Planning a trip to South Australia can be daunting. Where are you going to go? What is there to do? How are you going to get around? Use this How to Plan Your South Australia Trip guide to get those basic building blocks in place and create an itinerary for your perfect trip.
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TL;DR? Here's the outline
- Why South Australia?
- South Australia Map
- Best Time to Visit South Australia & How Long to Stay
- When to Book Your South Australia Trip
- How to Get to South Australia
- Where to Go in South Australia
- Accommodation in South Australia
- Getting Around South Australia
- South Australia Attractions & Tickets
- Travel Insurance
- How Much to Budget for South Australia
- Internet & Phone Coverage in South Australia
Feature photo credit: Ben Goode, Adelaide
Why South Australia?
But first, why should you visit South Australia? South Australia is often called the Festival State, and Adelaide is known as the City of Churches, but there is much more to do and see here than those monikers imply.
Here are just a few unique reasons why South Australia should be your next destination.
- Adelaide is one of the Ten Great Wine Capitals of the World. South Australia has 18 wine regions, including the three most prominent ones within an hour of the city centre – Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills & McLaren Vale
- South Australia has some of the best access to “The Outback”, with diverse areas such as the Flinders Ranges and Coober Pedy.
- The Festival State name is not for nothing. There is always a festival going on in South Australia. Look out for “Mad March” and the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the second largest of its kind in the world.
- Great wildlife experiences, from Monarto Safari Park (soon to be the largest safari park outside Africa) to the wildlife of Kangaroo Island. Swim with great white sharks or cuttlefish or see whales at the Head of the Bight.
- Stunning, unspoilt coastal scenery. It is not hard to find a beach where you will be the only one enjoying it. South Australia is made for coastal road trips.
- Unique landscapes, such as Lake Eyre and the Painted Hills, the volcanic lakes around Mount Gambier (including the Blue Lake), the 100km long Bunda Cliffs, or the River Murray.
South Australia Map
South Australia is centrally located in Australia, on the southern half of the continent. The capital is Adelaide, and that is where about 1.3million of the 1.8million South Australians live.
The north of the state in particular is very sparsely populated.
South Australia uses an unusual half hour timezone, being GMT +9:30. It does implement day light savings between the first weekend in October until the first weekend of April.
Best Time to Visit South Australia & How Long to Stay
The best time to come to South Australia really depends on what you would like to see. It’s such a diverse state that it’s always the best time for something.
Summer is, of course, the best time to visit for the beaches and great weather in the southern half of the state. There can be very hot (40+ Celsius) days, and occasionally a heat wave of a few days.
It’s not a great time to come to South Australia if you are planning to travel in the northern half of the state or you are planning to camp or hike a lot.
There will be many restrictions and closures due to fire danger in national parks and other wilderness areas.
Late summer/early autumn is a great time to visit for events and festivals. The time from mid-February to mid-March is the busiest, and is affectionately called “Mad March”.
The weather is usually still great, but with the heat of mid-summer over, more people are out and about creating a great atmosphere, especially in the Adelaide City centre.
Autumn is a great time to visit the Adelaide Hills. The changing leaves turn this pretty area into an even prettier one. The little towns become more European, and the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens are at their best.
Winter is when you should visit if you are planning to spend time in the north of the state, like Coober Pedy, the Flinders Ranges National Park, or perhaps driving the Oodnadatta Track.
Many of the attractions are closed or restricted in summer, but now they will be open and you will be able to experience everything with great weather.
Winter is also great in the wine regions. Imagine tasting those big bold Barossa reds while sitting in front of an open fire in a cozy cellar door with views over the vineyards.
There are also unique experiences that only occur in winter – such as the ghost mushrooms near Mount Gambier or seeing the cuttlefish near Whyalla.
Spring is a great time to visit in between the seasons. It’s not as busy as autumn, and the weather tends to be a little cooler, but spring colour, such as the bright yellow canola fields, abounds.
