From wine tasting in McLaren Vale or the Clare Valley, to hiking in Flinders Ranges National Park, this South Australia road trip itinerary highlights the best of the state.
South Australia is filled with amazing sights, gastronomic experiences, culture and wildlife. One day you can be wine tasting in McLaren Vale or the Clare Valley, and the next you can be hiking through epic rock formations in the Ikara-Flinders National Park or learning about native plants in Adelaide Botanic Gardens!
One of the best things about a trip to this Australian state is that you can create a varied itinerary across a week, which doesn’t involve spending the majority of time driving! If you haven’t spent much time in Australia before, you might be surprised by how vast some of the distances can be (I was!!) But in South Australia, you can have a true ocean to outback experience in a matter of hours.
We kicked off our road trip in the vibrant city of Adelaide, then headed north through some of Australia’s most beautiful wine regions in the Clare Valley, before reaching the Ikara-Flinders National Park. It worked well to break the journey up with lots of stops, and added lots of variety to the trip.
After spending a few days in Flinders Ranges, we drove south again, this time passing beyond Adelaide to finish off our South Australia road trip in the beautiful Fleurieu Peninsula and top wine region, McLaren Vale.
This was my first time in Australia and it felt like such an amazing introduction to the country. From city life to beach towns and deserted outback locations, the road trip had a bit of everything! My only real disappointment was that because I was 5-months pregnant, I had to skip a few of the wine tasting experiences (next time…!) To be honest though, I didn’t feel like I was missing out completely as many of South Australia’s wineries are in such stunning locations and often serve great food too, so even if you’re the designated driver, you can still have a great time!
This South Australia road trip itinerary would work well as a 7-10 day trip. At the end you’ll also see an option to visit Kangaroo Island (an absolute must in South Australia in my opinion!) This is THE destination for wildlife, including seals, sea lions, kangaroos, koalas and more!
The Ultimate South Australia Road Trip Itinerary
I’ve divided this road trip itinerary into four sections to make it easy to follow. I’ve included a few of my top experiences in each destination plus lots of recommendations for places to eat and drink. You’ll also find some tips for seriously cool accommodation too!
South Australia Road Trip Itinerary: Map
Click here to see a more detailed map itinerary for this South Australia road trip.
Stop 1: Adelaide and Adelaide Hills
Kick off your trip in the vineyard city of Adelaide! This is a small yet vibrant city, with lots of lovely green spaces, colourful murals and great dining experiences. It’s also under an hour from several great wineries in the Adelaide Hills. I found it to be a friendly and walkable city, and it offered a relaxed introduction to South Australia as a whole.
Visit Adelaide Central Market
If you’re a food lover, you’re going to fall in love with South Australia. This is a state that takes food seriously! All the restaurants we visited focused on sourcing local ingredients, and many even incorporated interesting native plants and ‘bush foods’ into their menus.
Adelaide Central Market offers a great introduction to the state’s culinary scene. The stalls here sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, to seafood, bread and sweet treats. There’s even a stall dedicated to the fabulous produce from Kangaroo Island, which includes Ligurian honey, gin and sticky fig syrup!
For a greater understanding of the state’s bountiful produce, I’d recommend booking a tour with Food Tours Australia. We learned so much from Cheryl, who introduced us to native foods including the fruits quandong and kakadu plums, sea blight (similar to samphire) and ‘bush meats’ such as emu, camel and kangaroo. We even sampled some green ants! There are several tasty stops on this food tour of the market, but I found learning about the native ingredients the most intriguing!
Take an Eco Caddy Tour of Adelaide
Many cities around the world have had an injection of colour in the form of murals. I’m happy to say that the same is true of Adelaide! There are beautiful murals covering the exteriors of so many buildings. Many are of cultural significance, created by Aboriginal artists, or showing the cultural blend of South Australia too.
While you’ll spot many of these artworks as you wander the city, a great way to learn more is to go on an Eco Caddy Tour of Adelaide. These tours are on passenger bikes, which are electric and pedal powered. They’re eco-friendly, sustainable and open-air, and can reach spots that cars can’t, giving you a really immersive experience!
Walk around Adelaide Botanic Gardens
One of the highlights of my time in Adelaide was visiting the city’s amazing botanic gardens. I loved it so much on day one, that we nipped back on day two to see a few bits that we’d missed! The gardens span 50 hectares and have lots of different areas, including ponds, a palm house, a rose garden and more. It was wisteria season when we visited, making for some beautiful photos!
