From the picturesque vineyards of the Adelaide Hills to the towering peaks of the Flinders Ranges, from the wide open spaces of the arid Simpson Desert to the shipwrecks and bays of the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia serves up a diverse mosaic of landscapes. Wildlife and nature experiences around the state are amazing. Here are some of the best places to visit in South Australia.
Whether you’re a nature lover, outdoor enthusiast or epicurean, South Australia has a dazzling platter of experiences to choose from.
Visit one of the state’s world-class wine regions, where indulging in excellent wine and delicious gourmet food is a drawcard.
Explore the outback in a four-wheel-drive or sit around a campfire listening to colourful outback characters recount wild tales. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the numerous cycling, horse riding and hiking trails as well as the myriad of top fishing spots.
10 Incredible Places to visit in South Australia
Adelaide’s mesmerising sunsets wash the sky gorgeous hues of gold, pink and yellow.
Unlike the east coast of Australia where the sun sets over land, in Adelaide, the sun sets over the Gulf of St Vincent.
One of the best spots to gaze at the setting sun is Henley Beach where some of Adelaide’s trendiest fish and chip cafes are found.
2- Barossa Valley
The Barossa Valley’s rolling hills are home to some of the oldest Shiraz vineyards in the world, dating back to the 1840s.
A premier wine region in the state, the area’s cuisine and wine varieties were influenced by German settlers, who along with many other delicacies brought smoked mettwurst, Lachschinken and bratwurst sausages to the area.
Barossa Valley wine tours are fun and a great way to stock up on boutique South Australian wine.
3- Eyre Peninsula
The Eyre Peninsula has a selection of 4WD and bushwalking tours that offer interaction with rescued native animals, views of stunning coastlines, national parks and local produce tastings.
Taste Coffin Bay oysters and dig into a fresh seafood platter.
The Eyre Peninsula is also a great place to swim with the sea lions and to dive with sharks from the safety of a cage.
The endangered Australian sea lions are agile, friendly and cute. And they make great swimming companions for those seeking a unique nature experience.
Baird Bay on the Eyre Peninsula is also a haven for fishing, bushwalking and bird watching.
The tours raise awareness of the importance of improved fishing practices and sustainable fishery.
Future business plans include carbon-offsetting the construction of their existing infrastructure and changing their main motor to a cleaner-burning fuel delivery system.
Here are some things to do when you visit the Eyre Peninsula.
- Eat fresh seafood by the beach at Port Lincoln
- Go shark cage diving with great white sharks in Port Lincoln
- Swim with sea lions at Baird Bay
- Go beach hopping to discover sandy beaches
- Photograph the granite peaks of the Gawler Ranges
- Go shopping at the local markets – every country town has one or more
- Spend the day at Coffin Bay National Park boating, fishing or scuba diving
- See the ancient pillars called Murphy’s Haystacks, which are pink granite boulders that are 1,500 million years old.
- Swim with giant cuttlefish in the Spencer Gulf in Whyalla.
- See the sea lions at Point Labatt Conservation Park, which has the only permanent colony of Australian sea-lions on mainland Australia
4- Kangaroo Island
More than half of Kangaroo Island remains as pristine as when British navigator Matthew Flinders first sighted the untamed wilderness in 1802.
Doing the hike is one way of ticking off several things to do on Kangaroo Island.
The rest of the island is peppered with farm doors offering a bounty of fresh produce like wine, cheeses, oysters and lobsters.
Often called Australia’s Galapagos, the island’s diverse landscapes is home to a Noah’s Ark of creatures like sea lions, fur seals, kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, echidnas and platypus.
Kangaroo Island attractions include wildlife like koalas, western grey kangaroos, Tammar wallabies and more obscure wildlife like brush-tail possums, pygmy possums and heath goannas.
The island’s stunning coastline is one of the best places in Australia to walk among Australian sea lions and New Zealand fur seals.
Surrounded by nature, Southern Ocean Lodge has spectacular views, faultless service and the food is top class.
The lodge can arrange for guests to experience Kangaroo Island through a personalised experiential itinerary, with naturalist guides providing expert interpretive experiences.
Produce is locally sourced and the food and views are amazing.
5- Flinders Ranges
The landscape of the Flinders Ranges paints a picture of quintessential outback Australia, a vista that has captured the imagination of artists.
The Flinders Ranges is one of the most incredibly beautiful landmarks in Australia.
Famous South Australian painter Hans Heysen described it as “the bones of nature laid bare.”
