Adelaide, and South Australia in general, are quite underrated destinations—as are many places that don’t benefit from famous attractions like the Sydney Harbour Bridge. With a city centre free from skyscrapers and a population of only 1.3 million, Adelaide has been labelled a ‘country town’ city—but maybe there’s a bit more to discover than meets the eye.
Friday: A glimpse of the countryside in McLaren Vale
A trip to Adelaide wouldn’t be right without immersing yourself in at least one of the surrounding wine regions. So, on our first full day, we headed about an hour out of the city, to the coastal area of McLaren Vale.
Hither & Yon
Our first stop was Willunga, a small town where the main street was lined with historic shopfronts and tall, lush trees. And at the end of the strip was the most perfectly quaint cellar door I’ve ever seen.
Before you even begin to taste Hither & Yon’s selection of wine, it’s the building that draws you in. Moulded with the unique effects of time, this cellar door is full of character, with small doorways, narrow stairs, and stone walls brightened with white paint. There’s a mezzanine balcony stacked with piles of old books from the building’s previous life, and the lower level is made cosy with leather couches, colourful rugs, and lush plants.
We followed the casual welcome of Kyran Tyron, the Wine Coterie Manager, who showed us out through the back door, into a sunny courtyard of peach and red brick, scented with heady jasmine. Here, Kyran ran us through the wine tastings, the beachside influence of the area surfacing in his inherently chilled manner, with remarks like ‘It looks like it would be fun to drink and it bloody well is’ spicing up the wine descriptions. Unanimously, our favourite tasting was their fiano, but their self-described ‘lip smacker’ mataro rosé was also a hit.
In Kyran’s words, two ‘salt of the earth’ brothers started Hither & Yon, one a viticulturist and the other the business mind. Now their venture has become the only carbon neutral winery in South Australia, all run on regenerative practices, with 25 grape varieties grown in the Adelaide Hills and the eastern foothills of McLaren Vale.
High Street, Willunga.
Helivista helicopter trip
On an already perfect spring day there were few things that could make the experience better. But a helicopter trip was definitely one of them. When you only have a day to explore McLaren Vale, the answer is to take to the skies to view the iconic coastline. We drove five minutes down the road from Hither & Yon, to where the Helivista helicopter was waiting in a field behind Penny’s Hill Winery. Paul Beck, the co-owner of Helivista, greeted us enthusiastically and helped us inside, where the whir of the helicopter blades intensified along with our anticipation.
We rose from the grass steadily, the field dropping away to slowly reveal our surroundings—a classic pattern of farmland and clusters of towns, stretching out towards vibrant bushland and smooth hills in the distance. And as the helicopter cut a smooth line through the sky, the Fleurieu Peninsula appeared in front of us. A line of golden-brown cliffs, endlessly long beaches, and perfectly clear, calm waters in shades of aquamarine and deep blue. We followed the coastline in gentle movements, Paul reassuring us that he wouldn’t start any acrobatics—this trip was about taking in the scenery.
Lost Phoenix Farm
Arriving at Lost Phoenix Farm by helicopter is possibly the best entrance I’ve ever made. We circled the farmhouse restaurant before landing—a building set on a small hill overlooking the rest of the property, with its name printed on the roof, as though designed for visitors arriving from above. We were greeted in the cleared field where we landed, shaking hands while the helicopter breeze made everyone quite dramatically windblown. Then it was time to eat.
Our table was in the alfresco area of this large, homely venue—a spot with views across the sun-drenched farmland, framed by grape vines growing up the veranda beams. As we were a larger table, we decided to request the chef’s recommended menu, creating that relaxed environment where dishes slowly keep arriving throughout the meal without the need for any debate.
The gentle warmth of the spring day may have influenced our tastes, as all we could talk about were the salads. When there are statement dishes like roasted market fish and pork milanese on the table, the highlight isn’t normally a salad—but these vibrant, flavour-packed dishes were summer in a bowl, and exactly what we were craving. In particular, the smashed cucumber and melon de sapo salad with Lost Phoenix Gin, rosemary dressing, and dill oil was a perfectly balanced mix of textures, with a light freshness and pops of intense sweetness.
Mont Rosa Road, Hindmarsh Valley.