We also enjoyed a tour here with Hayden, the cultural director of tour company Bookabee. He specialises in tours that put this region of Australia in the context of its native people and their connection with the land. It was surprising to learn that just 200 years ago, the Botanic Gardens weren’t there. The area would simply have been filled with native plants and trees, such as eucalyptus, macadamia, Illawarra plum and grass trees.
You don’t need to go on a guided tour to appreciate the beauty of Adelaide Botanic Gardens, but it will give you a deeper understanding of South Australia. The relationship between the land, the people and the culture of today’s modern Australia is such an intriguing mix.
Visit the wineries in Adelaide Hills
South Australia is one of the best regions in the world for wine lovers, and while McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley attract a lot of tourists, it turns out you don’t have to travel far from Adelaide to be in vineyard territory! In fact, there are over 200 cellar doors within an hour’s drive of Adelaide city centre, dotted through the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale.
Golding Wines is one of the best to visit in Adelaide Hills, not just for their wines, but also their delicious cuisine. Spanning across 200-acres and launched around 20 years ago, Darren and Lucy Golding have created a wonderful family-run winery. You’ll even find pictures of the family on some of the bottles!
You can visit for tours and tastings, stop by for a casual pizza / salad lunch or book in for something more special such as the Nido Experience. This is Golding’s gastronomic degustation menu, usually served inside their unique birds-nest structure overlooking the vines.
On the day we visited, the weather was a little wet so we couldn’t cosy up inside the nest, but we still enjoyed the full tasting menu in the restaurant. My favourite course was a quirky take on mushroom soup. It was a delicious mushroom consommé, with a mix of wild mushrooms and a unique ‘teabag’ made from vegetables. It was like something from Alice in Wonderland – a little bit of theatre and magic to the meal!
Adelaide Restaurant Recommendations
With such a gourmet reputation, you’re guaranteed to have lots of great meals in Adelaide. Here are a few pointers for where to visit!
Peter Rabbit Café – An ideal option for brunch in Adelaide, with a lovely garden space, great coffee and delicious egg-based dishes.
Fugazzi – Located on Leigh Street (one of the city’s best laneways for drinking and dining), this restaurant serves decadent Italian cuisine with a sophisticated touch. Along with a range of snacks and large bowls of pasta, don’t miss the ricotta, honey and fried bread dish – it’s absolutely delicious!
Daughter In Law – In the heart of Rundle Street, this youthful and colourful restaurant serves flavoursome Indian dishes.
Adelaide Hotel recommendations
Sofitel – This 5-star hotel is located in the heart of Adelaide, walking distance from the vibrant nightlife of Peel and Leigh Streets, as well as the shops of Rundle Street Mall. It’s chic and sophisticated inside, with a pool, gym, cocktail bar and everything you could need for a relaxing stay.
Hotel Indigo – Cool vibes await at this stylish hotel moments from Adelaide Central Market. One of the biggest perks about staying here? The brunch dishes are to die for! There’s also a very cool rooftop bar with views over the city.
Stop 2: The Clare Valley
No doubt you’ve heard of the wine mecca that is the Barossa Valley, but the Clare Valley is another great region to visit if you’re partial to a glass of vino. The region spans around 40km, with more than 50 cellar doors dotted throughout. The Clare Valley is famous for Riesling, but these days winemakers are branching out and producing a number of different wines.
Go wine tasting at Pikes Wines
Pikes is one of the most famous wineries in the Clare Valley. Not being as elevated as the Adelaide Hills, but having cool nights and warm days make for excellent for Rieslings here. You can just turn up to Pikes‘ cellar door and enjoy a free 50-minute tasting experience of up to five wines. They also have a great restaurant (Slate) if you fancy spending a little longer eating and drinking.
I adored Pikes’ Riesling; it’s what they’re known for and it really is excellent! We also really liked the Viognier and Sangiovese.
A quick note on wine tasting in this region. We visited several wineries throughout our road trip through South Australia, and while there’s no obligation to purchase, it’s unlikely you’ll try and not want to buy a few bottles at the end!
Also be aware of Australia’s strict drink driving law of 0.05% blood alcohol concentration. As a very rough guide that equates to around one 100ml glass of wine for women or two for men. The best rule is not to drink at all if you’re driving, or find a designated driver for your wine tasting trip!
