On the edge of South Australia’s Mid-North, the Clare Valley is a comfortable 90-minute drive from Adelaide.
Before arriving, turn off on the Barrier Highway to explore the Gilbert Valley. Riverton is home to many historic buildings, including a gallery displaying works by acclaimed local artist Robert Hannaford. Saddleworth has a heritage walking trail recalling the time when it was an important stop on the road to the copper mines and to the east Eudunda has many attractions relating to iconic author Colin Thiele, who was born there.
Back on the Horrocks Highway, Auburn is surrounded by rows of vines that announce it as the southern gateway to the Clare Valley. Historic stone buildings line the highway and the town’s cellar doors are the perfect place to start sampling the region’s famed wines. If you want to explore in a more leisurely fashion, it’s also the start of the Riesling Trail cycling path.
Less than 10 minutes drive away, the hamlets of Leasingham and Watervale mark the start of the Clare Valley’s golden strip. Rich alluvial soils, high altitudes and cool afternoons make the region’s wine unique, and the valley’s compact nature means that it is still dominated by boutique wineries. Further north on the golden strip is Penwortham, the first permanent settlement in the region. It was established by explorer John Horrocks, who built many of the stone buildings still visible in the town today.
Slightly off the main road, the entire town of Mintaro is listed as a State Heritage Area. Wander past old stone churches, pubs and other historic buildings before venturing out of town to a hedge maze and magnificent sandstone Georgian manor.
Sevenhill’s location near the centre of the region is only partially responsible for its reputation as the heart of the Clare Valley. The Jesuits who settled here named the town after the seven hills of Rome, and made the first wines in the region. They still produce sacramental wine and also sell table wine from the atmospheric cellar door in the shadow of the Skilly Hills.
Clare is the only major town in the Clare Valley. With supermarkets and specialty stores alongside plentiful dining and accommodation options, it’s an excellent base from which to explore the region.
Head west to Snowtown where the infamous “bodies in barrels” murders were the subject of a feature film and wind turbines now generate enough energy to power 200,000 South Australian homes. Venturing south you’ll find Lochiel, the home of the bubblegum pink Lake Bumbunga, and Port Wakefield. Venture beyond the busy roadhouses and you’ll find a historic township at the head of Gulf St Vincent with a sheltered tidal swimming pool and mangrove forests full of boardwalks and birdlife.
On the other side of the valley, Burra’s antique shops and heritage buildings hint at the former boomtown’s colourful history. Not all of the buildings are perfectly preserved; a dilapidated homestead on the road to Hallettgained fame when it appeared on the cover of Midnight Oil’s album Diesel and Dust. Further east, the Red Banks Conservation Park is a land of deep red cliffs riven by gorges rich in megafauna fossils and was once home to giant two-tonne diprotodons.