Resist the call to hibernate this winter. Compared to most of the eastern seaboard, South Australia is blessed with a relatively warm climate in the cooler months. That makes winter an ideal time to get out and explore the length and breadth of South Australia. Like the southern right whales that venture toward Victor Harbor each June, you’ll find plenty of places to feast, frolic or put your feet up. Well, whales might not do that last one, but they sure know how to take a breather. Come rain or shine, get swept away by the magic of South Australia in winter.
Curl up beside a toasty hearth in an Adelaide Hills cottage
The Adelaide Hills is dotted with hundreds of artisan-built cottages, many of them dating to the 1850s and usually featuring thick sandstone walls, small casement windows and huge open hearths. These days of course they’re also packing a B&O sound system, a 70cm Samsung curved-screen TV and a Nespresso machine – especially if they’ve been converted to a luxury B&B.
Regardless of the tech, it’s amazing how many people gravitate to the simple pleasure of the hearth: there’s nothing quite like setting a few red gum logs ablaze, getting that first whiff of open fire, and cracking open a bottle of Hills’ Shiraz.
I heartily recommend the 2014 Shaw+Smith shiraz for this occasion.
Try: Adelaide Hills Country Cottages has five B&B cottages in different locations of the central Adelaide Hills. Each has a distinct country charm as well as its own aspect, including a lake, a lemon grove, an apple orchard and cow paddocks.
Hot tip: If you’re a fan of winter in Europe, get along to Hahndorf. The Main Street, lined with trees and historic fachwerk cottages, is so reminiscent of a northern hemisphere village that rain actually adds to the ambience. Hole up in any of the stone cafes and pubs for a fireside lunch of hearty German fare.
Watch the whales at play in Victor Harbor
Barely an hour of south of Adelaide, Victor Harbor has long been popular as a place of seaside frolics. But it’s not only humans who come to play: between the months of June and September, southern right and humpback whales enter the sheltered harbour to feed, mate, calve and generally have a good time.
Victor’s fortunes are partly grounded in this since they were happy hunting grounds for competing whalers who would race each other to be first to harpoon the migrating mammals. These days, whalers are out and whale-watchers are in, and, (not unrelated), animal numbers seem to grow year on year. Some 400,000 people visit Victor each year to watch whales.
Try: There’s no shortage of vantage points along the arc of coastline stretching from Victor to Port Elliott (just follow the Encounter Bikeway): take a seat on the headlands and watch for cetaceans indulging in the like of breaching, slapping and spy-hopping. If you want a closer look, consider doing a tour on the Big Duck, a high-powered rigid inflatable that takes whale-watchers out into the Harbor. You’ll also get a close encounter with other marine animals, including the local dolphins, Australian sea lions and New Zealand fur seals.
Hot tip: Don’t miss the SA Whale Centre on Warland Reserve. It not only offers a thorough grounding on Victor’s winter residents, it operates as Whale Watching HQ during the season. Here’s where you can check out the latest sightings – and hopefully report back with a few of your own.
Take in a game of footy at Australia’s finest Oval
The Adelaide Oval combines 140 years of heritage with a state of the art stadium. Better still, it offers an atmosphere that’s unrivalled in the nation, especially when it comes to AFL.
There are three reasons for this: (1) Adelaide (and indeed South Australia) regards AFL as the sporting code of gods. (2) For decades, the city had to make do with two soulless, out-of-town venues that had most fans defaulting to the telly. And (3) the 2014 makeover of the cherished cricket ground was not only a technical and aesthetic triumph, it also put new heart into the city centre.
Result? Regardless of the fixture, the 53,000-capacity stadium is usually packed with supporters, and you don’t have to be a devotee of AFL to get caught up in the fever. Night games are particularly revved up, and to do it proper justice you should join the throng and take a walk over the new footbridge from the Festival Centre.
Hot tip: Before or after the game, dive into the laneways around Peel and Leigh Streets. These previously anonymous feeder lanes have sprung into life with intimate bars and cafes. They’re only a few blocks from the Oval and have become a reliable hot-zone of pre or post-game celebration.