Visit Shut The Gate for a casual wine tasting experience
To contrast with Pikes, swing by Shut The Gate. Compared to some of the modern and sophisticated cellar doors in the Clare Valley, this one has a feel of walking into your gran’s house! Mismatched furniture, chintzy ornaments and an all-round retro vibe make this a quirky but welcoming stop. Oh, and obviously the wine is great too!
Check out the shops in Clare
Clare is one of the main towns in the Clare Valley, and has a high street filled with lovely independent stores, boutiques and restaurants. Stop by Anneva for women’s clothes, Grace and Maple for homewares and Seed for local produce.
Enjoy the views of the Clare Valley
The road trip from Adelaide to the Clare Valley is spectacular! As you get closer to Auburn, you’ll start seeing the rolling hills lined with vines. For one of the best views over the region, drive up to Quarry Hill Lookout. The panoramas from up here are absolutely breath-taking!
Stay at Bukirk Glamping
If you’re a fan of unique accommodation, I’d recommend staying at Bukirk Glamping in the Clare Valley. Home to several beautiful belle tents and a few quirky coops, this peaceful spot is great for those who love to be immersed in nature.
The owner even has a few farm animals including chickens, sheep, a cow and a large pot-bellied pig named Kevin Bacon!
I’ve always adored unique accommodation like this. Falling asleep to the sounds of wildlife, seeing bright constellations above, and waking up to see kangaroos bouncing past the fence – what an experience!
Clare Valley Restaurant Recommendations
Many of the local cellar doors offer great dining experiences, but here are a few restaurants not to be missed.
Seed Winehouse + Kitchen – You’ll find lots of Clare Valley produce on sale at this deli store including wines, cheeses and meats. Of course, the local produce is the heart of the eat-in menu too, which features large charcuterie platters, Italian pizzas and tasty salads.
Watervale Hotel – Looking back on our entire South Australian road trip, I think this is where I had my favourite meal (and there’s a lot of stiff competition!) The dining concept here is all about sharing. Order a mix of small plates and big plates, and get stuck in!
I adored the range of dishes, which included roast chicken with smoked garlic mash, charred broccoli with spiced yogurt and honey roasted beetroot with feta. The restaurant space is beautiful too, with a huge open kitchen, outside courtyard and smart dining area.
Stop 3: Ikara-Flinders National Park
The drive from the Clare Valley to Flinders Ranges is like one of those epic road trip routes you see in movies! Watching the scenery change from lush green countryside dotted with vines, to craggier and rockier terrain was magical. Gradually the rocks turned redder and redder until we reached the outback.
I’d always assumed that to reach the Australian outback you’d be travelling for days, yet this is just 5-hours from Adelaide!
The landscapes here date back 800 million years are more reminiscent of images I’ve seen of Mars! With huge gorges, deep craters, soaring mountain peaks and the natural rock amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges is a must-visit on your South Australia road trip. Coming up are a few suggestions for places to visit, but for more info, take a look at this big guide to the best things to do do in Flinders Ranges.
Go on a four-wheel drive tour through the Ikara-Flinders National Park
Rawnsley Park Station offers a fun four-wheel drive experience, which takes you off-road and up onto the ridge-line at Chace Range. Our rental car wouldn’t be suitable for any of the 4WD roads (of which there are many!) so this was a great way to see some epic Flinders panoramas and spot some wildlife too.
The tours take place just before sunset, so not only do you get to see some stunning views of the rock formations, you also get to see the beautiful golden rays illuminating the red rocks.
I loved this experience. It was so magical up there! We also saw loads of kangaroos on the adventurous drive up the rocks! It turned out to be a real bucket-list moment on our South Australia road trip.
Hike to Arkaroo Rock
If you love hiking, you’ll be in your element in the Ikara-Flinders National Park! There are absolutely loads of trails throughout the region, suitable for both walking and cycling. One of our favourite hikes was to Aboriginal rock art site, Arkaroo Rock.
The hike is around 3 km (a looped route) which took us around two hours in total. It’s pretty steep In parts, passing over streams and up craggy paths. At the end of the trail are several ancient Aboriginal rock paintings in charcoal and ochre. They’re thought to date back around 5,000 years. I found it hard to get my head around the history!
