South Australia — the fourth largest of Australia’s six states located in the southern half of the country — offers a journey through some of the most diverse and breathtaking landscapes—from coastal cliffs, native bushlands, and rugged gorges to famous vineyards, historic towns, and the majestic Outback. Backpacking in South Australia – with its wildlife, outback and wine tasting – gets the heart pumping in the great outdoors.
Thrill-seekers, intrepid travelers, and active year-abroad graduates can discover the best of South Australia—from the capital city of Adelaide and its accessible wine regions to the expansive Outback, aquatic adventures of the Eyre Peninsula, and abundant wildlife in the wild on Kangaroo Island. Known as the “Gateway to the Outback,” South Australia is also home to Coober Pedy, the world’s opal mining capital.
South Australia’s capital city serves as a jumping-off point for exploring the diverse regions around it, but Adelaide has its own knack for adventure. Surrounded by parklands, the capital is home to just over 1 million people and the Central Business District is one square mile, perfect for exploring the fine museums, great restaurants, and the famed Central Market, the largest covered market in the Southern Hemisphere. The market is a must-visit, full of a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry, seafood, gourmet cheeses, bakery products, and sweets from a number of different cultures all under one roof. The perfect day in Adelaide is taking in the museums, tempting taste buds along Gouger Street—the city’s restaurant row—and relaxing at the city-side stretches of sand at Glenelg beach. The sunny capital buzzes with massive arts and music events throughout the year, such as the Adelaide Fringe and WOMADelaide festivals.
Adelaide is surrounded by five major wine producing regions, including easy access for backpackers to taste their way through the savory bites and sweet sips of the famous Barossa Valley. Discover the regional personalities, charming towns, and local food culture in South Australia’s picturesque wine country while cycling on trails between vineyards, hiking excursions in the hillsides, fresh picnics, and hot air balloon rides—all just 45 minutes from Adelaide. Backpackers can also volunteer to work in the wine community—from pruning the oldest Shiraz vines in the world to picking the prized grapes during harvest season.
Did you know? Over 60% of all exported Australian wines come from the state’s top wine regions—the Barossa Valley, the Clare Valley, the Coonawarra, and more.
The enduring appeal of Kangaroo Island—just a quick ferry ride from the mainland—is its rugged beauty and abundant wildlife. Known as ‘KI’ to the locals, the pristine bushlands and spectacular seascapes where rocky cliffs plunge into the ocean offer backpackers a dramatic landscape to explore. This wildlife-rich paradise is the best place in Australia to encounter its iconic creatures in the wild—including kangaroos, koalas, seals, sea lions, echidnas, and hundreds of unique types of birdlife. Plenty of activities entice travelers to this thrilling island—from sand boarding and quad bike rides on the dunes of Little Sahara, to kayaking along the rivers and boating excursions along the coast. Backpackers can get a taste of the island’s culinary side—as well as volunteer—at farms producing sheep’s milk cheeses and pure island honey, harvesting an array of seafood, and cultivating the land for wine production.
Located 45 minutes from Adelaide by regional flight, backpackers can transport to the Eyre Peninsula booming with magnificent wildlife, providing an adventurous playground for cage diving with Great White Sharks, swimming with dolphins, sea lions, and Southern Blue Fin tuna. Trekkers can start their explorations in Port Lincoln, Australia’s seafood capital, to get up close and personal with a brilliant blend of marine life in their naturally wild state.
Head North from Adelaide into the beautiful Flinders Ranges, one of the oldest landscapes on earth. The dramatic red-rock formations offer hiking trails and mountain biking paths, with an abundance of wildlife to discover, such as yellow-footed rock wallabies, emus, and unique birdlife. Other activities include scenic flights over the majestic Wilpena Pound rock formation and 4WD tours throughout the rugged gorges in the National Park.
Where to stay:
When backpacking in South Australia, where both comfort, safety and budget are concerns, here are few hostels to check out:
Adelaide Central YHA – Adelaide Central YHA is close to city markets, museums, art galleries, major city attractions and activities. The nearby Bicycle SA lends their Adelaide City Bikes for no cost and includes cycling maps and a local’s recommendations. The hostel is close to Adelaide’s pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes, buzzing with a youthful culture along the streets and al fresco dining destinations.
Barossa Backpackers – Barossa Backpackers is located in the very heart of the Barossa Valley in Tanunda, offering the opportunity to experience the vineyards, wineries and meet the local makers involved. Located behind one of Australia’s oldest wineries, Chateau Tanunda, backpackers can relax among the vineyards at the hostel, just five minutes’ walk from Tanunda village and numerous cellar doors.
Kangaroo Island YHA – Kangaroo Island YHA hostel overlooks beautiful Hog Bay in the town of Penneshaw. The hostel has a garden with sea views, light airy rooms, an abundance of wildlife (including penguins often seen in the hostel garden) and is a two-minute walk to beach and Sealink ferry. Tours include to Seal Bay, Flinders Chase, Little Sahara Sand Dunes, as well as evening tours to the fairy penguin colony.
Rawnsley Park Station YHA – Rawnsley Park Station YHA is a multi-award winning property that adjoins the Flinders Ranges National Park and overlooks Wilpena Pound. Situated at the base of Rawnsley Bluff, the Rawnsley Park Station looks out onto the vivid colors of the majestic Flinders Ranges.
Port Lincoln YHA Port Lincoln – Located on the southern tip of the spectacular Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, it is the beginning of the adventurer’s paradise. Port Lincoln YHA is a new backpacker hostel with bar, café and outdoor BBQ deck, located within easy walking distance to center of town, sandy beaches, as well as local pubs and shops.
Photos courtesy South Australia Tourism Commission