By Julietta Jameson
When Adelaide’s residents want a break, they head to the Fleurieu Peninsula.
Less than an hour’s drive from the city, it has it all when it comes to being a favourite South Australian family holiday spot.
How about long, uncrowded white beaches, character-filled villages, acclaimed restaurants focused on fine local produce and wineries including those of the mighty McLaren Vale for starters?
And as if that’s not enough, you’ll also find stunning cliff vistas, picturesque country drives, surfing, snorkeling, sailing and a fun, cultural and creative calendar of events including the Fleurieu Folk Festival, Fleurieu Film Festival and just for kids, the Whale Time Playtime Festival.
To find out what’s going on when you visit, see Fleurieu Peninsula.
Find your way
The Fleurieu is a triangular protrusion into the Great Australian Bight reaching towards Kangaroo Island.
It’s an easy 45-minute drive due south from Adelaide to its most northerly reaches, and 90 minutes to its most southwesterly tip at Cape Jervis.
As you meander through, you can be forgiven for thinking you’ve found yourself in the Mediterranean: olive and almond groves punctuate undulating vineyards, rustic stone villas play home to cellar doors and welcoming villages hug a sparkling aqua coast.
But of course, the Fleurieu is pure South Australia.
The terroir, climate, ancient landscapes and friendly, welcoming people make it something unique in the world.
Find your stay
The Fleurieu Peninsula has an abundance of boutique, private and family-run accommodation that ranges from the high end to hostel.
Choose whether you want to stay in the bush, at a winery, by the beach, or even by the mouth of the Murray River.
Just some of the great options include The Retreat at Chapel Hill, which sleeps up to 14 and features magnificent McLaren Vale views and a cooking school.
The Australasian Circa 1858 is a luxury private hotel inhabiting a lovingly renovated original country inn at Goolwa at the mouth of the Murray.
Also at Goolwa is Birks Harbour Marina, a luxury boathouse with absolute frontage to the marina.
And at Goolwa and at Middleton as well, the candy-coloured Beach Huts offer unusual accommodation in classic beach shacks decorated to elegant perfection.
At Port Elliot, find the beautiful Authenticity Health and Wellness Retreat occupying a historic mansion with sprawling gardens and at Victor Harbor, there’s modern beachside apartment accommodation for a relaxed and casual holiday stay with Unwind Holidays.
For a great overview of all Fleurieu Peninsula accommodation options, see southaustralia.com
Rise and Shine
Stop by Dawn Patrol Coffee at Kangarilla just out of McLaren Vale, where you can enjoy a simple breakfast at the roastery cellar door on a Sunday, chat to the roasters, and do tastings of different beans.
Or if pies and traditional Australian cakes such as vanilla slices and finger buns are more your thing, head for Home Grain Bakery at Aldinga.
Taste the Region
Suitably fuelled up, check out some of McLaren Vale’s famous, and not so famous wineries.
Alpha Box and Dice is a funky little example of the new guard, with a mission to create one wine for every letter of the alphabet and who have a board where staff mark every time someone describes it as “quirky”.
At the other end of the scale but on the same road, d’Arenberg is one of the region’s mainstays – handcrafting their award-winning wines and using presses dating back to 1860.
The cellar door is in a restored 19th century homestead.
Enjoy a tasting in the 1860 ironstone barn converted to a cellar door at Coriole – then settle in for a delicious lunch at The Coriole Restaurant. Sit in the enclosed courtyard warmed by an open fire, or if it’s a stunning day, dine on the terrace, in the gardens or under a giant mulberry tree.
Get some Coriole olives and olive oil to take away.
Drive to Port Willunga, a pretty little village on the northwest edge of the peninsula.
One of the oldest settlements in Australia, it’s home to some interesting old buildings, including the Old Courthouse and Police Station Museum and the original post office.
Find your way to the beach for a swim and a stroll along the squeaky white sand backed by dramatic orange cliffs.
