Gorge Road begins in Campbelltown at Lower North-East Road. It heads straight up to Thorndon Park and then winds across the hills face to join The Torrens River gorge at Athelstone. The story of Gorge Road is closely linked to Adelaide's water supply through the years and linked with a number of firsts for the growing colony, then state. It's still very much linked with Adelaide's water supply, fruit production and hobby farming. It's signposted along its length as the Gorge Scenic Drive if you prefer to follow signs, but follow these instructions for a great short drive into the Adelaide Hills, and armed with some information you'll better appreciate the scenery and its history.
Not far up Gorge Road just past Newton the road veers right and skirts around Thorndon Park. It was once Thorndon Park reservoir and held much more water. Completed in 1860, it was the first major water storage for the growing city of Adelaide after it outgrew sourcing water directly from the Torrens River. It was open for fishing and paddle-boating at various points in recent history but due to cracking in its old embankment wall, it had to be drained and the water level lowered. It's now a huge lakeside park managed by Campbelltown Council with barbeques, picnic areas, rotunda, playground, water features and kiosk in summer. Thorndon Park is wheelchair friendly, but not dog-friendly.
Gorge Road passes through the suburb of Athelstone under the shadow of Black Hill Conservation park and joins the Torrens River at the head of the River Torrens Linear Park. This park is a masterpiece of flood mitigation and beautification. Once a tangle of bamboo interspersed with market gardens it's now a wide-open park that features the Torrens River winding serenely through its heart.
As you enter the gorge proper you'll find three important pieces of historical infrastructure. Crammed into a tiny gully in between the cliffs is the original weir masters residence. It's a cute little cottage still used today. The Torrens Gorge weir was completed in 1857 as a diversion to Thorndon Park to improve Adelaide's then often putrid water supply. Park on the wide kerb at the first hairpin corner to see it. An aqueduct and pipeline were built later to transfer the water to Hope Valley reservoir. The Linear park trail which follows the river from the sea ends just below the pipeline.
You can fish anywhere in the Torrens River up until the weir. Upstream the area surrounding the river becomes SA Water property and fishing is only available to members of the South Australian Fly Fishermans Association. Mind you, plenty of people seek to avail themselves of the sport the hard work of this organisation provides at a huge cost. There are opportunities to fish for Carp, Catfish, Redfin and Trout downstream of the weir and trashing of one of our major water supply streams is discouraged. In this tight section of the road, the amount of work needed to blast the route for the road is apparent, as is its popularity with motorcyclists. The large quarry in the gorge doesn't operate on weekends, but be careful on weekdays as the road is narrow and there is heavy truck traffic.
Before long the open valley of Castambul is reached, where Sixth Creek, (the only permanent spring fed running watercourse in the Adelaide Hills) meets the Torrens River. Castambul is notable for a few things. First, it's very pretty, there's no mobile coverage down there, and it's where Australia's first gold mine was established.
The Victoria mine was established in 1846 and Castambul House in 1856. It's a striking old building on beautiful grounds and has been remodelled many times over the years. At one point it operated as a coffee shop and had a fruit stall, let's hope they return someday.
A little bit further up the road look up the hill to your left and you'll see the huge house high on the hill now known as Castambul Castle. Completed in 2008 and world famous, the owners filled with it expensive and rare art and artefacts, and every modern convenience money can buy. Not much is known about it now, and I'll let you decide on its aesthetic value.
Now Gorge road climbs out of the gorge to get itself over and around Kangaroo Creek dam. Here the road is a long set of sweeping bends down into deep green gullies and out around bright sunlit ridges. The dam was completed in 1969 and is one of Adelaide's biggest water storages. During really dry spells the remains of Gorge road are visible running through the bottom of the dam, and in wet weather, the surrounding cliffs spawn their own waterfalls reminiscent of the waterfall way in NSW. In exceptionally wet weather, the overflowing spillway draws thousands of spectators.
The road rejoins the river gorge shortly after the steep Torrens Hill Road junction and becomes narrow and windy again until Cudlee Creek is reached. One minute you're winding through the tight bends of the upper gorge and then you see a caravan park and ... is that a camel? Wait ... it IS a camel! And albino kangaroos? You've reached Cudlee Creek and Gorge Wildlife Park, it's one of the best-kept secrets in South Australia. This place is a gem and has all kinds of animals, and a huge open range petting and feeding area! Don't tell anyone that the Koala holding photo sessions, held twice a day, every day, are free! You absolutely must go there this weekend. It's best to check the details here: http:www.gorgewildlifepark.com.au.
Follow Gorge road through Cudlee Creek and wind through the hills to the other part of Cudlee Creek township, across the Union Bridge, one of the oldest in Australia. The Cudlee Creek Café is situated in the old creamery and is an excellent place to stop, the area here is beautiful all year round. There are some excellent WeekendNotes articles about this area in detail as well, like this one: www.weekendnotes.com/cudlee-creek-walk/
Passing the turnoff to Lobethal the road heads into a more open river gorge encompassed by the Cudlee Creek Conservation Park. It's an excellent example of original vegetation and how the river must have looked in its original state. Gorge road then heads into farming country before reaching its junction with the Adelaide to Mannum Road, not far downstream from Gumeracha weir.
From here you can go back to Adelaide easily and take in the views of Millbrook reservoir or head up to Gumeracha and Birdwood, both only a short distance away. The next time you have an afternoon free, try taking Gorge road into the hills instead of the busy roads, it's an interesting drive!