It’s time to uncover another of the big Australian states: South Australia. With an area of almost one million square kilometres (roughly the size of Germany, Italy and UK combined) and its position in the south centre of the nation, South Australia uniquely shares borders with each Australian mainland state.
Landscapes in South Australia change dramatically from hills and wine regions to dry salt lakes, from the arid outback to some of most amazing coastlines of Australia.
That’s why it’s particularly important to plan your itinerary ahead before leaving your safe base in the capital city Adelaide. You don’t want to miscalculate the distances and find yourselves in the middle of the Nullarbor. Or perhaps you want to!?
Find out more below in our South Australia itinerary guide.
READ ALSO: QUEENSLAND EAST COAST ITINERARY
WHAT TO SEE IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA IN 2-3 WEEKS
The first thing you should keep in mind is that anything less than two weeks will not be enough to have a proper trip in South Australia (aka SA).
Travelling in South Australia requires lots of time to cover thousands of kilometres on the road. Completely different from tiny Tasmania that we visited right after our trip to SA.
As a matter of fact it would take more than a month and over 3,000 km to visit all the places we are listing next. However, it makes more sense to choose some and exclude some other when planning your way, and for this reason we are including distances and suggested days of stay for every location.
For ease of reference we’ll list the destinations from east to west, which is ideal if you’re driving to South Australia from Melbourne and Sydney, or if you’re flying to Adelaide, that lies in the southeast of the state.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA ITINERARY GUIDE MAP
MOUNT GAMBIER & LIMESTONE COAST
Deep in the south-eastern corner of South Australia, Mount Gambier is a small town full of natural wonders. Discover the Blue Lake of volcanic origin, the incredible sunken garden at Umpherston Sinkhole (Cenote), and visit stunning Englebrecht Cave located right in the town centre.
Mount Gambier sits only half an hour away from the Limestone Coast, a charming side of South Australia offering beautiful beaches and a gorgeous coastline. We loved camping by the beach here, taking long walks and also having the chance to drive our van right on the water’s edge.
Staying 3 days in the area would be ideal. You might want to consider flying straight to Mount Gambier to cut travel times from Adelaide. But if you are driving this way and especially if you are coming from Melbourne, Victoria, we strongly recommend to pay a visit to Mount Gambier and drive along the Limestone Coast rather than taking the busy main highway inland.
Due to its proximity to Adelaide and offering a wide variety of activities, Fleurieu Peninsula is a must visit destination in South Australia. Only 45 minutes south to the capital, it can be visited on a day trip or over a couple of days if driving all around it. The drive itself will reward you with fantastic views over St Vincent Gulf and its rugged coastline, including amazing beaches as Port Willunga or Sellicks Beach.
Take a break at one of the many charming towns along the way, or head inland to the popular McLaren Vale, home to sustainable wineries and dining venues, in order to indulge in a proper gastronomic trip.
Locals proudly consider the Fleurieu Peninsula drive to be the South Australian answer to the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Although it may be shorter it is still fascinating, and will take you right to Cape Jervis where you can board the ferry to reach our next destination on the list.
TIP: in McLaren Vale modern wineries and art galleries give plenty of options to spend your days. Head Down the Rabbit Hole to have a glass of wine while sitting in a double-decker bus or visit the d’Arenberg Cube to combine art and sipping.
Named by British explorer Matthew Flinders in 1802 for the endemic species of grey kangaroos found in the area, Kangaroo Island is the biggest island in South Australia.
Aboriginal people used to live here before the last glacial era that caused the rise of sea level and consequent isolation of Kangaroo Island from the mainland. Since then it remained uninhabited and raw, which contributed to its wild and untouched aspect of nowadays.
Come here to unwind for a few days and discover unique wildlife and crystal clear waters. Kangaroo Island is quite big and not your usual islet that can be done in half day. To make it worth the cost of the ferry crossing, consider staying at least two full days.
TIP: the ferry leaves daily all year round from 6am to 7pm, taking about 45 minutes. Prices start from 200$ per vehicle return, 100$ per person return. More info here.