See wildlife in Flinders Ranges National Park
This was my first trip to Australia, so I’ll be the first to admit that one of the things I was most excited about was the wildlife! I knew I’d feel emotional seeing my first kangaroos, but in Flinders Ranges, they were everywhere! We saw loads as we explored the trails around Rawnsley Park Station! There were even a few hopping right past our eco-villa!
I also loved the moment we spotted a big herd of emus by the entrance to Wilpena Pound. I’d never seen them in the wild before. They look so unusual and prehistoric. It was a really exciting moment!
We also spotted a few other creatures during our few days in Flinders Ranges, including eagles and shingleback lizards. While the landscapes are the biggest reason to visit this part of South Australia, the wildlife is a close second!
Go on a walking tour near Wilpena Pound with an Adnyamathanha guide
I was keen to learn about native aboriginal culture throughout my time in South Australia. This group tour organised by Wilpena Pound’s visitor centre offered a really interesting background to the native people from the Ikara-Flinders National Park.
The Adnyamathanha people (which is pronounced adnar-mart-na and means ‘rock people’) have lived here for tens of thousands of years. Over that time, they’ve carved important messages into the rocks. We saw rock carvings which are thought to date back over 30,000 years, signifying things such as water, shelter and weapons.
Our guide also taught us about some of the native plants and trees that his ancestors would have used. I was fascinated by this tour, not least because it was hosted by a passionate Adnyamathanha descendant in his 20s, who was continuing to spread the word of his ancestors.
It’s so important that this lesser-documented history isn’t lost, so hearing people like him sharing stories of his relatives was very moving.
Take a scenic flight over Flinders Ranges National Park
Our trip was impacted by unusually high winds, so unfortunately we were unable to go on the helicopter tour we had booked. Rawnsley Park Station offer scenic flights in small planes as well as helicopter tours over the landscapes.
I’d seen the amazing photos of the natural amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound from the skies, but it’s impossible to get the scale or perspective from the ground. If you’ve got a little disposable cash and fancy a bucket list experience in the outback, I’d definitely recommend taking to the skies!
Flinders Ranges Hotel recommendations
Rawnsley Park Station
We stayed in a luxury eco-villa here, which provided the perfect base for our adventurous days out in the ranges. The villas were really smart inside, with full working kitchens, a large lounge and dining area, outdoor BBQ and a balcony.
This is an ideal place for anyone wanting to self-cater, but there’s also the option of visiting the on-site Woolshed Restaurant if you fancy a night off. We also liked the fact that the station organises a number of tours, so you can relax as much or as little as you fancy!
For something a little different, how about staying at a famous hotel in a very remote town?! 11 people live in this town, and nine work at the hotel and restaurant!
It’s somewhere that offers a memorable outback experience, with its fun ‘feral foods’ menu (think kangaroo, emu and camel). It’s more of a destination hotel, than a classic outback pub. The food is excellent and there’s even a micro-brewery on-site. It’s also in a great location for hiking, 4WD drives, visiting the gorges and more.
Stop 4: Fleurieu Peninsula and McLaren Vale
I’ve grouped these two together, as they’re both south of Adelaide and best visited together. The Fleurieu Peninsula is famed for its amazing beaches, with highlights including Sellicks Beach, Port Willunga and surf hotspot Middleton Beach.
Meanwhile, McLaren Vale is one of the most popular wine regions in South Australia. Who wouldn’t want to spend the final days of their South Australia road trip beach-hopping and wine tasting?!
Visit Sellicks Beach
One of the most popular beaches for Adelaide’s population to visit, when you see it, you’ll understand why! This is a magnificent beach with rugged reddish rocks undulating along the coastline. Follow the ocean road and then drive your car right onto the sand for a proper Aussie beach day.
Surf at Middleton Beach
Australians love surfing, so why not add a surf lesson into your South Australian road trip? Macca loved his time catching some waves with Jake from a Surf & Sun on Middleton Beach. After running through some basic techniques, they hit the surf together, with Macca returning a couple of hours later absolutely buzzing!
Spend an afternoon at d’Arenberg Winery
Have you seen photos of the iconic Cube in McLaren Vale? Well, it’s the centrepiece of highly-regarded d’Arenberg Winery. The Rubik’s cube architecture represents the complex puzzle of winemaking. The interiors are as wacky as the outside too!
