Often left off an Australian itinerary that focuses on the eastern cities of Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne (and the endless coastline between them!), Adelaide offers a lot for international visitors and makes for a great weekend away for Australian residents. Just a weekend away? I happily filled three weeks there, but if you’ve only got 48 hours in Adelaide…
The first 24 hours
Mountain bike down Mt Lofty, and feed Kangaroos while you’re at it: You don’t want to cycle up the highest peak in Adelaide, but biking down it is good fun for casual cyclists. There are koalas hanging out in the trees, a wide range of birdlife, and some great views. A short way down, the Cleland Conservation Park is home to kangaroos, ostrich, koalas, tasmanian devils, and dozens of other indigenous animals: hop off your bike to get up close and personal, then it’s all downhill from there. There’s only one company with permits to bike the natural park: look up Escapegoat to check when they’re running their next trip.
Lunch in Chinatown: It might have been downhill, but I’m sure you’ve worked up an appetite! The ‘Chinatown’ area around Gouger St has dozens of fresh Chinese and Pan-Asian offerings from budget and filling to quite-nice-thank-you-very-much. If nothing there catches your eye, head inside the Adelaide Market foodcourt area, or put something together yourself from the range of artisanal cheeses, breads, and cold-cut meats on offer.
Shopping in the CBD: Since you’re already at the Adelaide Markets, you might as well start here! These markets focus on the stuff you cook at home, with fresh meat, seafood, and veges the focus; but there are also sweets stores, coffee roasters, and small mountains of second-hand books. The markets are covered, so unseasonal rain won’t be a problem. Looking for the high street? It’s a ten-minute walk to Rundle Mall — a pedestrianised shopping zone with all the clothes and fashion brands you’d expect, plus a few independent and Aussie-only stores.
If shopping isn’t your thing, hire a bike and go exploring: Adelaide City Bikes are free to hire from 9am to 4:30pm daily, from seven locations across the city: just bring your driver’s license or passport, and make sure you drop the bike off at the same place you left from. Unfortunately, you can’t leave the bike at another station… but it’s free, so you can zap off to the beach for a quick swim, explore the many parks and gardens, or just see what catches your eye.
Tram to Glenelg for dinner: See the sunset over the water at Glenelg, then finish your beer and find somewhere for dinner. Because of how the sun reflects on the water, you might see the mysterious ‘green flash’ as it dips below the horizon, or you might find dolphins instead. Glenelg is a seaside suburb of Adelaide and is full of neat little bars and restaurants; things can get busy (and fun!) on weekend nights.
The next 24 hours
Kayak with dolphins: If you didn’t see dolphins last night, don’t worry: go kayaking with them instead. The Port Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary is a bit out of town — about 30 minutes on the bus to the Port township and a bit of a walk to the estuary — but once you’re there, you’ll likely see dolphins out playing in the water. Kayak hire is available from the boat ramp, or do a guided tour where you’ll see dolphins, learn about Australia’s marine environment, and probably nick over to the ship graveyard. Hire and tours available from Adventure Kayaking SA.
Lunch: If you want to eat water-side, it’s best to bring your own lunch from the Adelaide markets and make a picnic out of it. Otherwise, it’s back on the bus or train to the CBD, where you’ll find a wide range of restaurants and cafes serving Adelaide’s business people.
Aboriginal Experiences: It’s hard to understand Australia without trying to understand its first people — the many Aboriginal tribes who live there —, their interactions with early explorers, then the cultural destruction caused by British colonists and enduring racist laws. There are several excellent exhibitions in the South Australian Museum: they have the world’s largest collection of Aboriginal artifacts, and those on display are well curated. Across town, Tandanya is a visual arts centre focussed on modern Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Bookabee tours will take you to both — in addition to helping you find ‘bush tucker’ in the botanic gardens — and give a truly local and multi-generational look at Aboriginal South Australia.
If you liked the water last night…: Head to the beach suburbs again for a casual meal at Henley Beach. Smaller and more relaxed than Glenelg, there are excellent gastro-pub restaurants clustered around the small wharf. After your meal, walk out along it to see what the fishermen are pulling up, and see the lights from beachside homes as they flow down the coast. If you’re after a place to swim in the afternoon, Henley’s a safe bet too, although stay out of the water if a helicopter is hovering over you: they’re not looking for topless bathers, they’re tracking the larger sharks which move around Australia’s coast.
You know what you’ve missed?: All the wine regions! Claire Valley, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, the Barossa… there are 18 different demarcated wine regions in South Australia, and most of them are just an hour or two from the central city. Plan at least a day for each one you want to visit, and do beware of the long driving times.
And next?: Head down to Kangaroo Island, one of South Australia’s most popular holiday spots, and then jump on the Great Ocean Road towards Melbourne; or go west out to the Eyre Peninsula and follow the coast to Perth… You should make it in a couple of weeks. Adelaide is also the perfect starting point for an overland trip to the red centre: Coober Pedy, Uluru and Alice Springs can be visited in a whirlwind week, but longer is certainly recommended.
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