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5-DAY EXPLORING SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Here's an opportunity to follow the path, more or less, of one of South Australia’s greatest explorers – John McDouall Stuart who, in 1861, set out to cross the Australian continent from south to north. It's remarkable much of your route in South Australia follows in Stuart's footsteps, from a coastal Mediterranean climate in the south to arid desert landscapes.

Mintaro Maze & Martindale Hall

Mintaro

Kingsford Homestead

5 star luxury accommodation

Kingsford Homestead Kitchen

Seasonal menus

Kingsford Homestead Kitchen

Seasonal menus

Kingsford Homestead Kitchen

Seasonal menus

Skillogalee Winery, Sevenhill

Restaurant & Accommodation

DAY ONE

The Clare Valley, just half an hour's drive north of the Barossa, is one of the most accessible, hospitable and prettiest of all Australia's wine regions. It is, in fact, a series of valleys whose tributaries have names such as Hill River and Polish Valley, or the gorgeous Skillogalee Valley, the loveliest of all, providing a vast range of micro-climates for grapegrowers.

As well as some 30 cellar doors, the region is rich in settler history. It was first settled by Jesuit migrants fleeing religious and political persecution, who established the region's oldest existing winery, now Sevenhill Cellars, in 1851. Don’t miss the ridiculously pretty village of Mintaro, home to Martindale Hall, an impressive late-Victorian country seat that was featured in Peter Weir's haunting 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, and the lowly cottage of young explorer, John Horrocks, near Penwortham.

A great way to explore the valley's riches is to hire a bike and ride the scenic Riesling Trail, which links one end of the valley to the other, binding together its wineries, its history and its diversity. It provides a softer, gentler, typically "country" way to enjoy the most "country" of Australia's wine regions as you sidle past the back doors of its B&Bs, duck into any number of wineries en route and open a bottle with a picnic lunch beside a dam or in the lee of a railway cutting.

Side-trips: You turn north at Gawler for the Clare Valley; if you keep heading west, you'll arrive in the famous Barossa Valley.

Explorer's footprints: The luxury retreat Kingsford Homestead near Gawler is more famous as the set of McLeod's Daughters, but it was also the family home of one of Stuart's party, Stephen King Jr.

STAY

Clare has continued to evolve with a vast range of accommodation and steadily improving cafes and restaurants. Take a cabin in family-friendly Clare Caravan Park, a cottage B&B in villages like Auburn and Mintaro, or go luxe at Thorn Park by the Vines.

DINE

Breakfast or lunch at the Skillogalee winery restaurant, open daily; for dinner head to Terroir at Auburn, a stunning bistro in an 1860s building where the menu sources most of its produce from within the Clare Valley.

Steamtown heritage rail museum

Peterborough

Wilpena pound

Flinders Ranges

Wilpena pound

Flinders Ranges

Wilpena pound

Flinders Ranges

Arkaba Station Homestead

Flinders Ranges

Arkaba Station Homestead

Flinders Ranges

Arkaba Walk

Flinders Ranges

DAY TWO

As you head north-east out of Clare, the country soon gets wide and dry, but it’s not short of interesting stories. The copper town of Burra, for instance, rescued the fledgling South Australian colony from bankruptcy in the 1840s: explore the Monster Mine, the bizarre dugout homes of Creek Street and the town's once culturally-segregated townships, with pubs variously favoured by Welsh, Scottish and Cornish miners.

Peterborough in the Southern Flinders was the hub of a huge railway network and quite literally a crossroads for the nation: don’t miss the display at Steamtown, where tours of the unique Roundhouse run all day.

After Hawker, the landscape begins to buckle and uplift into spectacular and very ancient ranges, named for the explorer Matthew Flinders. Most prominent is Wilpena Pound, where visitors can stay for several days to explore the extraordinary 83 square km crater-like formation. The Pound can be easily seen from trails of varying duration and difficulty (taking from an hour to a whole day) as well as by scenic flight – early morning flights, with mists hanging in the Pound, are spectacular.

Other local highlights include Arkaroo Rock with its Aboriginal cave paintings, the ruins of Wilpena Station and the rich populations of kangaroo, emu and wallaby seen at dusk.

Side-trips: Dare's Hill Circuit is a little-visited, unsealed track east of Hallett. It runs for some 80km through often-spectacular country complete with homestead ruins, high country vistas and the famous Collinsville Merino Stud.

Explorer's footprints: Mount Bryan East is home to the cottage where Sir Hubert Wilkins - one of the greatest explorers of the 20th century - was born. The cottage has been restored and now houses a Wilkins exhibition.

Arkaba Homestead is a historic home and now a stunning retreat on 63,000 acres beside Wilpena Pound. In 1858, Stuart stumbled into the homestead after his first expedition.

STAY

Miners cottages and B&Bs in Burra, the caravan park in Peterborough with its beautiful views of rolling plain, or the Flinders resorts - camping, cabins and luxury retreats at Wilpena Pound Resort and Rawnsley Park Station.

