Most travellers en route between Adelaide and Melbourne pass through southeast South Australia as quickly as possible, which is a shame, as the coastal route offers wild, pristine beaches and tranquil fishing villages, while inland there are a couple of brilliant wine regions.
From Tailem Bend, just beyond Murray Bridge some 85km out of Adelaide, three highways branch out. The northernmost, the Mallee Highway, is the quintessential road to nowhere, leading through the sleepy settlements of Lameroo and Pinnaroo to the insignificant town of Ouyen in Victoria’s mallee country. The second, the Dukes Highway, offers a fast but boring route to Melbourne via the South Australian mallee scrub and farming towns of Keith and Bordertown, before continuing in Victoria as the Western Highway across the monotonous Wimmera. It is, however, well worth breaking your journey to visit the Coonawarra and Naracoorte, in between the Dukes Highway and the coastal route: the former is a tiny wine-producing area that makes some of the country’s finest red wine; the latter is a fair-sized town with a freshwater lagoon system that attracts prolific birdlife, and a conservation park with impressive World Heritage-listed caves.
The third option, the Princes Highway (Highway 1), is much less direct but far more interesting. It follows the extensive coastal lagoon system of the Coorong to Kingston SE, and then runs a short way inland to the lake craters of Mount Gambier before crossing into Victoria. There’s another possible route on this last stretch, the Southern Ports Highway, which sticks closer to the coast, plus a potential detour along the Riddoch Highway into the scenic Coonawarra wine region.