Get to know 8 rivers in Adelaide that aren’t the Torrens

News article |

Thought the River Torrens / Karrawirra Pari was the only river in Adelaide? Think again. Read on to find out about some of the other, equally important, rivers across Adelaide.

While the Torrens might be Adelaide’s most prominent river at more than 460 times the length of Adelaide Oval, it’s certainly not the only one. It might surprise you to know that it’s not even the longest! But you’ll have to keep reading to find out which river is…

There are actually lots of rivers, creeks and watercourses across our region – but here are some of the larger ones that you really need to know about.

Get to know 8 rivers in Adelaide that aren’t the Torrens

South Para River. Photo: Environment Protection Authority

1. South Para River

The South Para River starts near Mount Menge, almost 80 km from the CBD, and flows towards Gawler on the Adelaide Plains, in the north. It eventually meets the North Para River and together they join to become the Gawler River.

The entire catchment area is 344 km2 or 34,400 hectares – equivalent to about 22 times the size of the City of Adelaide council area. This catchment is responsible for a significant amount of Adelaide’s water supply, feeding 3 reservoirs – the Warren, South Para and Barossa reservoirs.

Wondering what a catchment is? Essentially an area of land on which rainwater falls and collects.

The South Para River is home to a range of different macroinvertebrates – big water bugs, such as snails, worms and sponges, including some that are rare, sensitive and rely on the flow of water. This is excellent because water bugs are a sign of good water health.

Because this river spans further than just suburban Adelaide, we work in conjunction with other agencies like Northern and Yorkes Landscape Board and SA Water to look after it. This includes providing environmental flows which are releases of water that mimic what would have naturally happened in different seasons, if there was no human interference.

If you want to see the South Para River for yourself, and you’re up for a short and easy hike, you can explore a section on a 3.9 km loop near Mount Crawford.

Get to know 8 rivers in Adelaide that aren’t the Torrens
Onkaparinga River

2. Onkaparinga River

The Onkaparinga River, known as Ngangkiparri or Ngangkiparingga in the Kaurna language, is 88 km long – yep, that makes it Adelaide’s longest river!

It runs through Noarlunga and is an important home for flatheaded gudgeon, dwarf flathead gudgeon and shortheaded lamprey. Rare, pouched lamprey have also been seen spotted in this waterway.

The catchment area is a massive 516 km2 – that’s more than double the catchment of the South Para River and about 36 times the size of the City of Adelaide.

Large sections of the Onkaparinga River are located in Onkaparinga River recreation and national parks, where you can hike, kayak, mountain bike and picnic.

This is another river where environmental flows are released to help the water dependent ecosystems that exist in, around and under the river.

Get to know 8 rivers in Adelaide that aren’t the Torrens
Gawler River. Photo: Ben Brunton

3. Gawler River

The South Para River (48km long) and North Para River (79km long) join to become the Gawler River at Gawler. The Gawler River then flows for 41km to the sea at Port Gawler.

The upstream catchments that flow into this river have a combined area of 1000 km2 or 100,000 hectares. If you’re now doing the math – that’s a lot of cities of Adelaide.

The lower section of the Gawler River downstream of Gawler aligns with the boundary of the Green Adelaide region – the area that we look after. The catchment above Gawler is in the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board region.

Some of the fish that can be found in the Gawler River include common, climbing and mountain galaxias, shortheaded lamprey and western blue-spot goby.

You can explore some of the Gawler River, along with the North and South Para rivers, on a 10.3 km (one-way) walk around Gawler.

Get to know 8 rivers in Adelaide that aren’t the Torrens
The Sturt River has been converted into a concrete, man-made channel where it reaches Bedford Park

4. Sturt River / Warri Parri or Warriparri

The Sturt River begins in Upper Sturt in the Adelaide Hills and flows through the south-western suburbs before meeting the Patawalonga Creek in Glenelg North. When it reaches Bedford Park, it has been converted into a concrete, man-made channel. The Sturt River catchment area extends over 120 km2 and is 27km long.

The Sturt River has its own Linear Park Trail – it’s about 5 km, from South Road to Anzac Highway, and is accessible to prams, wheelchairs and bikes.

Along the trail, you will find the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre and the Warriaparinga Wetlands where environmental and cultural education programs are offered This includes learning about the wetlands, which are a series of ponds that diverts and filters water from the Sturt River, before releasing it back.

