This Park in the South Australian Outback Will Make You Feel Like You're on Mars

Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park
Photo: Courtesy of South Australian Tourism Commission

Stepping onto the red soil of South Australia’s Outback looks like you’ve just landed on Mars. Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park’s otherworldly landscape is made up of majestic orange, white, and red flat-topped mesas, and unique rock formations.

This remote conservation park is an aboriginal heritage site and home to the Antakirinja Matuntjara Yankunytjatjara people. The word Kanku means shelter, as it's a place that has provided the flora and fauna with shelter for millions of years. Made up of a whopping 35,300 acres in the northern part of South Australia, it's home to almost 60 native flora. It’s also home to the giant of the Outback, the red kangaroo, and other must-see Australian animals including echidnas, wallaroos, and the rare Bronzeback Legless Lizard.

Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park
Courtesy of South Australian Tourism Commission

Kanku-Breakaways is 15 miles from the fascinating underground opal-mining town of Coober Pedy. Stay overnight in an underground hotel and resurface during the day for the 30-minute drive to traverse this must-visit conservation park and the nearby Painted Desert. Dating back 80 million years, the Painted Desert was once a sea bed but is now comprised of colorful hills with fascinating slopes and shapes that change shade throughout the day.

Sunrise and sunset are arguably the best times of day to visit Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park. Travelers can join a sunset tour with Redaka Down Under to learn more about the region, its history, and its people while watching as the colors change from yellow to orange to deep red on the sandstone. Or, if you’d like to explore alone, you can get a $10 vehicle or $8 concession entry permit from the Coober Pedy Visitor Centre and explore 24/7. Just keep in mind mountain biking and camping are not permitted in the park.

There are two main lookout points perfect for capturing the magic of the area’s most photographed formation. Locally called “Castle” or “Salt & Pepper,” the Aboriginal name of this towering sandstone structure is Papa Kutjara or Two Dogs, as the formation looks like two dogs lying down next to their owner.

These iconic structures, as well as Panorama Hill, have been the filming site of movies such as "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" and "Ground Zero." Walk down the escarpment along the dingo fence — which stretches roughly 3,355 miles across three of Australia’s six states, not including its two territories — originally constructed to protect the farmer’s sheep from the native dingo.

Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park
Greg Snell

The landscape near the fence changes and you travel from Mars to the moon. Known as the moon plain, its sweeping, rocky landscape is unparalleled and was used as the film set for "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" and "The Red Planet." Keep your eyes peeled for fossilized seashells and seemingly never-ending cracks in the ground.

If you’re a runner, make a special trip for the area’s yearly marathon and fun run. A run through one of the world’s most unique marathon locations may also be one of the best ways to see the park. This year, the race kicks off on June 1 and starts on Kanku Pulka, the main lookout. Then, runners venture through the Outback, onto the moon plain and along the dingo fence to the finish line.

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