Chock-full of wineries, eateries and coastal delights, the Fleurieu Peninsula is one of South Australia’s favourite playgrounds. We take a look at some of the less-visited towns that are definitely worth exploring. Story: Max Anderson.
There aren’t many places in this wide brown land where you can travel 50km and watch the landscape transform from golden coast to serried ranges to lakes that look like inland seas.
Which is why the Fleurieu is one of the best touring regions in Australia.
So instead of shooting through the peninsula – eager for the breezes and beaches of Victor Harbor – why not take one of the region’s languorous country roads to some of the less-visited towns and villages?
You might be surprised at what you find…
For nearly 18 years, people have been passing through Aldinga to reach neighbouring Port Willunga, home to the venerable clifftop restaurant, Star of Greece. All the while, Aldinga has been quietly upping the ante.
The Old Coach Road, for instance, is now home to Miss Gladys on Sea (the coastal cousin to Adelaide institution Miss Gladys Sym Choon), Rosey’s café (struck from another Adelaide favourite, Rosey’s in Unley) and Fall From Grace Wine Bar, which specialises in local artisan producers.
In recent years, Yankalilla and Normanville have become holiday stablemates, one offering country, the other offering coast.
‘Yank’ wins hearts the minute drivers crest the road out of Myponga and drop into a valley deep enough to hide Brigadoon.
The pretty town has a number of antique shops and galleries (including the fabulously named 21 Junk Street, and Seagull Droppings home décor) plus an excellent big brekky at rustic eatery, Lilla’s Café.
It’s also home to Christ Church, which found fame in 1994 when the faithful claimed to see Mary and Christ depicted in a patch of plaster on the wall – a doubly unusual manifestation given this is an Anglican Church.
Neighbouring Normanville surprises with its beautiful open beach and cheerful town centre.
Ingalalla Falls reliably delights those who bother to make the hike, and there’s a fine PGA-rated course at Links Lady Bay, designed by golfer Jack Newton.
More recently, people have begun detouring south to a hitherto invisible township called Second Valley, which is now home to Leonard’s Mill – a far-flung fine-diner that’s won huge plaudits from national food critics.
The town of Willunga is the ideal base from which to explore McLaren Vale, although you should enter from the Kuitpo Forest road, as the steep 3km descent not only offers spectacular views, it gives insight into the agonies that Tour Down Under cyclists endure to be crowned ‘King of the Hill’.
Willunga is known for its Saturday farmers markets, a favourite among Adelaide’s top chefs, for specialist artisan producers and growers.
The attractive country town has a lively main street, with cafés and galleries. There’s a newish French restaurant called Le Mistral, and after 20-odd years, Russell’s Pizza is still doing insane business selling wood-fired pizzas out of a derelict dairy.
Getting lost among the vineyards is a joy for many but, if you’re short on time, try this perfect trio of wineries north of McLaren Vale.
Alpha Box & Dice is a hipster haven in a lumpy old shed that’s dedicated to the crazy and the curious (Buck Rogers pinball table anyone?). Next, get serious with a visit to SC Pannell – the quiet achiever that took out Winemaker of the Year in 2015 (they suggest allowing 45 minutes for tastings).
Then finish in D’Arenberg. This 104-year-old winery should need no introduction, but they’ll be opening their radical five-storey ‘cube’ in the field of Mourvèdre vines in early 2017 – evidence that old dogs can still pull new tricks.
For wine and landscape of an entirely different disposition, head east to the unsung Langhorne Creek wine district.
This is where you’ll encounter several dozen vintners (Bremerton Wines cellar door is particularly good) as well as Lake Alexandrina, measuring a substantial 650m².
Goolwa is South Australia’s TARDIS – tiny on the outside, enormous once you look within.
It has not one but two fabulous waterfronts: the very fine beach (best seen while drinking wine at the Bombora beachside café); and Goolwa Wharf on the Murray River.
At the latter you can board the Oscar W Paddle Steamer, the Steamranger Cockle Train and cruise boats for tours of the amazing Coorong.
If you’d rather just kick back, there’s the Steam Exchange Brewery serving craft ales from a handsome timber wharf building.
The town is home to two Australian firsts. At the top of the wharf precinct is Australia’s first public railway (Goolwa’s passenger carriages were pulled by horses from 1853). And within the very humble National Trust Museum resides Australia’s first motorhome – quite literally a small house, with gabled roof, built onto the back of a 1924 Dodge.
It might strike you as a fitting icon for one of Australia’s finest driving destinations. Then again, it just might make you smile.