McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Coast
There is so much more to McLaren Vale than just wine - after all, the tourism region is officially called McLaren and the Fleurieu Coast for a reason.
Not the first thought that crosses anyone’s mind when talking McLaren Vale, but the Fleurieu Coast boasts some of the most stunning beaches in Australia, with magnificent cliffs acting as backdrop to long stretches of white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. And for guests from the Eastern Seaboard ... we do have the most amazing sunsets over the ocean!
The choice is yours, from "just" enjoying the beautiful scenery during long walks on the beach / on top of the cliffs along the coastal trails, relaxing on the endless sand or being active and getting your feet wet by swimming, surfing, snorkelling, scuba-diving or paddle boarding anywhere along the coast. Either way - don't forget to bring your sunscreen!
Below is quick summary of the beaches with their respective highlights - with some beaches having no facilities at all, whilst other boast cafes and restaurants. Or take our picnic basket for your private sunset spot for that special occasion.
Moana Beach and Maslin Beach are our two closest beaches to Karawatha Cottages, just a short 20 min drive away; Port Willunga, Aldinga and Sellicks Beach are a just a short driver further and best of all – the beaches are truly easy accessible – and rather than spending your time searching for a parking spot, you will have actual beach time.
And what could be better than spending a leisurely morning at the beach, before heading back towards your accommodation with some wine tasting and long McLaren Vale lunch on the way.
Port Willunga Beach
Without doubt, Port Willunga Beach must be the most photographed beach on the Fleurieu Peninsula. The remnants of the old jetty leading out onto into the crystal clear sea are just creating perfect iconic backdrop for your Instagram shot.
Add to this the backdrop of the steep golden cliff faces, the soft white sands and calm waters and you have the perfect spot.
Safe for swimming or frolicking in the shallow waters or if you have your snorkel or scuba gear with you, swim out to the reef and explore the Star of Greece shipwreck.
For that perfect photo opportunity, look for the caves close to the boardwalk leading from the cliff top down to the beach; they have been carved out by fishermen in the past to store nets and boats but are now, once you have climbed inside, create the perfect frame for the old jetty.
One of the other highlights for Port Willunga Beach is the clifftop restaurant The Star of Greece named after the shipwreck (and not a Greek restaurant), with the most amazing food and views.
Check out our review in our restaurant section. And if your just after a small bite to eat, the Star of Greece also operates a kiosk just outside their restaurant for your caffeine fix or for that little snack.
An endless white beach with a beautiful coloured cliffs as a backdrop towards the Southern end. Maslin is also known for its southern end being reserved for unclad swimmers and the northern end being dog friendly
Apart from your basic toilet facilities at the car park at the northern end of the beach, which is also the trail head for a cliff top walk, there are no cafes or restaurants at the beach.
The cliff top walk leads you through sand dunes to the top of cliffs offering the most amazing views.
At the southern end of the cliff top walk you have the opportunity to descend to the beach and return along the beach to your car. For us that is a perfect morning activity, followed by a quick swim before heading back to explore more of the cellar doors and restaurants.
Port Noarlunga Beach
In many ways Port Noarlunga has similarities to Port Willunga: a long sandy beach with a jetty, a reef that you can swim out to and a beautiful restaurant looking out onto the gulf of St Vincent.
But if Port Willunga Beach is the quiet hidden gem than Port Noarlunga is its vibrant, bubbly counterpart. Not a city beach by any stretch, Port Noarlunga is a proper village with the advantage of a choice of restaurants, cafes and even a pop-up beach bar during the summer months.
Our favourite restaurant there is no doubt Hortas, offering Modern Australian & Portuguese seafood and more - check out our review.
Further into the village you will find small boutiques, antique, homeware and gift shops, like the Fleurieu Pantry and more.
The jetty is also still operational, giving you the opportunity to cast a line and catch your dinner.
Life-guards are on duty during summer and it's the perfect spot for a swim, snorkel / scuba dive (leafy sea dragon anyone? Scuba equipment can be hired in Port Noarlunga) - or, hire kayaks and paddle up the Onkaparinga River.
The river mouth of the Onkaparinga River is a site to be seen - our mini Whitehaven Beach. However, best viewed from the cliff top opposite the river and Port Noarlunga beach
Halfway along the Esplanade, with a dedicated cycling/walking path connecting Port Willunga Beach and Sellicks Beach, is Aldinga Beach.
Aldinga Beach is particularly family friendly, with its long and expansive beach, patrolled by surf lifesavers during the summer months and shallow and a slow and steady decline into the crystal clear waters.
During low tide, rock pools are exposed at the far end of the beach - perfect opportunity to go crab and star fish spotting. If you are into diving, the Aldinga Reef is considered one of the best dive spots in South Australia, featuring the "Drop Off".
Another feature for Aldinga Beach, given its width, is the fact that it is one of the few beaches (Moana and Sellicks Beach are two others on our coastline) that you can drive your car on (limited sections only & a beach pass is required). That is if you like it - if not, the beaches are so long that you can easily ignore the few cars (it's only on Boxing Day and Australia Day that those sections look like a car park).
New (January 2020) to Aldinga Beach is the Pearl - a restaurant and cafe right on beach level. Gorgeous views - we unfortunately have only managed to stop by for a coffee and cake but hadn't had a chance yet for dinner or lunch (and a proper review in our restaurant section).
Aldinga Beach is one of the further beaches for us - but still only a 25 min drive from your your McLaren Vale accommodation at Karawatha Cottages and as always, you are just driving through beautiful wine country.