When making a trip to Adelaide you’ll want to take full advantage of all that region has on offer so close to the city. Favourites include the delights of the Barossa Valley to the north and the spectacular Fleurieu Peninsula to the south but today we are exploring things to do in the Adelaide Hills east of the city.
Whether you are interested in heritage towns, wineries, nature, foodie trails, gardens or natural attractions you are sure to find something to love about this pretty spot in South Australia.
In this article we’ll offer options suitable for a self drive day trip from the city, a few days away soaking up all the region has to offer and tours if you want to experience the top picks from the region but don’t have your own transport, or prefer to enjoy the wine region without having to nominate a driver.
Table of Contents
- Getting to the Adelaide Hills
- Things to do in the Adelaide hills
- Where to stay in the Adelaide Hills
Getting to the Adelaide Hills
It’s only a short drive from the city, in fact within 15 minutes of leaving the central city you can be at Waterfall Gully in the foothills of Mount Lofty and gateway to the Adelaide Hills. Hahndorf is around a half an hour and Woodside 40-minutes.
The easiest way to get around is going to be with your own vehicle or a rental car. Alternatively there are regular bus services that will get you to places such as Hahndorf, Cleland Wildlife Park, Mount Lofty Summit and Waterfall Gully.
Things to do in the Adelaide hills
Less than a 10 km drive from the central city will take you to Waterfall Gully nestled below Mount Lofty. This is a great spot to start discovering the Adelaide Hills and Cleland National Park.
There are 7 waterfalls in the park and the one visible from the car park and start of the walking track is the largest at 18 metres tall. On the day we visited there hadn’t been much rain so it wasn’t spilling dramatically but it does appear to flow consistently.
There is a range of public access facilities here including car parking, toilets, picnic areas and a walking trail. It’s popular as an easy weekend escape from the city, for exercise, mountain biking, bird watching and wildlife.
Utopia @ Waterfall Gully is the 100-year-old stone tearooms nestle alongside the waterfalls. The beautifully restored chalet is a popular event venue but it is also open as a restaurant and cafe. We visited early in the day and found it very welcoming to stop in for a coffee.
Hike up Mount Lofty
There’s a walking track near the car park at Waterfall Gully that takes you from the base of the waterfall up to the Mount Lofty lookout, it’s a 7.8 km return trail up and back down the hillside. There are 6 waterfalls along the way, the largest at the start. Allow between 90 minutes and 3 hours to complete the track which has a 475-metre elevation and is a steep hike in parts but not a climb. The walk is classed as grade 4, the Australian track grading system is explained in the linked article.
A more recent addition and slightly easier walking trail up Mount Lofty starts from the Cleland Wildlife park to the summit. The trailhead starts from the car park and is a 7 km return walk, it’s a more gentle gradient than the one from Waterfall Gully and being sealed it is suited to a wider range of walkers and classed as a grade 3 track.
Cleland Wildlife Park
As you head up into the hills towards the summit of Mount Lofty you’ll find the Cleland Wildlife Park. If you are visiting Adelaide and want the opportunity to get up close and learn more about some of South Australia’s native animals this could be a good option and it is especially loved by families.
Set in the Cleland Conservation Park it’s a lovely natural setting and you’ll get to meet some of the ‘locals’ including koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, bettongs, echidna, and potoroos. There are also dingos, Tasmanian devils, reptiles and birds.
As you explore the park you have the opportunity to feed some of the kangaroos, emus, wallabies, potoroos and waterfowl with pellet food and take a photo with them. You can also have your family photo taken holding a koala.
Mount Lofty Lookout
Like all lookouts the view from the Mount Lofty summit will depend on the weather to some degree but with the close proximity to the city and the elevation around the surrounding area there are some great views to be had from up here.
As we discovered, even with an unexpected storm rolling in it was an interesting place to observe it from and you can always get comfortable out of the weather in the Summit Cafe, restaurant and visitors centre while it passes.
Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens
You will want to allow a good amount of time to explore the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens. The gardens offer a stunning display of cool-climate plants from across the world and with 97 hectares of the hillside to explore it’s a journey of discovery in every season.
For those not able to take in all the winding paths that cover the slopes you should head to the Noel Lothian viewing platform which is conveniently located not far from the lower car park entrance. This area has picnic facilities and provides an accessible space to take in the garden vistas for those in a wheelchair or with limited mobility.
The 1 km lakeside walking trail is another popular spot in the gardens and has been designed to accommodate all ages and abilities on a stroll through the tranquil environment. Along the trail are 8 sculptures that represent our relationship with the natural world.
The nature trail takes to the slopes and isn’t long but meanders through 7-hectares of natural scrub. It’s suggested you allow 60-90 minutes to complete the trail and along the way, you’ll not only learn about the plants and their connection to the region but likely also have the opportunity to observe wildlife including birds, lizards and butterflies.
We timed our visit for spring when many of the deciduous trees were still bare but rhododendrons, camelia, magnolia, bulbs and spring blossom were on full display. I suspect from the makeup of trees in this section of hillside that it would be absolutely spectacular during the autumn leaves season.