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The capital of South Australia is a vibrant hub of culture, gastronomy and festivals.
Adelaide has a population of just slightly more than 1 million, which makes it easy to explore. Everything is nearby in the CBD, including the historic Adelaide Central Market, the South Australian Museum, the Art Gallery of SA, and the lush Botanic Gardens.
Adelaide boasts an excellent dining scene, and has a perfect spot to hang out in the beachside suburb of Glenelg.
The city’s yearly main event is the Adelaide Fringe Festival, a month-long celebration happening between February and March every summer, which sees 6,000+ artists coming to town to perform and entertain the crowds. Hundreds of thousands of visitors gather here from all over Australia and from overseas to enjoy spectacles of theatre, comedy, circus, music and visual arts.
We recommend to spend three days in Adelaide, either at the beginning or at the end of your South Australia itinerary. It can also be used as base to visit nearby Flerieu Peninsula and wine region.
BAROSSA & CLARE VALLEY, WINE REGION
Whether you’re a wine expert or a casual social drinker, the valleys north to Adelaide have something in store for you. The most famous destination in this sense is undoubtely the Barossa, a globally known and multiple award winner wine region. Spreading around the towns of Tanunda, Angaston and Nuriootpa, there are over 80 cellars to choose from to taste some of the best wines in the world.
Should you be hungry – or we should say thirsty – for more, add in 50+ more cellars spreading along a 40 km corridor in beautiful Clare Valley. Around here it’s common to see farm gate stores, where you can grab the freshest delicacies straight from the producers.
Being so close to Adelaide, a day trip to the wine region or a one night stop-over on your way north should be enough to satisfy your taste buds.
Yorke Peninsula may be less popular than its bigger sister to its west Eyre Peninsula (see below), however being located just over an hour drive away from Adelaide and home to a whopping 700 kilometres of pristine coast, makes it an excellent seaside destination in SA.
You won’t believe your eyes when you’ll see the colours of the water at many beaches around Yorke Peninsula. Reach the coast at Point Turton, Corny Point or at Innes National Park to understand what we are talking about. The long sandy beaches offer opportunities for swimming, surfing and fishing.
Innes National Park at the southern tip of the peninsula is a true gem for bushcamping and spotting wildlife. You can also learn some history at Innes ghost town and walk right through its beautiful salt lake (see our Instagram picture).
Not many tourist come down here outside weekends or holidays, so if you do you’ll be rewarded with a tranquil experience in nature. Spend one night or two in the national park.
FLINDERS RANGE & OUTBACK
Venturing anywhere north of Port Augusta, the land starts becoming red and dry. The wild outback covers nearly 80% of South Australia, but not even 1% of the state population lives here.
So what to do and see in the outback? Simply be amazed by the astonishing scenery, varying from dusty red roads to deep craters, from endless lakes to a night sky show as good as it gets.
The Flinders Ranges are the most interesting region morphologically speaking, featuring rocky gorges and weathered peaks. It’s a great place for hikers and adventurers, approximately 5 hours drive from Adelaide.
Salt Lake Torrens isn’t too far away, but the most famous one in the state is Lake Eyre, the largest lake in Australia when subject to seasonal flooding. The lake is so big and remote that taking an aerial tour is the best way to appreciate it.
Finally, since most of the towns in the South Australian outback are mining centres, why not pay a visit to Coober Pedy, the nation’s most known opal mining town, where locals live in underground houses.
A detour to the places listed above in the centre-north of the state will require around 2-4 days.
After the outback, it’s time to head back to the seaside. Distances become even longer and driving can get exhausting, especially if you’re travelling during scorching South Australian summer. Luckily Eyre Peninsula offers heaps of amazing spots where to take breaks and cool down by the sea.
