I thought I’d leave the Barossa Valley in love with the wine. (I did.) I wasn’t expecting to leave so in love with the natural beauty of the Barossa and nearby Adelaide Hills.
There’s a tranquil richness to the landscape here: green rolling hills, the earthy vibrancy of the changing seasons, flourishing vines, Eucalypt forest, steep hillsides and shaded valleys.
There are so many ways in this region to immerse yourself in nature. It provides the perfect backdrop for outdoor pursuits, to tap into your inner creative Zen, or enjoy a picturesque afternoon of wine tasting.
It had me at the first gum tree.
Now when I sip on a glass of my favourite Jacob’s Creek Adelaide Hills Chardonnay or Double Barrel Shiraz, I’m instantly transported back to a place of astonishing beauty, where people grow things, make things and talk to each other.
Below are twelve fantastic ways you can experience the natural beauty of this region.
1. Mt Lofty Summit Hike, Adelaide Hills
We totally underestimated the steepness of this 3.9 kilometre hike up to the 710 metre high Mt Lofty Summit.
I huffed and puffed with burning chest thinking how happy Hunter, my boot camp instructor, would be that I wasn’t just skipping class to indulge in wine and food for four days in the Barossa Valley.
Craig and I love hiking and taking on the Mt Lofty hike showed us just how different hiking with kids is. The past 18 months on our road trip around Australia deconditioned our hiking bodies.
Despite this, we loved the Mt Lofty walk and highly recommend it.
We started at Waterfall Gully, which embraced us with a burst of golden oranges and reds of Autumn. You just don’t experience the essence of Autumn in the region north of Sydney where we grew up. It’s mostly just an evergreen kinda life.
After playing in the leaves for a bit around the waterfall, we started our hike up which stayed in that direction for the majority of the walk.
But the air was crisp and fresh, and the only sound was the quiet music of a few bird calls. A distinctive smell followed us, which I realised later was the odour of a sleeping koala. They’re frequently spotted in the Adelaide Hills, but not by us this time.
At the end of the walk your reward are gorgeous 180-degree views of Adelaide and the coastal plain from the summit (that is if the weather is kind!).
Stay tuned for our upcoming post on food and wine experiences in the Barossa to learn more about the Mt Lofty Summit Cafe. We recommend finishing your hike here with views out to Adelaide with a lovely meal or at least a coffee.
2. Take a Drive in the Barossa
The Barossa Valley is beautiful. Just go for a drive and soak it all in.
We did it in thrilling style on the back of a bright yellow trike with Barossa Unique Tours. There’s nothing like the wind blowing back your hair as you zip along winding country roads and besides the most beautiful gum trees and green covered hills you’ve ever seen.
Our driver, Johnny was passionate about the area and had so many interesting stories and facts about the region to share. We got a great sense from him that the Barossa is made by the people – a sweetness and love you can taste in each bottle of wine the Barossa produces.
If only you weren’t so cold in winter, Barossa, I could picture myself zipping around this valley on the back of a trike as a local.
Make sure you drive to the Barossa Valley via the Adelaide Hills, where you get the glorious autumn colours of the deciduous trees. Of course, that’s if you come in Autumn – it will be beautiful no matter when you arrive.
On your drive be sure to go past the lone tree on Centenary Hill, which is a site of historical significance to the Jacob Creek’s winery and is what their Centenary Hill Shiraz is named after. In 1947, a single Moreton Bay fig tree was planted by Fred Gramp to commemorate 100 years since the winery founder, Johann Gramp, planted his first vines on the banks of Jacob’s Creek.
And you must finish your drive at the Steingarten Vineyard for sunset (see point #9 down below)
Half day trike tours with Barossa Unique Tours start at $145
3. Cleland Wildlife Park
So we’ve done a few wildlife parks on our trip around Australia. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all right? Not necessarily.
This was the first time we’ve ever hand fed Potoroos! I was in squealing heaven when we walked in, and they came skittering out from the bushes to greet us. I leant down to feed them, unsure of what would happen, and they cautiously sniffed themselves over, held my hand and began to pick the pellets off to eat. It was sooooo cute!
