Let our South Australia Travel Guide help you discover why so many people start planning the second visit to the state before they have even finished their first. Wildlife and wine are top of the list on a visit to South Australia, but the state also offers rugged outback landscapes and stunning coastal marine parks.
Why visit South Australia?
If you prefer your holidays away from the big city, if you like a bit of space, South Australia might just be your nirvana. The population of 1.6 million have just over a million square kilometres to share. Admittedly like most Australians, most of them cling to the coast, but there is plenty of that too.
- Eighteen world-class wine regions
- 5000 kilometres of almost crowd-free coastline
- Stunning outback landscapes – plenty of red dirt sunsets here
- Brilliant nature reserves, including Kangaroo Island and coastal marine reserves
So let’s start exploring South Australia and planning your escape
South Australia was never a penal colony and attracted free settlers from England first then Ireland, Germany, Italy, Greece and Poland; the beginnings of multicultural Australia.
The Regions Of South Australia (SA)
Like most states of Australia the area is divided into more than 10 touring regions:
- Adelaide and Adelaide Hills
- Barossa Valley
- Clare Valley
- Eyre Peninsula
- Fleurieu Peninsula
- Flinders Ranges
- Kangaroo Island
- Limestone Coast
- Yorke Peninsula
- Murray River, Lakes and Coorong
They all offer fantastic standalone short breaks or better still string a couple together for a longer road trip.
Adelaide and the Adelaide Hills
Adelaide is Australia’s unsung hero in many ways. Great food, quality museums, and wineries and beaches within 30 minutes of the centre of the city. It’s hard to beat a morning stroll along the river followed by breakfast at the Adelaide Central Market.
Top 5 things to do on your first visit to Adelaide
- Adelaide Central Market – be sure to treat yourself to breakfast or lunch here
- Glenelg Beach – take the tram from the city centre to this popular seaside town
- Hardorf – perfect if you are pining for a European break with German-style architecture and artisanal food
- Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute – after exploring the latest exhibition stop in the shop
- Tour and climb the roof of the Adelaide Oval – a must for sports lovers
Local Tip: Time your visit to Glenelg for sunset – you won’t be disappointed.
Located just 50km from Adelaide in the Mount Lofty Ranges, and primarily known for its award-winning red wines, the Barossa Valley delights with its array of quaint villages.
Things to include on your Barossa Valley itinerary:
- Tanunda – pop into the Barossa Visitors Centre for the latest updates and some maps.
- Angaston – walk the main street for its artisan shops and in spring the stunning jacarandas
- Seppeltsfield – visit one of the oldest wineries in South Australia established in 1850.
- Maggie Beer – buy some goodies from this much loved Aussie chef at her Nurioopta shopfront.
- Nuriootpa – stop for a tasting at Penfolds, and visit the biggest town in the Barossa
Local Tip: If you are visiting in spring, schedule at stop at the Lyndoch Lavender Farm.
Cute towns packed with history and charm are dotted throughout the Clare Valley. This is Reisling country and a must if this is your favourite drop.
Magical spots on the Clare Valley:
- Lake Bumbunga – another of South Australia’s famous pink lakes
- Check out the Clare Valley Art Trail in Burra
- Mintaro Maze – find your way through this fully accessible and dog-friendly maze.
- Walk or cycle the Reisling Trail a 35km section of an old railway line between Auburn and Clare.
- Pop into the Clare Valley Wine, Food and Tourism Centre and let the staff direct you to the best new spots.
Local tip: You can visit the “Midnight Oil” house that featured on the album Diesel and Dust.
Related: Check out our guide on the Wine Regions of South Australia for more wine tips
You cannot bring fruit and vegetables into South Australia. On-the-spot fines of $400 are payable if you are caught so eat up or throw them in the bins at the borders.
The Eyre Peninsula forms the shore of the Great Australian Bight; this is the place where the Nullarbor Desert meets the sea.
Highlights of the gold coast
- Port Lincoln – are you brave enough to dive with great white sharks
- Streaky Bay – make the detour to Murphy’s Haystacks above while you are there
- Coffin Bay National Park – stop off at Templetonia Lookout for 360-degree views of the landscape
- Lake Macdonnell – one of South Australia’s famous pink lakes
- The Nullarbor Plain – watch out for camels, over 100,000 of them can be found here.
Local Tip: Don’t miss Baird Bay where you can swim with both dolphins and sea lions
Fleurieu is the jumping-off point for a visit to Kangaroo Island and home to some of the best food in the state, all less than an hour from Adelaide city centre.
Highlights of Fleurieu include:
- McLaren Vale – wine and of course the giant Rubix – D’arenberg Cube
- Victor Harbour – excellent surf along this section of the coast, try Petrel Cove or Boomer Beach
- Port Noarlunga Reef – cliffs of red sandstone line this pretty Beach, a popular diving spot you can drive onto the sand
- Sellick’s Beach – after your visit, check out the nearby statue of Kuan Yin overlooking the sea at Nan Hai Pu Tuo Temple
- Port Willunga – join the Instagram crowds and photograph the rotting timbers of the 1888 wreck of the Star of Greece iron cargo ship
Local tip: Need a challenge? Walk or cycle the 269km Kidman Trail, from Willunga to Echunga.
Flinders Ranges and the Outback
The largest region in the area and home to Coober Pedy, the state’s most popular outback town, the Flinders Ranges offer landscapes as stunning as the red centre.
Popular things to do in the Flinders Ranges and outback South Australia
- Wilpena Pound – take a tour with a local experienced Yura guide to learn the history of the Adnyamathanha people
- Port Augusta – stop at Matthew Flinders Red Cliff lookout.
