Road trip through South Australian wine regions

We are standing at the bar of the iconic Silverton pub in outback western New South Wales sipping our drinks and scanning the walls, which are adorned with photos, posters and news clippings of that great Aussie movie Mad Max 2, filmed here in 1981. I share the name but not the reckless driving habits of Mad Max. Just as well, because we are here in the middle of a 16-day memorable road trip loop from Melbourne, via the South Australian wine regions, Broken Hill and the Wimmera Mallee Silo Art Trail in north-east Victoria.

We’re packed and ready to go – first stop Mount Gambier.

On a warm sunny day, we set off on an easy drive towards Mount Gambier in South Australia via Portland and Nelson. There are some wonderful sights in this unique town, including the Blue Lake, Umpherston Sinkhole and Englebrecht Cave. At the cultural centre, don’t miss the free one-hour movie (Volcano) about the origin of Mount Gambier.

Fascinating! Two nights was enough time to see most things of interest here.

Victor Harbor – on the Fleurieu Peninsula

We enjoyed the scenic drive to the lovely seaside town of Victor Harbor – along the Princes Highway via Robe and a 200km stretch of the Coorong from Kingston to the lower Murray River. The wetland there provides a habitat for diverse bird colonies. We crossed the Mighty Murray at Wellington, just north of Lake Alexandrina, on the free ferry service, which operates every 10 minutes or so, then passed through the Langhorne Creek wine region on route to Victor Harbor. This popular holiday town is on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, and only a one-hour drive from Adelaide. It has a treelined promenade and nice views out across the Great Australian Bight.

The Victor Hotel was well priced, clean and comfortable and included a cooked breakfast with a 20 per cent dinner discount for seniors.

A mystery picnic at McLaren Vale

The Fleurieu Peninsula is generally undulating and part cleared farming land with occasional fabulous views across to Kangaroo Island at Cape Jervis (ferry to KI), and up the coast towards Normanville. Port Noarlunga is 25km south of Adelaide and an Airbnb there was our home for two nights.

Early morning walks along The Esplanade clifftop path were a highlight. So too were the next two days – exploring the delightful McLaren Vale wine region.

A great way to experience the region and its produce is to do a Mystery Picnic. We did the McLaren Vale picnic option.

Also recommended is the route 60 tourist drive, a fabulous 28km scenic route.

Of the many wineries in this region, the one that took our fancy was d’Arenberg and the quirky Cube. What a fascinating place. Lots of artwork in this five-level structure. There’s a Salvadore Dali exhibition ($10 extra) on one level with works on sale. It’s $15 entry to The Cube, which includes a tasting. If you want lunch at the restaurant, it’s advisable to book.

Adelaide and environs

We spent a two-night Luxury Escape ($210/night including full breakfast) at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in central Adelaide. We loved Adelaide – the city of churches. Such a beautiful place with historic buildings, and arcades with funky cafes and restaurants. It’s easy to explore this place on foot and we spent a day just walking and visiting museums, galleries, markets and cafes. 

Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills is a pretty tourist town, with a multitude of boutique shops, cafes and a Hofbräuhaus or two to quench your thirst. Check out the free museum in the tourist centre and find out about Hahndorf’s history – well worth a visit.

Just out of Hahndorf is the Shaw and Smith winery, where we enjoyed the food platter and red wine flight (choice of five) tasting combo overlooking the vineyard (best to book) – superb setting and delicious wines! On the way back to the city, we took the scenic tourist route to Mount Lofty for spectacular views across to Adelaide and beyond.

Barossa Valley

An easy two-hour scenic drive from the city, northeast to Tanunda on route B31 took us past wooded hills, farmland and lakes.

We had a three-night Luxury Escape package ($599 with breakfast and a $50 dinner voucher) at the Novotel Barossa Valley Resort, smack bang in the middle of the Barossa wine region. At sunrise, the panoramic view over the Barossa Valley Ranges and Jacobs Creek winery was awesome – serenity at its best. The resort is adjacent to the flat and well-presented Tanunda Pines 18-hole golf course.

The tourist office in Tanunda provided maps and helpful visit suggestions. First call was Mengler Hill, where the view over the Barossa Valley is a must-see, particularly at sunset. There are 150 wineries in the region, and we picked out a few to give us a varied selection. Most have flight tastings for about $10. However, a small family run winery we recommend is Rockford, which uses traditional winemaking methods, and provided excellent explanations of wine styles with a free tasting.

Nearby is Krondorf cemetery with headstones of past 19th century early wine makers – notably the Henschke family. Seppeltsfield winery is a huge commercial enterprise founded in the mid-1800s by Joseph Seppelt. It’s worth a visit to this historic place.

Maggie Beer is an Aussie icon, so visiting her farm shop and restaurant should also be on your visit list. Some great produce to select from, and a coffee and cake overlooking the lake is a great way to absorb the vibe. The Whispering Wall is amazing. Some 20km from the Novotel, its unique acoustic effects are incredible. You can quietly converse with someone 140 metres away and it’s like they are standing next to you.

We loved Yalumba winery, which has a fantastic tasting board and wine flight in a quaint garden setting.

Clare Valley

The last wine region we visited in South Australia was Clare Valley, about two hours’ drive north via Lochiel (view ‘Nessie’ in the sometimes pink Bumbunga Lake). In Clare we had a tasting at Knappsteins, Sevenhill (historic mid-1800s buildings and cellar founded by the Jesuits), Hill River (lovely garden setting), Shut The Gate and Killakanoon (big reds here) wineries.

We ended up in an Airbnb in nearby Farrell Flat with some fabulous silo art, and ate a great meal at the Magpie and Stump pub at Mintaro.

Broken Hill

After a 400km drive east on a good road, which changed from flat farming and crop land to scrubby orange landscape, we arrived in Broken Hill, and spent three nights in an Airbnb. There’s lots to see here, including the Flying Doctor Service guided tour, the Jack Absalom and Pro Hart Galleries, Mindi Mindi lookout (this is a must-see panorama), the Line of Lode Memorial for miners who died and the Broken Hill Gin Distillery.

We had a milkshake at Bells Milk Bar, which is filled with 1950s memorabilia, and at day’s end visited the Living Desert Sculptures about 10km out of town and viewed a spectacular sunset.

The 1889 Palace Hotel (with nice meals) is an iconic pub in Broken Hill, its murals and memorabilia inside reminiscent of the movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

This story started in Silverton, just 25km out of Broken Hill – a ghost town with a few art galleries and museums. Once a thriving silver mining town with more than 2000 people, it now has fewer than 50 living there. Wander around what’s left of the town and finish up at the pub for a drink, some food and some Mad Max nostalgia.

Silo Art Trail

We headed back to Melbourne via Mildura and the north-east Victorian Silo Art Trail to see some exceptional artwork by various artists. We did the trail over two days, staying overnight at Warracknabeal. At Sea Lake, Lake Tyrrell’s viewing platform allows you to walk out onto the lake.

A must-see is the Stick Shed at Murtoa – an historic grain storage shed dating back to World War II. We viewed nine silos on the trail before driving back to Melbourne via historic Ballarat.

Well, what a memorable road trip. With mild weather and no rain, we covered 3500km (177L fuel) in our Honda HRV and spent a total of $4970 ($310/day). I know you’re wondering what we thought the highlight of our trip was. Simply, it was the fact that we could hit the road, with no lockdowns and could experience the freedom of a wonderful getaway. A highlight indeed!

What’s been your most memorable road trip? Why not share your favourite trip in the comments section below?

Also read: What to do in Mildura – Victoria’s very own oasis

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