Just 45 minutes from Adelaide, the Fleurieu Peninsula is one of the state’s most valuable assets: kilometres of sand, cliffs and breathtaking coastline stretching as far as the eye can see. This neck of the woods is also covered in vineyards, grows world-class country produce, and happens to feature some of the state’s finest eateries and spectacular drives. All you need is a weekend to spare.
Here’s how to do it.
Drive – Port Willunga
Load up the car and get out of Adelaide first thing, following Anzac Highway out of the city. Jump onto South Road, then onto the Southern Expressway. From here, it’s smooth sailing.
To make the most of the scenery, hop off the Expressway at Noarlunga, and follow the signs to Port Noarlunga’s Esplanade, which will lead you along the Onkaparinga River and up towards the river mouth. The lookout there will be your first glimpse of the coastline to follow.
Continue travelling past Seaford, Moana and to Port Willunga, (where the incredibly popular Home Grain bakery is well worth a detour for coffee and cake). It’s visually arresting here - the road dips in and out of coastal and inland byways, some bordering vineyards, others passing through beachside towns.
Lunch – The Victory Hotel
10 minutes down South Road you’ll climb through grassy fields and seaside vineyards, up towards Sellicks Hill and the Victory Hotel. The pub’s been a landmark for more than three decades, with current publican Doug Govan serving for the past 27 years. The food here is top notch, and punters arrive from all over the state for King George whiting from Kangaroo Island and homemade chicken pie. A winemaker and wine lover, Govan also offers one of the state’s most prized wine lists, with an enormous cellar to choose from. Enjoy a Victory Beef Burger with chipotle mayo or handmade ricotta and spinach gnocchi while gazing out over Govan’s vineyards, across the hills of the Peninsula and out to sea.
Adventure – Second Valley to Deep Creek
With your pie safely tucked away, venture further south into Deep Creek Conservation Park. While there are many potential routes into the park, take the scenic coastal route.
There’s no shortage of views along this road, so you’ll need to get the Kodak ready. After Sellicks, you’ll catch a glimpse of the Myponga Reservoir, the state’s little piece of Canadian landscape. Later, if you’re mostly on schedule, take a detour to Carrickalinga beach. Just past Yankalilla (‘Yank,’ as the locals call it), you’ll find yourself on one of the most pristine stretches of countryside – Lady Bay, Wirrina Cove – where the road bends around giant hills lined with perfect rows of towering pine trees. The lookout here is spectacular.
Once inside Deep Creek Conservation Park, follow one of the rare signs toward Deep Creek. Directions are few and far between from hereon in, but there’s only a few rugged routes to follow – you’ll find your bearings in no time.
With little to no reception and winding dirt roads, ideal for four-wheel-driving, the park’s a postcard brought to life. Kangaroos bound across the tracks as you drive through the dense bushland. Venture far enough and you’ll reach the park’s natural border, atop the cliffs of the South Coast. Along this route, you’ll find Tapanappa lookout, the holy grail of views. Stop a while and enjoy it with the roos.
There’s a variety of trails you can only reach by foot too – so make sure you chuck on a good pair of hiking shoes and explore. If mountain biking is your forte, the park is your playground. Or you can just stick to the road and make way for your accommodation. And don’t sweat it – there’s a park headquarters towards the centre if you get lost.
Dinner – Leonard’s Mill
Second Valley is a beach town favourite for tourists and folks from the nearby region alike. As you enter the valley, there’s an old-timey mill on a riverbank – now the home of Leonard’s Mill restaurant. Beautifully restored, inside the stone exterior, there’s a cosy dining room and mezzanine level, with its original walls and wooden architraves. New owners have only recently taken over, but what’s on offer is still seasonal, relaxed silver service: think kangaroo tartare and barbequed octopus.
Stay – Ridgetop Retreats
Nestled in the heart of Deep Creek Park surrounded by thick bushland, the Ridgetop Retreats have all the benefits of camping in a remote oasis with the mod cons of a luxury weekend. A mere three retreats are hidden away here, so you won’t have many neighbours (apart from those roos). With the gums and native shrubs at your doorstep and floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s the next best thing to stepping outside a tent. Each retreat can accommodate four, and some of the park’s best walking trails are close by. There’s also a continental breakfast provided.
Drive – Port Willunga
Take the morning a little slower and enjoy breakfast alfresco with the bush at your feet. Depending on how much beauty sleep you’ve indulged in, take the time for a stroll around the retreat, or go for a longer trek on one of the nearby trails. The Forest Circuit Walk and Spring Wildflower Walk are close by.
Lunch – Star of Greece
When you’re all packed up and ready to head home (albeit reluctantly), retrace your steps – but this time, turn left off South Road towards Aldinga Beach. Follow the Esplanade and enjoy the views as you head towards Port Willunga beach. Stop here for lunch at the Star of Greece.
Inside this little clifftop shack is rustic charm at its best – simple, inviting and with the most spectacular view from both the dining room and deck. Choose between the tasting menu, or order a la carte from ever-changing seasonal dishes the likes of sashimi market fish with wasabi, seed cracker and pickled kohlrabi or Wagyu beef fillet with potato galette. The salt and pepper squid is famous here; it never comes off the menu.
It’s probably mid-morning by this point, so you’re bound to be thirsty. Thankfully, you’re in luck – the wine list is a bible of local and international drops, curated once again by The Victory’s Doug Govan, who’s also co-owner here.
A word to the wise: be sure to book ahead for lunch on a Sunday – this SA stalwart is booked out most weekends. Otherwise, you can always snag yourself a spot outside for casual fish and chips from their adjoining kiosk (during the warmer months, at least).
Once you’re appropriately fed and watered, it’s time to head home – an easy 45 minutes along South Road back to Adelaide, leaving you time to spare to plot out your next adventure in SA’s backyard.
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