South Australia is one of the least visited of Australiaís states, but thatís not because thereís nothing to do while on holiday there. Indeed itís probably one of the parts of Australia most under-rated as a travel destination. The wealth of experiences available ranges from the gourmet eating in Adelaide, to great white shark cage diving, Barossa Valley wine tasting and Outback adventure.
The Barossa Valley is arguably Australiaís best wine region, producing the majority of Australiaís wine. The Barossa specialises in reds, notably Shiraz, but is also renowned for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Semillon and Grenache. Just 70km from Adelaide, the Barossa is a pretty patchwork of vineyards and German townships home to over 50 wineries, the most famous of which is Jacobís Creek. You can do a one-day Barossa Valley wine tasting tour from Adelaide, but there are plenty of hotels in towns like Tanunda and Bethany if you want to stay longer and work your way around more wineries. Once in the Barossa, itís easy to hire a bike or book a local tour. Like all good wine regions, thereís also plenty of gourmet restaurants and luxury accommodation to be found in the Barossa Valley.
However, the Barossa isnít the only good South Australian wine region. Itís also worth checking out the Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills and the Fleurieu Peninsulaís McClaren Vale, which is practically in Adelaideís suburbs.
Great as an Adelaide getaway for a few days, wild and rugged Kangaroo Island is sometimes called the ďGalapagos of AustraliaĒ. Thatís pushing it a bit, but Australiaís third largest island is still unspoilt and probably the best place in Australia to see plentiful animals in the wild. Koalas, kangaroos, penguins, seals and echidnas are all in abundance and easy to find. Definitely head to Seal Bay where you can get a ranger to give you a walking tour right through the colony of hundreds of sea lions. Other attractions include the Remarkable Rocks, huge lumps of granite sculpted by the elements into weird shapes, and Little Sahara, massive sand dunes where you can go sand boarding. Thereís also the chance to hire a sea kayak, charter a fishing boat, try quad biking or go scuba diving. You can travel to Kangaroo Island yourself, via the ferry from Cape Jervis or Wirrina if youíve got a rental car, otherwise join a tour from Adelaide. Thereís no public transport on the island so a tour or hire car is basically essential. It often works out cheaper to rent vehicles on Kangaroo Island itself as the 45-minute ferry from the mainland is quite expensive, but book ahead if youíre planning to travel during the school holidays. There are plenty of hotels and vacation houses dotted throughout Kangaroo Island, as well as historic cottages for hire.
Heading into Western Australia, the treeless Nullarbor Plain is a bleak yet strangely beautiful expanse of nothingness. Crossing it is one of Australiaís ultimate roadtrips, all 2,400km of long, straight, flat Eyre Highway. There are plenty of spectacular sights along the way, especially on the Eyre Peninsula where you can go cage diving with great white sharks or swimming with seals and dolphins. There are also the soaring limestone cliffs of the Great Australian Bight, where you can watch southern right whales from June to September. Ceduna, at the Nullarborís eastern end, has world-class surfing opportunities. You can also cross the Nullarbor on the Indian Pacific train to Perth. Itís the longest stretch of straight railway in the world and is quite a surreal experience, especially getting out to stop at tiny service towns like Cook.
Shark Cage Diving & Eyre Peninsula
Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula, west of Adelaide, is where you must go to experience one of Australiaís most exciting activities Ė cage diving with great white sharks. Two different tour companies operate out of Port Lincoln. They do some one-day boat trips but itís highly recommended to take a multi-day tour out to Dangerous Reef for the best chance to see great white sharks in the very spot where much of the original Jaws movie was filmed. Itís hard to overstate just how incredible an experience it is seeing a great white shark in the water (from a cage!) and having it look you in the eye. Itís one of the most exciting scuba dives Australia has to offer. Beginner divers can do the surface cage dives, but to go down to the ocean floor you need to be a qualified diver. A surprisingly fun alternative to the shark cage diving is to go swimming with tuna, also in Port Lincoln.
Located about six hoursí drive north of Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges are some of the worldís oldest mountains, surrounded by vast salt lakes. The highlight is the huge and strangely red natural amphitheatre Wilpena Pound, an area with plenty of great bushwalks and beautiful wild flowers. Most tourists start their trip into the Flinders Ranges National Park from Port Augusta, but if you want to stay within the park itself there are plenty of accommodation options, with most hotels and caravan parks in Hawker. You can also book scenic flights there.
Undoubtedly one of the strangest towns in Australia, most of Coober Pedyís inhabitants live underground to escape the oppressive heat. Indeed, hotels, bars, churches, even a campsite are built underground in this Outback town which might seem unliveable, if it wasnít the opal mining capital of Australia. A necessary stop-off on the long dusty road from Adelaide to Alice Springs, Coober Pedy is definitely an interesting place, not least for the post-apocalyptic landscape that has made it so popular with film-makers (Coober Pedy has been used as the backdrop for many movies, such as Mad Max 2 and Pitch Black). The Breakaway Range, just outside town, is particularly scenic, but the main Coober activities include trying to fossick some opals, taking a tour of the mines and meeting some colourful locals. Nowadays Coober Pedy relies pretty heavily on tourism cash so thereís a small airport, plenty of accommodation and car hire companies.
In South Australiaís north-eastern corner is the mighty Murray River, one of the biggest waterways in Australia. Itís an area rich in wetlands and birdlife and is popular with Australians for house boating, fishing, river tours and water sports. Towns like Mildura are some of the best places in Australia for backpackers to pick up harvest jobs and so work their way towards a Working Holiday Visa extension.