McLaren Vale is the birthplace of the South Australian wine industry and home to some of the world’s oldest grape vines.
By Kris Madden
Nestled between the rolling Mount Lofty Ranges and Gulf St Vincent beaches, McLaren Vale offers a smorgasbord of fine wine, food, art and nature. It’s the birthplace of South Australia’s wine industry and home to some of the world's oldest grape vines. McLaren Vale boasts more than 80 cellar doors and vineyards, and although best known for its shiraz, also excels in the production of ultra-premium grenache and cabernet varieties, frequently winning awards at international wine shows.
- Walk or cycle the Shiraz Trail
- Indulge in fresh local fare
- Paddle the Onkaparinga River
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Top things to do in McLaren Vale
Walk or cycle the Shiraz Trail
The eight kilometre (five mile) Shiraz Trail follows an old railway line between McLaren Vale and Willunga. Taste the region’s signature shiraz along the way at wineries such as the globally renowned Wirra Wirra, where you can try and make your own blend of the winery's famous Church Block label; and Hardy’s Tintara, which bottled its first vintage back in 1857. Hire a bike from Onya Bike Hire at the Carriage Café or Oxygen Cycles, both on McLaren Vale's main road, and ask the local Visitor Information Centre for a map. If you're up for it, the trail continues for another 30 kilometres (19 miles) as the Coast to Vines Rail Trail.
Get a bird's-eye view of the vineyards
Experience 1930s nostalgia and open cockpit flying in a Waco biplane over McLaren Vale’s vineyards to d'Arenberg, where you get to play winemaker and blend and name your own bottle of wine, followed by a wine-pairing dégustation meal at d'Arry's Verandah Restaurant. The scenic flight lasts 30 minutes and is available daily.
Indulge in fresh local fare
Every Saturday morning, rain, hail or shine, more than 80 farmers and artisan food producers set up at the Willunga Farmers Market selling everything from cheeses and chutneys to chocolates, honey, organic fruit and vegetables and flowers. The region is also famous for its olive oil, with names such as Lloyd Brothers making small high-quality batches. Brands such as Cocco and Eyes of Adonia use organic olive oil from McLaren Vale to make their exquisite body care products.
Put on a cheesy grin
When you need a break from a jam-packed schedule of cellar doors, drop into Blessed Cheese Café, where you'll find a cabinet full of fine local farmhouse cheeses to taste. It’s also home to the McLaren Vale Cheese & Wine Trail, a four-course progressive picnic across the wineries of McLaren Vale.
See the work of local artists
South Australian artists regularly exhibit at Red Poles, a gallery surrounded by vineyards that has a new show every six weeks. There is also a restaurant, cellar door and brewery on-site as well as bed and breakfast accommodation. The adjoining cafe is adorned with local art, jewellery and craft for sale.
Hit the beach
McLaren Vale has long stretches of breathtaking coastline and six sprawling sandy beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. A number of the beaches allow 4WD vehicles on the sand with a permit. Visitors can get a beach access pass from the Onkaparinga City Council. There’s great snorkelling at uncrowded Port Noarlunga, and at Port Willunga you can dive the 127-year-old Star of Greece shipwreck with Diving Adelaide. Sellicks Beach marks the location where the Mount Lofty Ranges meet the sea and is renowned for its fishing and surfing, while clothing at Maslin Beach is optional.
Sleep among the vines
For a sleeping experience with a difference, some vineyards in McLaren Vale offer accommodation. The Vineyard has four distinctive guest houses; Serafino has 30 four star rooms including 14 deluxe spa suites; while The Retreat at Chapel Hill offers exclusive guest-house accommodation for families or groups of six or more people.
Explore historic towns
Strathalbyn, southeast of McLaren Vale, is a 19th-century town brimming with historic buildings and antique shops to delight both the casual browser and avid collector. At Goolwa, on the Murray River, you’ll find the Steam Exchange Brewery. Strathalbyn is also the gateway to Coorong National Park, one of the state's best eco-experiences.
Paddle the Onkaparinga River
Paddle a canoe or kayak along the Onkaparinga River, South Australia's second longest, which flows into a magnificent gorge with soaring cliffs in the Onkaparinga River National Park. Beginners will feel safe learning to paddle in the calm waters of the river, and experts are sure to love the scenery as the river meanders through floodplains and wetlands on its way to the sea. Walkers will find a range of walking trails in the park ranging from easy to challenging. The family-friendly 4.5 kilometre (2.8 mile) Wetlands Loop Trail takes about one and a half hours and walkers can see a wildlife such as birds, frogs, fish and some uncommon botanical species. You'll get a nice workout on the slightly harder 3.5 kilometre (2.2 mile) Echidna Hike, which takes about two hours, but you'll be rewarded with great views over the Onkaparinga Gorge.
Explore the Fleurieu Peninsula
McLaren Vale is a great base for exploring more of the Fleurieu Peninsula, with its rich wildlife and excellent surfing, fishing and diving. Don't miss the town of Victor Harbor, where you can snorkel with leafy sea dragons and from July to October watch out for passing whales.
How to get there
McLaren Vale is approximately 35 kilometres (22 miles) or a 45 minute drive south of Adelaide. The best way to get there is by car, and many operators offer day tours of the vineyards.