The landscape teems with wildlife and is home to romantic characters who sit around campfires telling stories.
Located 430km north of Adelaide, Rawnsley Park Station is a 3000-hectare station adjoins the Flinders Ranges National Park.
The Smith family’s sheep station is now a pristine paradise for nature lovers.
Guests stay in luxury eco-villas designed by Adelaide architect, Paul Downton, a specialist in sustainable architecture.
Constructed from rendered straw bales, the eco-villas feature a host of green design techniques including passive heating and cooling, LED downlights, recycled timber and an innovative Biolytix wastewater treatment system.
The installation of a nine-kilowatt solar array in earlier this year has seen the properties achieve near energy-neutral status.
6- Coober Pedy
Opal was discovered in 1915 but it wasn’t until the 1960s that hundreds of men from Europe migrated to Coober Pedy.
They purchased rights to mine small parcels of land and after decades of mining, Coober Pedy’s opal fields is a moonscape of debris from prospecting shafts.
Beneath the ground is a honeycomb of underground dwellings.
Here are some things to do in Coober Pedy.
A fun way to explore the South Australian outback is to go on a tour with the outback postman.
7- Adelaide Hills
Take a wine-tasting holiday around the picturesque Adelaide Hills.
The Adelaide Hills is full of lovely towns packed with boutiques, galleries, cafes and cellar doors.
It’s a wonderful place to spend a few days driving around exploring and tasting local food and wine.
There are plenty of B&Bs to choose from and you won’t go hungry in the Adelaide Hills.
8- Gluepot Reserve, Waikerie
Commune with nature at Australia’s largest community-managed and operated conservation reserve.
Gluepot Reserve is run entirely by volunteers.
Situated 64km from the River Murray in South Australia’s Riverland, the 54,000ha reserve has 18 threatened species of birds.
There are also reptiles and bats. Biodiversity conservation is achieved through land management, scientific research, environmental education and sustainable ecotourism.
Anyone who lives in South Australia will tell you that one of the best farmer’s markets is located in the historic town of Willunga, 47 kilometres south of Adelaide in the Fleurieu Peninsula’s McLaren Vale wine region.
Each Saturday, the region’s farmers gather in the Willunga Town Square to sell their fresh produce directly to consumers.
There’s a buzz in the air as shoppers mill from stall to stall, filling their shopping bags with the region’s freshest produce.
There’s so much to take in my head spins. There’s a huge range of organic vegetables and fruit. Signs offering home-grown strawberries (no sprays) at $2.50 a punnet, olive oil, almonds, wine, grapes and fresh bread are everywhere.
With a catchphrase of “meet the grower and taste the region”, the market’s 60 stalls serve up a cornucopia of primary produce fresh from the region’s farms along with a few guest stalls offering produce from other regions.
The aim is to offer consumers a wide variety of fresh farm produce. The stringent 100-point system ensures the stalls offer both variety and quality.
So produce not readily available in the region like citrus from the Riverland area, pistachios, oysters and fish can also be purchased.
I stop to sample Lina’s dried apricots. Italian by birth her Greek sweets – baklava, halatabouliko – are to die for.
There’s a large range of condiments and jams at Lacewood where jars of Kausundi relish whipped up from eggplant, tomato, vinegar, sugar, spices, chilli and garlic are on sale next to jars of wild lime ginger pickles and tropical tomato salsa.
The cheese tasting stalls are popular and the mouth-watering aroma of bacon and eggs wafts through the air mingling with the fresh scent of fruit and vegetables.
But if you fancy something a little more sophisticated try a homemade gourmet quiche-like pasta, roasted vegetables with ricotta and spinach quiche or chicken with sweet potato, cheese and rice crust.
Willunga Farmer’s Market is on every Saturday from 8 am to 12.30 pm at Willunga Town Square, phone: (08) 8556 4297.
10- McLaren Vale
The McLaren Vale wine region is only a 40-minute drive from Adelaide and is a lovely spot to go wine tasting close to a city.
A McLaren Vale art workshop among the vineyards followed by a tour of galleries and wineries is the perfect recipe for creativity in South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula.
I’m standing in front of an easel, concentrating on the vine leaf in my hand.
My eyes follow the leaf’s contour as I try to sketch its outline without looking at my drawing. “It’s called blind contouring,” says my art tutor.
Our aim this morning is to create an artistic work portraying the essence of the McLaren Vale wine region using a mixed medium of pastels, chalk and charcoal along with collage techniques.
