What to see and Where to go in South Australia

How much do you know about South Australia? If you are an international visitor, it’s likely very little, even locals from the east coast often have little knowledge of the wonders that await in this compact southern state. Today we want to help put South Australia firmly on your radar because we think this is the most underrated state in the country. A statement almost anyone that spends some time there quickly comes to agree with.

The variety of landscapes within its borders is unbeatable; from the harsh but breathtaking outback environment of the Flinders Ranges to the diverse wildlife of Kangaroo Island and the incredible wine regions, you can learn a lot about this country without leaving the state.

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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. Each group has left their mark on the state, adding to its riches with their traditions.

So how much time should you allow for your South Aussie holiday? Which areas are must sees? Where are the most amazing landscapes? Well below, we will cover the state’s main touring regions and point out the highlights of each.

Like most states in Australia, the area is divided into touring regions. Each of the state’s ten regions offers fantastic self contained short breaks, but they are well suited to stringing together for a longer road trip.

If you are on a lap of Australia, I would suggest you allow yourself at least 6-8 weeks to explore. I promise you will not run out of things to see and do!

Adelaide and the Adelaide Hills

Adelaide is Australia’s unsung hero. Great food, quality museums, wineries, and beaches within 30 minutes of the city’s centre. It’s hard to beat a morning stroll along the river followed by breakfast at the Adelaide Central Market.

Adelaide South Australia Travel Guide
Adelaide, it’s a lovely walking city.

Allow at least three days to see the main sights of the capital and an extra day or two for exploring the beaches and wineries on the city’s outskirts.

Top 5 things to Do on Your First Visit to Adelaide

  • Adelaide Central Market – be sure to treat yourself to breakfast or lunch here. Food lovers will enjoy a guided tour
  • Glenelg Beach – take the tram from the city centre to this popular seaside town.
  • Explore the city streets – check out some of the Adelaide’s amazing street art
  • 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.

Barossa Valley

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.

Row of vines in the Barossa Valley
The Barossa Valley has been producing great Australian wines for over 150 years.

Those who enjoy a drop or two of wine might want to plan a few days in the Barossa. If you are not a big drinker, or you have limited time, you could visit on a day trip from Adelaide.

Places 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
  • Seppeltsfieldvisit one of the oldest wineries in South Australia established in 1850.
  • Maggie Beer’s Farm – 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 a stop at the Lyndoch Lavender Farm.

Clare Valley

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.

Stanley Flat, best known as the cover shot of Diesel and Dust
Stanley Flat I Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission

A great place to spend a night or two on the way to the SA Outback and a must for white wine lovers.

Magical Spots in the Clare Valley

  • Lake Bumbunga – another of South Australia’s famous pink lakes
  • Check out the Midnight Oil house 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 featured on the album Diesel and Dust.

Related: Check out our guide on the Wine Regions of South Australia for more wine tips

Note: You cannot bring fruit and vegetables into South Australia. On-the-spot fines are payable if they catch you, so eat up or throw them in the bins at the borders.

Eyre Peninsula

The Eyre Peninsula forms the shore of the Great Australian Bight; this is where the Nullarbor Desert meets the sea.

Murphys Haystack  in South Australia, now an ancient natural monument and tourist attraction,these are  spectacular rock formations
Murphys Haystack – These pink granite rocks 40km from Streaky Bay

The Eyre Peninsula is a favourite summer holiday spot for South Australians and draws huge visitor numbers between November and February.

We did things a bit differently and visited in late May. Certainly not swimming weather, but in return you find beautiful and deserted beaches and bargain accommodation prices. The seafood tastes just as good and there are plenty of activities that don’t require getting wet to keep you busy. We explore the length of the peninsula over 5 days. I think this is a good amount of time if you are driving.

Highlights of the Eyre Peninsula

  • 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 Peninsula

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.

