Haigh’s Chocolates. Lake Eyre. Pie floaters. The Big Lobster. The reasons to visit South Australia are just as diverse as the state itself. Adelaide is where most interstate visitors will begin their discovery of SA. Tick off the best things to do in Adelaide and then set your sights beyond the City of Churches, to some of South Australia’s other regions – the Barossa, Limestone Coast, Fleurieu Peninsula and more. These destinations make for prime self-drive itineraries, no matter if you’re seeking a leisurely day outing or an extended week-long getaway in a motorhome hire. So, next time you’re headed to South Australia and want to explore more of the state, look to one of these drives and prepare to hit the road.
When You Only Have A Day
Just a 30-minute drive from the CBD of Adelaide has you arriving into the Adelaide Hills, a gorgeous region of cool-climate vineyards, German-influenced towns, cosy accommodation and beautiful tree-lined routes. The Hills are located in the southern area of the Mount Lofty Ranges and are one of South Australia’s foremost wine-producing regions. Explore the historic towns of Hahndorf, Stirling or Aldgate, and stock up on some of the Adelaide Hills’ finest fare – cheese, chocolates, jams, wines and more. Sip handcrafted gins at Ambleside Distillers or try your hand at a gin-blending masterclass, tuck into woodfired pizza at an alfresco table in the garden at Lobethal, get a behind-the-scenes look at how lush skincare products are made at the Jurlique Farm, and pick your own berries in season at Beerenberg Farm. Be sure to take a walk (or picnic) through Mount Lofty Botanic Garden, or tackle the more challenging ascent to the Mount Lofty Summit.
McLaren Vale is where vines meet the sea – and only 45 minutes’ drive from Adelaide. A sprawling 30-kilometre coastline means there are ample beaches and inlets to discover (some even permit driving directly out onto the sand), or you could set out on a section of the Coast to Vines Rail Trail by foot or bike. Those wanting to sip and swirl at some of the region’s finest varietals are also in luck. McLaren Vale is brimming with stellar cellar doors – Alpha Box & Dice, Chalk Hill, Hardys, Kay Brothers and the emblematic d’Arenberg Cube – where you can nurse a glass of sangiovese or tempranillo while grazing on platters or savouring fine-dining plates. Of course, McLaren Vale isn’t all about the wine. Check the calendar for Wilunga Artisans or Farmer’s Market, embark on the River Hike through Onkaparinga Gorge, or get an arty fix at Stump Hill or Red Dot Galleries.
Victor Harbor and Goolwa
Victor Harbor is about a 90-minute drive from Adelaide, located on the Fleurieu Peninsula. It is a magnet for families, beach-goers and everyone in between during the summer months. One of the most notable attractions of Victor Harbor is its Horse Drawn Tram and the Steamranger Heritage Railway. There are great walking and cycling paths snaking along the coast and inland, such as the Kaiki Trail Granite Island and the Encounter Bikeway.
Goolwa is also on the Fleurieu Peninsula, about 90 minutes’ from Adelaide in light traffic. With its perch on the banks of the Murray River, Goolwa is the last port before the mighty Murray reaches the Southern Ocean. There are nods to this history throughout the town, from the historic pubs and restaurants, to an 100-year-old paddle steamer moored at the wharf, and the Cockle Train that offers joy rides. Goolwa is also popular gateway for those seeking to explore the wetlands of Coorong National Park.
When You Have A Weekend
The Barossa is the posterchild of South Australia’s food and wine clout. With its international acclaim, award-winning cellar doors and interesting cultural heritage, it is little wonder why the Barossa draws in so many visitors – all eager to revel in everything the region has to offer. Make the 50-minute drive north from Adelaide and cherry-pick which town to explore first. Angaston has an English-influenced atmosphere, Tanunda is the central heart of the region, and Bethany is the Barossa’s oldest settlement.
The Barossa covers both the Barossa Valley and the Eden Valley, and the estates you’ll find here (there are more than 150) include some of the most prolific names in Australian wine – Chateau Tanunda, Grant Burge, Henschke, Hentley Farm, Jacob’s Creek and Penfolds, to name a few. Sit down to meals at fine-dining restaurants, paddock-to-plate eateries, and famed farm shops. Make an early Saturday start to catch the Barossa Farmers Market. This weekly institution is one of the best things to do in the Barossa, with more than 50 stallholders proffering fresh-baked breads, fruits and vegetables, larder products, and more. Bring a basket and stock up on treats to take home.
Welcome to Australia’s third-largest island. While much of Kangaroo Island, or Karta, was razed by the January 2020 bushfires, the island is beginning to recover and visiting is the best way to support these efforts. Ferries to Kangaroo Island can be boarded from Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula. The island promises a wealth of outdoor experiences and is sure to be a favourite with keen walkers and hikers. There are more than 23 tracks to tick off, with options covering 30-minute strolls to more intensive 8-hour expeditions. Other outdoor pursuits range from quad biking and sandboarding, to horse riding and kayaking. Then there is the smattering of more leisurely activities: visits to local art galleries and museums, stops at working oyster or honey farms, walks through the rows of blooms at Emu Bay Lavender, and tastings at cellar doors, breweries and distilleries. Some of Kangaroo Island’s other attractions include the colony at Seal Bay, Vivonne Bay and Cape Willoughby Lighthouse.
