The Big Bus offers a range of top Adelaide day trips and tours. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book with us, and if you find the same tour elsewhere at a cheaper price, we will beat it by 10%. Some conditions apply*. Local writer Alexis Buxton-Collins checks in with a list of eight of the best Adelaide day trips.
Historic Hahndorf is located half an hour’s drive south-east from the Adelaide CBD. The village was established by early German settlers and their influence is still very visible. A stroll along the quaint main street will take you past a classic leathersmith, German bakeries, curio shops selling beer steins and pubs filling them with beer.
A range of newer businesses also cater to the streams of weekend tourists. If you’ve worked up an appetite, you can sample award-winning cheeses and house-smoked salmon, or put a flight of locally distilled gins to the taste-test. And just a short walk away, Hans Heysen’s home and studio at The Cedars is worth a visit to see the works of Australia’s most famous landscape painter. Leave enough time for a wander around the well-preserved grounds.
To the east of the city lies the Adelaide Hills region — a delightful tapestry of farms, vineyards and native bush. Winding roads pass through charming country towns with heritage buildings that evoke the area’s rich colonial history. More recently, the Hills have become a gourmet hotspot, so make sure you have plenty of room for tasting the local produce — including fresh fruit, cheese, chocolate and smallgoods.
There are lots of scenic lookouts, but the best views might be from the region’s many cellar doors. Savour the outstanding cool climate wines at spots like Shaw + Smith, Ngeringa and K1 by Geoff Hardy.
If you feel like a nap after all that fine food and wine, you’ll be in good company with the many koalas that snooze in the region’s stately gum trees. Tackle one of the many walks in the region for a good chance of spotting one, or for a guaranteed sighting, head to Cleland Wildlife Park. It’s home to a range of native wildlife and offers the opportunity to hold koalas and hand feed kangaroos.
With stunning white beaches fringed by crumbling sandstone cliffs, lush vineyards and a backdrop of rolling countryside, it’s easy to fall in love with McLaren Vale at first sight. But the spectacular scenery is just the beginning — friendly locals, easy drinking wines and an array of fantastic eateries make it tempting to linger.
One of the new kids on the block is also among the most visible. You can spot the five storey D’Arenberg Cube from just about anywhere in the Vale. The flipside of that is the magnificent views from the tasting room on the top floor. Hugh Hamilton’s cellar door is closer to ground level but still offers fabulous views over the vines and hills beyond, and their acclaimed wines are the product of six generations of expertise.
Other wineries highlight Mediterranean varieties that thrive with the coastal influence, alongside olives, almonds and a range of other produce. Sample local produce at Willunga Farmers Market, or decide between the area’s two iconic pizza restaurants: hip ‘Oztalian’ pies at Pizzateca, or the classic ambiance of Russell’s (whose founder literally wrote the book on pizza ovens).
Encompassing the small towns of Nuriootpa, Tanunda and Angaston, the Barossa Valley is rightly famous the world over for its wines (in particular, bold and spicy shiraz). There are over 80 cellar doors in the region, and there’s a special reason to visit every one of them.
Langmeil’s 1843 Freedom Vineyard is believed to be the oldest surviving shiraz vineyard anywhere in the world and Seppeltsfield’s Centennial Cellar houses an unrivalled collection of tawnies that stretches back 141 years. If you want something more contemporary, Kalleske’s Zeitgeist captures the spirit of each vintage by creating a wine without ageing it in oak or introducing any non-grape additives, and Kellermeister’s Wild Witch Shiraz was recently named best in the world at the International Wine Challenge.
The area around Seppeltsfield is home to some of Australia’s best regional restaurants in Fino and Hentley Farm, and the old villages with their churches built by Lutheran settlers make a picturesque backdrop for a scenic drive (or sunrise balloon flight).
Located at the bottom of the Fleurieu Peninsula, Victor Harbor is a relaxed resort town that has been a favourite for generations of Adelaideans — thanks to a seaside location that keeps it a few degrees cooler than the city year-round. It’s also popular with southern right whales, which frequent the coast from mid-May to September. You can spot them from high up on the coastal bluffs or get up close on a cruise. Dolphins may join you in the water all year round.
Back on land, there are plenty of unusual ways to explore the surrounding area. These include the steam train that runs to Goolwa and the iconic horse-drawn tram that crosses the causeway to Granite Island — home to a sculpture park and a large colony of little penguins.
Victor Harbor is also well placed for exploring the region’s many beaches and reserves. Despite its small size, Newland Head Conservation Park protects an astonishing array of wildlife at the intersection of the Mount Lofty Ranges and Murray Mallee ecosystems.
Eighty kilometres south of Adelaide, Goolwa is located near the mouth of the Murray. Here, Australia’s greatest river meets the ocean after a journey of 2,500 kilometres. Life in the picturesque former paddle steamer port moves at a relaxed pace — so much so that it became Australia’s first Cittaslow (‘slow town’) in 2007. The local farmers market showcases local producers who adhere to the movement.
There are plenty of old fishermen’s houses and docks among the summer homes spread along the banks of the Murray, and Goolwa also serves as the gateway to the Coorong. This narrow strip of land protecting a vast hypersaline lagoon has created a unique natural environment (made famous in Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy). Head out to explore it on a tour boat, or get even closer to the water with Canoe The Coorong and see what makes this such a special place.
Just over an hour’s drive from Adelaide, Mannum makes a great base for exploring the Murray River. It was once an important shipbuilding port and the paddle steamer era is explained in the Mannum Dock Museum and brought to life on day cruises on historic boats like the Marion, Mayflower and Murray Princess. Hired houseboats also ply the river, while day trippers can rent a canoe or stand up paddleboard and drift past giant river red gums to the Herman Gass Bird Sanctuary.
In winter the nearby Mannum waterfalls can be seen in full flow, and if you stay until after the sun goes down, look up to enjoy the brilliant night skies in Australia’s only designated International Dark Sky Reserve.
On your way back to town, it’s worth dropping into Monarto Safari Park. The 1,500 hectare open-air zoo is home to more than 50 animal species. Safari drives get you up close to the wildlife, as will special encounters like the Lions 360 Experience — which puts you in with the big cats in a giant claw proof cage.
The thick bushland and rugged coastline of Australia’s third largest coastal island is a world away from Adelaide’s bustling CBD. From the windswept southern coast with its geological marvels like Admirals Arch and Remarkable Rocks to the hidden coves of the more sheltered north, Kangaroo Island is a natural wonderland waiting to be explored. KI (as the locals call it) can be done as a day trip from the city, but get plenty of sleep the night before and prepare yourself for a big day!
Just under 5,000 people live on the island, but they’re not the only ones that call it home. Several iconic Australian wildlife species, including platypus and koalas, were introduced in the 1920s and have thrived, especially on the forested western half of the island where remote roads wind through dense bushland. Echidnas, kangaroos, wallabies and goannas can easily be spotted on the island’s many walking tracks. One of the highlights of any visit to KI is the guided walk through an active sea lion colony at Seal Bay.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best Adelaide day trips? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
The activities and attractions mentioned in this story are provided as a guide only and may not be included in the Adelaide day trips and tours offered by The Big Bus. Please check the itinerary notes for your preferred tour for a list of the included sights and stops.
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About the writer
After spending years as a music journalist and beer taster, Alexis Buxton-Collins sold everything he owned and spent three years travelling the world. He now writes about his experiences on the road, both abroad and at home in Adelaide. Alexis has written for Australian Traveller, Qantas, Virgin, Lonely Planet, Wild, and many other publications. He’s currently undertaking a comprehensive search for McLaren Vale’s best value bottle of wine.