Things to see & do in South Australia

South Australia moves at a slower pace than its east coast neighbours. It’s the driest state on the driest inhabited continent on earth, and 70 percent of its bulk is made up of harsh outback terrain, yet it's also surprisingly fertile, with a ribbon of green hills and valleys that produce some of the best wines in the country, and rich coastal waters offering up some of the tastiest seafood on the planet.
It’s not just your belly that will get a workout; your camera will take a bruising, too, thanks to all those otherworldly landscapes, the wild coastline, and wildlife stuffed habitats such as Kangaroo Island. And if you tire of all that outdoorsiness, refined Adelaide offers elegant churches, highbrow museums and top restaurants aplenty.

Things to do in South Australia

Exploring the wilderness

The main reason people come to South Australia is to get outdoors, with small group and tailor made trips offering you the chance to drink in big skies and plentiful wildlife. High up on the list are the Flinders Ranges. Some 450km north of state capital Adelaide and over 600 million years old, these reddish brown peaks and escarpments were once higher than the Himalayas and include the incredible natural amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound. The Flinders Ranges were once used by the Adnyamathanha peoples for their red ochre deposits, which they used in medicines and cultural practices, and today, sacred caves, rock paintings and carvings can be found throughout the region. It’s also home to a variety of wildlife; you’ll see emus and wallabies wandering the landscape and wedge-tailed eagles soaring through the skies.

A rugged coastal area backed by the Flinders Ranges, the triangular Eyre Peninsula is rich in beauty but low in tourist numbers. While it stretches all the way into the outback, it’s best known for its bays and beach towns, where you’ll be able to sample the local seafood, which includes excellent oysters, tuna and whiting. It’s also one of the world’s best places to encounter marine life. You can choose to join an excursion to swim with sea lions and dolphins, or – if you’re of a more adventurous bent – opt to go cage diving with great white sharks.
13km off Cape Jervis, about a three-hour journey from Adelaide by road and ferry, Kangaroo Island has 450km of beautiful coastline and is the best place Down Under to see these bouncing marsupials in the wild. Around half of the island is either natural bushland or national park and it’s packed full of wildlife - kangaroos and koalas frolic in the interior while penguins, fur seals, sea lions and – at certain times of year – southern right whales, can all be seen along the coast.

Sleeping in the open

Many tours in this region up the ante on the wilderness front by making camping an integral part of your journey. After a busy day exploring the wilds, you’ll bed down in swags, in true Aussie bushman style, and evenings will be spent around the campfire, with stars puncturing the skies above and koalas keeping you company in the surrounding trees. On such trips you’ll either be bush camping with no facilities or staying in simple campsites with basic facilities.

Road trips in South Australia

The vast open landscapes of South Australia make it a perfect place for a road trip, whether you’re on a small group tour travelling in an air conditioned minibus or taking the wheel yourself on a self drive holiday. You’ll travel for between anything from three to 15 days and in most cases, you’ll cross state lines, heading west to Perth across the barren Nullabor, for example, driving east along the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne, or heading north to the dramatic monolith of Uluru. You could even combine a self drive trip with a few days spent in Tasmania or divide your time between the roads and the iconic Ghan train.
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Food & drink

South Australia is home to 16 official wine regions, including the world-famous Barossa, which dates back to the 19th century and is known for its Shiraz, the Adelaide Hills, which is known for its Sauvignon Blanc, and the Coonawarra, which produces stellar reds and is dubbed the ‘Bordeaux of Australia’.
The Eyre Peninsula, meanwhile, caters to seafood lovers with aplomb and is the kind of place where you can eat seafood with your fingers on the beach, or with linens and fine china in a fancy restaurant. If you’re up for it, you can even harvest your own oysters in the charming seaside town of Coffin Bay.

City living

A trip to South Australia isn’t all about the wild. Most trips will start in Adelaide, giving you time to explore this elegant and cultured city. Dubbed the ‘City of Churches’ since the 1800s, due to the diversity of faiths within its ranks, these days Adelaide is more famous for its diverse restaurants as well as its lively art and music scene. For an entirely different city experience, Coober Pedy, a popular stop on the way up to the Red Centre, is the largest opal-mining town in the world. It’s a place where the landscapes and temperatures are so harsh that many homes have been built underground.
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Heather] [Top box (Adelaide Hills): Dan O'Cker] [Kangaroo Island: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble] [Food & drink (wine, Barossa): Chris Fithall]