Once you get north of the Lefevre Peninsula on the Adelaide coastline, the beaches change from sand to muddy mangroves and salt crystallisation lagoons. So not the most inviting of places for a picnic and a swim. St. Kilda, however, offers something else for visitors in the form of a large playground and a mangrove trail.
Back when I was in school, a theme park opened up nearby which became The American Adventure. It was themed on the old wild west, so picture desert mining town in the middle of nowhere, a tough, arid place to live. You might see the “danger!” types of signs on some of the rides like the runaway mine train, to make them more thrilling. Of course, this was England, so you had to use your imagination for the arid heat.
For some reason, going to the playground at St. Kilda, Adelaide, reminds me of the vibes I'd get from that theme park, except now it's real. This really does get arid, scorching hot and inhospitable. There are even the “danger!” signs, in this case warning against digging. It's not a beach for a bucket and spade anyway and, it seems, certainly not for an ambitious excavator; although I think you'd need a pickaxe adding to your kit to do any harm.
The approach to the shore is a long road and on a warm to hot day mirages shimmer across the tarmac/asphalt making it look like the road is flooded in the distance. Shortly after passing the tramway museum on the left, the salt lagoons stretch off into the distance either side of the road.
The Marshes and Mangroves
These days my daughters are getting a bit old for the excitement of the playground, so the main attraction we were going for was the mangrove trail. A road leads off to the left for the trail, just before you reach the boat ramp and playground, so we went straight there...only to find that we needed to go around to Tackle and Tucker kiosk at the boat ramp to get a key. After some back and forth between the car and kiosk I finally got a key. You need a form of ID and a deposit in the form of leaving said ID with them or $20. Other than this, the walk is free if you're guiding yourself. Guided tours are available at a price, but I didn't really check when they do them.
Back at the start of the trail I got a clue of what was to come when some persistent flies tried to climb in my mouth as I tried to eat lunch on the go. The flies became less of a problem as they were replaced with mosquitoes! I can tell you now that you'll get more enjoyment from this walk if you cover up or liberally apply mosquito repellent.
Once through the gate, you can use the toilet facilities or head towards an information kiosk. The pathway is framed by salt marshes populated with samphires; salt loving succulent plants and shrubs. This area doesn't flood often enough to support mangroves.
Looking back at the entrance.
The samphire salt marshes
Some closeups of samphires, thanks to @izzydawn
Heading towards the informant kiosk.
Heading further down the path, the first small mangrove trees started to appear and they got bigger the further along we went. As we made our way along the boardwalk, small birds came surprisingly close to us. I suspect they were drawn by the mosquito swarms we were attracting. We didn't see any of the other birds that an information board said we might. I guess they just weren't as interested in our mosquitoes.
Photo thanks to @izzydawn
Signs along the way have bits of information about the plant and animal life, like the finger forest of pneumatophores which are the mangrove’s aerial roots so that they can breathe in the permanently waterlogged ground.
It was a beautiful place, but we probably didn't enjoy it as much as we could as we tried to keep moving to avoid making a good landing place for the mosquitoes.
Heading deeper into the mangroves
Once we reached the lookout tower, the boardwalk was closed off and it looked like it had been for some time.
View from the lookout
So we just had to return the way we came from.
The Adventure Playground and Shoreline
After braving the mosquitoes, we were almost ready to go home, but we had to go back to the Tackle and Tucker Kiosk to return the key, so we had a little wander around to the adventure playground. It's been updated since the first time we visited it ten years ago, but they've kept the trademark giant slides. There are two flying foxes, one slightly bigger than the other, but both travelling for a good distance.
Past the playground, by the shore is a wooden “shipwreck” too.
The playgrounds are geared up for day trips, with expansive lawns, picnic tables and even free to use barbeques. There are also public toilets a short walk away.
A barbeque area
The shoreline is boggy, with seagrass and dotted with small mangroves, no more than a metre high, many smaller. In the distance the numerous black dots turned out to be black swans.
I thought this looked like an estuary in miniature!
Along the embankment, where the boat channel, runs some people were out with nets or rakes, possibly crabbing.
Up top, an anchor sits near pitted boulder with a plaque which proclaims that it's shelly limestone from the excavation of the channel.
The boat channel gives passage for the boats to reach the open sea
Parking is free, unless you have a boat trailer or a caravan, then you'll need a permit from the kiosk. Presumably the permit also give access to the boat ramp. There were a couple of caravans there that day which the seagulls were hanging around. I guess they'd been getting some scraps from them.
There's a little something for everyone at St. Kilda and if you forget to bring your own food you could always try the St. Kilda Beach Hotel, or if you're desperate the Tackle and Tucker Kiosk does food. We've only eaten once at each place, many years ago, but we've avoided ever going back to the kiosk! The hotel was okay, but expect higher prices