Exploring Adelaide Hills in South Australia

German-themed village, old winery wagon, Hahndorf, Adelaide Hills, Australia
••• An old winery wagon in the German-themed village of Hahndorf in Adelaide Hills, SA. Getty Images/Danita Delimont

From the outskirts of the South Australia capital of Adelaide is the contiguous area of hills, mountains, fields, valleys, and rivers known as the Adelaide Hills, which fans out through some of the state’s most picturesque features.

The Adelaide Hills extend in a southeasterly direction towards Mt. Lofty, and then on to Hahndorf and Mt. Baker. Northeast heads towards Birdwood (where you'll find the National Motor Museum) and the source of the Torrens River. The Mt. Lofty Ranges run roughly southwest to northeast through the Adelaide Hills.

Always a Pleasant Stop

Less than 20 kilometers (approximately 12 miles) southeast of the Adelaide city center along the Mt Barker Rd lies the Mt. Lofty Botanic Garden, a magical place to visit when the grounds burst into flower in the spring. You may also wish to drop in at the Cleland Wildlife Park nearby.

But whatever the season, the Botanic Garden is always a pleasant stop (if not the day’s destination) on an Adelaide Hills drive to the Mt. Lofty summit further north. Get a bird's eye view here of Adelaide city from a height of some 2,360 feet.

That river which courses through the city is the Torrens -- and you can almost follow it to its source all the way east to Birdwood and Mt. Pleasant, in the region they call the Top of the Torrens.

A Historic Village

From the peak of Mt. Lofty, you can retrace your route back to Mt Barker Rd which turns into the South Eastern Freeway just south of the Botanic Garden in the Adelaide Hills.

Exit the freeway about 10 kilometers southeast and head towards the historic and picturesque village of Hahndorf.

Settled in 1839 by Prussian Lutherans fleeing religious persecution in Europe, Hahndorf retains many of its heritage buildings and seems to have been frozen in time.

Hahndorf, SA's Most Popular Attraction

Considered South Australia’s most popular tourist attraction, Hahndorf has a number of German cakeshops, tearooms. gourmet stores and gift shops. It is a perfect place to stop for a leisurely lunch on your exploration of the Adelaide Hills.

Don't forget to visit the Hahndorf Academy, the Antique Clock Museum and artist Sir Hans Heysen's house, The Cedars, which has been preserved with its collection of artwork and furniture.

Close by is Mt. Barker itself, at whose summit you can have panoramic views of Mt. Lofty, Lake Alexandrina and the River Murray in the south. There are vintage steam trains on the Steamranger Railway running from Mt. Barker to the town of Goolwa and Victor Harbor south of Adelaide.

All About the Onkaparinga Valley

From Hahndorf, you can proceed to the Barossa wine country through the scenic Onkaparinga Valley. The Onkaparinga River itself meanders through orchards and gardens and historic townships. At Oakbank, the Great Eastern Steeplechase is touted as the world’s greatest picnic race meeting in the world. And for those with a sweet tooth, a visit to Melba's Chocolate Factory at the Heritage Park in Woodside should not be missed.

Things to See Within an Hour's Drive

From the valley, you can then wander in a southwesterly direction towards the coast. The good thing about the Adelaide Hills is that many of your destinations would be within an hour’s drive from the Adelaide city center, many within a half hour.

Also, there used to be gold mining near Birdwood (who knows if there's any left there today?). But even if there’s no gold to mine now, there are still great nuggets of excitement to explore on the discovery trail.