Australia is the world’s fifth largest wine producer and 50% of that comes from South Australia (“SA”), the 5th (or second smallest) state in terms of population. Some of the best regions are within easy reach of the state capital Adelaide, and what’s even better is they offer some of the best cycle paths and rail trails in Australia.
I’ve recently come back from cycling with friends after a week on the bike in the Barossa, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. That is really the bare minimum you’d need to do justice to all those locations.
Those wine regions alone account for over 200 cellar doors (wineries open to visitors) - although not all are within easy reach of the bike trails. However that leaves many that are!
We of course were looking for great cycling as well – not too long or hilly to best enjoy the spectacular scenery and of course to allow for wine time! Our average distance was just over 40km a day. We weren’t there to emulate the riders of the Tour Down Under - the biggest professional cycling event outside Europe, which happens every January on the roads of South Australia. That is a big draw card for sports cyclists but not us, at least not this time.
As there are so many wineries to choose from, we worked out a good routine and what we wanted from each stop:
Wineries were chosen according to location, recommendation and size
- 1-3 wineries a day – we usually bought a couple of bottles, one to drink on site and the other to take back on the bike and have with, or after dinner
- A nice garden and setting to enhance the experience and enjoyment of the wine and a break from the bikes
- Smaller wineries were preferred as the bigger ones were seemingly only interested in large groups and ‘affluent’ people in cars, not sweaty cyclists. Although we weren’t buying cases of wine to take, we did get some shipped back home. I’d venture to say we spent at least as much as, probably more than, most cellar door visitors!
- Staff at the smaller wineries were also much more engaging, talking about their wines and the area – that helps a lot to open wallets! I make particular mention of a few below
- Some places had paid tastings so were more likely to be skipped – I understand the reasons why some do this but it does cheapen the experience
This was day one and we went straight from the airport, after a lovely seaside breakfast at Henley Beach. We had a hire car - it is possible to ride but as the name suggests, it’s up into the Adelaide Hills. There is a separated bike path much of the way but no wineries until you get up there. We first drove to the beautiful German heritage town of Hahndorf but this being a public holiday, it was overrun with tourists. The plan was to ride the on-road 9km to the start of the Amy Gillett Bikeway but local advice plus all the traffic made us think otherwise and instead drive on to Oakbank.
Adelaide Hills (1 day, 38km)
The Amy Gillett Bikeway is a beautiful 16km paved rail trail to Mount Torrens – there is a plan to double this and extend to Mount Pleasant but this seems to be on hold. It is a great trail and was very quiet – despite the public holiday crowds elsewhere.
Although there are many wineries there aren’t too many near the trail. We had a very enjoyable stop on the way back at Lobethal Road Wines where we set our routine for the week of tasting and then enjoying a bottle in the very pleasant winery garden.
Time was running short, although I had ambitiously pencilled in stops in Woodside at Barristers Block Wines, Melbas Chocolates and Woodside Cheesewrights, and perhaps even an (on-road) diversion to the National Motor Museum at Birdwood. We headed back to Adelaide and were very grateful to the non-drinker in our group who offered to drive!
Barossa (2 days, 84km)
This wine region actually covers two valleys, the Barossa Valley and it’s ‘high country’ smaller sibling, the Eden Valley. Together they account for the largest share of South Australia cellar doors.
It is also a great cycling area all the way from Gawler to Angaston. You can get a pretty neat ‘Barossa by Bike’ flyer at any SA tourist office which has a great map. Apart from two short stretches (in Gawler and Tanunda) the path is completely segregated from traffic. Many of the wineries are located near (or even on) the trail or one of the (unpaved) loop routes off the trail.
We started in Gawler, only an hour’s train trip from Adelaide. The Visitor Information Centre and Gawler Cycle Hub were close to the station allowing us to stock up on brochures and do last minute bike checks using the provided pump and tools. There is also a Cycle Hub at Tanunda.
The separated path starts not far from town and the weather was glorious which augured well for the day. We planned on having most winery stops the next day which was just as well, this being a valley the first day was a gradual uphill ride, though not difficult and very picturesque. One of the nicest (though hilliest) parts being through the grounds of winery behemoth Jacob’s Creek.
Next stop was Tanunda, the ‘capital’ of the Barossa, which was great for lunch with plenty of options. More wineries were passed on the way out of town but the next cluster was a bit further on in Nuriootpa, including the iconic Penfolds. However we decided on a smaller venue in a gorgeous setting, Elderton Wines. This was an excellent decision with fantastic wines and hospitality.
We were now in the Eden Valley and our accommodation for the night was at Angaston which allowed us to ride right to the end of the Barossa bike trail.
The next day was back to Gawler - the temptation was there to cycle all the way to Adelaide, but the safe cycle route isn’t yet completed and time could be better spent in more Barossa wineries!. First stop was the pretty Rockford Wines but a big tour group there meant we were happy to move on after a few samples. It was another beautiful day and the ride was a very enjoyable gradual downhill.
