From the country to the coast, bustling cities to quiet outback towns, and seafood havens by the ocean to wine growing regions in fertile valleys, whatever form of wanderlust you may have, South Australia has a way to cure it.
Whether you’re an on-the-go type and enjoy a busy day in the city or a laidback traveller who prefers to peruse the wine regions, this South Australia road trip guide covers all bases.
Exploring Adelaide, stop one on your road trip
With affordable real estate, café culture, a thriving arts scene and lovely green spaces, Adelaide is one of Australia’s most liveable cities. It’s also great for a quick jaunt if you’re not prepared to make the move. South Australia’s capital, while not a bustling metropolis, has a buzzing business district with the perfect balance between old and new. Glossy multi-storeys alternate with heritage buildings and lane ways curl off the main streets, housing bars and cafes. The iconic flame trees memorialised by Cold Chisel line the streets, offering shade and shelter from Adelaide’s ever-changing weather.
Checking out the top Adelaide attractions
Featuring a vibrant arts scene, eclectic festivals and dedicated food and wine culture, this adventurous city might surprise you. Follow your senses to Adelaide Central Market for a taste of South Australia’s multicultural food scene. There are more than 200 stalls selling everything from raisin-studded muffins to locally roasted coffee beans. Walk through north Adelaide, where you’ll see the city’s religious heritage on full display. If you’re looking for a spot to relax, make a stop in the park. You’ll have no trouble finding a quiet corner in one of Adelaide’s parks or playgrounds.
When your tummy starts to rumble again, head to Port Adelaide. You’ll see how this historic suburb evolved into one of the states trendiest dining precincts. Begin with a drink at one of the stylish wine bars, then choose from Mexican, Thai or even American-style BBQ. End your meal with something sweet at Pancakes at the Port.
Most people don’t start and end their South Australia road trip with Adelaide. They head for the hills or down to the Bight to experience the full spectrum of the state’s offerings.
South Australia’s top wine regions
A short drive from the city, the Adelaide Hills region is straight out of a fairytale. With rolling hills, charming hamlets and scattering of boutiques, providores and wine bars, this region is sure to impress. It’s generally busy with nine-to-fivers on weekends due to its proximity to the city, so it pays to travel a bit further out to escape the crowds.
However, the Barossa Valley is a whole 50 kilometres further out and yet, the crowds still come. Probably because the Barossa is Australia’s most esteemed wine region in the country. Names such as Penfolds, Calabria Family Wines and Wolf Blass call it home.
Exploring the best vineyards in South Australia
Fans of Aussie icon Maggie Beer must visit her property in Nuriootpa. Pheasant Farm is an excellent stop on your foodie foray. You can sample her full range of gourmet goods in the farm shop or enjoy a meal at The Farm Eatery. Or, wander the grounds and tuck into a picnic of your own.
Just 120 kilometres from Adelaide, the Clare Valley is home to some of South Australia’s most celebrated vignerons and food producers. It’s small but mighty, with around 40 cellar doors along the expanse between Auburn and Clare. The area’s townships are full of butchers, bakers, and weekend markets, making it a perfect stop on your South Australia road trip.
Road trip pit stop: sensational seafood in South Australia
Jutting into the Southern Ocean, the 2000-kilometre coastline that makes up the Eyre Peninsula is brimming with world-class seafood. The region is known as Australia’s seafood frontier for a reason. Southern rock lobster, squid, native Angasi oysters, Bluefin tuna, King George whiting, and more are hauled out of these waters every day. And you’re in luck, because they grace the menus of some of the best restaurants in the world.
Home to the annual Tunarama Festival, Port Lincoln is said to be the seafood capital of South Australia. But it’s just one stop on the Seafood Frontier road trip. Whyalla on the east coast marks the beginning of this self-guided journey, and it ends thousands of kilometres to the west at the Head of Bight. In between there are marine tours, deep-sea fishing, whale-watching, diving with great whites, and more. And of course, plenty of world-class seafood to sample.
Make Ceduna a stop on your road trip; this gorgeous seaside town is on the far west coast of South Australia. Fishing is a part of life down there, and it’s a relaxed life, according to the locals. Just off the coast of Ceduna, the districts of Smoky Bay, Denial Bay and Saint Peters Island are famous for their oysters thanks to the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight. They’re even celebrated over the October long weekend every year with the aptly named Oysterfest.
Discover Kangaroo Island on the South Australian coast
Just over 100 kilometres off the coast of South Australia, Kangaroo Island has a reputation for wild weather and rugged landscapes. Plus, its diverse population of animal and plant species. One third of this remote 4400km2 island is devoted to nature reserves where 1500 Aussie species roam freely. Among them are koalas, wombats, wallabies, New Zealand fur seals, echidnas, and Cape Barren geese. And, of course, kangaroos.
Since native animals are in such abundance on Kangaroo Island, most visitors choose to stay in the thick of it. For a luxury stay, Hamilton House in Emu Bay offer a relaxed beach holiday vibe. If glamping is more your style, settle into a beautiful bell tent at Coastal Farm, set on a private rocky beach. Otherwise, choose from one of the many small lodges, cabins, caravan parks and campgrounds around KI. This fun stop is the perfect addition to your South Australia road trip!
Driving the Limestone Coast, SA
The Limestone Coast contains some of the state’s most starkly contrasting landscapes. See dark blue crater lakes atop extinct volcanoes and subterranean gardens growing in sink holes. And don’t forget Terra Rossa grapes, used to produce some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the country. Though Coonawarra is a lesser known wine region, the detail-oriented approach to wine production has put winemakers like Balnaves and Bellwether Wines on the map.
Nearby Mount Gambier has plenty of sinkholes to explore, including the famous Engelbrecht Caves in the middle of town. But no doubt the most intriguing natural wonder to explore is the Naracoorte Cave system, the only World-Heritage-listed site in South Australia. In the Victoria Fossil Cave you can see piles of megafauna bones from creatures that fell through the forest floor around half a million years ago.
South Australian outback adventures
Then, to experience the South Australian outback, try taking the Stuart Highway out of Adelaide. Head towards Coober Pedy, an opal mining outpost in central South Australia. Drive along the famous Dingo Fence and through vast cattle stations. If you’re up for it, venture out to the tiny outback town of Innamincka in the northeast corner of the state. This spot is a beacon for those travelling on the South Australian and Queensland border. Innamincka is also a short drive from the famous Dig Tree where the mission of Burke and Wills came to a tragic end.
How to get around South Australia
South Australia is a fantastic state for road trips, but if you don’t have a car or you’re short on time, jumping in a plane might be your best bet. Rex (Regional Express) operates regular flights to gorgeous places like Mount Gambier, Whyalla, Ceduna and Coober Pedy. You can fly directly from Adelaide or choose one of the great thru-fares on offer from Rex’s other city and regional ports. For the latest flight schedules and prices, head over to rex.com.au
Interested in checking out more cave systems around Australia? Take a look at our list of Top 10 caves for the curious
Looking for more adventure in the Outback? Check out our list of the unmissable attractions in Outback Queensland
Want to spend the entire day with the wildlife on Kangaroo Island? We’ve got a list of KI’s attractions and wonders