So far I can’t begin to imagine how my blindly sketched outline, which looks more like a cat’s head than a leaf, will turn into a masterpiece of vine leaves and wine bottles.
“Don’t worry this is just the warm-up,” she says encouragingly. She shows us how to layer our art using collage techniques.
We choose materials from her art box and begin ripping, cutting and gluing.
I rip some violet tissue into long ribbons which I glue onto my worksheet. They’re close enough to the colour of Shiraz, the region’s signature wine. The ribbon-like strips are my attempt to artistically represent wine being poured out of bottles.
She hands me a music score, from which I cut jagged bits, pasting the bits randomly onto my worksheet. Emboldened with newfound artistic expression, I pull out a pile of Chinese funeral money from her box. That also goes onto the sheet after being ripped to pieces first.
We blend the separate bits with pastels, brushing in dabs of colour; in my case emerald and burgundy.
The setting at Red Poles is peaceful and inspirational, with views of bushland, neat rows of vines, manicured lawns and trees but the real beauty of the session is that it’s so much fun.
You don’t even have to be an artist to enjoy it.
After a three-course lunch in the gardens, we head off to explore the wineries.
Our first stop is Paxton Wines, a biodynamic winery with a cellar door in a huge stone barn. I sample pinot gris, chardonnay and Shiraz as I chat to cellar door manager, Ben Paxton. Paxton’s father, David Paxton began growing grapes in 1979.
The Paxtons practice biodynamic farming which avoids synthetic fertilisers and pesticides that can damage the soil biology.
Paxton Wines supports a raft of local artists who display their watercolours and screen paintings on the walls of the cellar door.
We head to the beachside suburb of Aldinga where sustainable jewellery artist, Kim Thomson, has her display workshop.
Thomson was inspired to move to the region to open a jewellery workshop.
“The wineries are really generous in sponsoring artists,” says Thomson who makes jewellery with products that are kind to the environment. Her practice is concerned with how the chemicals used in jewellery production impacts the planet such as using vinegar instead of sulphuric acid and designing pieces people enjoy wearing because of the shape and not the material.
Her earrings and broaches are from recycled materials cut into nature shapes of hibiscus, pomegranate and poppies.
11- Monarto Zoo
Away from the city attractions in Adelaide, massaging a rhino is one activity that you’re probably not expecting on a visit to Monarto Zoo.
I’m leaning through the steel bars, touching Satara’s horn.
The Southern White Rhinoceros is enormous and loves being scratched between its belly and leg.
Several months ago, Satara went on a sex-crazed rampage when a younger bull started getting friendly with his girlfriend.
The 18-year-old two-tonne rhino smashed through the steel bars of his pen and ran amuck looking for his lady love.
Helicopters were used to locate him and they had to close down the entire zoo until they could locate and dart the rhino to keep him within the zoo’s grounds.
Satara was captured in Africa’s Kruger National Park and brought to Australia six years ago as part of a captive breeding program.
The rhino is one of the many animals at Monarto Zoo which is a 1,000-hectare open-range sanctuary, 70 kilometres from Adelaide in the Murraylands region.
Monarto Zoo is the sister zoo of Adelaide Zoo, home to the Giant Pandas.
It is Satara’s feeding time and I have been helping Brooks put out bales of lucent hay during a Working with Wildlife tour.
The tour allows you to spend the day helping the zoo’s wildlife management staff care for the animals while learning about the animals.
We leave Satara and head off to check on the Black Rhinoceros enclosure, driving through a landscape that is ideal for wildlife from Savannah grasslands and the semi-arid habitats of Africa, Asia, South America and Australia.
Habitats at the zoo range from five to 50 hectares.
The landscape is not irrigated to minimise water consumption; rainwater is collected in storage tanks; bio-cycle waste treatment systems at the visitor and staff toilet amenities filters, recycles and reuses water for revegetation and much of the electric fencing is solar powered.
Then we’re off to check on the cheetahs, Skukusa, Askari, Tsotsie were hand-reared at Monarto as part of the zoo’s breeding program, and the giraffes where a staff member is giving a talk to visitors.
Monarto Zoo has the largest giraffe herd in Australia.
Our next stop is the wild dog enclosure where a keeper is throwing chunks of meat on the ground.
The dogs are then released from their pens and rush for the food.
A fight begins.
There are a number of ways to see the animals including the Zu-Loop Shuttle, which drives through various enclosures.
You can also walk around the zoo on foot or join one of the behind-the-scenes tours.
Monarto Zoo is easily a full day experience and can be visited as a day trip from Adelaide.