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South Australia is bounded by other states on the west, east and north, and flanked to the south by the Southern Ocean. Most of its population live in the fertile coastal area and the valley of the Murray River, which is the state's only navigable river and drains about one-seventh of Australia. The northern landscape consists largely of dry wasteland, with several low mountain ranges. The most impressive mountains are the Mt Lofty-Flinders ranges, extending about 500 miles (800km) from Cape Jervis to the northern end of Lake Torrens. The capital of South Australia is the charming Adelaide, known as the City of Churches.
South Australia is famous mainly for its wine and opals. More than half of Australia's wine is produced here - the vineyards flourishing in its Mediterranean climate - and the state's three major opal fields, Coober Pedy, Mintabie and Andamooka, supply around 80 percent of the total world output of these sought-after gemstones. The state may encompass some of the most arid parts of Australia, but the desert landscapes are sublime and South Australia keeps everything lively with a full festival calendar. Foodies will also find much to celebrate, especially in Adelaide, which prides itself on its gourmet offerings.
Just an easy 20-minute drive along the South Eastern Freeway from the city centre of Adelaide is the scenic Adelaide Hills region. The most popular tourist destination in the area is Australia's oldest surviving German settlement, Hahndorf. The town was settled in 1839 by Prussian and East German immigrants, and today is a flourishing community that attracts visitors from all over the world. They come to admire the many historic buildings and the 100-year-old elm and plane trees that line the main street, to shop for crafts, and to enjoy legendary hospitality in the many restaurants and accommodation establishments. Hahndorf is surrounded by many wineries and there are two cellars on the main street offering tastings and meals. The three local hotels have traditional German beers on tap. Just outside the town is the famous Beerenberg Strawberry Farm where visitors can pick their own in season. Hahndorf makes a perfect base for exploring the other delights of the Adelaide Hills, which include the Mt Lofty area, Norton Summit, the Torrens Valley and Onkaparinga Valley.
The Adelaide Botanic Garden is one of the top free attractions in the city and a lovely place to unwind and enjoy some of the region's natural beauty. The gardens are easily accessible in the centre of the city and are immaculately maintained. The garden's old trees are one of the highlights, including the Wollemi Pine which dates back to the time of the dinosaurs, and Australia's oldest avenue of Morton Bay Fig trees. Other favourites include the rose garden and the covered rainforest area. The garden is also home to some historic and interesting buildings including three glasshouses: the Palm House, Bicentennial Conservatory and Amazon Waterlily Pavillion. The Santos Museum of Economic Botany teaches visitors about the importance of plants and hosts some fascinating temporary exhibitions.
Those looking for refreshments will find a selection of kiosks and a good restaurant clustered near the lake. The restaurant is a good option for a romantic lunch, with some beautiful views of the garden. The gardens generally receive rave reviews from visitors and provide space for exercise, relaxation and learning.
An hour's ride from Adelaide, to the northeast, is the Barossa Valley, Australia's premier winemaking region. About 50 wineries operate in the valley, which is blessed with hot dry summers, loamy soil and good winter rainfall. The heart of the valley is the town of Tanunda, which features relics of the valley's German heritage in its museum. A lookout at Mengler's Hill, near the town, provides spectacular views of the valley, or visitors can opt for a balloon flight when weather permits. The Barossa Wine Centre serves 70,000 visitors a year and is the perfect place to find out the story of the valley, its people and culture. A bi-annual festival, the Barossa Vintage Festival, offers visitors the opportunity for some off-beat entertainment like treading grapes, waving at scarecrows, mushroom-hunting and watching floats travel down Tanunda's main street. Other events and festivals are held throughout the year.
Adelaide enjoys a hot Mediterranean climate with sunny skies all year round. In summer, between December and February, the average maximum temperature is about 84°F (29°C) but the temperatures can rise as high as 104°F (40°C). In winter, between June and August, average temperatures range between 45°F (7°C) and 59°F (15°C). What little rain there is falls in the winter and spring months, between June and November. The weather in Adelaide is most pleasant during the cool autumn months, March, April and May, and this is a good time to travel to Adelaide. Summers can be very hot, while winters are chilly.
South Australia experiences a variety of climate zones ranging from arid desert in the north to Mediterranean weather along the coast, with warm dry summers and cool wet winters. Adelaide, along the coast, can experience very hot weather in summer, between December and February, with temperatures averaging between 60°F (15°C) and 84°F (29°C), but spring and autumn are usually warm, mild and pleasant. Winter, between June and August, is the coolest and wettest season, with average temperatures in Adelaide ranging between 45°F (7°C) and 61°F (16°C). Away from the coast the temperatures are more extreme, with summer maximums over 104°F (40°C) and little or no rainfall.
