By Lauren Reid
Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2022
Located just one hour from Adelaide, the Fleurieu beckons adventurers searching for a wild escape not too far from home.
So, pack your bags, treat yourself to an early minute on a Friday afternoon, and head for the southern coast.
Day one: Friday
Leaving Adelaide, take to the wide-open road of the Southern Expressway as you head past the rolling hills of the Fleurieu toward the dramatic coastlines of the south. Pass through McLaren Vale and head straight to Port Elliot to wander through a local favourite, The Joinery Wine Room at Factory 9.
Arrive before 2pm to taste the magic of DeGroot Coffee Co, before taking a stroll through the group of sheds that house design, art and furniture stores, a cellar door and a pizzeria.
But don’t fill up too much. There’s more to explore. Take a stroll from Horseshoe Bay along the walking track, which passes a stretch of popular swimming and surf beaches. For those willing to brave the chilly waters, a surfing lesson at nearby Middleton will get the blood pumping.
When it’s time to hush the rumbling belly, head to the dramatic Chiton Rocks to taste the flavours of the Fleurieu at Chiton Beach Café. Located within the Chiton Rocks Surf Lifesaving Club, the Italian and modern Australian-inspired menu uses ingredients from the owners’ off-site garden. It doesn’t get much fresher than this.
Listen to the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore, and watch the sky turn shades of red, orange and blue, as the sun recedes into the horizon.
Day two: Saturday
Make the most of the adventure playground and switch things to a higher octane. With Off Piste 4WD Tours’ Fork and Grape Safari, you’ll explore some of the off-the-beaten-track spots of the rugged Fleurieu, but with a touch of luxury. This one-day tour journeys from Victor Harbor to McLaren Vale, through bush settings, visiting local producers and several wine and food destinations, plus some spots you won’t be able to see on any other tour.
But even more exciting are the sights you’ll stumble upon in between. From unforgettable vistas, drives across beaches, wildlife spotting, and exclusive surprise lunch stops, this is one trip you won’t likely forget in a hurry.
If you’d rather head out on water instead of a bumpy off-road adventure, The Big Duck Boat Tours might float your boat. Load onto the rigid inflatable boat and head out on the Southern Ocean to learn about the region through talks on history and geography; you may even catch a glimpse of resident wildlife, like seals, dolphins, and if you’re lucky, little penguins.
The Fleurieu splashes into whale watching season from May to October. So, grab some fish and chips from Just Fish and Chips in Victor Harbor and head to Encounter Bay, or any number of the whale-spotting stops along the coast. The SA Whale Centre can show you the way.
Day three: Sunday
The region may be known for its premier wines and inspiring landscapes, but locals will tell you the Fleurieu is also home to some great spots for a caffeine hit. From Victor Harbor, grab a coffee from any number of the coffee stops, such as Qahwa Espresso Bar and Coffee Roasters or Nino’s in Victor Harbor. There’s also Beaches, Clubbies or Yeo Haus in Port Elliot, or journey to the Goolwa Markets for a stroll around the stalls to grab an egg and bacon roll.
For those with littlies, head to Bristow Smith Reserve’s nature playground, which is a great spot to stretch the legs for a morning of play.
It’s time to hit the road and explore the other side of the Fleurieu. With Victor Harbor in your rear-view mirror, pass through Harvest the Fleurieu to pick your own punnet of strawberries (season runs October through to May) to enjoy as a snack on the way to your next destination.
For those looking to put some kilometres on the odometer, head to the point of the peninsula, Cape Jervis, and spend the afternoon exploring Deep Creek National Park and its natural wonders.
For a more relaxed arvo, make your way to Aldinga and Port Willunga. You’d be forgiven for mistaking this for the Greek Islands with the pristine, blue coastlines that clash against rolling hills and dramatic cliffs.
A spot of seafood delicacies at Star of Greece restaurant will fuel you for an afternoon exploring the beachfront caves where you can sink your feet into the soft white sands and splash your toes in the cool ocean waters while breathing in that fresh sea air.
Day four: Monday
Mornings in Port Willunga are magic hour, so be sure to spend your final one rising bright and early to catch the sun cast its first rays over the spectacular landscape.
One of the best things about being so close to Adelaide is you can still make the most of your last day exploring the region. It’s time to take the turn off to McLaren Vale to sample the Fleurieu’s famed wine region. From renowned Shiraz to premium Grenache and Cabernet, and a number of Mediterranean varieties, plus high-end eateries, there’s plenty to get the tastebuds dancing in McLaren Vale.
But for a quirkier wine experience, head to the legendary d’Arenberg. The unusual architecture of the d’Arenberg Cube is a showstopper, and this winery is a wonderful spot to absorb the beauty of McLaren Vale’s rolling green hills lined with flourishing vineyards. Here, learn about the distinctive winemaking process of d’Arenberg with the Blending Bench experience, where you’ll get to try your hand at creating a personalised bottle of Shiraz.
To top off this full sensory experience, go at your own pace to take in the sights of d’Arenberg’s Alternate Realities Museum and Salvador Dali exhibition, featuring 25 authentic Dali bronze sculptures and artworks. Artwork by Australia’s own surrealist, Charles Billich, whose paintings adorn the Vatican, the White House and the United Nations HQ, is also featured in the exhibition.
Just 2.4km from here is Mollydooker Wines, which prides itself on being out of left field, using nitrogen to preserve their drops and fewer sulphites. But the real surprise is when it comes time for a taste. Choose from Mollydooker’s premium selection or the ‘Fun and Lefty’ series – both coming with a lesson on how to do the ‘Mollydooker shake’, which will aerate your bottle while clearing off the nitrogen before you pour. Just don’t forget to put the cap on before you shake!
Speaking of which, we bet you can’t shake the feeling that there’s so much more to explore on the Fleurieu. And you’d be right. Following the whales, we’ve only just breached the surface.