Friday night and Saturday afternoon: Wanders in the city
After a day in the countryside, it was time to see some of Adelaide. Rather than assuming the renowned wine regions were all the area had to offer, we explored the kinds of places that give the city its heart.
2K.W. Bar & Restaurant
For our Friday night exploration, we chose to visit 2K.W. Bar & Restaurant for a glimpse of the city’s nightlife. And after arriving at one of the unassuming corporate-looking buildings on William Street, there was an air of mystery as we caught a lift up to the rooftop.
2K.W. was already bustling. It was a chic space of black and white tiles, golden pendant lights, and an open-style bar and kitchen that revealed crisply dressed staff working efficiently in front of shelves of artisan ingredients. We were welcomed and led to a semi-circle booth by the windows, a spot overlooking the street below and a blend of ornate historic and modern multi-storey buildings.
As I perused the menu, it was clear that although the food seemed top-notch (confirmed later when I tasted the woodfired red pepper and hazelnut romesco on toast) the cocktails were the stars of the show. The drink menu was a thick book of options, with pages of local wines and beer, and carefully categorised spirits, but the seasonal and signature cocktails were curated and carefully developed. Despite the amount of choice, it seemed fitting to try The 2K.W., a mix of gin, peach, pear, honey, lemon, and ‘foam’—a combination that was pretty, delicate, and easy drinking.
King William Street, Adelaide.
Davaar House of Wellness
After several luxurious but very busy days, my Saturday morning at Davaar House of Wellness was much-needed. Often, when you go for a massage, it’s a means-to-an-end process, something that’s always pleasant but easily as routine as a physio appointment. But when I walked through the tall doors of this spa—an ornate building from the 1800s that has been renovated into warmth and brightness—I felt my whole body decompress, influenced by both the kind, welcoming words of staff and the soft atmosphere. The entire space felt like a unique oasis in the middle of the city.
For my full body massage, I followed the massage therapist up a flight of stairs and into a dimly lit room where I was instructed to lay down and get comfortable. A particularly easy feat considering I was also offered a fluffy blanket to lay underneath. The massage itself was wonderful, the skilled movements of the therapist soothing any painful stiffness, and leaving me so relaxed I actually fell asleep a few times. Before the massage, I had filled out a form that outlines any areas I wanted them to focus on, so the treatment was also designed to meet my needs.
East End Cellars
The East End of Adelaide is regarded as a haven for food and culture, the destination for those seeking hole-in-the-wall vintage clothing stores, quirky coffee shops, and the newest restaurants and bars. The neighbourhood is encircled by red-brick walls, which curve into archways above the streets—forming entrances through which you can view the thriving, colourful spaces within.
For my last stop of the trip, I decided to visit one of the highly regarded venues in this area. East End Cellars is an independent wine store and restaurant on Vardon Avenue, a spot where the outdoor seating is bathed in the dappled sunshine of several spreading trees. It’s the kind of venue that soars because of the intense, youthful passion of its staff. When I was greeted by those running the wine store and bar, they expressed real joy in what they were doing and genuine enthusiasm in being able to share it.
After the staff had curated a combination of wines and dishes for me to try, I sat outside watching the movements of other busy venues on the street and sipping my first glass of wine. Then the food arrived, firstly a macerated tomato, curd, and crouton salad, then a roasted hispi cabbage with hemp seed cream. The tomato salad elevated its star ingredient to a whole new level. These thick slices of tomato were fresh, crisp, and sweet, and complemented perfectly by the melt-in-your-mouth curd. As for the wine, a local red from the Adelaide Hills was the stand-out: the Ochota Barrels ‘Texture Like Sun’.
Vardon Avenue, Adelaide.
Discovering the subtle gifts of South Australia
The city of Adelaide is humble and unassuming, a place where a little exploration is necessary to uncover how truly special it is. And in the few days I spent there, I found a rich and vibrant culture; a foodie heaven thriving at the foot of stunning natural landscapes. It seems that the eighteen wine regions that flank Adelaide have had an influence, cultivating a city of people with refined palettes for wine and food, and inspiring an abundance of quality venues.
To discover more of the experiences available in Adelaide and South Australia, visit southaustralia.com
The author attended these experiences and venues as a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission.
All photos are courtesy of the South Australian Tourism Commission.
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