There were plenty of kangaroos around: big reds playing and love making, and western greys and black-footed wallabies who also held my hands as they ate.
And there’s a koala section where you can watch them sleeping in trees, and doing the slow koala play (which is just eating) – they are still so adorable. You even have the chance to cuddle koalas at Cleland.
You could easily combine Cleland Wildlife Park with your walk up to the Mt Lofty summit. Look for the side trail 3/4 the way up that leads to it.
Admission: $22 for adult, $11 for a child, $50 for a family
4. Love the Gum Trees
I fell in love with the trees in the Barossa Valley, and I just had to include them as a thing to experience in this post. They are freaking gorgeous.
I’ve never seen gum trees look so huge and healthy and alive with stories and history.
I’m a tree hugger, and I spent most of my time in the Barossa hatching plans to sneak another cuddle in. I’m not sure why the gum trees in the Barossa are so magnificent. They’re 300-400 years old so maybe the ones up north were all chopped down with urbanisation.
My favourite was the giant gum out the front of the Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre. It was dying, but they dug a huge hole around it and lowered the earth so it had more room to breathe, and it’s recovering.
The Avenue of Cork trees was also a fascinating thing to see in the driveway into the Jacob’s Estate. I did not know that corks came from trees. I feel stupid saying that but did you?
Growing these cork trees is a particular process that takes decades before you can even get a decent cork crop from them. These were planted by Colin Gramp in 1971, who had the foresight that planting a row of these trees would be very useful in the future for corking bottles for their wine.
They’re still about nine years off growing their first decent batch. Of course, it wasn’t in his crystal ball to know that bottles would switch over to screw caps in the future (well, in Australia anyway).
We also learned that the need to taste a bottle of wine in a restaurant is not necessary if it’s a screw cap as this was only done because faulty corks can sometimes spoil the wine (a small percentage).
5. Helicopter Tour Over Barossa Valley
There’s nothing like seeing the villages and patchwork vineyards of the Barossa Valley from above, especially when looking as green as Ireland.
You can see it from above either in a hot air balloon or by helicopter. WE LOVE helicopters so chose this option with Barossa Helicopters.
The morning was still and clear and our pilot said it was some of the best conditions she’d ever seen it in. We flew several times in a loop along the course of Jacob’s Creek, over our cottage, the Heritage Vineyard where we ate dinner the previous evening, and then up the hill top over the Steingarten Vineyard, which divides the Barossa and Eden Valley.
Our host, Phil, pointed out different parts of the Valley, including the palm tree-lined Seppeltsfield Road, which looked so out of place, yet striking. The flight gave us an insight into the stories that lay behind its settlement to now being one of Australia’s best wine regions.
Cost: A 20 minute helicopter flight with Barossa Helicopters cost $155. Located 261 Hoffnungsthal Road LYNDOCH SA 5351
6. Port Willunga Caves
In our upcoming food post we’ll tell you about the fabulous Star of Greece Restaurant, perched on the hilltops of Port Willunga, just a 45 kilometre drive from Adelaide.
While there, enjoy the views and take a walk down to the beach. You’ll find a series of hidden caves. These caves were cut into the cliff walls by fishermen to help protect their boats and nets.
If you love photography, you’ll love the photos you can take down here of the cliffs and caves looking in and out. Port Willunga used to be a grain port, the only sign of that now is a few jetty pylons, which adds a beautiful foreground element.
Sunsets here are meant to be magnificent. We had an overcast day so did not get the full splendour of the water colour, but it was beautiful even in its greyness.
7. Observational Drawing Workshop with Jacob Logos
Moving on from my love of the trees is the painting experience we had with artist, Jacob Logos. Neither Craig nor I would consider ourselves artistic, but we were surprised at what you can produce when you let your creative spark take over from the brain.
Jacob says the number one issue he has with drawing the artist out of people is the brain interfering too much with trying to get it right.
Jacob is the artist in residence at Jacob’s Creek. You can see his art work hanging in the Visitors Centre and he offers different art programs and experiences through the centre.
Jacob had us drawing the branch of a banksia tree using the technique of observational drawing (no looking at the paper) and continuous lines.