Once you make it to the very south at Port Lincoln, you’ve reached South Australia’s world famous acquatic hub. Here you can experience a thrilling shark cage dive, play with sea lions and watch whales. Not far away, Coffin Bay is the place where to taste the best oysters and seafood in SA. On top of that the two national parks at Port Lincoln and Coffin Bay are home to a spectacular coastline, featuring both sandy beaches and towering cliffs. Don’t miss the opportunity to stay overnight and improve your chances to spot wild emus and kangaroos right next to your tent or campervan.
Go back up the west coast of the peninsula for more dramatic shores at Elliston, Venus Bay and Streaky Bay.
As mentioned it takes a while to get to and around Eyre Peninsula, so keep 5-7 days to make sure you enjoy your time there.
TIP: if you want to reduce your driving hours, the Lucky Bay-Wallaroo ferry is a good way to cut the trip between Eyre and Yorke peninsulas.
The crossing takes about 2.5 hours and the ticket is 165$ per vehicle including driver, but will save you the 400-km-drive around the Spencer Gulf and cost of petrol. More info here.
It may be hard to believe it but once you reach the northwestern tip of Eyre Peninsula at Smoky Bay, you are barely halfway through South Australia!
From here, the state extends for other 1,000 km north towards the Northern Territories and about 500 km west to the border with Western Australia, across the Nullarbor Plain.
As the name suggests – from Latin nulla arbor = no trees – there isn’t that much to see around here. But that’s the point: it’s one of very few places in the world where you can actually drive on a sealed road in the middle of a treeless, flat, seemingly endless plain. And you can do that for hours and hours. The A1 highway has also become increasingly popular among the community of road trippers for its 90-mile or 146-km-long straight, Australia’s longest straight road.
To be fair, we’re not suggesting to include the Nullarbor Plain in your South Australia itinerary unless that is your specific goal or you are on the way to Perth, Western Australia. In that case, since you’ve made it that far, you could add a detour to the coast and take in the majestic views over the Great Australian Bight.
From Ceduna to the SA-WA border it’s roughly 1,000 km return. Plus you still have to drive all the way back to Adelaide to conclude your trip. Drive carefully, take frequent breaks and allocate at least 3-4 days for the whole feat.
HAVE A GREAT TRIP IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA!
Our South Australia itinerary post ends here.
Remember to keep yourself hydrated, particularly if you’ll be here during heatwaves or summer months, between November and March.
Always carry a spare fuel tank and water reserve if you travel by van and plan to be camping.
ENJOY SOUTH AUSTRALIA!
5 OF THE BEST WATERFALLS IN TASMANIA
FREE CAMPING AND REST AREAS IN AUSTRALIA
BEST STAYS IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA
- You can book all accommodation in South Australia with free cancellation here.
- Adelaide Caravan Park: conveniently located just 4 km away from the CBD. Villas and cabins other than camping spots and caravan powered sites. Services include swimming pool and barbecue areas.
- Oaks Glenelg Plaza Pier Suites: lovely location in Glenelg, offering superior seaview suites.
- Blue Seas Motel: excellent value for money option in the heart of the Eyre Peninsula.
- Glamping at Semptember Bay Beach: for the less used to bush camping. A fancy alternative in Lincoln National Park, kids will absolutely love it!
HOW TO GET AROUND?
- Drive here or fly and rent a private car to be free to reach any place in South Australia. The cheapest options start from 39€/day, and fuel in Australia is less than 1€ per litre! (1.50AUD).
Check your best rental car options in Australia here.
- Airplane: daily flights to Adelaide, from anywhere in Australia. Local flights connect the capital with Mount Gambier, Port Lincoln, Coober Pedy.
- Ferry: Kangaroo Island ferry; Lucky Bay to Wallaroo.
WEATHER&SEASONS – WHEN TO GO TO SOUTH AUSTRALIA?
South Australia’s climate is generally warm and dry all year round. Mild winters distinguish the southern edges of the state. During summer months from November to February it can get torrid all around SA, with temperatures easily going over 40°C. However, keep in mind that the outback areas are subject to an extremely variable daily temperature range, with cold nights as low as 10°C.
Don’t forget your sunscreen when travelling in South Australia.
DO I NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Yes you do. Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.
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