If you have ever thought of visiting South Australia but know little about what exactly it has to offer as a travel destination (other than being great for wine), then you’ve come to the right place. South Australia, in my eyes, is one of the most underrated places to visit in Australia.
Regardless of if you are time-strapped and just looking for a weekend away with the family or the girls, a romantic SA getaway, or maybe have a little bit more time to explore, South Australia offers endless leisure, gastronomical and cultural experiences.
This article provides a general guide to South Australia, so you can plan the perfect South Australia itinerary.
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Key facts you should know about South Australia
Location and Terrain
South Australia is in the southern central part of Australia. The state’s terrain is made up of arid landscapes, low level mountain ranges spanning 800km, and 4,204km of ocean coastline including its islands.
South Australia is the fourth largest state in Australia with a landmass of 983,482 km².
As of 2020, the local population of South Australia was approximately 1,771,000 people.
South Australia uses Australian Central Standard time (ACST) or GMT+10:30
The state experiences climatic extremes from north to south. The southern parts of the state, along the coastline and around the capital of Adelaide, has a Mediterranean-like climate, while the northern parts experience extreme highs and lows due to its desert landscape. During the winter months, it can get quite cold and rainy.
History and culture of South Australia
South Australia is home to many Aboriginal groups, whose culture, language, and history goes back tens of thousands of years, and connection to country is just as important today. Discovering this rich culture and connection should form an important part of your travels to South Australia.
Western exploration of the coast of South Australia was first conducted by the Dutch in 1672, before actual colonisation by the British in 1834. The state was designated as a colony for migrants, making it the only state in Australia not established as a Penal colony.
It was also the only state that did not use terra nullius (nobody’s land) laws against indigenous groups; however, there are still historical reports of land grabbing through violence. Despite this, South Australia to this day still prides itself as being the country’s only “free state”. The culture of its local people is like the other states with an appreciation of the outdoors and sport. However, due to its rich historical roots in wine-making, wine lives at the heart of South Australian culture.
When is the best time to visit South Australia?
The best time to explore many parts of the state is between March to May as these are the driest months with pleasant temperatures to enjoy the city and surrounding wine regions. The summer months between December and February are perfect for those looking to explore the coastal towns.
How to get to South Australia
The easiest and quickest way to visit South Australia is by flying from any other major city in Australia into the capital, Adelaide. Adelaide is serviced by all major domestic airlines (Qantas, Virgin Australia, and Jetstar).
For international visitors, it is also possible to get direct flights from several major airports such as Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Doha or Auckland.
Getting around South Australia
Many incredible places to visit are within a three-hour drive from Adelaide, including the Fleurieu and Yorke Peninsulas, and several wine regions. For those wanting to visit the west coast or the far north, then there are extensive rail and road routes to take you where you need to go.
To get the most out of South Australia, I really recommend hiring a car. This gives you flexibility to head wherever you want, when you want. We usually use Europcar as they have great deals and you can earn Qantas frequent flyer points.
Things to see and do in…
If you have ever heard the phrase “the city of churches,” then Adelaide, the state’s capital, must have been mentioned as a topic of conversation. However, despite its rep as a big country town with a bunch of churches, Adelaide has so much more going for it. You’ll find year-round festivals (such as the Adelaide Fringe, among others), an incredible restaurant and bar scene, and it’s a stone’s throw away from some of the world’s best wine regions.
Adelaide is a fantastic city to explore on foot, due to its relatively compact size. Leigh Street and Peel Street are the best streets to grab a bite or taste the local wines without having to leave the city centre.
If you want more of what makes Adelaide such a charming destination, then you can include a visit to the Adelaide Central Markets, the Botanical Gardens, the South Australian Museum, the Adelaide Gaol or even organise a boat tour from the harbor to see the city from the water.
Frequent trams will take you down to Glenelg, Adelaide’s most bustling beach, and you can take the tram for free within the CBD limits to get from one side to another. A free city loop bus service also runs around the city.
The Adelaide Hills are part of the Mount Lofty Ranges and dotted with eye-catching, leafy villages. The hills have the closest options of wineries, famous for making wine at some of the coolest temperatures in Australia. It is also home to top-rated restaurants serving up some of the best produce that South Australia has to offer.
For those who like to explore natural settings by food, the Hills offer some stunning walks – but can get a bit chilly so don’t forget a jacket!
One of my favourite places to eat is Sidewood Estate in Hahndorf – perfect for a long lunch or romantic dinner.
An amazing place to stay is Longview Vineyards in Macclesfield; click through to read my review.
Calling all wine lovers out there, the Barossa Valley, only an hour outside of Adelaide, is a must-visit for those who want to indulge themselves with tasting some of the most acclaimed wines on the planet.
The best and only way to experience the Barossa valley is to stay there exclusively for a few days. The region boasts quaint little towns and a wide array of amazing accommodation options perfect for families, couples or groups of friends looking to go on the most epic wine tour of their life.
Click through to read our Barossa Valley travel guide.
McLaren Vale, another internationally renowned wine region sits just 40 minutes south of Adelaide. Here you’ll find equally renowned gastronomic experiences next to stunning, rugged coastlines.