DINE

There's not a lot of choice – it's either self-catering (stock up at the Wilpena Pound general store), or dine at the resort, which has both restaurant and bistro/bar.

Heritage Blinman Mine

Blinman’s Underground Experience

Flinders Ranges Joey

Heritage Blinman Mine

Blinman’s Underground Experience

Flinders Ranges Joey

Prairie Hotel

Parachilna

Prairie Hotel

Quandong crumble pie quandong roast almond gelato with pouring cream

Port Augusta

Wadlata Outback Centre

DAY THREE

You're going deeper into the Flinders Ranges. North of Wilpena is the historic mining town of Blinman, which has a great pub and an interesting underground tour of a copper mine.

On the drive through Parachilna Gorge, you'll encounter Aboriginal history - the ochre pits here were critical to Aboriginal trading routes, and masses of wildlife: look for the rare yellow-footed rock wallabies. This is a gorgeous, slow drive but in no time you're free of the ranges and crossing wide open spaces heading for the famous Prairie Hotel at Parachilna.

Port Augusta sits at the head of the Spencer Gulf: it's your last chance to see some sea for a long time. The crossroads town is home to the Wadlata Outback Centre, a savvy and engaging exhibition that provides a vivid foretaste of the outback ahead, and the lovely Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden.

Side-trips: The sensational Brachina Gorge Trail is unsealed and, for most of the year, accessible to two-wheel drives. Check first at Wilpena or the service stations in Hawker before setting off. Ancient Ediacaran crust is exposed here, complete with fossil imprints that had scientists resetting the clock as to when life first appeared. Primitive species had emerged some 500 million years earlier than originally thought.

Explorer's footprints: Moolooloo Station near Blinman was owned by James Chambers, Stuart's principal sponsor. Stuart set out from Moolooloo (then Oratunga) on his sixth expedition after recovering from an injured hand.

STAY

Moolooloo has accommodation in the shearer's quarters. Lots of beautiful camping spots if you have the equipment; cottages at Blinman plus a range of accommodation on Angorichina Station, a range of options at the fabulous Prairie Hotel; and the Standpipe Golf Motor Inn at Port Augusta.

DINE

Lunch at the Blinman pub – the burgers are recommended; dinner at the Prairie Hotel – famous for many things, not least of all for its evocative front bar and its feral platters of goat, camel and kangaroo. Or, if you've made it to Port Augusta, try the much-acclaimed Indian restaurant at the Standpipe Golf Motor Inn.

Woomera Missile Park

Old Timers Mine

Coober Pedy

Umoona Opal Mine

Coober Pedy

The Breakaways are a striking & unique example of arid scenery

The lunar-like desert landscape of the Moon Plain, near Coober Pedy

The lunar-like desert landscape of the Moon Plain, near Coober Pedy

Stuart Highway

Raw Opals

DAY FOUR

Lots to see on this stretch of the Stuart Highway. Stop some 20km south of Woomera for amazing views over Island Lagoon, a salt lake with a distinctive shark's-tooth of rock. Next stop is Woomera Heritage Centre and the Interactive Rocket Range Museum for an unusual chapter in contemporary British and Australian history stories; Maralinga Tours conducts tagalong tours of the previously off-limits test site where the British conducted atomic tests.

In Coober Pedy marvel at the bizarre opal fields with their cones of excavated dirt; take a mine tour at The Old Timers Mine Museum and Umoona Opal Mine; explore underground shops, chapel, gallery and homes located in chambers left by mining operations and perfectly useful for staying cool; and look out for the extraordinary movie props used to transform local landscapes into alien planets. Sunset at The Breakaways is a magical experience of swirling desert colours.

Side-trip: Head west out of Coober Pedy on a mostly sealed road to the outpost of William Creek. It’s famous for a population that ranges from five to 10, depending on when you visit; its very welcoming middle-of-nowhere pub and the Wrightsair scenic flight operation that can reveal the full splendour of Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre) salt lake – sublime when it's in flood, harshly beautiful when it's not.

Explorer's footprints: William Creek is on the Oodnadatta Track. Stuart's footprints are right across this country – as are historic telegraph stations, the old Ghan railway line and extraordinary Mound Springs oases.

STAY

Underground! The Radeka Downunder provides budget and dorm beds, while the Desert Cave Hotel is more upmarket. Both offer the rather strange experience of dwelling in the cool and colourful embrace of Coober Pedy's rock. If you've made it to William Creek, staying at the pub is an experience you'll not forget – its self-contained suites are basic but comfortable.

DINE

For dinner, you might as well dine underground as well – try the Underground Restaurant, in a former opal mine. At the William Creek Hotel try its famous Outback burgers.

DAY FIVE

It's a long haul back to Adelaide via the Stuart Highway and Princes Highway – but be comforted, it will be so much faster than it took John McDouall Stuart.

DINE

Lunch in Port Augusta at the Arid Lands Botanic Garden Cafe.