By Julietta Jameson
Pack your car for a road trip along South Australia’s Southern Ocean Drive, which offers 450 kilometres of coastal holiday magic. The Southern Ocean makes its mighty presence felt, on wild cliffs teeming with birdlife and beaches that seem to go on forever. Picturesque villages entice with a cold drink and warm welcome. Brilliant restaurants and wineries await your indulgence. Historic lighthouses, museums and galleries beg your exploration. Local festivals and markets beckon with good vibes and the day’s end brings a warm bed and beautiful stay in unique, boutique accommodation. Take anything from a long weekend to a week – there’s so much to see, do and immerse yourself in – you’ll take away the most amazing memories. Here are just some of the highlights.
Mount Gambier and the Coonawarra
A wild volcanic history produced the rural city of Mount Gambier’s famous Blue Lake. Other ancient remnants include limestone caves and sinkholes, the most visited being the gorgeous Umpherston Garden (or the Sunken Garden), created in the late 1800s. Underwater, the caverns and caves are magnets for thrill seeking divers.
But on land, this is also a place of pretty historic buildings and lovely surrounding villages. Stay in the Arches of Allendale, a converted church just south of Mount Gambier, or for something a little more adventurous, the Old Mount Gambier Gaol.
At Penola visit the Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre – dedicated to Australia’s only saint. Then count your blessings in the Coonawarra, the Limestone Coast’s amazing wine region with its terra rossa that produces famous reds, especially cabernet sauvignon from a long roll call of famous names such as Riddoch, Wynns, Penley Estate and Rymill.
Robe is the kind of place that may well have you saying, “I could live here.” It happily calls itself “South Australia’s favourite seaside town” without an ounce of exaggeration. It’s home to the stunning Long Beach – where you can drive your car along the ten-kilometre stretch of sand – which attracts swimmers, surfers and anglers to its turquoise waters. Families set up camp for the day, doing anything from sunrise yoga to a sunset dog walk.
A network of beautifully preserved heritage buildings tells stories of the town’s rich cultural history, and the laidback coastal charm means you can’t help but relax. Drink artisan coffee, munch on local baked goods and amble along coastal walks. Throw in plenty of festivals, markets and some great old pubs and yes – moving to Robe suddenly seems like the right thing to do.
The Fleurieu and McLaren Vale
It’s hard to believe you are less than an hour’s drive from Adelaide, because the Fleurieu Peninsula has all the hallmarks of a dream getaway: uncrowded white beaches, cute villages, award-winning restaurants and its crowning glory, McLaren Vale wine country. Taste world-renowned shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and grenache from famous growers and winemakers, who’ve put a lot of love and attention into creating wonderful cellar door experiences. It’s also home to acclaimed restaurants such as The Salopian Inn and d’Arrys’ Verandah.
There are beautiful stays throughout, especially some sweet B&B options among the vineyards and waterfront apartments.
Linger at Victor Harbor and take the horse-drawn tram out to see little penguins at Granite Island. Walk the heritage trail, grab a beer with the locals at a pub and stay in some fun accommodation, such as the brightly striped Beach Huts at Middleton or the historic Anchorage hotel on the waterfront at Victor Harbor. Check out that beautiful sunset across the Gulf St Vincent.
Also, don’t miss Goolwa, the historic river port at the mouth of the Murray River. Here, enormous ancient dunes, constantly carved by the Southern Ocean, play home to local wildlife and carry the stories of the local Indigenous people.
From a breathtaking sunrise over Remarkable Rocks at one end, to the famous seafood platter at the pub on the other, Kangaroo Island is a beautiful finale to the Southern Ocean Drive, before you head into Adelaide.
An hour’s trip from the Fleurieu on the SeaLink car ferry, takes you to 1600 kilometres of roads through the undeveloped countryside, where you can go looking for wallabies, koalas, sea lions and seals in the national parks as well as migrating southern right whales between June and October.
Plush beach houses, quality hotel stays and camping sites await you. But for something really special, spend a night or two at the world-famous Southern Ocean Lodge, a haven of style and gourmet offerings perched on rugged cliffs overlooking the ocean.
Foodies might need an extra day or two: the island is renowned for its pure produce and clever locals have created unique businesses based on the island’s wonderful climate for growing and its hugely supportive creative community. Don’t miss the marron, a local crayfish with a glass of locally produced wine, or some oysters at American River. Stop by for tastings at Kangaroo Island Spirits and, no matter the time of year, make sure you feel the squeaky clean sand of the beaches between your toes.
Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are located at Adelaide Airport.