Car’s packed, tickets paid, you’ve taken a few extra days off work, and you’re on the road en route for Adelaide Oval to watch your favourite AFL team take down the Crows or Port. Perfect.
Everyone’s excited for the game. There’s nothing better than being in the stands to see your team take down your cocky interstate rivals (and I’m guessing your trip will include debating the best way to shut down the likes of Betts, Sloane, Wingard and Gray).
As for being stuck in a car for eight hours – ugh.
Don’t panic. I’VE GOT YOU COVERED!
I’ve put together a list of my favourite places to stop and visit along the route from Melbourne to Adelaide, helping to break up the popular interstate road trip. From waffles to wineries, giraffes to bunyips, River views to iconic artworks, there’s something for everyone in the car to get excited about.
About an hour over the Vic border, travelling along the Dukes Highway, you’ll come to a small unassuming town called Tintinara. Affectionately known to the locals as ‘Tinti’ this farming town is morphing itself in to one of the Dukes Highway’s favourite traveller stops. Of course it has all the basics sorted: fuel, toilets, park, barbecue, playground. Tick, tick, tick.
But, here’s the catch. It has SA’s only free to play DISC GOLF COURSE. Huh!?
Also known as ‘frisbee golf’ this game is played much like traditional golf, but instead of balls and clubs, people use a flying disc. Metal baskets are placed around the course - and no surprises - the aim is to get your disc into the basket, in the fewest number of throws. And of course, for those of you who don’t carry your own personalised frisbee from place-to-place just hoping you might come across a disc golf park, fear not. The local volunteers have you covered. You can grab a pack of discs and course map from the volunteer-run tourism information centre – Heart of the Parks.
The course has nine baskets and 18 tee positions wrapping their way around Tintinara’s sparkling Lake Indawarra precinct – and I have a feeling this might just be the perfect way to stretch your legs and have some fun as you make your way to SA (and of course, there’s space to kick the footy for the super-keen sports fans).
And good news for those with kids: In 2018, Tinti will also become home to a new $145,000 nature playground. Construction will start soon on this exciting family space and offer another great place for the kids to stretch their legs during the long haul.
[Oh, and a little culinary hint, the local service station in Tinti is run by a local Indian family who make some of THE best authentic Indian dishes in regional SA! If you love the flavours of the East, you have to try it.]
Stop #2 – World-famous Coonalpyn silos
Heading further north along the Dukes Highway, you’ll find the State’s largest public art canvas – the now globally-renowned Coonalpyn Silo Mural.
If you live in Australia and you haven’t heard of this community project, then I’m guessing you either a) don’t have a social media account; or b) have taken up residence underground.
This is possibly the most insta-famous piece of public art in Australia at the moment, and I can’t urge you enough to take a bit of extra time along your road trip to stop and admire the incredible scale and artistry of Guido van Helten’s inspiring work.
But it’s not just the silo mural you should admire, the town of Coonalpyn (now a rural arts mecca) has some other lesser-known gems that are just as worthy of your time. Within walking distance from the silos themselves, are other colourful artworks. This includes a giant mosaic feature alongside the public toilets (also a good reason to stop in town!). There’s the giant ‘pixel-style’ metal art fence installation shaped like a hawk eye (my personal favourite, and you’ll soon see why), an underground panel art gallery, and an agricultural artworks along an old building in the main street. You can take 10 minutes - or two hours - meandering along the side of the Dukes Highway taking it all in and perfecting your #siloselfie in this unique little town.
Hang on. Say WAAAAA-FFLES!? Artwork aside, the BIGGEST bonus of stopping on Coonalpyn is the traditional Belgian style, boutique waffle store. Yes, you read it correctly. Waffles. Traditional Belgian home made waffles in fact. In E-V-E-R-Y flavour you could possibly dream of. [*Insert collective drool right here*].
What began as a quaint little side-project for the young daughter of a local Belgian family who moved to the area, has now become my favourite place to stop and eat along the whole Melbourne to Adelaide route. Before the silos, before the town’s global infamy - was this humble little waffle and jaffle store, now picking up attention thanks to hundreds of people stopping each day in Coonalpyn, and the State media attention thrust upon it (see News.com, Fritz Mag and Seven News features).
My tip: You can choose your own flavour combos from the store, but if you’re overwhelmed with choice, try my favourite – strawberry, banana, maple syrup and ice cream!
Stop #3 – Tailem Bend’s unique coffee brewers
If quality coffee is on the agenda, then you MUST stop in Tailem Bend and try out the region’s newest boutique coffee house ‘Little Local Co’. Run by local Ngarrindjeri woman Amy Chinsami and her Fijian-Indian husband Neil, this cross-cultural, creatively entrepreneurial foodie couple are brewing up what’s fast getting a reputation as the best coffee in the region (and, dare I say, maybe even the State!?). These guys aren’t trying to become a restaurant, nor set up a café – they are firmly focussed on creating the perfect cup of coffee (in all its forms) and coupling it with Amy’s own delicately baked sweets as the perfect accompaniment.
