When the heat and bustle of the city palls, the Adelaide Hills make a fine escape just half an hour's drive away. Cool, leafy gardens, heritage stone buildings, and a rural patchwork of vineyards, orchards, and olive groves give it the feel of the Bavarian countryside to match its German settler roots. The charming hill towns are easily visited on a day trip and can also make a good base to explore the city and surrounding wine regions.
Leafy Stirling is a popular weekend retreat, with hip cafés, a popular sandstone pub with outside tables, and a busy market on the fourth Sunday of each month. Bridgetown is a tranquil historic town noted for an old flour mill—and its huge wheel—dating to the 1860s and now the Bridgewater Mill restaurant. The nearby Bridgewater Inn is also an excellent dining option, with a large beer garden under the vines and, on the next level down, seating by the river.
The main tourist town is Hahndorf, the state’s oldest remaining German settlement, dating from 1839. The town’s preserved streetscapes are home to craft shops, cafés, bakeries, pubs, and galleries, all with a strong German theme. On weekends, when the lederhosen come out, it can resemble a German theme park, and there’s no denying Hahndorf’s charm. Stop by the Hahndorf Academy, with its galleries and German heritage museum featuring the works of Hans Heysen, the most famous of the local painters. Heysen’s historic home, the Cedars, is open for touring.
Mount Lofty dominates the surrounding ranges, and its summit offers expansive views across Adelaide and beyond. It's an easy drive from the city to the lookout, which has a café and restaurant at the top. Or you can take the scenic two-hour Waterfall Gully walking trail to the summit, which takes you through native forest, past waterfalls and rugged gorges.
The road to the summit passes the Mount Lofty Botanic Garden, which features plantings of exotic rhododendrons, camellias, roses, and other cool-climate plants in a stunning setting. The Adelaide Hills became a playground for wealthy Adelaide residents, who built grand houses with extensive European gardens, some of which are open to the public.
Also on the flank of Mount Lofty, Cleland Wildlife Park offers the chance to view native wildlife in a bush setting. Wallabies, emus, wombats, kangaroos, and snakes are among the preserve’s 130 species, though the chance to cuddle a koala is the big draw.
Nearby, Morialta Conservation Park has a network of walking tracks to explore the gorges, waterfalls, and native forest. Choose from easy family strolls and more demanding hikes offering panoramic views. Keep an eye out for koalas, as this is a good place to see them in the wild.
Food and Drink
More than 40 wineries dot the hills, producing cool-climate varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. Popular vineyards include Hahndorf Hill Winery, Bird in Hand, Nepenthe, and Shaw and Smith. The Lane Vineyard has fine dining and wonderful views, and the Adelaide Hills Wine Centre in Hahndorf is a one-stop shop and tasting room for nine smaller local wineries.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Boutique breweries are also making their mark in the hills. Lobethal Bierhaus brews everything from pilsner to pale ales and, of course, German-inspired wheat beer. Enjoy a cold beer with a meal in the restaurant or at outside tables. Grumpy’s Brewhaus in Verdun also has a restaurant and European-style beers, and, in Hanhdorf, Gulf Brewery produces cider as well as a wide range of brews.
Artisan cheesemakers like Udder Delights and chocolatiers such as Chocolate at No. 5, both in Hahndorf, are new faces in a thriving food scene that features traditional German bakeries and small goods producers. Orchards allow visitors to pick their own fruit—strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cherries—in season, and the Adelaide Hills Farmers Market every Saturday morning in Mount Barker is a treasure trove of fresh local produce.
Getting There: Adelaide Metro has buses to Mount Lofty, Stirling, Hahndorf, and other towns, but the easiest way to tour the hills is by car. Head out of town on Glen Osmond Road and take the South Eastern Freeway.