We were surprised with how good our pieces turned out and we’re thinking of framing them to put on our walls. It’s rustic, natural and a pure expression.
Jacob then took us outside on the grounds to one of his favourite places, in front of the gorgeous trees. A massive chalkboard was set up for us to continue our continuous line drawing to depict the trees.
We then turned over to view the vineyard and hills behind us.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do this workshop. It’s not something I’d normally choose to do, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and letting my inner artist speak. In true South Australia fashion, Jacob was incredibly nice, friendly and insightful.
8. Sunrise at Mt Lofty House, Adelaide Hills
It might have been chilly, but the romantic mist it added to the sunrise over the Adelaide Hills made it worth climbing out from under the warm doona early in the morning to photograph it.
You can continue to enjoy the show over breakfast from within Mt Lofty House with its panoramic views over the hills from its restaurant windows.
The Adelaide Hills are beautiful and staying in this boutique hotel reminded me of our stay in the Blue Mountains. We’ll be sharing more about Mt Lofty House in an upcoming post on romance and relaxation in the Barossa!
9. Sunset at Steingarten Vineyard
The Steingarten Vineyard is a Barossa Valley best-kept secret and I’m now listing it as an iconic thing to do.
It’s at the top of the hill and is the only place on the hills that has a wine garden. The conditions up here are harsh and when you poke your head over the viewing platform you’ll see vines packed closely together on a steep hill face shielded from the harshest midday heat.
Gramp was told the rocky conditions (instead of soil) made growing Riesling impossible. A bit of determination and dynamite saw him planting the first vines in 1962 and quietening all the naysayers.
Premium award-winning Riesling now grows up here. It’s dry, zesty flavours were a hit with me!
There’s public road access up here and is the place to come for sunset with spectacular views over the valley. Bring a bottle of Steingarten Riesling, perhaps some oysters and a picnic and enjoy the show.
10. KaiserStuhl Conservation Park
If you’re feeling a bit full and heavy after all the wine tasting and gourmet food experiences, then head to the KaiserStuhl Conservation park to walk it off.
There are various trails within the park through a variety of landscapes including creeks, rocky outcrops, areas of low forest, scrub and open grassland.
If more time allowed, I would have liked to have done the The Wallowa Hike to see the views across the ranges to the Barossa Valley, but with the short time the 2km Stringybark loop trail was relaxing and enjoyable.
My crystal gazing soul could not keep my eyes off all the quartz lying around. There are plenty of kangaroos jumping about into the wild and deer can also be sometimes seen in here.
KaiserStuhl Conservation Park is located 12km south east of Tanunda in the Barossa Valley.
11. Mengler Hill Lookout
On the way back (or to) KaiserStuhl be sure to stop off at Mengler Hill Lookout. We stopped here on our trike tour and the views out to the valley are just gorgeous.
There is a sculpture garden here you can wander through as well. It’s another perfect place for a picnic and a glass of wine at sunset.
Johnny pointed out many different aspects of the region and again told us stories of the Barossa and why he loves it.
“It’s the community here. It’s just so strong. I’ve lived all around Australia and the world and I settled her 18 years ago and am not moving. I love it here. We have everything we need. Great food and wine and events and look at these views. It’s just beautiful”
You’re almost convincing me Johnny to join you!
12. Walk around Jacob’s Creek
The Jacob’s Creek property is stunning. Take some time to walk around it from the Visitor’s Centre. Walk amongst the vines and down along Jacob’s Creek and to the historic cottage that belonged to William Jacob’s and his family.
Spending time with the Jacob’s Creek family showed me how so much thought goes into what they create and how much passion, commitment and belief has to go into something knowing you won’t see the results for decades.
I saw that with the cork trees, the Double Barrel Shiraz, and the Centenary Hill tree.
And now Jacob’s Creek. 20 years ago, they started a project to restore the creek and remove introduced plants that had, over the years, crowded out native plants, damaged the habitat and food resources for our native animals.
The creek is now thriving and many of the native animals are returning to the creek. Oh happy days. That got a fist pump hell yeah from me!
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Would you like to visit the Barossa Valley?
Which activity would you like to do most? Share with us in the comments below!