A road trip of Essence 1313km, each one a feast for the senses

From seafood to surfing, wine to wildlife, monuments to markets, the Southern Ocean Drive takes you through some of the state’s most striking landmarks. Get behind the wheel for a true South Australian adventure

A massive sea lion is sprawled across our path. It’s a magnificent – and terrifying – sight. The beast, weighing at least 300kg, lets off the occasional roar to ensure we understand it has no intention to move. Not wanting to upset the locals, we leave the path and carefully wade through the scrubland (sealbay.sa.gov.au).

Known as Australia’s Galapagos, Kangaroo Island truly is a wild place. Pods of dolphins can be seen along its shores, koalas doze in the gum trees, tammar wallabies lounge in the shade and echidnas move through the thick expanse of greenery. The bushland is vast and the diverse coastline, having been shaped over centuries by surging waves, reflects an image of untamed nature. National parks comprise a third of the island.

Stare across the deep marine-blue horizon from atop the craggy cliffs that plunge into the frothing sea at Admiral’s Arch and you will only find Antarctica.

Kangaroo Island may be an untouched wilderness that you no longer expect in a crowded world, but it is only a stone’s throw from Adelaide – 110km – and is home to extreme luxury. Perched on the cliffs of the island’s southwest coast, at Hanson Bay, is the internationally renowned Southern Ocean Lodge (southernoceanlodge.com.au). This lavish retreat lets you fine dine and indulge with South Australia’s finest wines. No surprise then that even Microsoft’s Bill Gates once shut down the island to pay this magical spot a visit.

Kangaroo Island is a worthy stopover on the Southern Ocean Drive. The 1313km trip traverses some of the most dramatic parts of South Australia’s southern coast. It is a true discovery tour, starting with 27 designated geological monuments across Kangaroo Island, including the Flinders Chase National Park, the gigantic granite Remarkable Rocks, the lighthouse at Cape Borda and dramatic limestone caves at Kelly Hill Conservation Park.

The newly-established Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail was ranked third on Lonely Planet’s list of top new destinations in the world. It takes five days and four nights to cover the full 60km route (kangarooislandwildernesstrail.sa.gov.au). And Raptor Domain puts on a breathtaking show that will ruffle feathers (kangarooislandbirdsofprey.com.au).

It is easy to see the beauty of Australia’s third-largest island, after Tasmania and Melville Island in the Northern Territory, but you can taste it too. Rich in fresh produce, food and drink, artisans across the island produce first-class and award-winning creations. Visit the outdoor Gin Garden at Jon and Sarah Lark’s KI Spirits distillery (kispirits.com.au), taste cheese at Island Pure Sheep Dairy (islandpure.com.au), sit at the bar at the island’s original beer cellar, Kangaroo Island Brewery (kangarooislandbrewery.com.au), or enjoy a banquet prepared by star caterers Hannaford and Sachs while sitting under a giant canopy of “enchanted” fig trees on their property at Snellings Beach (hannafordandsachs.com.au).

As our road trip continues, we take the ferry from Kangaroo Island to Cape Jervis at the southern tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula and watch on as the landscape changes. Surfers can be spotted riding gnarly waves in picturesque coves at Parsons Beach and Waitpinga while eagles, hobby plane operators and hang-gliders compete for air space above the high cliffs.

We head back to the mainland and it takes about 45 minutes from the island to reach Victor Harbor – a perfect spot to grab refreshments and, if it is a Saturday morning, buy fresh supplies at the farmers’ market in Grosvenor Gardens. The market includes 30 stalls highlighting the diversity of the southern Fleurieu’s strong artisan food culture. Alternatively, the Jetty Store in Port Elliot satisfies the needs of food lovers with fresh, nutritious produce and dishes.

The pace slows down once you reach this stretch of the coastline. Middleton is perfect to take surf lessons on the gentle waves with Dan and Meg Keelan’s South Coast Surf Academy (danosurf.com.au), and visiting Goolwa wharf will take you back in time to the steam era. Here you can book pleasure cruises with the Oscar W paddle steamer or jump on the historic Cockle Train, which makes weekend coastal trips.

Take a 50km detour around Lake Alexandrina to Langhorne Creek. For decades, this region has provided fruit for many of Australia’s most popular multi-regional blended wines. Now it is blossoming as a destination for wine tasting, with the emergence of an increasing number of cellar doors and grapegrowers promoting their own brands. The Winehouse is a central tasting room and eatery that showcases several emerging wine brands and locally made Meechi beer (thewinehouse.com.au).

Experience the romance of a river crossing and drive your car onto the punt at Wellington to reach the other side of the Murray River. As you move south, the landscape turns from lush green flatlands into rolling sandhills along the Coorong, a unique lagoon ecosystem that separates the end of the Murray from the Southern Ocean. Organise camping permits and cross some dunes with a four-wheel drive before exploring the waterway in a canoe. Tours range from three-hour sunset trips to four-day, 100km expeditions.

The next stop is Robe – a picturesque seaside town where you will want to spend some time. The beaches are white and the milky blue water is stunning. So it comes as little surprise that Robe has developed from a thriving port to a popular tourist destination in the mid-20th century. The main street is lined with galleries, boutiques and designer homeware stores.

And you won’t go hungry. Sails offers fresh southern rock lobsters, the local delicacy, daily from October to May but book ahead to avoid disappointment (sailsatrobe.com.au). Gather Food and Wine chef Tom Tilbury is also lifting the region’s dining reputation, with dishes that feature his foraged ingredients and local produce such as Woakwine Station beef (gatherfoodandwine.com.au).

Talking about beef, once you continue the journey south, you can experience a paddock-to-plate experience, serving prime cuts of export-grade Wagyu beef reared on the pastures surrounding Mayura Station at The Tasting Room. The three-meat dinner courses, served Thursday to Saturday, hit dizzying heights of pleasure.

Water down the feast with some of the nation’s best wines when you head inland to the Coonawarra. The region is also full of fascinating history. The Mary MacKillop Penola Centre recognises the place where Australia’s first saint founded the Sisters of St Joseph order of nuns in 1866, and rows of 19th-century cottages at nearby Petticoat Lane are evidence of earlier colonial life.

The epic drive reaches its conclusion at the southern tip of South Australia. Mount Gambier, near the border to Victoria, is a significant rural commerce centre and full of fascinating natural curiosities. The Sunken Garden, or Umpherston Sinkhole, is a dramatic feature in the centre of town. Local resident James Umpherston turned the collapsed roof of a former limestone cavern into a garden in 1886. And just at the doorstep of the town sits the beautiful Piccaninnie Ponds, a wetland of international significance, and The Blue Lake, a giant volcanic crater, dormant for about 6000 years and now filled with more than 70m of the deepest aquamarine water.

Complete the journey and return to the ocean at Port Macdonnell, 30km south of Mount Gambier, and gaze once more upon the pounding Southern Ocean, your constant companion throughout this fascinating coastal drive.

 


THE DETAILS

The Southern Ocean Drive runs for 1313km in its entirety, including Adelaide and McLaren Vale. Allow seven days. Smart planning is necessary.

STAYING THERE

SOUTHERN OCEAN LODGE

Hanson Bay
02 9918 4355
southernoceanlodge.com.au

THE AUSTRALASIAN 1858

1 Porter St, Goolwa
08 8555 1088
australasian1858.com

GETTING AROUND

Would you like to enjoy the journey in a Ferrari 360 Spider? Then Exotic Cars is just for you.

Chappell Drive, Glenelg
0452 610 003
exoticsportscarhire.com