You only need glance briefly at their Instagram page to get excited about what’s on offer from this little Tailem Bend gem. Think lemon meringue tarts and chocolate truffles made with native flavours, or Amy’s hand-made brown butter Monte Carlos and coconut cookie with vanilla bean buttercream and strawberry compote. Seriously, the combinations are bliss. And – for those not-so-in-love-with-coffee (who even are these people!?), fear not! Neil is regularly whipping up experimental drink flavours like the iced chai frappe, iced Kumquot juice or the sexiest looking peach iced tea you ever did see.
Just one more drink: If you’re one of the new-age cold brew coffee drinkers, then you’ll be extra excited to read that these guys have their own Little Local Co Golden Wattle Cold Brew, and you can grab a pack in store to take on the road with you.
While you’re in Tailem, why not grab your drinks takeaway, and sit amongst the magical views of the Murray River at Dickson Reserve. This cracking spot, right on the water’s edge is just off the highway – just look for the big rhino and head down (yes, that’s right, Tailem Bend has a whopping big rhino sculpture).
[And of course, you won’t be able to miss The Bend Motorsport Park as you drive in to Tailem Bend. The first events kick off here in April 2018, and down the track they’re talking about creating a whole swag load of drive experiences - including a 4WD park, karting, drifting, rallycross and more. So if you love high-adrenalin action, then this will be a future stop for you!]
Stop #4 – ‘Bridge(s), brekky and one BIG bunyip
Murray Bridge is your perfect all-ages stop along the route to Adelaide, and a perfect place to stay the night if you want to avoid the weekend traffic of the city (less than an hour to Adelaide’s CBD). With an eclectic mix of shops and sights, there’s three things that stand out in Murray Bridge as iconic experiences for every visitor.
The first is an absolute must-see for anyone with a quirky sense-of-humour, a love for all things creative, and a sense of adventure. ‘She’ is the Murray Bridge Bunyip (affectionately known as ‘Bertha’). That’s right, Bertha the Bunyip is Murray Bridge’s own fearsome riverside monster. For those under eight years, she might cause a bit of a fright (be prepared), but for anyone a bit older, she’s great for a laugh and a quick snap to social media (#murraybridgebunyip). Bertha also sits amongst the beautiful Sturt Reserve – home to river front walkways, giant undercover playgrounds, a huge skate park, boat ramp, lawn tennis courts, outdoor table tennis, drinking fountains, public art and the picturesque waterfront Riverscape Restaurant.
But if it’s early morning that you’re making your way through - and in fact, maybe it’s the best place to visit on your return to Melbourne after the footy – because the ‘Bridge’s own retro chic café The Davery Establishment makes THE BEST BREAKFAST this side of Adelaide. Loved by locals and a regular haunt of frequent interstate travellers, these guys do a mean coffee, but it’s their gourmet breakfast menu that excites most. Respectfully championing the best local produce, these guys have picked up accolades from Fritz Magazine as one of the ‘best meals to travel for’ in regional SA and have remained Trip Advisor’s highest rated café in Murray Bridge for the past two years. Known to locals as ‘The Davs’, the kitchen crew is regularly experimenting with new brekky dishes, and changes their pancake flavour to suit the season. Their egg specialties (benedict, Hemmingway and Florentine) are to die for, but if it’s something quick you need on the road, then their BBQ bacon toastie is the ultimate selection (and admittedly, it’s my guilty pleasure too).
Then there’s the history: Of course the one thing you can’t miss as you drive through Murray Bridge is exactly that, THE Murray ‘Bridge’. The first ever bridge to be constructed across the Murray, this beautiful piece of engineering is an experience in itself. Of course you’ll get the best views from the Bridge via the passenger seat of your cars, but there are viewing platforms on either side, so make sure you take five minutes to stop and take in the incredible 139-year-old piece of Murray River history.
Stop #5 – An African experience like no other at Monarto
Where do I even start with Monarto Zoo?! Should it be with the Lions 360 experience on the largest open-range zoo in Australia (and one of the largest in the world). Spanning more than 1500 hectares and home to more than 50 species of exotic and native animals, this is THE place for families – in fact it’s a place for everyone to have an incredible animal experience like no other.
Some days I need to pinch myself, as I have those “damn I love my job” moments. Monarto Zoo is usually the place where this happens, as I get the regular opportunity to see new baby animals, new exhibit openings or attend exclusive on-site events. From month to month I get to walk the giraffe platform, watching these amazing herds from only inches away, snacking on tree branches for morning tea. I can see the wandering black and white rhinos, or take a walk to see the chimp exhibit - where these cheeky chimps are generally swinging off the ropes and giving the crowds an acrobatic display.