South Port Beach boardwalk at sunset, Port Noarlunga, South Australia
South Port Beach boardwalk Port Noarlunga

Perfect for a day trip, you can discover the beaches of the Fleurieu Coast on a brief visit or choose a base and stay a while to enjoy swimming, diving or snorkeling along the gorgeous coastline. We chose Port Elliot as a base for a few days and loved the mix of history and coastal landscape.

Highlights of Fleurieu Coast

  • McLaren Vale – wine and, of course, the giant Rubix – D’arenberg Cube
  • Victor Harbor and Port Elliot – 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
  • Sellicks 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 famous outback town, the Flinders Ranges offer landscapes as stunning as the red centre.

Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia
Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges

We came close to missing out on Wilpena Pound, while I had heard of its beauty I had no idea of its true magnificence. An extended stay in SA due to border closures gave us an extra few weeks to explore, and I am so glad it did. I rate this area above the red centre for it magic.

Allow three days minimum to see the highlights. Longer if you are planning to visit Coober Pedy.

Flinders ranges touring map

Flinders Ranges Road trip
Our Flinders Ranges road trip stops
  • Wilpena Pound – take a tour with a local experienced Yura guide to learn the Adnyamathanha people’s history.
  • 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 that crosses through Flinders Ranges.

Kangaroo Island

Australia’s third-biggest island is a must for nature lovers and is a great place to visit year round with beaches you will love in the summer and food and wine to enjoy in winter. This Kangaroo Island itinerary is perfect for first-time visitors.

Seals at Seal Bay in Kangaroo Island
Seals at Seal Bay in Kangaroo Island

A popular LONG day trip from Adelaide, Kangaroo Island really deserves a lot more time. We stayed 5 days and felt that was a good choice. Enough time to see all the main attractions without rushing about. You could easily stay longer if you want to do some of the multi day hikes or spend a day at each of the island’s beaches.

Kangaroo Island 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 Remarkable Rocks, 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. Check out our Kangaroo Island trip planning advice, or follow our five-day KI itinerary.

Limestone Coast

For us, the standout in the Limestone Coast region is Mount Gambier and its sinkholes and blue lakes. The whole area is lovely, but Mount Gambier is etched in my memory.

Umpherston Sinkhole Park in Mt Gambier, Australia. Panoramic view on a sunny day.
Umpherston Sinkhole in Mt Gambier

One fantastic way to explore this region is on a road trip from Adelaide to Melbourne. At just under 1000km you would be best to allow a week to do this, but you can do it over 3-4 big days. We did the itinerary on this map below and it was jampacked with sights and things to do.

Limestone Coast Touring Map

Adelaide to Melbourne 1

If you don’t have a week for this trip, then pick a couple of the towns listed in our favourites that appeal and explore those rather than trying to see it all.

Limestone Coast Favourites

  • 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.

Yorke Peninsula

Locals head to the Yorke Peninsular for their summer breaks. It’s one of the most popular fishing spots in South Australia. If you are a traveller who loves to explore the road less travelled, then this is the place for you.

Dolphin Bay Yorke Peninsula
Dolphin Bay on the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

You can reach this coastline two hours after leaving Adelaide and if you are planning visiting the Eyre Peninsula as well there is a handy car ferry,  Spencer Gulf Sea Rd Ferry, that departs from Wallaroo and arrives in Lucky Bay near Cowell.

This water wonderland is mainly visited by South Australians, with just 15% of the visitors coming from interstate and less than 2000 international visitors in 2022

Tourism South Australia

You could spend just a weekend here and come away feeling totally relaxed or set aside a week or longer to explore. There are some fantasic camp grounds and free campsites in the area so you can save $$ too.

Yorke Peninsula Highlights

  • 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 consisting 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.

Murray River Cruise
PS Murray Princess offers a 4-day cruise along the river

If you don’t have time to stay in the Murray you can experience the grandeur of the paddle steamers on a day trip from Adelaide

Towns to visit along the Murray

  • Coorong – wetlands with 240 species of bird life
  • 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.

Start planning your visit today:

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