In early January of this year, my partner and I embarked on a road trip from Melbourne to South Australia (SA). We spent 1 day driving from Melbourne to Adelaide (the main city in the Australian State of South Australia), 4 days in Adelaide exploring the city and its surrounding areas and then spent one day driving back to Melbourne. I can sum up our getaway in three words: sunny, summery, lovely.
I had been to Adelaide before, about 5 years before, but was only there for 3 days for a genetics conference. I initially I didn’t think that Adelaide as a city had much to offer, nor did I suspect the vast beauty that possesses the land of South Australia. The state itself has a lot of “empty” desert and it’s difficult to pack seeing all that it has to offer in a week’s time or less. We originally wanted to couple our mainland exploration with visiting the famous Kangaroo Island sitting south of Adelaide. Unfortunately, this would have blown our budget (it’s so expensive to get there) and we decided to save it for next time.
So behold, a description of what I saw and did in Adelaide and surroundings. I hope that through my experiences and words of love you will steal ideas and plan a great SA trip yourself.
Day 1: Getting to Adelaide
Ok so we wanted this trip to be cheap. This may or may not have to do with the fact that I spent 3 months travelling round Europe last year. Driving seemed like the best option and we went for it. We drove from Melbourne to Adelaide (through mainland) and the majority of the drive was, quite frankly, boring.
There’s a few notable stops you should make, such as at Pink Lake, Loch iel Lake Reserve, however the majority of the scenery consists of yellow fields and sheep. And there’s only so much of these you want to see during an 8-hour drive.
That being said, it wasn’t so bad and our spirits were high when we finally arrived in Adelaide at around 6pm on what was the first day of the year 2020 (mind you this was before it all went to pandemic shit). Our cute hotel Adabco Boutique was only a 10-minute walk from the city’s CBD. And we were definitely happy to find a near-by place to eat after such a long drive.
Day 2: Glenelg Beach, McLaren Vale and Fleurieu Peninsula
Given that we only had 3 full days in Adelaide, we decided to knock some regional sightseeing out of the way during the first 2 days. We started off with a place pretty close to Adelaide.
Only a 20-minute drive from Adelaide CBD, one can find themselves in the hip and lively area that is Glenelg beach. This is a coastal town with a lot of apartment buildings and a main street with shops and cafes leading the way to the famous Glenelg Beach. The beach is only a 20-minute tram ride from the CBD, making it quite accessible to city inhabitants.
I really enjoyed walking along the main street beach. This place is bustling with life – young and old people are out and about enjoying the sun, the water, the playgrounds and everything else.
Not to mention that Glenelg Beach has the closest thing to a Greek-style beach bar in all of Australia. It’s called The Mosoley Club and I hope that it paves the way for the development of similar establishments in other Australian beaches. Such beach clubs are an important summer institution where I come from.
We spent the morning walking around Glenelg, soaking in the sun and the views of the yachts and proceeded to drive to our next destination.
Oh what a pleasant surprise this place was! It kept coming up when I was researching places to go to and I’m glad we didn’t miss it. It’s an oasis of green upon green fields which produce some of the finest South Australian wines. It’s so gorgeous to drive around, it’s full of wineries and so close to Adelaide. On the day that we visited, the sun was shining this glorious, warm sunlight and the whole thing had a very Tuscan feel to it.
You may not have heard that McLaren Vale is home to one of the quirkiest architectural wonders you’ll ever come across, a building with the name “d’Arenberg Cube”. It looks like a Rubik’s cube in the process of formation. It’s the jewel in the middle of a gorgeous vineyard and is surrounded by grounds that host a café, wine shop and more. Not to mention that the Cube is currently host to an exhibition of some of Salvador Dali’s finest sculpture works, all the way from Paris. Who would have thought! We didn’t actually pay the $25 fee and decided to pass on the exhibition. I have promised my partner that I will one day take him to the Dali Museum in Figueres, one of my favourite museums in the world. But hey, if you’re a fan of Dali’s art, SA is way closer than Spain…
On my next visit to McLaren Vale I am definitely making time for a wine tasting or 4.
In the early afternoon, we found ourselves driving towards the Fleurieu Peninsula. This area is to South Australians what the Mornington Peninsula is to Victorians. The Fleurieu Peninsula is a piece of land surrounded by pristine beaches where some lucky people have holiday houses and where the lifestyle is chill and influenced by the proximity to the sea. Here we drove through the cutest streets with gorgeous houses looking like they were out of a picturesque village, only to find out that a stunning beach was located a kilometre away.
We stopped at Port Willunga for lunch and a swim. It was hard to pick one out of the many beaches on the Peninsula, but I chose this one for the following reasons:
1) It has a restaurant called “The Star of Greece”.
2) It has a set of stairs leading to a stunning sandy beach that looked very good on Instagram… I’m ashamed to admit how much of a travelling inspiration Instagram has become for me.
Let me just point out that the “Star of Greece” has absolutely nothing to do with my country of origin. It is in fact related to a shipwreck that occurred off Port Willunga in 1888. The ship, the Star of Greece, was built in Ireland and was only 200m from the Peninsula’s shores when it tragically sunk. This is why this restaurant bears its name. My partner and I being hungry and thanks to my sentimental attachment to this restaurant’s name, we decided to give it a go. We ended up paying $35pp for glorified fish and chips and my partner still makes fun of me for it. I don’t care, I still enjoyed the food and we needed the fuel to then.. lie on the beach for a couple of hours.
I will say this about South Australia: the beaches seem to me to be better than in Victoria (at least by Greek standards) and the sun doesn’t seem to burn as much as in the rest of Australia. The combination made for the best swim I have had in Australia in years.