Even the growing meerkat population is a favourite for kids, with these cheeky little creatures capturing the child-like imagination of all of us. The meerkats are located near the zoo’s café and alongside the nature playground, not far from the giant (half-buried) rhino sculpture, and a good walk (or bus trip) to see the zebras, ostriches, spotted dogs and cheetahs.
If you have half a day, or even a few hours up your sleeve, this incredible open range zoo should be a priority on your itinerary – with its unique environments and hands-on experiences, I can personally guarantee you’ll be blown away every time you visit.
Now, if you’ve got the time, here’s a couple of sneaky detours I’d recommend…
Detour #1 – SA little-known winery gem
If you love wine, you’ll love the Langhorne Creek Wine Region. It’s that simple.
And if you’re on your way to Adelaide anytime soon, then you need to call the boss and book in an extra day off – now you can explore it properly.
Affectionately coined “Langhorne’s” to its regulars and locals, the region is home to a handful of families who make some of Australia’s most generous red and white wines. That’s right – they’re not known for one variety over another – they’re known for being small, but soooooo, so good.
Including names like Bleasdale, Bremerton and Lake Breeze, Langhorne Creek is the wine region you wish you knew about sooner, with 14 of the friendliest cellar doors you’ll come across.
Coming from Melbourne, you can make a quick detour to Langhorne Creek by turning left along the Princes Highway just before you hit Tailem Bend. You’ll cross the ferry at picturesque Wellington, before you follow the road (alongside Lake Alexandrina) for about 20 minutes and land yourself at the first and oldest (and biggest) winery – Bleasdale, also home to winemaker Paul Hotker (the 2018 James Halliday Wine Companion Winemaker of the Year).
Find out more about Langhorne Creek in one of my recent blogs here where I steer you in the direction of my favourite cellar doors, restaurants and wines to try.
A riverside stop off: If you’re after a quick break with River views on your way to the wineries, Wellington has a quaint little pub with some of the best views on the Murray, or for the history buffs, drop in to the Wellington Court House for a bite and a step back in time.
Detour #2 – Historic port of Mannum
A little further out of the way (and in the other direction, north of Murray Bridge), lies the small, but historically significant River town of Mannum. Well known as the historic home of the Murray River Paddlesteamer, this little town has the perfect mix of historic icons and modern features along its cute main street.
Home to major award-winning events, such as Sounds By The River, and a growing calendar of other eclectic events (the Mannum Truck and Ute Show and All Steamed Up), this small town bats well above its average when it comes to looking after its visitors. It provides some of the best views from the Murray’s banks, including the famous Pretoria Hotel deck and waterfront bar and Café’ Mannum overlooking the double-ferry crossing. But, it also boasts an array of ice-cream shops and cafes which always seem to be full of passing houseboat holiday-makers, all searching for the perfectly peaceful meal or souvenir to take home from their travels.
There’s also one of the best Visitor Info Centre’s in Mannum too - attached to the interactive Mannum Dock Museum. Here you can experience the River’s incredible history and find out more about short cruises along the Murray (because we all know, the best way to experience the River, is from cruising along it in a boat).
An extra 20-minute drive south of Murray Bridge, this is a town full of character and history, and is definitely worth the extra hours to explore. Even a coffee and a seat in the serene Mary Ann Reserve on the River’s edge are enough to make you forget your worries (even if only for a moment). Or, for the more adventurous, follow the signs to the Mannum Waterfalls – a picture-perfect hidden gem of the State, especially during the wet months.
So that’s the short list (you can’t imagine my long list). Most of these stops are en route to Adelaide, an all snackable experiences for the seasoned traveller who’s keen to see and experience something new. Even for those of you considering your next holiday, this might just help to form the first part of you South Australian visit. Take a few days (better still, take a few weeks) and immerse yourself in the environmental waterways that are the Murray River, Lakes and Coorong region. We promise you won’t regret it.
For those who want more info about things to do or see, jump over to my blog page to find out about a few of my favourites; or, follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up-to-date on local events, experiences and all the best bits of our beautiful region.
About the author:
Originally hailing from the city, Julie Bates now resides with her family in the heart of the Murray River, Lakes and Coorong region, with property only metres from the world-famous Monarto Zoo. Julie has fallen in love with the region, and has been lucky enough to combine her experience in tourism, with her passion for bringing more people to the region she now calls home. Julie knows every stretch of the region, and the characters who live and work along it. If you ever meet her, she’ll tell you about the great places to eat, play and explore; the magical scenery she gets to see every day (and stars at night); AND with her tribe of three kids, she can fill you in on the most family friendly itineraries for a weekend (or week) away.
[*Note: Many images listed in this blog are courtesy of the South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC), Dave Hartley Photography and Commshake Media + Engagement. Other's are owned by Zoos SA, The Davery Establishment, Little Local Co, the Coorong District Council, Rural City of Murray Bridge. All of these organisations have been kind enough to allow is to access these images for this blog. Reproduction of all/any images should be negotiated with the the Murray River, Lakes and Coorong Tourism Alliance.]