19 April . Walking SA has also curated a list of South Australia’s best walks for young children.
As with anything when it comes to kids, it pays to be prepared: remember water, snacks, sunblock, hats, sunglasses, warm layers, spare clothes. Do your best to make your toddler or preschooler go to the toilet immediately before setting out. Junior binoculars are fun for peering into trees, and a budding photographer would enjoy taking a camera along. If you have a baby, many walks can be accomplished using a pram or with a carrier, but baby backpacks designed for hiking allow more flexibility.
Here are five great walks that we’ve enjoyed so far:
For us, Hallett Conservation Park was love at first sight. The view driving down from suburbia is stunning, and while parking can be a challenge, you’ll be rewarded with a natural playground full of variety. Head down to the beach and turn left for rocks aplenty: small ones to pick up, inspect and “collect” (leaving them behind at the end of the visit, of course); large ones to hop across, balance on and climb. A short steep walk provides a sweeping view back towards Glenelg.
To the right of the fantastic Boatshed Cafe is the southern trailhead of the Marion Coastal Walking Trail. About half an hour of the Geology Circuit is accessible with a pram, but you’ll need a carrier for any other walks, including to the colourful Sugarloaf formation. There is plenty to occupy young minds, as well. We discussed the local dreamtime story and glacial impact on the environment. Sally spun stories about what might live on the rock “islands” just off the shore. There is also a conventional playground, but we didn’t spend much time there – we didn’t need to.
There are some practical challenges here to be aware of, though: there isn’t much shade, the toilets often seem to be occupied, and the car or a patch of grass are probably the best places to change a baby.
A wonderland hidden in The University of Adelaide’s Waite campus, there are so many treasures to discover as you explore this expansive collection of trees. Several animal sculptures are realistic enough that Sally wondered if they were real. We were all fascinated by the native bee hotel, with some of the residents buzzing around our feet. And, of course, there are the trees, including some distinctive gems: stunning flowering trees, all-white horse chestnuts, and the spiky dragon bloods of the Waite Arboretum’s logo. Sally spent half the time with her eyes glued to the ground, finding sticks, leaves and other detritus, otherwise known as “treasures”.
While easily accessible with an off-roader pram, baby will have a better view from a carrier, and there is plenty of shade for protection. Toilets are a bit of a walk, though, and there is no cafe in the vicinity.
Want wildlife? This is the place to go. On our hour-and-a-half walk along Fourth Creek from the playground car park and then onto Morialta Falls, we came across three koalas (one of which felt almost close enough to touch) and a kookaburra. The Morialta Falls Valley Walk is pram accessible but also offers (when the water is low) opportunities for rock hopping. The Falls themselves were just a trickle when we visited in early autumn, and can dry up completely in summer, but we’re looking forward to watching the waterfall grow as winter progresses. There are several other walks which would require a carrier to access, including the steps to the popular Giant’s Cave.
And then, of course, there’s the phenomenal Morialta Play Space: Sally lost herself amongst its many spaces for another hour after the long walk she’d already managed (then promptly fell asleep on the way home). This park is well set up for families: there are plenty of toilets and picnic areas, as well as lots of shade, although no food vendors. Parking can be tight, so it would pay to get there early.
This is a short walk with lots of variety, and a touch of magic at the end for the small people. The trail starts in forest, passes through a mysterious tunnel and across a plain. Continue when you reach a small parking area and veer right towards the freeway in the distance, keeping your eyes peeled to the left for the first fairy door at the base of a tree. It isn’t that impressive to adult eyes, but step into your child’s shoes and be swept away by the wonder of the little “locked” doors (the fairies were all out dancing when we visited). Beyond a fence stands a tree with so many doors even I was almost convinced it was the Faraway Tree. Sprinkles of fairy dust add to the magic.
This walk is not pram accessible and is uneven underfoot in parts, but is well shaded and there are toilets, as well as the Bridgewater Inn, at the trailhead. Designated parking for the playground is very limited, but there are other places to park around Bridgewater. There is also a sweet little playground at the trailhead.
Nestled in a housing development, this walk comes with a downloadable activity book which accompanies the trail markers along the way. A short, easy stroll, it starts and ends at a small “treehouse” playground which would be great for climbers. Sally loved the illustrated activity book with its map and narrations for each trail marker, which gives the walk a sense of the treasure hunt.
The Little Para River dries up completely in summer, so this is definitely a better bet for winter and spring. It is pram accessible, although there is a rock bridge towards the end of the loop which small children will need a hand across (there’s an alternative route along the footpath). The walk is partially shaded, but be aware there are no toilets or cafe.
Don’t forget to check out: