Ever since Australia reopened to tourism in February 2022, I’d been itching to return for its rugged outback landscapes, luxuriant flora and yawning blue skies.
I fell for the country as a backpacker. That year included two epic road trips: from Darwin to far north Queensland and from north Queensland to Sydney. Subsequent visits have taken me across the country on the Indian Pacific Train from Sydney to Perth, and by expedition ship to the rugged Kimberley region.
In South Australia, however, I’d only visited Adelaide. Beyond the state capital is a big hit of outback, wildlife, epic coastline and wine regions. The latter are typically tackled by car. I often travel solo, which can make hiring a vehicle expensive. Plus, it’s not much fun if you can’t taste, grin and grimace with someone over the spittoon.
Instead, I found a group cycling trip with Intrepid, offering a broader perspective on the region and a gently active (read: largely flat) tour, with tastings at cellar doors and nights in country towns. The small print also included the words every recreational cyclist wants to hear: support vehicle.
The route consisted of three loops along scenic cycling trails in the Barossa, Clare and McClaren Vale wine regions. We would average 30km (18 miles) per day, with van transfers taking care of luggage and unnecessary mileage by knitting the route together.
The Barossa is less than an hour’s drive from Adelaide. Our group met at one of the city’s hotels, where an introductory chat was hosted by our Adelaidean guide, Peter, who has decades of experience in viticulture, and our driver, Brett. We were a tour group of three: Todd from Vancouver, Bob from Perth, and me.
At 8.30am the next day we piled into our van with bikes in a trailer and headed north for the town of Nuriootpa. Here, after an off-road practice run, we pedalled towards our first cellar door.
“Look out for swooping plovers,” warned Peter. I pretended I hadn’t heard the bit about brown snakes.
Our trip coincided with a late-summer heatwave, but SA’s bone-dry climate made it more manageable. The pace was relaxed. Todd, who had booked an e-bike, was usually two samples into a wine flight by the time Peter, Bob and I arrived.
Some cellar doors are small, family-run operations, others offer tasting platters or restaurants with terraces and vineyard views. At Mitchell, one of the first small wineries in the Clare region, third-generation winemaker Hilary told us how the biodynamic sparkling Peppertree shiraz came about. “Mum wanted a wine that she could drink on the beach with her buddies, so Dad created this.” It tasted like nectar.
Other wineries have a more complex history. Take the sprawling Sevenhill, on the Clare Valley’s Riesling Trail. It was founded in 1851 by a Jesuit priest in order to produce sacramental wine and was built from stone quarried on
Around the region, heritage storyboards tell of indigenous Ngadjuri (Aboriginal Australian people whose traditional lands are in South Australia), explorer and settler history. With colonisation came miners, many of them Cornish, who mined copper as well as stone and slate. Hamlets and farms were settled by migrants from Prussian Poland and Germany – many fleeing religious persecution.
Grain and metals from the region were sent by train to Port Adelaide for shipping by paddle steamer. The Shiraz, Riesling and Rattler (named after the rattling trains) trails linking the key towns are disused railway corridors now repurposed as walking and cycling paths.
Whether from a bakery (Watervale General Store offers a fabulous quandong cherry cheesecake tart), pub or restaurant, food was a highlight.
In Auburn, where we stayed at a mid-19th-century pub, The Rising Sun, we ordered Coopers beer-battered flathead fillet, oysters and shiraz-braised beef and shared a Vickery riesling from the Eden Valley.
Our large rooms at Clare Country Club overlooked tree-ringed Lake Inchiquin and our final night’s accommodation was at a comfy motel in the town of Hahndorf, which was settled in the 19th century by Lutheran immigrants.
None of us wanted the tour to end. To have explored the region by car would’ve meant missing out on curious birdsong, freewheeling breezes and the smells of the Australian bush. The real take-aways were the endless ribbons of silvery gums stretching to the horizon; a family of kangaroos; the lime-green lorikeets, yellow-tailed black cockatoos and carolling piping shrikes; aromatic, lemon-scented blue gums and, the grand finale, a koala tucked into the fork of a spotted gum.
On our last stretch, we joined up with the Coast to Vines Rail Trail that took us south through the foothills of the McLaren Vale wine region. Here, we stopped for a tasting at Wirra Wirra, an indigenous name meaning “among the gum trees”.
The best Australian stories involve a black-sheep tale. After stealing a pie cart in Adelaide, RS Wigley, the founder of Wirra Wirra, was sent to the country with 200 hectares of land and eventually established one of the region’s oldest vineyards. I was thrilled to learn that I can buy its Wirra Wirra Church Block back home.
I had got my fix of big blue skies and a genuine excuse to hang around the wine section in Waitrose.
There are no direct flights from the UK to Adelaide. Airlines offering one-stop connections include Malaysian Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines.
A six-day guided Cycle South Australia’s Wine Regions tour costs from £1,380pp, including B&B accommodation (from an extra £380pp for a single room), winery and cellar-door visits, bikes and helmets, one tasting, one lunch and one evening meal plus luggage transfer and a support vehicle. Excludes flights. E-bikes cost extra. intrepidtravel.com
South Australia and wine: southaustralia.com; wineaustralia.com
Cycling in the region: clarevalley.com.au/explore; barossa.com/see/cycling