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Underground towns, unforgettable wine, thrilling wildlife, festivals galore – South Australia’s other wonderment is the lack of tourists

Often overlooked by the adrenalin-fuelled backpacker on the hunt for a crazy time, South Australia’s unfairly gained reputation as a dull place to visit has left the state being one of the forgotten regions of Australia. Despite briefly flirting with the idea of re-branding itself with a new name (some of the better suggestions floating around included ‘Bradman’ after the famous cricketer and ‘Gillardia’ after the current Prime Minister) South Australia’s natural abundance needs no repackaging – it speaks for itself.

We like to think of South Australia as something of a traveller’s secret, based mostly on the fact that it is so underrated by the vast majority of people who visit Australia. So, to kick off our month long celebration of all things South Australia, we’ve decided to bring you up to speed with the top 10 things to see in the state. In no particular order...

Adelaide

Of all Australia’s state capitals, Adelaide arguably enjoys the most beautiful of settings. Nestled between the majestic Adelaide Hills on one side and the crystal blue waters of the Gulf St Vincent on the other, few cities can match Adelaide for picturesque natural beauty. It is also fast becoming the culinary capital of Australia with a huge number of wonderful restaurants, wine bars and gastro pubs. Lying between some of the country’s best vineyards and pristine natural coastline full of fresh seafood, the level of produce on offer is up there with the best to be found anywhere in the country.

Did you know? Adelaide has been voted the most livable city in Australia on two occasions (and by extension one of the most livable cities in the world) in 2011 and 2012.

The festivals

South Australia is known colloquially around Australia as the ‘Festival State’ and the Adelaide Fringe Festival is one of the biggest in the country. In the last three years, the Fringe has expanded more than 60 per cent, drawing in 1.5 million visitors to Adelaide in 2012. The Fringe’s huge success lies in its openness – both in terms of its acts as well as its venues, which are spread throughout Adelaide’s CBD. The state also offers internationally renowned food and wine festivals such as the Gourmet Traveller, the international music festival WOMAdelaide and the Santos Tour Down Under, a festival of international cycling which also doubles as part of the competitive world tour, and has a huge attendance.

Did you know? The Fringe Festival in Adelaide started all the way back in 1960 and featured less than ten performing acts.


The wine regions         

South Australia’s wine regions (Adelaide Hills, Barossa, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale) are known internationally as some of Australia’s best. They are also some of the most varied regions for the production of wine. The rich soil and temperate climate offer wonderful conditions for the growing of a wide variety of grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Riesling, Chardonnay and even the odd Sauvignon Blanc. The Adelaide Hills are only a short drive from the capital and offer a wide range of cellar doors to tour and are, perhaps, the best place to start exploring the region’s wine gems. The Barossa Valley is one of Australia’s oldest wine producing regions with the first vineyards in the area planted in the middle of the 19th century. They’re also known for producing a Shiraz of great depth and character. The Clare Valley, which lies 120km north of Adelaide is one of the smaller wine producing regions and yet is still internationally recognised for its Riesling.

Did you know? The Clare Valley, despite producing only two per cent of Australia’s total amount of wine, wins close to ten per cent of total wine awards.

Port Lincoln

Port Lincoln is located on the South Australian coast. It can be described as a blue water playground for yachting, scuba diving, shark cage diving, water sports and tuna fishing in particular. It is also known as the ‘Seafood Capital of Australia’. Along with seafood, Port Lincoln offers wine tasting tours at local wineries including Boston Bay and Delacolline Estate. For the outdoorsy-type there is Lincoln National Park, where you can engage in activities such as bushwalking, camping and fishing which covers the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula. It also has an abundance of birdlife and native animals, scenery along with a 4WD track which leads to Memory Cove. It is also rich in film trivia, with some of the scenes from Jaws filmed nearby.

Did you know? Port Lincoln was close to becoming the state capital of South Australia but due to its lack of reliable nearby water supply Adelaide was chosen instead.

Yorke Peninsula

If you want to get out of the city in search of sun, sea and sand, the Yorke Peninsula is the place to go. Being just over an hour’s drive from Adelaide, the postcard worthy beaches will take your breath away. With a distinctive 700 kilometres of coastline, it’s easy to find the perfect beach spot and let your worries melt away. The Yorke Peninsula can also brag about having some of Australia’s greatest surfing beaches with many well known surfing and body boarding competitions held over there. If you are a beginner or an experienced scuba-diver or snorkeller there are numerous scattered shipwrecks, reefs and unspoiled ocean waters to discover – some are even maritime Heritage listed. In 1919, World War One pilot and aviation pioneer, Captain Harry Butler, made the first airmail flight from Adelaide to the Yorke Peninsula. He was the first man to fly across St Vincent Gulf and the first to fly over water in the southern hemisphere.

Did you know? Captain Butler’s Red Devil Bristol monoplane rests in a display hangar in Minlaton. It is believed to be the only genuine one of its kind left in the world.

