Discovering Down Under: South Australia

A moment of perfect quiet on Kangaroo Island

After three amazing weeks of traveling as half of a couple (in Africa and London), I was home in Los Angeles for less than a day before jetting off to South Australia — sans husband and yet full of excitement.

This was my very first trip Down Under. But because I’ve now discovered that South Australia is a truly unique slice of the world, full of gorgeous wines and produce, indigenous wild animals roaming free across miles of open space, stunning and bizarrely empty white-sand beaches, and a culture that goes back somewhere between, oh, 200 and 50,000+ years…it definitely won’t be my last.

Now sure, I’ve wanted to visit Australia before now.

I’ve been fascinated by the country since the early 1980s, when my globetrotting grandparents presented me with an Australian opal (my birthstone); Banana Republic (then a safari gear company) debuted with its slew of marsupial-themed t-shirts; there was a brief (and now shameful) obsession with Mel Gibson; my two favorite movies were Starstruck and The Man From Snowy River; and my brother and I had Men At Work on constant replay.

Flashing forward, though, Adam hasn’t been too keen on exploring a country he’s seen as “similar to California.” Aside from 1) California being full of Australian eucalyptus trees (the result of a 19th-century lumber swap for Monterey pines) and 2) California having more than its share of rolling and sun-drenched wine valleys…I have to admit that I haven’t really seen his point.

Our Australia conversation has usually gone something like this:

Me: I’d really like to go to Australia. And look, there are direct flights from LAX!

Adam: Australia does nothing for me, but I’m sure we’ll get there someday. After Antarctica, maybe.

Ah, but here’s the thing: all my time in California, I’ve never cuddled a koala, strolled in a field full of kangaroos, sipped sparkling Shiraz beside the impossibly teal-blue Southern Ocean, learned all about Australian Rules Football, tasted a marron coated in wattleseed, or snorkeled with three-feet-long baby tuna.

Wanna Dunes in Lincoln National Park…upon which you can drive

And to think, South Australia is just one of six states in this almost 3 million square-mile island/continent/country. In 8 jam-packed days, I was able to see the city of Adelaide and its rolling hills, the fishing industry and national parkland of Port Lincoln, the pastoral and romantic Barossa Valley, and the rugged bush and shorelines of Kangaroo Island…but didn’t even make it to the Outback’s massive sprawl.

Fair to say, another week in South Australia would have been perfect. For starters.

So now that I’ve returned from my Down Under journey (taken with wonderful writers/travelers Mike Richard of Vagabondish and Shana Ting-Lipton of and The Huffington Post) armed with photos and stories, I’m finding it suddenly easier to sway Adam to the Aussie side of the street.

That makes one poorly-informed loved one down, and one to go. During my first “I’m back home” call to my mom, what do I learn? That my dad’s been long wanting to use their 1 million+ airline miles to go to Australia…but she, despite an intrepid wanderlust, a passion for great food and a thirst for world history, hasn’t been much interested.

What can I say? You do your best to raise your parents, but at some point you have to let go and let them make their own mistakes. Hopefully, these photos will help her see for herself the error of her ways.

And maybe, just maybe — they’ll do the same for both of you, too.

Baby koalas are yours for the holding at the Gorge Wildlife Park in the Adelaide Hills

Just near Port Lincoln, Coffin Bay (named for an 1800s British guy, rather than a morbid state of being), is an oyster-farming area full of  volcanic islets draped with birds and seals.

Kangaroo joeys orphaned by car accidents are often taken in by human families. Oliver here will spend his first year in this fleecy pouch — and occasionally, with Port Lincoln tourists like me.

This is the actual, non-Photoshop-enhanced color of the Southern Ocean. 

In Adelaide’s beachy village of Glenelg, 19th-century architecture and a streetcar take you back in time; organic pizza and high-rise hotels root you in the present.

In the Barossa, the most famous wine valley in Australia, you’ll find lots of Shiraz and Salvation Jane, a purple weed that saved the first hungry sheep in the country.

About 200 million years ago, iron-rich lava burst from an oceanside cliff on Kangaroo Island, creating the orange, wind-sculpted Remarkable Rocks.

At Kangaroo Island’s Seal Bay, sea lion cubs head off for a first frolic in the sea while their mothers get well-deserved rest from foraging for food in the open ocean.

In South Australia, echidnas cross the road. In California, this never, ever happens.


My trip was sponsored by the South Australia Tourism Commission
and Qantas Airlines, but all opinions are my own.


See also

Adelaide: From City to Bay
Adelaide Hills: Day(s) of Wine and Chocolate
Barossa Valley: Old and New and Koalas, Too
Barossa Valley: Old and New, Part Deux
Eyre Peninsula: Tuna, Dunes and Kangaroos
Hopping Around Kangaroo Island
A Home at the Almost-End of the World
Flying High Above South Australia
TWT Travel Binder: Australia

South Australia Things To Do on raveable

South Australia Vacations


  1. While as you know, I LOVE! Australia, at the same time I totally understand why it just doesn’t appeal to some people.

  2. Well done! I miss Oliver the joey…and that excellent (painfully cute) photo of him makes me miss him even more!

  3. So glad you enjoyed Oz! You came at the perfect time. Love the echidna photo btw – those guys are freaky looking 😉

  4. Oh, what a great post, Melanie! I’m so glad that you were able to get down there. It’s just one of my favorite places in the whole world.

    So wonderful to see the Glenelg clocktower as well. 🙂

  5. If Oliver were here, I’d squeeze him until he pops! I miss that little ‘roo.

    Seriously though, the wildlife alone in South Australia is enough of a reason to visit. Simply amazing!


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