Hahndorf is a character filled heritage village in the Adelaide Hills. It’s Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement with its history reflected today in its pubs, bakeries, small goods and cafes. It was settled in 1830 by Prussian Luterans preserving their faith and today is a beautiful base for exploring the surrounding region.
You won’t be short of choice for where to eat but it took us less than 10 minutes to find and adopt Kitchen 2C as ‘our local’ during our stay. It was my perfect balance of quirky but immaculately clean styling, interesting and changing menu to work through and a committment to incorporating local ingredients. They also make a darn good coffee and chai.
With tummy filled you’ll want to explore the town. It’s an artisan village so its well worth an amble down both sides of the shopping street to see what takes your fancy. The heritage buildings give a feel of Europe while remaining very much Australian in its relaxed and friendly vibe.
Follow the art sculpture trail
The idea of a sculpture trail in the Adelaide Hills began in 2010 with local sculpture artist Silvio Apponyi. You might have seen his work at other Australian and international sculture symposiums like the one that created the wonder accessable sculpture garden in the Maroochy Botanic Gardens on the Sunshine Coast.
Over 3 successful symposiums in 2012, 2014 and 2016, 26 stunning sculptures were created on location throughout the Adelaide Hills and today form a fun sculpture trail you can follow as part of your journey through the area.
Please view the sculpture notes, origin of the stone and information on the artists on the official site. There is a map on that site or you can see them in relation to the other attractions in the region on our Adelaide Hills Google map at the top of this page. Click on the map and you can bookmark it or this article to use during your travels and help you navigate around.
Adelaide Hills Wine Region
South Australia is generously endowed with wine regions that produce incredible wines. The Barossa, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra to name a few but the Adelaide Hills is not only the closest to Adelaide but shouldn’t be overlooked on its own merits.
It’s one of the newer regions with the southern location and elevation making it well suited to the cool-climate classics like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but also pushing forward some very good alternative varieties.
Consider joining a winery tour from Adelaide to discover the best of what the region has to offer without needing to assign a duty driver.
Another option is to add some of the great winery cellar doors and restaurants like Penfolds Magill Estate, Hahndorf Hill Winery or Mt Bera cellar door to your itinerary.
You find Beerenberg Farm products all across the country now but this is the range like you’ve never seen before, each stockist has their key items but it is all here at the factory shop just south of Hahndorf.
Six generations of the family have lived on the family farm here since 1839. It’s still 100% family-owned with all items made on the premises. The staff are incredibly friendly and happy to chat about the products and business, there are samples to try on the day and you can purchase there or take away the details to restock online.
Since we last visited they have opened a cafe on site that features their products of course and more fresh seasonal local ingredients. The FOMO is real so it’s on the definitely on the list next time we are down that way. We just missed the strawberry picking season last time but you can join in the pick-your-own fun from November to April.
You’ll find Beerenberg Farm at 2106 Mount Barker Rd, Hahndorf SA 5245
Melbas Chocolate is a born and bred South Australian icon. If you are travelling through the Adelaide Hills and you like chocolate even a little bit, then you need to stop by their Factory and shop in Woodside. Oddly there is no photo, I might have got a bit over-excited at the smell of chocolate and quite possibly excessive blood sugar in the days that followed. It wasn’t that hot but I didn’t want to take the risk of it melting in the car during our road trip.
The heritage-listed factory is not just a tourist attraction but a genuine working production plant where you can see the products being manufactured using traditional chocolate-making equipment. From the observation area, you can see what goes on in the chocolate room, toffee room and cooling tunnel
Entry is free and visitors are encouraged to ask questions and try a few samples, do you need any more reason to go?
My personal favourites are the dark chocolate coated cherries and ginger or the Turkish Delight, I’m so predictable but when in South Australia maybe you should do as the locals do and try the specialties like inch licorice and traffic lights?
You’ll find Melbas Chocolate at 22 henry Street, Woodside, South Australia, 5244
Discover the area on a Mystery Picnic
The Adelaide Hills are known for the wineries, restaurants and boutique food production. An interesting way to discover this if you have your own vehicle, or a rental as we did, would be on an Adelaide Hills Mystery Picnic.
We’ve written before about our own foodie experiences with AmazingCo on their picnics and find them a great way to find some of the best spots in a new area or even discover great new producers in an area you are already familiar with.
Where to stay in the Adelaide Hills
There are many choices of places to stay in the Adelaide Hills. We opted for one of the heritage villages that would allow us to explore on foot, stop in at local cafes and galleries and walk out to dinner. We choose the village of Hahndorf and Oak Tree Cottages run by Sue and Greg right on Main Street.
It’s was a fabulous choice, the cottages are clean, comfortable and well-appointed, the location was great and includes off-street parking behind a security gate so even when the town becomes super busy with weekend day-trippers from the city there is no issue coming and going from your accommodation.
If you’ve made a visit to the Adelaide Hills we’d love to hear what your favourite spots and restaurants are. Please leave your thoughts and any questions in the comments box below.