Julie Andrews famously sang about some hills in Austria being alive with the sound of music, but if it had been the Adelaide Hills she was enthusing over a lot more stuff could have been listed.
Eating, drinking, staying, sight-seeing, walking, talking, riding and so much more. And yes, of course, driving.
Offering historic villages, glorious scenery and tasty treats, the Adelaide Hills are in a relatively compact area just a stone’s throw east of the South Australian capital. Situated at the southern end of the Mount Lofty Ranges, the largest town is Mount Barker and the most famous is the tourism hub Hahndorf.
From Meadows in the south to Birdwood in the north it’s only a 50km drive, but there’s a lot of different routes to travel and a lot to see along the way.
From the Adelaide CBD it takes only about 20 minutes to reach Stirling on the western side of the Adelaide hills.
And that’s not a Sydney or Melbourne estimate, so it’s not based on driving at midnight, not getting held up by never-ending roadworks and having to hit every green light. It’s a bonafide 20 minutes.
That’s because they don’t do traffic in Adelaide like it’s done on the eastern seaboard. Sure, there is the occasional tailback or a frustrating jam, but they last minutes not hours and outside of peak hours the roads are free-flowing.
The drive to Stirling is on the south eastern freeway, but from there you can head along the 38km Angas River Scenic Drive (B33) to Strathalbyn, passing through Aldgate, Mylor, Biggs Flat, Echunga and Macclesfield along the way. Aldgate? Macclesfield? We could be in England ... it just gets a lot warmer here in summer!
For something completely different, you could follow Greenhill Road from downtown Adelaide all the way to Balhannah. From there you could take the Onkaparinga Scenic Valley Drive (B34) north to Birdwood via Verdun, Oakbank, Woodside, Harleston and Mount Torrens.
The delights of the northern Adelaide hills are revealed if you take the Torrens Valley Scenic Drive (B10) via Houghton, Inglewood, Chain of Ponds, Gumeracha and Birdwood to Mount Pleasant.
The driving can vary from steep and winding to open and flowing, reflecting the countryside itself, which constantly changes character.
SOMEWHERE TO EAT
The Adelaide hills are a foodie’s bonanza. You can do everything from picking your own fruit to settling in for a luxury ala carte lunch.
The options for fruit picking include strawberries (November to April), cherries (mid-November to mid-January), figs (February to April) and apples in Autumn, when the ‘Pick a Pink Lady’ festival is conducted.
If you want to bypass the manual labour there are plenty of markets and roadside stalls to shop for whatever fruit and produce takes your fancy. The farmers market in Mount Pleasant is one of the big ones, while roadside stalls pop up frequently between Verdun and Balhannah.
If you want to go the next step and leave all the preparation to someone else, no problem!
Great coffee is a hills specialty, as you’ll discover at Fred Eatery in Aldgate, Ateliers in Crafers and Red Cacao in Stirling, where there’s also superb chocolate on offer.
If you’re after pub grub then try a Ploughman’s lunch at the Uraidla Hotel, washed down with a boutique beer from the Uraidla Brewery. Or maybe bottomless wood-fired pizza night at the Stirling Hotel is tempting? At the historic Aldgate Pump Hotel, beef and Guinness pies are a specialty.
The Crafers Hotel makes the transition from pub food to fine dining with its French-influenced fare backed up by a wide and enticing selection of craft beers and wines.
Then you’re into some premium experiences at restaurants such as The Lane in Hahndorf, Maximilian's in Verdun, Pike & Joyce in Lenswood, Clover + Stone in Nairne and Hardy's Verandah Restaurant at Mount Lofty House in Crafers.
THINGS TO DO
As we’re on a driving trip through the Adelaide Hills, we’ll recommend the National Motor Museum in Birdwood as your first pit stop. It houses a fabulous collection of around 300 vehicles, many of them built in Australia. It’s an important time capsule remembering when Australia was an auto manufacturer and South Australia was the home of now defunct Holden.
This is far from the only site of cultural significance. The Cedars at Hahndorf is an Edwardian priory that was the home of famed landscape painter Sir Han Heysen until 1968. Visitors can see his studio, a collection of his works and walk the wonderful gardens.
If you’re into a bit of a mooch in the shops then head into downtown Hahndorf. Established in 1839 by German immigrants, the village features a busy high street to stroll and plenty of places to slake a thirst or hunger along the way. If you’re feeling a little more high-brow, there are museums and galleries in town as well.
The Hills are, of course one of Australia’s oldest wine-making regions with special emphasis on pinot noir, chardonnay and shiraz. A selection of cellar doors can make a great driving route (just designate your driver first!). Among the best known are the Lane near Hahndorf, Shaw + Smith in Balhannah, Pike and Joyce in Lenswood and historic Penfolds Estate.
Another cool driving route is the Hills Sculpture Trail, which traces 26 works of art installed as far north as Birdwood and as far south as Milang, which is just beyond the Adelaide Hills on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
The Adelaide Hills aren’t averse to that Australian tourism’s addiction to big things. In this case it’s a giant rocking horse in Gumeracha that promotes a toy factory and wildlife park.
WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
After all that eating and drinking it’s time for a bit of exercise and the good news is the Adelaide hills can help out there too.
There are a plethora of walking trails including a stroll around the beautiful Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens taking in the eight plant-themed artworks. Or for something more energetic, you could join the Heysen Trail which runs through the Adelaide hills on its way south to Cape Jervis or north to Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Ranges. All up, it’s 1200km long!
The Adelaide hills are a favourite for bicycle riders. Every January the world’s best contest the Tour Down Under and all year recreational riders test themselves on the steep climbs and undulating descents.
Mount bikers and gravel grinders also have plenty of choices, from smooth family trails to the challenge of Fox Creek and Eagle Park downhill courses where full face helmets and a high-level of riding skill are required.
Traversing the Adelaide hills on the way to the outback town of Blinman is the 900km Mawson Trail. A bit of a pedal along here will introduce you to the delight of the local countryside.
But let’s finish off back with the driving. If you feel like going off-road in a more motorised way then check out the 4x4 tracks on Jakem farm at St Ives or Eagle View track in Sanderston. Both offer tough challenges and to complete the experience, you can even camp on-site for a night under the stars.
Just remember to take a couple of bottles of Adelaide Hills wine to fuel that fireside chat … or song!