Coober Pedy

This is one of Australia’s best-known outback towns. Named after the Aboriginal word, which translates roughly to ‘white man’s hole in the ground,’ is a fairly apt description as over half of the town’s population live underground. This is due to the area’s extreme weather with some summer days tipping 50 degrees Celsius and nights in winter dropping below freezing. The town is also known as the ‘Opal Capital of the World’ a fact represented by one of Coober Pedy’s better known above ground monuments, The Big Winch. Indeed, the identity of the whole town is closely linked to the mining of opals with some of its best known attractions revolving around the mining of these precious stones. There is an opal-mining museum as well as the chance for people to mine their own opals in supervised mines. Coober Pedy also has its very own golf course, with 18 hole rounds being played almost exclusively at night with glowing balls. Due to the lack of grass on the course, players must carry around their own piece of turf on which to tee-off. That’s certainly not a feature offered at St Andrew’s or Augusta.

Did you know? Coober Pedy’s football team, the Coober Pedy Saints, make 900km round trips to play their games on the weekends.

Kangaroo Island

Once considered the most lawless and vicious place in the British Empire, Australia’s third largest island now offers a wonderfully picturesque getaway full (as the island’s name suggests) of numerous native flora and fauna. An absence of dingoes, foxes and other carnivorous predators on the island has seen the numbers of wallabies, bandicoots, penguins, possums and, of course, kangaroos flourish across the island. Koalas and platypuses too have found a home on the island, having been introduced in the 1920s. Take the 45 minute ferry from the mainland where you’ll be treated to a huge range of water sports and other aquatic activities for visitors including scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing and fishing. There are around 230 species of fish living in the shallow waters around the island’s coast, 60 shipwrecks to explore, soft and hard coral formations and a high chance of meeting dolphins, sea lions and seals on every dive. The main town on the island, Kingscote is a good base from which to explore the rest of the island and has plenty of cars and motorbikes for hire as well as numerous guided tours.

Did you know? Kingscote, the island’s main settlement was first established in 1836, making it the first official settlement in South Australia, outdating even Adelaide.


Murray River

The once majestic colonial highway that linked NSW and Victoria with South Australia has, in many places, suffered badly from insufficient flow, a build of phosphates in the water and high saline levels which has seen much of the river dry up or fall to extremely low levels. Many parts of South Australia’s Murray Basin still highlight the river’s once great majesty – one can still ride the steam powered paddleboats, which have cruised up and down the Murray for the best part of two hundred years. The river also provides some great fishing spots where anglers can try and catch the readily abundant schools of European carp. Wakeboarding and water-skiing are popular water activities, or if you’re with a group, renting a houseboat represents an affordable and fun way of exploring the Murray’s winding meanders.

Did you know? The town of Waikerie just off the Stuart Highway and right on the Murray’s banks sees more sunshine a year than the Gold Coast.


Lake Eyre


Taking a guided tour to Lake Eyre around midday you will experience a true phenomenon – the lake surface can often become very flat. The surface then reflects the sky in a way that leaves both the horizon and water surface virtually impossible to see. Whether you want to be floating up with the clouds or keeping your feet firmly on the ground, Lake Eyre has it all. You can take a hot air balloon at dawn over the Barossa Valley or try hiking the Heysen Trail. The 1,200 kilometre track stretches from Cape Jervis on the south coast to Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Ranges. If being in the water is more your thing, you can dive through the wreckage of navy destroyer, ex-HMAS Hobart. A popular trail is to take the Underwater Heritage on Gulf St Vincent. This trail links four of the most historic wrecks: the Grecian, the Zanoni, Star of Greece and Norma which all sank between 1841 and 1893. While Lake Eyre remains the most famous and best known there are a number of other, similar salt lakes in the surrounding area, including Eyre’s little brother Lake Hart, which is located very conveniently right next to the Stuart Highway. These large, backing salt flats have become something of an Australian outback icon.

Did you know? If you’re keen to tell you friends that you have indeed been to the lowest point in Australia as well as the largest lake in Australia and 18th largest in the world, you will only have to head to one place: Lake Eyre.


Flinders Ranges

Whether you looking for an adventure or some down time, the Flinders Ranges, which are the largest mountain range in South Australia, have it all. You can choose to unwind with a cold drink in hand whilst staying in one of the luxury eco-villas after a days work on an Outback station. Or there are bushwalking tracks spread across the rugged landscape with the opportunity to engage with the Aboriginal culture by exploring ruins and visiting ghost towns. The most interesting of these is Dawson, about 24km top the north east. You can also check out rock paintings and carvings. If you can’t afford a scenic flight over the Wilpena Pound when visiting the Flinders Ranges, then you must at least do the walk along the edge of the vast salt lake, Lake Eyre. Another little spot worth seeing is Quorn. The picturesque town on the edge of the Flinders Ranges boasts unspoiled streetscapes, heritage buildings and views of the nearby rugged landscape.

Did you know? Quorn has seen a number of famous Australian movies shot on location, including several scenes from Peter Weirs’ iconic 1981 film Gallipoli.


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