- Pichi Pichi Railway – travel the original Ghan route between Port Augusta and Quorn
- Coober Pedy – a compulsory stop, the opal capital of the world – where the population lives underground to escape the heat
- Innamincka – drive the Birdsville Track to the iconic Birdsville Hotel
Local Tip: Fancy a challenge? Try the Heysen Trail, a 1200km walk crosses through Flinders Ranges.
Australia’s third-biggest island is a must for nature lovers, and while it was severely damaged by the bushfires 2020 summer bushfires, they are ready for visitors to return. There is plenty of the island that was not affected. This Kangaroo Island itinerary is perfect for first-time visitors
Everything on Kangaroo Island is magical but make sure you include these highlights:
- Cape du Couedic – meet some of the 7000 plus fur seals who live here
- Cape Borda Lighthouse – it’s short and square – that’s odd right- worth a look
- Flinders Chase National Park – must-see The Remarkables, those rocks you see in almost every photo of the island
- Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park – home to over 150 different species of Australian animals
- Penguin Interpretive Centre – head to Penneshaw in the evening to meet the little penguins
Local tip: Be sure to hunt down Kangaroo Island Spirits, winner of the “Best Contemporary Gin” in the World.
For us, the standout in the Limestone Coast region is Mount Gambier, and it’s sinkholes and blue lakes. The whole area is lovely, but it is Mount Gambier that is etched in my memory.
Make sure you stop in at:
- Mount Gambier – Umpherston Sinkhole and the Blue Lake must be seen
- Naracoorte Caves – a heritage-listed cave system of more than 60 caves
- Robe – a beautifully preserved town with a reputation for excellent crayfish
- The Coonawarra wine region – an Aboriginal word meaning “Honeysuckle” and home to some exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon
Local tip: Don’t miss Larry the Lobster – another of Australia’s big things.
Locals head to the Yorke Peninsular for their summer breaks. It’s one of the most popular fishing spots in South Australia.
Highlights of spending time on the Yorke Peninsula include:
- Five historic lighthouses along this dangerous coast
- Innes National Park – a must for birdwatchers with 140 species found here
- Wardang Island Maritime Heritage Trail – dive the eight shipwrecks
- Marion Bay – fish from the historic jetty at Stenhouse Bay
- Salt lakes – there are more than 200 salt lakes to find in the Yorke region
Local tip: Walk the Yorke is a lesser-known but stunning 500km walking trail that is made up of sixteen shorter walks.
Murray River and the Riverland
The best way to explore this part of South Australia is on a houseboat or a paddle steamer. You can join a tour or rent and drive your own boat along the mighty Murray River and past the gorgeous river red gums.
Towns to include on an extended road trip include:
- Coorong – wetlands with 240 species of birdlife
- Mannum – the houseboat capital of Australia
- Riverland’s famous distillery, Twenty Third Street, for brandy, whiskey and vodka tasting
- Take a 4-day cruise on the paddle wheeler, PS Murray Princess from Mannum to Blanchetown
- Waikerie Silos – five silos painted on both sides and featuring local flora and fauna
Local tip: Don’t miss the sunset view from Heading Cliffs Lookout near Paringa
Advice To Help You Plan Your Visit
When Is The Best Time To Visit South Australia?
Like most of Australia, weather in South Australia is best in Spring and Autumn. Summers can be scorching, particularly away from the coast. Winters are mild, but rainfall can be substantial.
Spring just edges out the other seasons as our favourite due to the wildflower season and comfortable temperatures.
If you are planning a visit to coincide with any of the big festivals sort your accommodation early for the best choice and price. This is particularly true of February and March when good weather and big events combine. March is particularly expensive.
South Australia Festivals and events
Below we have listed a sample of South Australia’s main events and festivals. Check regional tourism sites before you make any plans as things may be rescheduled due to current conditions.
January – Santos Tour Downunder
February – Handa Women’s Open
February – Adelaide Festival
Feb/March – Adelaide Fringe
March – Womadelaide
March – Superloop Adelaide 500 Racing
March – Harvest Season
April – Barossa Vintage Festival
April – Tastes of the Outback – Flinders Ranges
May – Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend
June – Coober Pedy Opal Festival
July – Winter Reds Weekend – Adelaide Hills
September – Royal Adelaide Show
September/October – OzAsia Festival
October – Adelaide Fashion Festival
October/November – Feast Festival
South Australian Holiday periods
School holidays see prices go up and availability reduce. If you don’t need to be travelling at this time, you can save quite a bit by avoiding it.
Public Holidays in South Australia 2020-2021
School Holidays in South Australia 2020-2021
How To Get To South Australia
Adelaide airport has direct international flights from Doha, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, China, Auckland, Nadi and Denpasar.
There are numerous small airports around the state, Rex Airlines service 9 of them if you need to get somewhere in a hurry.
You can take trains from Adelaide to Melbourne, Alice Springs, Darwin and Perth. The Indian Pacific, Ghan and Overland services depart from Adelaide Parklands Terminal and can be booked via Journey Beyond.
Two companies offer travel between Adelaide and the other capital cities.
- Greyhound offer a national bus network
- Firefly offer routes between Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne
- Premier Stateliner
How to get around South Australia
If you plan to explore the state beyond Adelaide, then driving is the easiest way. If you prefer not to drive, then you could combine some day tours to the closest regions or an extended tour around the state.
Buses – A network of buses service regional South Australia, they depart from Adelaide Central Bus Station.
Ferries – Two services run between Kangaroo Island and the mainland. Sealink and Kangaroo Island Connect (KIC)
- Adelaide to the Adelaide Hills – 45mins
- Adelaide to Barossa Valley – 1hr
- Adelaide to Kangaroo Island – 3hrs 45m
- Adelaide to Port Lincoln – 7hrs
- Adelaide to Coober Pedy – 8 hrs 30m