We departed Port Willunga to drive around more of the Fleurieu Peninsula. The distances are close so you can see a lot in one day. We made a couple of quick stops and a dinner stop at Victor Harbour. It was nice to see the pier leading to the little island off the shore and lovely for a walk but hardly worth a second visit.
Overall, you can spend as much or as little time as you feel like in the Peninsula. If you ask me, I’d advise you to get yourself to a beach and enjoy plenty of Vitamin D and sea salt.
Day 3: Barossa Valley
Are you thinking about visiting the Barossa Valley during your visit to Adelaide? Stop thinking about it and do it!
So what is the Barossa Valley? In short, it’s Australia’s kingdom of wine production and in specific red wine and in specific Shiraz. It had me at “wine”.
Basically, this is a Valley located 60km northeast of Adelaide and is formed by the North Para River, which I’m assuming is what nourishes those juicy Shiraz grapes with water. There’s loads of little towns and villages scattered around the valley in-between charming hills and hectares upon hectares of vineyards. One interesting fact about these towns is that they have a strong German heritage leading back to the 1840s. This is due to the German settlers that immigrated from -then- Prussia bringing along their Lutheran religion, food and culture to the area. Some traditions are maintained to this day, such as celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day.
Both McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley are protected by legislation, due to their unique heritage and significance, so as to avoid having them become part of suburban Adelaide.
Let me tell you that the best way to enjoy Barossa Valley is by working your way through the wine. And to do that, while sightseeing the area, it’s best to join a one-day tour. Max and I booked a tour with Sightseeing Tours Australia for $119 pp which took us on a drive around the Valley and included visits and 3 wine tastings at two separate wineries as well as a visit to the village of Hahndorf.
We started our journey from Adelaide and after about an hour or so arrived to Lyndoch Village Green for a brief stop. This is a tiny place and the best thing I can mention is its gorgeous bakery (I’m pretty sure there’s only one, opposite the car and rest area) that sells some of the freshest and tastiest apple slices I’ve ever had.
We then proceeded to the first winery of the day, Seppeltsfield and Oh My this was my favourite. Not only was the wine tasting experience top-notch, the grounds themselves were on par with walking around a Loire Valley French Chateau. Not that I’ve been there but a girl can dream. Really though, it was incredible, with the green surroundings, sandstone buildings and expensive wines, making for a classy and unique experience.
The second winery we visited was Wolf Brass. It was interesting learning about the history of the place and apparently Wolf Brass wines are among the most popular in Australia. It took another visit to a bottle shop for me to realise this.
Finally, our tour took us to the German village of Hahndorf which feels like you’re walking through a village in country-side Germany. Except the day’s 40-degree sunny weather which I don’t think is too common in countryside Germany.. The village is full of shops selling German candy, cakes and gifts and of course German restaurants and pubs. But what we loved most about Hahndorf were its people. Max and I got chatting with some of the local shop owners during the free time of our tour. When the tour was over and we had returned back to Adelaide, we decided to drive back to Hahndorf for dinner (it’s only a 25-minute drive from Adelaide). One of the locals we’d met spotted us having dinner at a restaurant and came to invite us to a party that him and his mates were putting together outside their shop on the main village road. Safe to say we went, we had a fantastic time and met genuine, warm people who were all too keen to share beers with a couple of strangers. Thank you for the memorable night Hahndorf!
Day 4: Exploring Adelaide CBD
I woke up in a state that was a well-deserved reminder of the previous night’s alcohol-fuelled sins, aka an awesome time. This being our last full day in SA, we decided to dedicate it to exploring Adelaide CBD on foot. The great thing about the CBD is that everything is so close to everything and you can see so much of the city in one day. I loved walking around Adelaide and exploring the sights, the architecture, the culture and food scene. Here’s some of the things that I recommend doing:
- Walk along Rundle Street Mall – the city’s main commercial street. This and its perpendicular streets make up the heart of the action with plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes worth your time.
- Get lost inside the Adelaide Central Market. Gosh I love markets! And in this one I was like a puppy in treats paradise.. There’s so much life, music and colour in this market but I will give a special shoutout to all the fine local produce available here. Anything from spices to oil to cheese to wines, all of the best of what South Australia has to offer.
- Stroll the Botanic Gardens. I was really impressed with the variety -and height- of some of the plants. There’s also some prehistoric specimens worth checking out.
- Walk along the River. It’s right behind the university and gallery complex and it’s so peaceful. We found a bench and rested our tired legs gazing at the water.
- The Adelaide Zoo! The Zoo has mainly become famous for its chubby, black-and-white superstars, the adorable pandas. These happen to be Australia’s only breeding pair of Giant Pandas.
- Walk the University of Adelaide and University of South Australia. Call it Hogwarts or fairy-tale inspired, I don’t mind. Walking the university complex grounds is worth your time as the architecture is so beautiful.
- The Gallery of South Australia. I am such a nerd for museums and art galleries and I have deep appreciation for towns and cities that allow the population to experience pieces of history and art for FREE. Thank you.
- Adelaide is known as the City of Churches. And boy does it hold up to its reputation. There’s a church left, right and centre and religious affiliation aside, it’s worth appreciating the churches’ impressive architecture. Here’s a list of Adelaide’s most inspiring churches.
- My favourite for last: I am a huge Street Art fan and Adelaide is heaven for it. There are incredible pieces on the side streets perpendicular or close to Rundle street, so if you walk along there keep an eye out. I saw some great pieces along Verdon Avenue as well as inside the university complex.
Day 5: Drive back to Melbourne.
And here I am, a few months later, reminiscing on this lovely holiday that now feels aeons away. I hope you find this memoir a good source of inspiration for your next trip -or road-trip- to South Australia. If you’re seeking any other relevant advice I’d love to chat! Be sure to hit me up or leave a comment here.
I leave you with a sunset image from our drive back to Adelaide from the Fleurieu Peninsula.