A trip to South Australia should be as long as you can manage. Here are some ideas for what you can see in certain timeframes:
- 3 Days – you can visit Adelaide city and suburbs and see a surrounding wine region
- 1 Week – see Adelaide, the surrounding wine regions and spend two days on Kangaroo Island
- 2 Weeks – see Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, one or two wine regions and the Flinders Ranges
- 4 Weeks – you could create a road trip to touch on many areas of the state, covering most of the biggest attractions.
When to Book Your South Australia Trip
It’s recommended to book your South Australia travel, accommodation and transport around three months in advance.
You could quite comfortably leave that until just a few weeks in advance unless there is something you particularly want to do or a special place that you want to stay.
In particular if you are going to Kangaroo Island, book the ferry in advance to get the days and times you want.
Activities and attractions can often be booked at the last minute, but if you are planning something remote (eg: swimming with sea lions to Baird Bay or a scenic flight from William Creek), popular or limited, then I would book at least two weeks in advance to ensure you get what you want.
Wine tours to any of the wine regions are unlikely to sell out as there are many options.
How to Get to South Australia
Most people who arrive into South Australia do it by air or by road.
If coming by air, you will almost certainly be flying into Adelaide airport. It has direct links to all interstate capitals and some regional hubs too, like Newcastle, Launceston and the Sunshine Coast.
International flights arrive from Auckland, Nadi, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Doha, Guangzhou and Bali (although some services are still suspended due to covid).
The airport is located close to the city centre and is easy to navigate. There are other flights around the state from here, in particular, Mount Gambier, Coober Pedy, Kingscote, Port Lincoln and Ceduna.
If coming into South Australia by road, the most popular routes are continuing along after driving the Great Ocean Road in Victoria to enter near Mount Gambier, or coming from Western Australia across the Nullarbor.
It is also possible to drive down from the Northern Territory, and to come across from New South Wales, entering near Renmark.
Note that if travelling by road, South Australia has strict quarantine requirements, and bringing fresh fruit and vegetables into the state could get you a fine.
This is to protect the South Australian farming regions from disease. There are border checkpoints at various locations that will check your vehicle for anything that is prohibited. Read all the regulations here.
There are interstate coaches into South Australia and some trains too, but they are more limited in their schedules and can be more expensive.
Where to Go in South Australia
South Australia has 12 distinct regions to consider when you are visiting.
- Adelaide – city stay. Adelaide, Glenelg, Port Adelaide
- Adelaide Hills – wineries, cute European town, great views and hikes. Mount Lofty, Hahndorf, Mount Barker
- Barossa Valley – wineries. Tanunda, Nuriootpa, Lyndoch
- Clare Valley – wineries, history. Clare, Burra, Auburn
- Eyre Peninsula – great coastal scenery, seafood. Port Lincoln, Tumby Bay, Streaky Bay
- Fleurieu Peninsula – wineries, beaches, food. Victor Harbor, McLaren Vale, Willunga
- Flinders Ranges and Outback – outback scenery, Aboriginal culture, scenic drives, dramatic landscapes. Wilpena Pound, Coober Pedy, Melrose
- Kangaroo Island – wildlife, food and wine, beaches. Kingscote, Penneshaw, American River
- Limestone Coast – dramatic coastline, beaches, wine, volcanic landscape, caves. Mount Gambier, Naracoorte, Robe
- Murray River, Lakes and Coorong – water sports, nature, safari park, beaches. Mannum, Monarto, Goolwa
- Riverland – food and wine, houseboats. Renmark, Berri, Barmera
- Yorke Peninsula – beaches, nature, hiking, history, Wallaroo, Marion Bay, Port Vincent
Accommodation in South Australia
There is a wide variety of accommodation available in South Australia. Most familiar name-brand hotels will only be found in Adelaide, although there are a couple of exceptions to this.
There are many boutique lodging options though that do not skimp on luxury all over the state.
Holiday homes are popular, particularly in coastal areas, and are best booked with VBRO/Stayz
In some of the more remote areas, accommodation will be limited and often more functional than luxurious. Consider doing a station stay, and staying with some of the local landowners.
This could range from simple shearer’s quarters accommodation to luxurious cabins with fabulous amenities and activities.