A trip to the Clare Valley should include the towns of Clare, Sevenhill, Auburn, Mintaro, Watervale, and Polish Hill River. While many amazing wines are made here, the region is most famous for Reisling, and you can cycle the Reisling Trail as a fun way to get around.
Aside from wine, the Clare Valley offers several fun options for families, including the Mintaro Maze.
Murray River, Lakes, and Coorong
The Murray River flows from the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales, through Victoria, and into South Australia, cutting across the South-East of the state before ending at Goolwa on the Fleurieu Peninsula (known as the Murray Mouth). Along South Australia’s South Eastern coastline is the Coorong, where the river forms lakes and estuaries that teem with wildlife.
Many beautiful towns dot the banks of the river, from quaint Mannum an hour’s drive from Adelaide, to the more lively Renmark.
Wineries and distilleries such as Banrock Station and 23rd Street Distillery are great options, but many people explore this region for outdoor pursuits. Think a chic houseboat holiday, jet-skiing or wakeboarding, and camping along the river banks or in the Coorong National Park. The Coorong is particularly great for kayaking and 4WD adventures.
The Yorke Peninsula has some of South Australia’s most accessible seaside escapes, boasting over 700 km of coastline to explore, starting only an hour’s drive from Adelaide. The Yorke Peninsula is perfect for those who love all types of outdoor activities and for exploring the stunning Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park.
Camping is an option in both the National Park and at many different campgrounds all across the Yorke Peninsula. Facilities range from luxe cabins at Point Turton, to free camping on the beach at Barkers Rocks. There really is an option to suit everyone’s tastes!
For those that enjoy taking it a tad easier, then there are endless beaches to relax on, that can be followed by a visit to one of the many local breweries or wineries that scatter the peninsula.
You’ll find darling towns all across the Yorke Peninsula. In particular, we’ve spent a lot of time in Moonta and Port Hughes recently, so be sure to check out the guide.
For adventurers looking for their next thrill, Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula can provide an excellent base, especially in the form of world-famous aquatic activities. The rest of the Eyre Peninsula is also an incredible destination for outdoorsy types.
Just off the coast of Port Lincoln, you can submerge yourself just off the Great Australian Bight by booking shark cave diving. You can hire a boat to play with sea lions or even watch whales and their calves directly from the coastline. The Eyre Peninsula is also well known for having some of the best seafood in Australia, that can be paired with an abundant array of locally sourced wines.
If this adventure sounds like you, then you can choose to take an eight-hour road trip from Adelaide, or a short regional flight with Qantas or REX to Port Lincoln.
Interested? Read our Eyre Peninsula guide!
A short drive from Adelaide, the Fleurieu Peninsula is arguably South Australia’s most popular seaside destination.
Victor Harbor, Port Elliot, Middleton and Goolwa are are excellent vacation towns with plenty to do, and surfers can catch epic breaks at Waitpinga.
Nature lovers can try their luck at spotting some marine life such as whales, dolphins, and seals, while history buffs will find 1800s shipwrecks and the region’s whaling past fascinating.
Coonawarra and Limestone Coast
Situated between Adelaide and Melbourne is the Limestone Coast. Here you’ll find equally stunning coastlines, wine regions and eateries as the other regions of South Australia.
A truly unique feature is the Naracoorte Caves National Park, South Australia’s only UNESCO World Heritage site.
It is also home to Mt Gambier, where you can see breathtaking volcanic crater lakes and Coonawarra, a small-town famous for making bold red wines with 36 wineries located within 20km.
Make sure you read our guide to the Limestone Coast.
The Flinders Ranges make up the largest mountain range in South Australia and features some of the most dramatic landscapes you can find in Australia.
The Southern Flinders Ranges is a 3.5 hour drive on sealed roads. However, for the more adventurous, exploring further north, deeper into the Flinders Ranges, by 4WD is a brilliant option.
Whatever you choose, exploring the Flinders Ranges allows you to bear witness to stunning gorges, sheltered creeks and some of the best outback scenery in Australia.
A quick ferry ride from Adelaide will land you on one of Australia’s most stunning island destinations – Kangaroo Island. Home to unique wildlife, clear blue waters to play in, great food and its own wineries, you could be mistaken for thinking you’re in some of Australia’s more popular island destinations.
Even so, this island destination is best explored in the summer months where you can really embrace all it has to offer.
Click through to read my three-day Kangaroo Island itinerary.
Far North and West
If you want to see the far North of the state, the easiest way to do this is by car. Some amazing outback destinations in the north to explore include Lake Eyre, Marree, The Oodnadatta Track, and the Simpson Desert. The most famous however is Coober Pedy, an apocalyptic-like destination where most of its residents live underground.
Travelling to the far West is also best by car but has some parts accessible by train. Travelling past the Eyre Peninsula, the most notable area you can visit is the famous Nullarbor Plains, a 1,200km flat and unfertile land with no trees. It’s a once in a lifetime trip.
If you aren’t too interested in stopping at too many places but want a unique and onward journey through the far West or North that leads out of South Australia, then you can hop on the Indian Pacific or The Ghan train in Adelaide. The Indian Pacific is the long-haul train that goes from Sydney to Perth, while The Ghan cuts straight up the centre of Australia up to Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Cover image courtesy of Kane Overall and South Australian Tourism Commission
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