The day being Monday, not everywhere was open but – we didn’t need to go everywhere! Kellermeister Wines had a beautiful garden with a gorgeous outlook over the valley and vineyards. A bottle of wine later and a short ride then brought us to Kies Family Wines, a boutique winery that proved to be our Barossa highlight with a very friendly host (hi Sam from Belfast) and awesome service. We did our usual tasting and bottle on site – but also bought more to get shipped home! Less than an hour later we were back in Gawler with a short wait for the train to Adelaide.
We decided to be a bit more ambitious and ride all the way from central Adelaide – it didn’t look too bad on the map. Boy, was this a good idea. The cycling network in Adelaide is first rate (by Australian standards anyway) with our route to the south west being on quiet streets with lots of separated bike paths closely following the railway line. After about 20km we reached Marino and the start of the excellent Coast to Vines Rail Trail.
McLaren Vale (2 days, 92km)
The path is beautiful paved all the way to Willunga and there aren’t too many roads to cross – however it is definitely undulating rather than flat! It follows the railway to Hallett Cove but then diverts eastwards, later re-joining it near the end of the line, at Seaford. So an easy way to get to McLaren Vale is to get the train down and start from there.
The McLaren Vale township was only 10km further along the Rail Trail. Our first stop was just before that at Shingleback Wines in another pretty garden with glorious weather. Riding on we actually passed the accommodation for the night but decided not to drop our bags to allow more time at the next winery! Maxwell Wines wasn’t too far and again in a great setting. Apart from some tasty wines there was another treat, we enjoyed a bottle of mead (a fermented honey drink) served warm.
The next day we rode to the end of the Coast to Vines trail at Willunga where we enjoyed morning tea. The return journey was on the same path and we had out only wine stop for the day at Hugh Hamilton Wines, another great setting – these places usually being on hilltops (not steep) with sweeping views.
As we were tight on time, meeting more friends in Adelaide later for the next stage of the trip, we skipped the nearby famous nudist Maslin Beach. The weather wasn’t so good anyway so we rode up to Seaford and caught the train back into the city. By the time we reached the Convention Centre to meet our friends and the pre-arranged bus north, it was actually raining a bit.
Clare Valley (2 days, 102km)
Having been shuttled for almost two hours north to Auburn, our ride started there at the bottom of the Clare Valley. We were now twelve riders and were on a Tour de Vines self-guided bike tour for the two days. One of the advantages was that our luggage was transported so the bikes were much lighter.
Auburn was the start of the Riesling Trail which is a 33km separated bike path – it had a good surface but was not paved, although there were sharp thorns which caused more than one puncture in the group.
Another advantage of the organised tour was that stops were recommended and some even pre-booked. Our first winery was Kilkanoon a short diversion from the trail. The wines and service were great especially as they had to make the best of a local power outage – very unfortunate given today was the state election! However it was also St Patrick’s Day so everyone was in good spirits (that’s a rule, right?).
We fitted in another small winery on the way to lunch, Mitchell Wines. They were very friendly and were still able to serve the wine chilled (we preferred to drink white while riding, and take the red for later!). Lunch was booked at Skillogalee only a short ride away. They had a generator and were able to keep the winery operating almost as normal (well to us anyway). It was a great spread, amply supplemented by more wine (the tour included the food only) and enjoyed at leisure.
A little further on, just before re-joining the Riesling Trail we had a coffee stop at the popular ‘The Little Red Grape’. After another 6 or 7km along the trail we reached our accommodations at Clare. However some decided to do a bit more riding and rode another 8km to the official end of the trail at Barinia – we like to be thorough!
The next day we headed south, back along the trail with the first visit at the justifiably famous Sevenhill Cellars. It is the oldest winery in the Clare Valley and only remaining Jesuit-owned one in Australia - the day being Sunday there was a mass on the lawn outside while we were quaffing our wine. They also have an interesting little museum on the history of the winery.
Our next stop was another recommendation, Crabtree Wines at Watervale. A beautiful winery and welcoming courtyard made it very enjoyable – plus the fact that the grapes are all carefully picked by hand, rather than the vines being swallowed by one of the huge harvesters we saw elsewhere (this being the wine picking time of year). However it was Rebecca’s attention and service that made Crabtree such a great experience.
Two down, one to go. Our final winery of the trip was O’Leary Walker which was right on the trail (although without easy access on this side). A platter lunch had been organised and was tasty if a bit light-on for a group of hungry cyclists. One of the larger Clare Valley wineries, I had noticed O’Leary Walker’s gleaming vats and buildings on the ride up yesterday and knew we weren’t far from Auburn and the end of the wine region.
However there had been requests for additional cycling so we scheduled the tour to finish at Riverton, 19km south along the Rattler Trail. This trail had a similar surface though was much more open with little tree cover and little to see to compare with the wine trails. Due to the strong headwind we were happy to get to Riverton, retrieve our luggage and get our shuttle back to Adelaide.
Much of this trip, or part thereof, is available as an organised bike tour or tours. Check out cycletoursglobal.com/South-Australia for tours in these regions and elsewhere in South Australia.