The wreck of the old jetty is a photographer’s dream. Or a treat awaits for divers: you can go straight from the beach into the water to follow the reef to the 1888 shipwreck of the Star of Greece.
You could settle in on the sand to watch the sun set across the water of the Gulf St Vincent.
But if a sunset with a tipple and a nibble is more your style, book a table on the terrace at The Star of Greece restaurant (named after the wreck) and take in the changing colours of the day in comfort.
Opt for the smart casual restaurant serving a Mediterranean-inspired menu, or fish and chips and a beer from the kiosk.
Another great dinner option in the McLaren Vale area is The Salopian Inn, which uses organic, locally sourced and ethical ingredients in a seasonally changing menu.
Get Active Early
Head to Middleton, which has some of South Australia’s best surf.
You can catch the 9.30am surf lesson with Surf and Sun, or just hire a board from them if you know what you’re doing.
They also have stand-up paddleboards for hire if there’s no swell, and bikes if you don’t want to get wet.
Take a ride along the Encounter Bikeway, a 30km coastal ride that takes you through Victor Harbor, Goolwa, Port Elliot and Middleton.
If the time of year is right – from May to October – you may see whales migrating; the track is also known as “the whale trail”.
Check out the vintage wooden boats at pretty Goolwa. If you’re there in late April, you might catch the quirky South Australian Wooden Boat Festival.
Brunch and a Cruise
Having worked up a hunger, swing by the Flying Fish Cafe, right on the water at Horseshoe Bay, Port Elliot.
With the sand at one side and a lush lawn and play area for the kids at the other and an emphasis on local produce, it’s a popular spot. So consider booking.
Or in Goolwa, head to Hector’s Cafe on the Wharf.
Head further down the coast to Victor Harbor to join Big Duck Tours, a 45-minute or 90-minute aquatic adventure during which you might see seals, sea lions, dolphins, whales, the birds on Granite Island, and get a new perspective on the peninsula’s spectacular coastline.
Take an afternoon walk in Newland Head Conservation Park, further along the southern coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula. It encompasses two long beaches, Waitpinga and Parsons, and walking trails along hills and cliffs with great views of the Waitpinga Creek, Encounter Bay, the Pages in Backstairs Passage and Kangaroo Island.
Or you could spend the afternoon playing 18 holes at one of South Australia’s most picturesque golf courses, that of Wirrina Golf Resort.
A Dinner to Remember
Head back to the westerly side of the peninsula for a sunset drink and dinner. You can dine at Heysens Restaurant at Wirrina Golf Resort, and maybe stay the night.
A popular option is Leonards Mill at Second Valley, housed in a 166-year-old flourmill surrounded by lovely gardens, and its own thriving vegetable patch and orchard.
Another local hero supporting Fleurieu produce including seafood, small goods, cheese and baked goods, you can choose either the Taste of the Fleurieu Menu which showcases the best produce in the region or the more relaxed Miller’s Menu, which is more bistro style.
You can also just pop in for a glass of wine.
Morning Drive Back to Adelaide
Don’t rush away – spend a bit more time sampling the best of the region. There are plenty more wineries with welcoming cellar doors along the way, as well as providores, such as cute Minko Wines in Willunga and Ekhidna Wines, where you can also taste beautiful beers and ciders as well as have a great meal.
Airlines operating international flights into Adelaide include Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Jetstar, Malaysia Airlines and Air New Zealand. Qantas and Virgin Australia fly domestic extensions from Australia’s major international hubs.
By car is the best way to see the Fleurieu Peninsula. At the Adelaide Airport, pick up a vehicle from any of a number of reputable rental operators, including Budget, Avis and Europcar.
It’s around 45 minutes from the airport to the upper reaches of the Fleurieu Peninsula such as parts of McLaren Vale and Willunga.
Alternatively, a number of accredited tour operators offer both day trips and extended tours.