There are many caravan and holiday parks throughout the state. Most of them are very well set up with amazing facilities, including powered & unpowered sites, cabins and other self contained accommodation. Some have glamping facilities too.
Getting Around South Australia
Once in South Australia, where you are planning to go will dictate your method of transport. If you are staying in the city and just doing a tour to a wine region, or perhaps Hahndorf, then I do not recommend hiring a car.
Get around the city with public transport, or use a taxi or Uber. There is also a huge range of private transfer options available, whether from the airport, or to one of the nearby regions.
If you are travelling further afield, then having your own transport is almost essential as the transport options become sparse once outside of Adelaide.
If you are travelling to the more remote areas north of Port Augusta, ensure your vehicle is up to the trip. Some roads are 4WD only, and a reliable, well-equipped vehicle is essential.
Outback roads can easily become impassable, even for the right vehicles. Always check the Outback Roads page for alerts before you travel.
Do not discount flying into one of the regional airports and picking up a car from there to continue your journey if you are short on time. Regional airports include Mount Gambier, Kingscote, Port Lincoln, Coober Pedy and Ceduna.
South Australia Attractions & Tickets
These booking websites are reputable, can sometimes give you a slightly discounted price and often offer better cancellation options than booking direct, so they are always worth checking.
Some of my favourite things to do are:
- Mystery Picnic
- Popeye Devonshire Tea Cruise
- Adelaide Oval Roof Climb
- F-Factor Food Tour
- Monarto Lions 360
- Barossa Valley Hot Air Balloon
- Seppeltsfield Taste Your Birth Year Experience
- Adelaide Central Market Delicious Lunch Tour
- 1-Day Yoga and Wine Retreat
- Tandem Skydive
If you are coming to South Australia from an international destination, then you should absolutely make sure you have travel insurance.
With the remote distances and limited rural medical services, if something goes wrong, you would likely be airlifted to Adelaide, and that’s quite an expense.
If you are hiring a car, check that your travel insurance will cover the huge excess ($4000-$6000AUD) often charged by car rental companies in the case of an accident.
For people outside of Australia, I recommend World Nomads travel insurance. I’ve always heard good things about it.
If you are Australian, you may also like to get domestic travel insurance, particularly to cover the rental car or any covid interruptions. I use and recommend Cover-More for all my travel insurance.
How Much to Budget for South Australia
This really is like asking “how long is a piece of string”. The answer is, it depends. Or more information is required. You really can spend as much or as little as you like on your South Australia trip.
Here are some 2023 estimates for basic things to help you with your budget.
- High end hotel room (not suite) – $500/night
- Good hotel room – $250/night
- Budget hotel room – $120/night
- Powered site – $35/night
- Main meal at restaurant – $30-50
- Pub meal – $25
- Take-away meal – $15
- Coffee – $5
- Unleaded fuel – $1.90/litre
- Pint of beer – $8-10
- Glass of wine – $8-14
Internet & Phone Coverage in South Australia
While phone and internet coverage is easy to come by in Adelaide and nearby areas, it can become very patchy the further you travel. Even 100km away from Adelaide you will find that service will not be available in between towns.
That means you cannot rely on online maps for your navigation. Being aware of this and downloading offline maps or having access to a GPS is a good idea.
The patchy internet in remote areas also means that occasionally there will be an issue with EFTPOS or ATM machines not working, so it is recommended to carry at least $100AUD in cash in case of emergencies when cards can not be accepted.
For the more remote areas, Telstra tends to have the best coverage overall, but there are still some areas where you will find Optus works but Telstra does not.
If you are only travelling to the more populated areas, then even a cheap SIM will do the job (I use Amaysim, which uses the Optus network).
You may even like to pick up an eSIM if you have a dual SIM phone. I get them from Airalo when I travel.
With all this information, you should now be able to start planning your perfect trip to South Australia.
Continue your planning with these travel guides
Adelaide 3 Day Itinerary
The Ultimate South Australian Itinerary
Outback Road Trip Itinerary
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