You’ll find different attractions on each of the five levels, with the Alternate Realities Museum on the ground floor, which shows a little of the history of the vineyard and the winemaking process in a Willy Wonka style!
On level two is a Dali exhibition, level 3 has the kitchens and toilets (which are brilliantly quirky too!) Head on up to level four for Asian restaurant Singapore Circus, or to the top floor to taste d’Arenberg’s wines.
The Cube is one of the most popular places to visit near Adelaide, and you could easily spend half a day here.
Go on an eco-tour at Gemtree Wines
Gemtree are doing interesting things with their land, paying respect to the indigenous people, and preserving some of the native flora and fauna. These efforts not only protect it for generations and continue a long and important history, but also improve the biodiversity locally, which in turn benefits their vines.
At the end of the eco-tour, we sat down and tucked into a platter of native foods featuring ingredients such as saltbush, quandong and muntries, accompanied by a selection of Gemtree’s biodynamic wines.
Shop for fresh produce at Willunga Farmers Market
Every Saturday, Willunga Farmers Market takes place in the grounds of Willunga High School. When we stopped by there were over 50 stalls selling everything from huge boxes filled with ripe strawberries, to freshly baked sourdough loaves and homemade jams. Many of the fresh items are brought from local farms within the Fleurieu Peninsula.
Listening to live musicians while watching families and kids playing in the schoolyard made me appreciate the sense of community in this part of South Australia. If you’re self-catering in the area, I’d recommend picking up some fresh produce here.
Fleurieu Peninsula Restaurant and Accommodation recommendations
Lost Phoenix Farm – A lovely spot for a bite to eat, with a selection of delicious small and large plates designed for sharing. The burrata salad here was amazing! There’s also a distillery on-site.
Star of Greece – Don’t let the name fool you, this isn’t a Greek restaurant! It actually serves modern Australian cuisine. It’s named after the shipwreck which is located just off the coast in Port Willunga.
This restaurant has an incredible reputation for fine dining, and it’s totally justified! Prepare for delicious dishes such as lobster laksa, kingfish sashimi and chargrilled wagyu eye fillet with Fleurieu mushrooms. The added bonus is the view – it’s one of the best restaurants on the beach in South Australia!
Stay at Ukiyo House – I absolutely love modern architecture, so when we had the chance to stay in this Japanese-inspired accommodation, I was over the moon. There’s a feeling of zen as you open the front door and see through to the open plan kitchen/lounge.
Clutter-free, Ukiyo House features endless clever design elements including a smart TV that looks like a canvas, innovative draw designs, cupboards hiding knick-knacks, remote-controlled blinds and a smart toilet! There was even a fridge filled with amazing produce to create tasty breakfasts and snacks.
There’s a peaceful garden, countryside views and trees filled with native birds all around too. All of this, plus it’s under ten-minutes’ walk to the beautiful beach at Port Willunga. I just wished we’d had longer as I felt so relaxed from the moment I stepped through the door!
Stop 5: Kangaroo Island (optional addition)
If you can spare 2-3 extra days, I’d recommend continuing your South Australia road trip in Kangaroo Island. Car ferries run regularly from Cape Jervis on the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula to Penneshaw, and take 45 minutes. Alternatively, if you’d rather book a guided tour (I’d recommend contacting Kangaroo Island Touring Company), you can book a flight from Adelaide directly to Kangaroo Island.
Kangaroo Island is one of the best places in Australia to see native wildlife. From koalas in the trees, to kangaroos hopping through the fields, Australian sea lions on Seal Bay in Flinders Chase National Park and echidnas strolling down the roads, it really is an amazing place to visit. I’d recommend reading this detailed guide to the best things to do in Kangaroo Island, which includes everything you need to know about visiting.
I hope you’ve enjoyed following my South Australia road trip. From the Barossa Valley wine region and the spectacular Eyre Peninsula, to the Murray River, Mount Gambier and Lincoln National Park, there are plenty more great places to visit in the state, but I think my route gives you a great introduction to the food, culture, history and landscapes in SA.
If you’re a foodie like me, don’t miss my guide to the best food and drink experiences in South Australia. From wineries to native foods, I’ve included lots of great tips to make the most of your time down under!
A big thanks to the South Australia Tourism Commission for inviting us to explore this amazing region. You can find plenty of useful info to plan your adventure on their website. As always, all thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.
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