Get to know 8 rivers in Adelaide that aren’t the Torrens
Patawalonga Creek

5. Patawalonga Creek

The Patawalonga Creek is approximately 7km long and was a tidal estuary prior to European colonisation.

It's one of several creeks and drains which flow into the Patawalonga Lake System (the ‘Pat’). The other watercourses include the Sturt River, Brownhill Creek and Keswick Creek and flow from a catchment area of more than 230 km2. Most of this water comes from the Sturt River and Brownhill Creek catchments.

Get to know 8 rivers in Adelaide that aren’t the Torrens
Marina area of Patawalonga Lake. Photo: Department for Environment and Water

The best-known component of the system, the Patawalonga Lake, is a 1.6km artificial ribbon lake that runs parallel to the coast, 9 kilometres west of the Adelaide CBD. This main lake is designed to support a healthy marine environment, while diverting urban stormwater into the Gulf of St Vincent via the Barcoo Outlet. The ‘Pat’– is regularly visited by dolphins on their search for fish to eat. Needless to say, they benefit from the weir gates opening twice a day!

Get to know 8 rivers in Adelaide that aren’t the Torrens
Little Para River

6. Little Para River

This river’s name draws on the Kaurna word ‘Pari’ – ‘stream of flowing water’ – which you might have noticed in some of the other rivers’ Kaurna names.

It flows from Upper Hermitage, all the way out to the Barker Inlet, where it joins the sea.

Along the river, you can see eucalyptus trees, native wattles and some orange and almond trees from the river’s days supporting the establishment of the citrus industry in the 1850s.

If you’re looking for a relatively lengthy walk that can be fit into one day (apparently!), the 16.5 km one way Little Para River Trail could be a good option… just make sure you plan a way to get back or leave yourself double time to do the round-trip.

Get to know 8 rivers in Adelaide that aren’t the Torrens
Field River

7. Field River

Field River is located in the south of Adelaide. It flows from the Mount Lofty Ranges through the southern suburbs of Reynella, Sheidow Park, Trott Park, Happy Valley and Woodcroft and then out to the sea at Hallett Cove.

Along this river you will find Field River Valley, a relatively new environmental project involving 55 hectares of land being restored for people and animals – such as threatened yellow-tailed black cockatoos – to enjoy.

Field River Valley is one of Adelaide’s last remaining urban open spaces – few suburbs have an area like this.

To explore a stretch of the river, head on the 5 km one-way Field River Linear Trail from Chandlers Hill Road almost to Main South Road. It’s an easy trek that should only take around 1.5 hours – or 3 hours return.

Field River – the river itself – is home to common galaxias, dwarf flathead gudgeon and congoli, among other fish.

Get to know 8 rivers in Adelaide that aren’t the Torrens

Industrial area of Port River. Photo: Moisseyev

8. Port River

The Port River – officially known as the Port Adelaide River – is located in Adelaide’s west/north-west, around 14 km from the Adelaide CBD.

It starts at the Port Creek, which joins the well-known West Lakes, and flows out to sea at Outer Harbor, after passing Torrens Island.

The Port River is part of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary and so, not surprisingly, is well-known for its resident and visiting dolphins.

Since European colonisation, this river has been used as a shipping channel. But before that it was used by the Kaurna people for food and collecting plant material to make things.

This whole area, which includes an estuary where the freshwater connects with the salt water, is known as Yerta Bulti (or Yertabulti). One study found the estuary alone to have 64 fish species – no wonder the dolphins visit!

Scrap the walking shoes for this river and explore via kayak or paddle board!

What river runs through Adelaide?

The only river that runs through the Adelaide CBD is the River Torrens / Karrawirra Pari. This is the river that is near Adelaide Oval.

Learn more about waterways in Adelaide

Ok, so it’s not our only river but we’re still a really big fan of the River Torrens / Karrawirra Pari. Explore it today.

Interested in how to help look after waterways? Find out about the little things you can do at home to make a big impact.

And finally – discover all the reasons we hate (actually, love!) waterways – from cute animals to clean water.

Green Adelaide

Green Adelaide is South Australia’s first government urban environmental organisation. It was established under South Australia's Landscape Act to guide the people of Adelaide’s love of and connection with nature, and create a cooler, greener and wilder capital city.

Green Adelaide's work is unique as it delivers environmental outcomes amidst urbanisation and embeds Kaurna traditional practices in delivery. Its area of responsibility spans across Adelaide’s 17 metropolitan councils and includes about a third of Gulf St Vincent.

This is an edited version of the blog published 12 January 2024 by Green Adelaide.

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