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South Australia The festival state

By Marc Llewellyn

South Australia is a diverse state made up mostly of dramatic arid and semi-arid country known as the outback. There are areas of greener land towards the beautiful coastline and along Australia's longest river, the mighty Murray. The vibrant capital city, Adelaide, was a planned colony rather than a convict settlement like most other Australian state capitals. The state is known for its wines, produce and major festivals and sporting events.

Map of South Australia

Learn about Aboriginal history in South Australia 

Outback South Australia is a vast land of dry grassy plains, blood red dirt, desert country and rugged hills patrolled by emus, kangaroos and wedge-tailed eagles. Among the highlights are the craggy red mountains and ancient gorges that make up the Flinders Ranges, a spiritual place known for its Aboriginal rock art sites and the giant natural amphitheatre, Wilpena Pound. Take a guided tour to learn about the traditional owners of the land. An extraordinary oasis not to be missed is Lake Eyre, a huge shimmering area of dry white salt that occasionally fills when the rivers flow and hundreds of thousands of waterbirds fly in for a feast of tiny brine shrimp. 

Experience a true outback town

There are plenty of outback towns to explore, including Coober Pedy, a working opal-mining town on a moonlike plain with underground homes and plenty of local characters. Don't miss the small town of Parachilna, for a Feral Mixed Grill of kangaroo and emu fillets and camel sausages at the Prairie Hotel. Sleep under the stars in a caravan park, or check into an outback motel or hotel. Long distance driving tracks for 4WD vehicles, such as the 620-kilometre (385-mile) Oodnadatta Track, run through the arid interior.

Enjoy cultural Adelaide

The capital of South Australia, Adelaide (population 1.3 million), is a vibrant, culturally diverse city. Thriving bars and restaurants serve local produce and some of the country's best wines, sourced from surrounding vineyards. Adelaide is an outdoor kind of place with wide boulevards and large public squares intersecting its grid-like centre, as well as extensive parklands and several beaches. Join the locals at the popular Adelaide Central Market for gourmet produce and a bustling atmosphere, and head to the West End laneways of Peel and Leigh streets for funky bars and eateries. The city houses some of Australia's best galleries, including the Art Gallery of South Australia, which has the second largest collection of Australian and international artworks in the country, after Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria. The nearby South Australian Museum has the largest collection of Australian Aboriginal artefacts in the world.

Cruise through on a luxury train

You can experience the heart of Australia by luxurious train on The Ghan, a legendary four day, three night journey that crosses the continent from south to north for 2,979 kilometres (1,851 miles) from Adelaide to Darwin (and vice versa). Another of the great cross-continental rail journeys of the world is the Indian Pacific, which travels for 4,352 kilometres (2,704 miles) from Sydney on the east coast, via Adelaide, to Perth on the west coast. The Overland train covers the 828 kilometres (514 miles) between Adelaide and Melbourne.

Head to the coast and the mighty Murray River

Australia's longest river, the Murray, winds through South Australia from its source near the ski slopes in the Australian Alps, and drains into lakes near the river mouth, before emptying into the Southern Ocean near the waterbird-rich lagoons of the Coorong. Explore the river on a traditional paddle-steamer or houseboat from the historic riverboat town of Mannum. In the Riverland region you'll also find a range of wineries, craft breweries and distilleries to explore. Stretching eastwards from the Coorong to the border with Victoria is the Limestone Coast, another idyllic area of beautiful beaches and vineyards.

Visit some of the best wineries in Australia

South Australia is one of the world's premier wine producing areas, and there are more than 200 wineries within a short drive of Adelaide. The state is home to 18 major winemaking regions and Australia's most iconic wine, Penfolds Grange. Just 20 minutes by car from the centre of Adelaide is the cool-climate grape growing area of the Adelaide Hills, where early German settlers influenced the food and architecture in historic towns such as Hahndorf. The most famous wine area is the Barossa, a one-hour drive north-east of Adelaide. It's known for its five-star retreats, great food, high quality wines and old stone cottages. Make sure you leave time to discover other South Australian wine regions too, including the Clare ValleyMcLaren Vale, the Coonawarra and Eden Valley. And don't miss the wildlife haven of Kangaroo Island.

Soak up the scenic coastlines

The South Australian coastline combines dramatic clifftop scenery and remote surfing and fishing spots with popular beaches and a sparkling green sea that jumps with dolphins and whales. Northwest of Adelaide is the Yorke Peninsula, where blue swimmer crabs, scallops and crayfish are on the menu. Also to the northwest is the Eyre Peninsula, with its ancient ranges, wild seas and calm bays. It's another seafood hot spot, and seaside restaurants in Ceduna and Port Lincoln serve up abalone, Spencer Gulf prawns and Coffin Bay oysters. Fancy an adrenaline-pumping experience? Book a cage dive and come face to face with great white sharks. To the south of Adelaide is the Fleurieu Peninsula, where orchards, dairy pastures and vineyards head towards the sea and a string of popular beaches. 

Join in the festivities of the festival state 

Some of the best events in Australia happen in South Australia, and you might want to plan your visit to coincide with one of them. Come to Adelaide between February and March to experience a riotous month of cabaret, circus and comedy at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. March is also the month of the Adelaide Festival, one of the world's biggest celebrations of art and culture, and WOMADelaide, featuring world music and dance in the Adelaide parklands. In late April and early May the focus is on local food and wine, when Tasting Australia comes to town (as well as elsewhere in the state). There's a hot date in June too, when the Adelaide Cabaret Festival kicks off. And that’s just the start.

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