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Published July 5th 2017
The best drive you'll have this year
The McLaren Vale region is known by many as one of the premier wine growing districts in Australia and with good reason – the temperate climate rivalling the Mediterranean, some of the best brands, smooth reds are the norm and of course the locals who tackle the art of wine making with a passion. Encompassing a large area just south of Adelaide suburbia, it is easy to miss many of the hidden highlights, unless of course you are taking a drive (or ride) on McLaren Vale Tourist Drive 60.
Heading east the drive takes you along the Main Street of the township of McLaren Vale, a town that was once two villages known as Gloucester and Bellevue. The planting of vines in the 1850's led to a mini-population explosion, one that saw the two villages merged into one and became known as McLaren Vale, named after the Surveyor who first surveyed the region in 1838. Some of those first vines were planted by Thomas Hardy whose original winery sits in the centre of town, and a memorial sits in the park opposite.
Driving along the Main Street of McLaren Vale, the tourist appeal to the town is apparent. Cafes, chocolate shops and bakeries line the Main Street, with larger supermarkets and service providers lying just back from the Main Street. Old and new buildings share the Main Street, one that has been the start of the Queen stage of the Tour Down Under for many years. The drive passes through the town and turns at the Salopian Inn on to McMurtrie Road, the home of many of the great brands and cellar doors of the McLaren Vale region.
Notwithstanding how easy it would be to stop at Hugh Hamilton, Wirra Wirra or Red Poles, and spend the afternoon there, the drive must go on, and it continues east across some small creeks before joining Oakley Road and heading north towards McLaren Flat. On the way, the drive passes a number of smaller wineries, highlighting the depth and breadth of winemaking within the region. Upon reaching the Main Road intersection, the drive turns left and takes us into the centre of McLaren Flat.
McLaren Flat is a small village so named because it was built on the only flat lands in the region, but that didn't stop the winemakers from settling here as Scarpantoni, Rosemount and James Haselgrove would attest to. Today McLaren Flat is part of the larger McLaren Vale township in respect to sporting clubs, services and most major facilities, but the memorials and plaques along the Main Road give respect to a time when the village was its own identity.
Leaving McLaren Flat the drive heads north along Blewitt Springs Road past more and more vineyards, many of which are interlaced with natural bushlands including the Douglas Scrub campsite, one of the campings retreats for members of the Girl Guides Association of SA. The drive continues south and winds its way uphill towards Chapel Hill Road where stunning vistas of the McLaren Vale region behind you necessitate a stop just to take in the view and grab a mandatory photo.
It is now time to head west along Chapel Hill Road where the views continue unabated passing the Blewitt Springs Retreat on the southern side and the Onkaparinga River National Park on the north, again highlighting the beauty and co-existence of Australian natives and vineyards. A bit further along the road and the iconic buildings of the Chapel Hill Winery come into view, again teasing with another spend-an-afternoon offering that combines views, vineyards and the 'vale'.
Leaving Chapel Hill the drive heads south and down the hill towards the township of McLaren Vale where the views continue unabated along with the signs indicating further great brands of the region. Nearing the end of the drive, the d'Arenberg Winery sign appears, and a short detour into the winery is in order as there lies what is likely to become one of South Australia's most famous icons in years to come.
Leaving the D'Arenberg Cube behind, the drive continues south into McLaren Vale, passing over the former Willunga Rail Line which is now known as the Shiraz Bike Trail, before coming to an end at the Main Street. The drive is on bitumen roads the whole way which makes it ideal for cars, and with only one hill to climb up towards Chapel Hill, it also makes it suitable for cyclists looking for that alternate and scenic view of McLaren Vale. For further information on the drive, refer to the team at the Information Centre who will indicate more of the highlights to see while on the drive or check out the McLaren Vale website.
Well done Steve.I have done this drive many times and thoroughly agree with your assessment.I have yet to see the cube ,I believe like you do,that will become a beacon and attract many visitors to the region.Once a second cousin to the famous Barossa,the McClaren region is edging closer in popularityand has the added advantage of being next door to a fabulous coastline.The photos you have used are enticing and I must head down that way again in the near future.