Adelaide has some of Australia's most accessible outback on offer. But it's still a five-hour drive three of them on a very dull freeway one-way, before you're even knocking on the door. This road trip gets you to the edge of the Never-Never but it does so at a leisurely pace, changing the scenery from the sublime vales of wine country to the far-reaching plains of Melrose to the wild horizons of the Central Flinders Ranges.
We're not going too far off the bitumen, so you can leave the Bridgestone Desert Duellers and jerry cans behind, but you'll still need some open-road spirit and be prepared for that five-hour drive on the return leg.
Head up Main North Road out of Adelaide
, follow signs to Gawler
and then signs to Roseworthy
. After an hour, you're in the southern reaches of the Clare Valley
, a wine region with shades of Tuscany and the Irish county after which it's named. It's less prim than most regions a bit rough at the edges and, we think, nicer for it.
When you get there
If the mood takes, call into any of the wineries en route (Claymores
if you're a music lover, Annie’s Lane
if you want to check out the winemaking museum) but be sure to take a right at Sevenhill and visit Sevenhill Cellars
. The atmospheric 1850s estate is still run by Jesuit priests, who oversee the making of huge amounts of sacramental wines as well as award-winning drops for less solemn occasions. At the cellar door, request a walking tour guide to the grounds which includes winery, church and gardens.
Overnight in nearby Skillogalee in the beautiful Skilly Hills; this winery has great accommodation options (from $200 per couple per night), great hosts and farmhouse dining on a deck overlooking the vines. Another dining option is the nearby Sevenhill Pub; it's pretty "rustic" but gets lively after dark and has a surprisingly formal dining area and excellent wine cellar.
For an alternative stay, try Patly Hill Farm in the beautiful Armagh Valley near Clare; from $160 per couple.
Take breakfast at your accommodation or grab it on the go as you go through Clare
before heading north to Melrose
First, however, take a 40km detour north-east to Burra. This bizarre outpost was once the copper capital of the world: call into the visitor information centre to try to get your head around a mining town that was split into five townships with five pubs (most of them still serving). The Burra Heritage Passport Key is a sort of "access all areas" scheme which will reveal all manner of wild sites and strange stories, including riverbank homes (literally in the riverbank), a jail and the "Monster Mine".
If you have time, Dare's Hill Circuit, to the north, is little-travelled, very wild and a revelation in the scenery department. Ask for a map at the visitor information centre.
Now it's 140km northwest to Melrose the oldest town in the Flinders which boasts a lovely collection of period buildings at the bottom of a prodigious piece of rock called Mt Remarkable. Check in to your accommodation: either the North Star Hotel, a pub that's incongruously chic with luxury suites and weird/wonderful "truck chalets" out back (from $140 to $195 per couple) or the very charming Bluey Blundstones, an old blacksmiths complete with cottage, barn and cafe (from $120 per couple; phone (08) 8666 2173).
And now relax! There are walks aplenty and some historic collections in the Courthouse, but it's best to kick back in one of two pubs and soak up the small-town ambience. Corella hour (just before dusk) is a noisy, wonderful affair; sunset will make you want to sell up and move here.
You're awake courtesy of another corella hour the early one and in time for superb breakfast served at either the North Star
. Then it's time to saddle up for a three-hour trek to Wilpena Pound
, one of Australia's most unusual and impressive geological spectacles.
The early start is a good thing because Wilpena can ordinarily soak up three days of anyone's time. Take an interesting break at Quorn or the ruins of Kanyaka Homestead ; then it's off the bitumen at Hawker for 50km to Wilpena. Look out for kangaroos, emus and the amazing "ramparts" of the Wilpena Pound (you'll know them when you see them).
Check into the newly renovated Wilpena Pound Resort (from $97.50 per person), complete with resorty-type respites and options. This is a large resort, but it's nicely done and puts you on the edge of the giant saucer-shaped rock formation and at the start of some remarkable walking trails leading to its rim.
There are plenty of walks to do but be sure to take an evening stroll around the Wilpena Homestead. The Champagne and Shadows tour costs $50 per person; sunset light on the ramparts together with a flute of bubbles is a celebratory end to your weekend.
You've earned your meal enjoy it!
Make breakfast count; you've got a five-hour drive back to civilisation. Take the B83 to Stirling North and stay on the A1 all the way into Adelaide
. She ain't pretty but she's quick.
What to splurge on
If you get to the Wilpena Resort
for the afternoon, a four-wheel drive mountaintop tour into Wilpena
and the Elder Ranges
is available and recommended (from $135 per person).
What to leave behind
Leave behind a city slicker's expectations of service and timekeeping. In country SA, it's all about having a yarn and enjoying the odd detour.
What to bring home
A new appreciation for the size of South Australia
. Look on a map and see just how little of it you've covered.
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