Historic villages & seaside towns, nature and of course, more food & wine
One of South Australia's hidden secrets - the Fleurieu Peninsula - has so much to offer and all of it within an easy drive your McLaren Vale accommodation at Karawatha Cottages.
We are the first one to admit, whilst still living in Sydney and despite being, what we considered to be avid domestic travellers, we hadn't even heard of the Fleurieu Peninsula . McLaren Vale yes, Kangaroo Island of course - but the bit in between was unbeknown to us. The same is true for the vast majority of our interstate and international guests - but quite the opposite for our guests from Adelaide and SA.
And that is no surprise, considering everything the Fleurieu Peninsula has to offer: there is something for everyone, whether it is the nature lover embarking on coastal walks in the Deep Creek Conservation park or taking a cruise to explore the unique flora and fauna of the Coroong National Park, whether it is a bit of history and maybe some antiques shopping that you are after, coastal villages with an opportunity for retail therapy or just relaxing on the beaches - or whether you are looking for one of the lessor known wine regions like Langhorne Creek or Currency Creek.
We have put together a few day trip options for you, all starting from your McLaren Vale accommodation Karawatha Cottages, taking you south and back on different routes with none longer than 150 km return. There are plenty of food options en-route, from fine dining to some amazing fish and chip shops - or you could always take our picnic basket along to choose your perfect spot at a secluded cove overlooking the Southern Ocean.
We have outlined below three possible day trips for you to explore:
Deep Creek Conservation Park - with its beautiful landscapes, ocean views, walks and wildlife
Southern Seaside Villages and the Coorong - for a mix of shopping, beaches, food - plus nature & whales
Langhorne Creek and Strathalbyn - with more food & wine experiences, plus history & antiques
Just scroll down or click on the option that interests you to get there right away.
And obviously you can alter, combine or shorten any of those trips or talk to us upon arrival for more details.
Deep Creek Conservation Park
We often half joke that this is an alternative to Kangaroo Island - maybe not quite, but if you are looking for rugged coastline, Southern Ocean views, plenty of wildlife and want all this in an easy accessible day-trip, then Deep Creek is the way to go.
The Deep Creek Conservation Park is about 75km south of Karawatha Cotttages and your drive hugs the coast line of the Fleurieu Peninsula for large parts of the journey.
After "climbing" Sellicks Hill, where the Mount Lofty Ranges meet the sea, you will pass through quaint little villages like Myponga (with a large bric-a-brac market and home of the Smiling Samoyed Brewery , serving beer & pizza - both open on weekends only), Yankalilla (great place to stop for a coffee and shop for some antiques) and Normanville (more cafés for that caffeine fix, plus a wide long beach with great fish & chip shop).
Further on the way south you will pass the turn-offs for Second Valley and Rapid Bay.
Two tiny hamlets, with absolutely spectacular coastline - think rugged geological formations, steep cliffs and long sandy beaches.
Drop a fishing line from the jetty, go scuba diving (leafy seadragons call it home) or just enjoy the views and fresh sea breaze.
Continue on south towards Cape Jervis but turn off towards Deep Creek prior to reaching it (there is not much to do or see in Cape Jervis, apart from taking the ferry to Kangaroo Island).
Deep Creek Conservation Park, with all its natural vegetation, is home to an array of native wildlife such as western grey kangaroos, short beaked echidnas and 100 species of birds that can be heard and seen while walking in the park. You can even spot whales from the many walks and lookouts during their annual migration (June to October).
Some of our Top Things to Do in the park:
Take in the views of Kangaroo Island from the Cobbler Hill Picnic Area.
Walk the Deep Creek Waterfall Hike from Tapanappa Lookout.
Watch kangaroos feed at dusk at Tapanappa Ridge or along the Aaron Creek hiking trail.
Lunch at Stringybark Walk or Aaron Creek picnic area.
Watch for whales as they migrate east during the winter months.
All roads in the park are unsealed, but with the exception of the Boat Harbour Beach and Blowhole Beach track are accessible with a 2WD.
After spending a few hours in the park, you can either drive back the same way, continue on to Victor Harbor and our next day trip recommendation, or take a slight detour to drive back inland for part of the trip and visit Ingalla Falls on your way home to Karawatha Cottages and the McLaren Vale region; this route will again lead you to Yankalilla and Normanville for a late lunch or coffee or stop by for dinner at the Victory Hotel in Sellicks Hill and watch the sun set over the gulf!
Southern Seaside Villages & The Coorong
There are three villages/towns on the southern coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula - each with its unique attractions and charms: Victor Harbor as the largest of three and commercial centre, Port Elliot as the sleepy holiday village and Goolwa at the mouth of the river Murray.
They are all in reasonable proximity to each other and you can easily visit all three of them in a 120 km triangle drive from Karawatha Cottages, add on a visit to one of them after a trip to the Deep Creek Conservation park - or just visit one depending on your plans for the day.
Victor Harbor is the closest of the three, just 50 km straight south, with Granite Island and whale watching tours for us being the main attraction.
A causeway connects the mainland with Granite Island and you can just walk across
(about 700 m) or you treat yourself to a ride on the world’s only daily Horse Drawn Tram service (started operating in 1886).
On Granite Island you can follow a loop walk (1.9 km) around the island, with sculptures dotted along the trail amidst the large granite boulders towering above the Southern Ocean and Encounter Bay, giving you a little bit of that Kangaroo Island feeling.