Clare Valley is often overlooked by gourmet-seeking visitors in favour of the Barossa, but this region is certainly one to put on your travel agenda. It is located about a two-hour drive from Adelaide and is home to a smattering of five-star wineries and more than 50 cellar doors. While the Clare is perhaps best-known for producing outstanding riesling, other drops produced here include shiraz, chardonnay, semillon and malbec. The perk of the Clare being slightly smaller than the Barossa is that the cellar doors here are on a boutique scale. Learn more about the history of the Clare Valley with a self-guided tour at Bungaree Station or a trip to the ruins of Hampton township. Mintaro Maze is a favourite with families, as is feeding the ducks at Burra Creek. Red Banks Conservation Park and Spring Gully Conservation Park have a collection of walks and lookouts, or pick up a map for the Clare Valley Art Trail and cherry-pick which stops take your fancy.
When You Have A Week Or More
Coonawarra on the Limestone Coast is a four-hour drive from Adelaide and is both a small town, as well as the name of the wider region. Lovers of big, bold red wine may already be familiar with the prowess of Coonawarra’s powerful cabernet sauvignon, and there are a number of historic cellar doors and vineyards that welcome visitors for tastings. Once you’ve moved between the estates of Brand’s Laira, Penley Estate and Wynn’s Coonawarra, explore more of what the area has to do that isn’t grape-related. Drive 20 minutes’ north of Coonawarra to Naracoorte Caves. These caves are 800,000 years old and palaeontologists have uncovered incredible fossils across the 28-strong system. You might also swap the vines for sand with an outing to Robe, about an hours’ drive from Coonawarra. Robe has some excellent snorkelling and crayfishing opportunities, and there are plenty of waterfront spots for a relaxed dinner of fish and chips. In Penola, pay respects to the birthplace of Australia’s first saint, Mary McKillop, and learn more about local history with a walk along the heritage Petticoat Lane.
A small city on the Eyre Peninsula, Port Augusta earned its nickname as the ‘Crossroads of Australia’ thanks to the highways and paths that connect it with parts of the Nullarbor, the Flinders Ranges and even to Darwin. The drive from Adelaide takes about three-and-a-half hours, and places like Port Wakefield, Lochiel and Bumbunga Lake, and Port Pirie are pitstop options if you need to stretch your legs. Just outside Port Augusta, on the route to Coober Pedy, are the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens. Admire the collections of Australian natives along one of the walking trails and watch out for encounters with any of the fuzzy or feathery locals. You can also drive out to the Matthew Flinders Red Cliff Lookout. Back in town you can learn more about the area on the Port Augusta Heritage Walk, climb up to the top of the water tower on Mitchell Terrace, or take a ride on the Pichi Pichi Railway (operational between March and November). The Royal Flying Doctor Service also has a base in Port Augusta, which is open for tours. Plus, those in town in July or Augusta can make the trip to neighbouring Stony Point to witness a natural phenomenon – the breeding of giant cuttlefish. This remarkable sight happens nowhere else in the world, and visitors brave enough to get into the chilly waters are sure to never forget this incredible experience!
Travel towards the South Australia-Victoria border on the trip to Renmark, about a three-hour journey along Sturt Highway. One of the main hubs of the South Australian Riverland, Renmark was an important stop for travellers moving along the Murray River. Get a feel for this legacy with a guided canoe trip up and down the river or stop at Olivewood Historic Homestead and Museum. Spend a day in Paringa, a neighbouring town famous for its 1927 bridge that still continues to open for river traffic. Quench your thirst with a tour of the century-old Twenty Third Street Distillery and be sure to book ahead to nab your place in one of its Gin Blending Experiences, or beer drinkers can make for a brew from Wilkadene Woolshed Brewery. Pick up a keepsake at the Riverland Artists Hub, or admire the works inside Goanna Hill and Frank Harding Galleries.
Port Lincoln sits on the lower Eyre Peninsula. The drive from Adelaide takes about seven-and-a-half hours, which includes a ferry trip across the Spencer Gulf. And while the journey is perhaps not something you’d commit to for a short trip, the reward of travelling that bit further is certainly tempting. Port Lincoln is the self-dubbed ‘Seafood Capital of Australia’. From bluefin tuna and King George whiting, to southern rock lobster, black rock abalone and Boston Bay mussels; some of the ocean’s most delicious morsels are on the menu at Port Lincoln’s eateries. Port Lincoln is also famous for another type of marine life encounter: jumping into steel cages for a face-to-face meeting with local great white sharks. These cage-diving expeditions are one of the most popular things to do in Port Lincoln and tours may also include the chance to swim with sea lions. For some more low-key pursuits, look to Whalers Way to see rugged coastline and blowholes, Mikkira Station for picnics and koala sightings, Coffin Bay National Park for pristine beaches and bushwalks, or oyster farm tours and tastings.
Eager to see more of Australia by road-tripping? Go west with this route from Perth to Margaret River, visit the Sunshine State with a trip from Gold Coast to Cairns, or take your pick from one of these drives from Sydney.