Watch the boats come in at Port Lincoln
Rain or shine, the southern hemisphere’s largest fishing fleet never stops. Port Lincoln justifiably calls itself the seafood capital of Australia, accounting for more than 65 per cent of the nation’s total seafood catch, including prawns, tuna, gummy shark, King George whiting, lobster and prized green-lip abalone.
Port Lincoln marina is a few kilometers from the centre of Port Lincoln, and an interesting mix of high-end residential and working marina, with the aforementioned fishing fleet making for a busy spectacle.
Try: Take a seat at the Marina Hotel for breakfast or dinner to see the fishing boats returning with their daytime or nighttime catch. If you’re treating yourself to the Hotel’s seafood, you know it doesn’t come any fresher. (Their seafood laksa is a wow.)
Hot tip: Fred’s Marina Cruises is the perfect opportunity to get your head around the workings of Lincoln. Ex-fisherman Fred pilots a little electric cruise boat around the Marina. The craft is small enough to weave in and out of cray boats, the huge cohort of prawn trawlers and the mighty tuna boats, giving you a ducks-eye view of the fleet.
Watch the waves at Southern Ocean Lodge
Australia’s hottest lodge makes for a decidedly cool winter destination. No small part of this is owing to the remote clifftop location and the extraordinary glass frontage of the resort: whether or not the sun is shining, the power of the winter swells hitting the cliffs beneath the resort will captivate you for hours.
Perched on the rugged south-western corner of Kangaroo Island overlooking Hanson Bay, Southern Ocean Lodge gives awesome views regardless of the suite you’re in. But for our money, the panoramic vista from the dining area is hard to beat – especially when the chef’s degustation is being served.
Winter is loved by the islanders. Seasonal rains set the creeks flowing and the vegetation becomes lush and verdant. The native animal populations are also more evident since the marsupial young are out of their mothers’ pouches to fatten up. The colony of Australian sea lions on the beach at Seal Bay becomes more robust during winter (offering a livelier backdrop when you take a walk among them on a ranger-led tour); and whales can be seen on the horizons, heading for their breeding grounds along the Australian coast.
Hot tip: KI is huge, 155km across, and offers an equally large range of activities. But! Winter is when visitor numbers are at their lowest, and some operators close for the season, so check online if there’s something you specifically want to do. On the upside, you’ll have the island to yourself and the beachcombing won’t get any better.
Surrender to the stars in the Flinders Ranges
A cloudless winter night in the Flinders Ranges sends the temperatures plunging but it also guarantees a show of stars like you’ve never seen. So chuck another mallee stump on the fire, pull your swag a bit closer and lie back.
Clear winter days in the Flinders are gold, too, often hovering around 20C, the perfect temperature to tackle some of the more serious walking trails leading into Wilpena Pound – including the six-hour return hike to St Mary Peak (no walk in the park at 1170m).
Try: There’s a host of camping options offered throughout the Flinders Ranges. Resorts like Wilpena Pound and Rawnsley Park offer camping sites. Working stations like Angorichina and Skytrek Willow Springs have campsites as well as shearers quarters. And for a bit of five-star glamping, you can join a walking safari out of Arkaba (their luxury swagging stations are really cool) or do it in style under some well-tailored canvas at Ikara Safari Camp.
Hot tip: If you’d like a guided tour of the Flinders’ heavens, head deeper into the Ranges to Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. Host Doug Sprigg has three observatories and conducts Astronomy Tours across skies that suffer virtually no light pollution.
Go hot air ballooning over the Barossa
Hot air balloons need a cold ambient temperature in order to rise, which is precisely why winter is the perfect time for a ballooning adventure. A dawn flight over the Barossa offers picture-postcard scenery, thanks to a low-level drift over famous vines and historic villages. Depending on the conditions, the balloon can soar as high as 4000 feet; those same conditions also dictate where you land (though it’s usually in a local paddock). Champagne after the flight is, of course, a tradition.
Try: Barossa Valley Ballooning flights cost $300pp for a one-hour flight, including champagne and gourmet breakfast. Any non-fliers in your party can have fun trailing the colourful balloon in a car to get that perfect photograph.
Hot tip: Rug up! The balloon gets inflated just before sunup, and you’ll get cold standing around watching the proceedings. However, contrary to what you might expect, once you’re aloft you can stay quite toasty thanks to the giant burners overhead.