Adelaide has a small city centre so it is easy to get around on foot, or by bicycle, using the many cycling paths. A novel service is the Adelaide City Bikes scheme, which allows visitors and residents to hire a bike within the city centre for free, so long as they leave valid ID as a deposit for the duration of the bike hire. Those wishing to explore farther afield can make good use of the Adelaide Connector free bus service, which provides a safe and convenient link between north and south Adelaide through the central city area. The 19-seater free buses are fitted with disability access and run seven days a week. There are also other free bus and tram services in the CBD aimed at carrying visitors between the main sights. The city is also served by the TransAdelaide rail system that extends across the metropolitan area via a number of rail lines. Most visitors enjoy a trip on the 1929 historic vintage tram, which departs from Victoria Square at regular intervals, carrying passengers to Glenelg in about 30 minutes. Numerous taxi companies operate in the city and cabs can be hired at stands, hailed in the street, or booked by telephone.
Adelaide tends to be underrated as a tourist destination but in truth there is much for holiday makers to see and do here. Choose between anything from strolling around the city admiring the architecture, and boutique shopping in the suburbs, to soaking up the sun on the beautiful sandy beaches, or enjoying Adelaide's nightlife, dining and art scene.
Start off in the historic beachside suburb of Glenelg for a stroll along the pier with an ice-cream in hand, before heading up into the Adelaide Hills to Mt Lofty Summit where breath-taking views over the city can be enjoyed - the perfect place for those travel photos. Sports fans should head to the Oval for a local or international cricket match; culture vultures will love the Art Gallery of South Australia on North Terrace, where more than 35,000 pieces can be viewed; and history buffs will be captivated by the Migration Museum's insight into the migration of British prisoners to Australia in the 1700s.
Nature and animal lovers should head out of the city to visit Belair National Park for some fantastic bushwalking trails or even just to hang out and have a picnic on the grass, while visitors can get up close and personal with koalas, kangaroos and wallabies at the Cleland Conservation Park. The Adelaide Botanical Gardens are a great place to relax and unwind under the shade of a tree and West Beach is perfect for family walks and swimming. After a long hard day of sightseeing, what could round it off better than a tour of the Coopers Brewery for a good old-fashioned, family-brewed, ice cold beer.
Australia's third largest island is home to colonies of sea lions, fairy penguins, pelicans, marine life and, of course, kangaroos, and provides so much to do and discover that visitors are advised to stay for at least two days. Kangaroo Island is situated eight miles (13km) from the mainland of South Australia. It is inhabited by a small farming community that produces speciality foods - this, combined with the fact that the fishing is excellent, means it is worth visiting for the food alone. The island separated from the mainland during the last Ice Age, and has many plants and animals no longer found elsewhere. A third of the island is protected to preserve the natural heritage.
Organised tours visit the parks and protected waterways, or visitors can self-guide with the aid of a walking trails brochure available at the tourist office and many of the hotels. Walking close to the wildlife is a unique experience - glance around at kangaroos, wallabies, goannas, echidnas, possums and platypus; and along the coast watch dolphins, penguins and seals frolic.
The Flinders Ranges, one of the few elevated landmasses in South Australia, is the gateway to the state's Outback, offering rugged and spectacular scenery best seen at daybreak or sunset when the colours come alive. At the southern end of the ranges, about 25 miles (40km) from Port Agusta, is the town of Quorn, which is the jumping off point for four-wheel-drive and adventure tours of the region. A vintage train runs through the nearby Pichi Richi Pass, and visitors can try rock-climbing at Warren Gorge. Further north is the small township of Hawker, which is the popular access point to the main attraction of the Flinders, Wilpena Pound. Wilpena is one of Australia's most significant Aboriginal heritage areas, enclosed in the Flinders Ranges National Park. Rock engravings can be viewed at Sacred Canyon and there are many bushwalks to be enjoyed.
Coober Pedy, the opal mining town located in the harsh Outback of South Australia, about 540 miles (850km) north of Adelaide, operates largely underground. Homes, a church, a pottery studio and various businesses consist of 'dugouts', which have been built by the locals to escape the intense heat of this harsh region. Coober Pedy is recognised as the largest producer of opals in the world, and more than 100,000 tourists from around the world make the long pilgrimage to this unique town every year. The town features a working mine with a museum and shop for visitors, who can opt to stay in the Desert Cave Hotel underground. The town is located beside the Stuart Highway, Highway 87, which provides plenty of refuelling spots on the route from Adelaide in the south or Alice Springs in the north. It is also possible to reach the town by air or by bus.
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