There is also a penguin colony on Granite Island, with access available through a guided tour.
Spotting Southern Right Whales during the winter months is one of the other key wildlife experiences to enjoy and a visit to the SA Whale Centre in Victor Harbor is highly recommended. You can also take multiple boat tours from here - or simply take binoculars with you, walk along Encounter Bay and look out for whales!
You could actually walk (or bike) the entire 30km of the Encounter Bay Trail from Victor Harbor via Middelton, Port Elliot and all the way to Goolwa. Or alternatively, take the Cockle Train, a steam train operating along the oldest steel railed railway in Australia, for all or part of the route and walk back.
Port Elliot is our favourite of the three and we often use it as our base when we take visiting friends and family on a trip to showcase the beauty of the Fleurieu Peninsula.
A quaint little village, Port Elliot has it all - beautiful beaches, like the large but picture-perfect and aptly named Horseshoe Bay or tiny Green Bay (pictured here), a range of historic buildings, coastal inspired shops and boutiques - plus a few excellent dining locations, from the Flying Fish restaurant right on Horseshoe Bay (incl. a fish & chip take-away kiosk) or the Port Elliot Bakery (just look for the queue on weekends). And of course there is wine - with The Joinery Wine Room, the cellar door of Charlotte Dalton and Cooke Brothers wines.
Starting point for us is usually the car park at Freeman Lookout allowing you to start off in any direction.
From there you can follow the Harbourmasters Walking Trail, taking you across the headland to the secluded western beaches and back through town towards Horseshoe Bay for a bit of fish & chips or beach action (unleash your inner child and jump from the jetty!).
We can easily spend a day here - walking, shopping for antiques (quite a few of the unique items in our cottages are coming from here) and books (South Seas Books & Trading is a must for us) and enjoying a bite to eat - so close to McLaren Vale and yet feels a world apart.
Last stop on our Southern Fleurieu triangle tour is the historic river port Goolwa, where the mighty Murray meets the Southern Ocean.
Your first stop without doubt will be the historic wharf, where you would usually find one of the old paddle steamers moored.
A couple of restaurants and cafes are also located on the wharf, with the Fleurieu Distillery and Steam Exchange Brewery right behind. Here you can sample any of their products, from award winning Single Malt Whisky, to "Moon River"Gin from the Distillery and preservative-free beers from the Steam Exchange Brewery. If you are hungry, than Kuti Shack on Goolwa Beach is the place to go!
If you are having a couple of hours to spare and are looking for a memorable and unique experience, then take a cruise into the Coorong National Park and follow in the footsteps of "Storm Boy" and his pelican, Mr. Percival.
Multiple cruise options depart Goolwa wharf, taking you through the barrages (to stop saltwater from entering Lake Alexandrina), past the Murray mouth into the saltwater lagoons of the Coorong.
You can get off your boat in the park, cross the sand dunes on foot to get to the 90-mile beach facing the Southern Ocean and learn all about pipis and the "Coorong Shuffle".
Back at Goolwa wharf, you can either head back north again to complete the triangle and return to your McLaren Vale accommodation at Karawatha Cottages - or continue on following the shore of Lake Alexandrina to connect with our Langhorne Creek day tour.
Langhorne Creek & Strathalbyn
The last of our three day trip options will introduce you to a small and relatively unknown, but equally outstanding South Australian wine region: Langhorne Creek
Your drive southeast towards Langhorne Creek (just over 50 km from Karawatha Cottages) will lead you straight through Strathalbyn, a small picturesque town boasting an incredible number of beautiful heritage buildings dating from 1839, that are still being used today. And what better way to experience the history of Strathalbyn than shopping for antiques and collectables, or sipping on a morning latte in one of those heritage buildings on High Street. The parkland of the Soldiers Memorial Gardens and the Angas River running through the centre of town complete the charm of this little country town.
And just 10 min further on you will get to the Langhorne Creek wine region, with its cooler climate than what we experience in McLaren Vale - courtesy of the "Lake Doctor" as the locals call the reliable cool breeze coming up from Lake Alexandrina.
If you are looking for the stand-out or local hero grape variety for Langhorne Creek, then that would be Cabernet Sauvginon - dark, but aromatic and fruit driven - but we equally enjoy the Shirazs and Malbecs or the lessor known Lagrein and their whites like Verdelho and Fiano.
Even more so than McLaren Vale, the wineries in Langhorne Creek are truly family owned and operated, With Bremerton Wines, Bleasdale and Lake Breeze the standout cellar doors for us.
At the Bleasdale cellar door, make sure to ask to see the old basket press (from 1892, with a huge red gum trunk as lever arm). The Bremerton Wines cellar door is housed in an old stone barn, also serving platters, pizza and more - or call into the Lake Breeze winery, with its first floor dining room offering outstanding views ... plus amazing food.
For something a little different , visit Newman's Horseradish Farm to taste and stock up on their delicious condiments (or - try their Rusticana wines; the Durif is truly big & bold!
On your way back to McLaren Vale, provided time permits and you still have the energy after day of wine tasting, you could make a small detour via Macclesfield to call into Longview Vineyard or Meadows to visit Karrawatta Wines. Alternatively visit those two cellar doors as part of our Adelaide Hills day trips from Karawatha Cottages.