Victor Harbor is a beautiful seaside town sitting in the centre of Adelaide’s south coast.
Just over a 1-hour drive south of Adelaide, you can find yourself looking over the rocky cliffs of Encounter Bay and be thrilled by the sight of South Right Whales from Victor Harbor. There is also a range of great surfing beaches near Victor Harbor to appreciate this impressive coastline from a different perspective.
Victor Harbor is a tiny township in the Fleurieu Peninsula and a popular day trip destination from Adelaide. However, there is a lot to discover around Victor Harbor, and I do suggest an overnight stay near Victor Harbor if possible.
If you only have one day to explore Victor Harbor, you can still get a good taste of this area with a compact schedule.
I recently re-visited Victor Harbor on a day trip from Adelaide. During this trip, I was able to visit Goolwa, Hindmarsh Island, Middleton Beach, and Port Elliot before visiting the famous Victor Harbor. On the way back to Adelaide, I also visited a McLaren Vale winery before catching the sunset at a nearby beach.
To help you navigate, I have documented a detailed itinerary of this Adelaide to Victor Harbor Day Trip. Hope you can find it useful.
Adelaide to Goolwa
Goolwa is only a 1-hour drive from Adelaide and a 20-minute drive from Victor Harbor.
Along this drive, you can take a break and visit ‘Harvest the Fleurieu’ for some delicious pick-your-own strawberries.
On Saturdays, you can also visit South Australia’s first farmers market, the Willunga Farmers Market, for a variety of fresh local produce.
Goolwa is a historic river port, where River Murray meets the Southern Ocean. First established in the mid-1800s, this once buzzing river port is still oozing an early settlement feel. If time allows, a walk along Cadell Street is highly recommended to simply appreciate the beauty and history of Goolwa.
Stepping into the present, Goolwa is now more famous for its nature view, recreational fishing, and the Cockle Train to Victor Harbor.
Goolwa Wharf offers a stunning view of River Murry and Hindmarsh Island Bridge. It is a great place for a peaceful walk along the river. You can also enjoy a coffee from ‘Hector’s on the Wharf’ while watching the locals taking their morning walks along the river.
If you are visiting Goolwa Wharf on the first or third Sundays of the month, you can also find the Goolwa Wharf Market right next to the wharf. There is usually a range of stalls in this market, offering a good selection of freshe local produce and delicious patisseries.
The Cockle Train
The Cockle Train is a heritage steam train service operating between Goolwa and Victor Harbor. Travelling on Australia’s oldest steel railed railway, this steam train ride offers an old-world charm and one of the best views of the Southern Ocean.
The Cockle Train operates daily during school holidays and on selected days for the rest of the year (at the time of writing – May 2022). You can purchase either a one-way ticket or a return ticket to ride between Goolwa and Victor Harbor. Requests can also be made to get on and off the train at Middleton and Port Elliot.
Fares for The Cockle Train vary depending on the distance you are traveling and whether you are qualified for concessions. Currently, a return ticket between Goolwa and Victor Harbor is AUD33 for an adult & AUD17 for a child (at the time of writing – May 2022). Feel free to check out their website for up-to-date pricing.
If time allows, be sure to also visit Goolwa Barrage when in this area.
Goolwa Barrage is built between the mainland and Hindmarsh Island to regulate the water flow in River Murray. With the peaceful views of River Murray and birds chirping in the background, Goolwa Barrage is a great spot for a relaxing stroll. If lucky, you can also spot fur seals resting nearby.
Hindmarsh Island is an inland river island connected to Goolwa by Hindmarsh Island Bridge. It is home to Sugars Beach, where you can get the best view of Murray Mouth. From Sugars Beach, you can admire the clear contrast between the tranquil water in River Murray and the large swells from the South Ocean.
Hindmarsh Island is also a paradise for fishing and a range of water sports. Equipment hires are available on the island, so you don’t even need to bring any gear along on this trip. The closest equipment hire from Sugar Beach is near the Coorong Cafe, where you can also enjoy a lunch with the stunning view of Murray Mouth.
Middleton Beach is one of the best and most popular surfing beaches near Adelaide. You can usually find some consistent beach breaks throughout the year at Middleton Beach. To make your visit easy and more fulfilling, surf lessons and surf hires are also available at Middleton Beach.
Even if surfing does not interest you much, a casual stroll along this pristine beach is also a great pastime.
Whale watching (July to October) and biking along this stretch of coastline are also popular options when visiting Middleton Beach.
Port Elliot is hands down my favourite place on this day trip from Adelaide to Victor Harbor. If time allows, I can easily spend the whole day in Port Elliot and still won’t want to leave!
Port Elliot is a small seaside village between Goolwa and Victor Harbor. With its picturesque coastline, charming historic buildings, and friendly locals, Port Elliot has become the perfect holiday getaway for Adelaideans and interstate visitors.
Front-facing the stunning Southern Ocean with lush green Commodore Reserve on its left and a small jetty on its right, Horseshoe Bay is the centrepiece of Port Elliot.
Protected from the Southern Ocean’s large swells, Horseshoe Bay is a great spot for the whole family to enjoy.
Horseshoe Bay’s soft sandy beach and clear blue water are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and paddleboarding. Kids can also occupy themselves with the large swing in Commodore Reserve. A walk to the nearby cafe or The Strand will keep everyone’s taste buds and tummy very satisfied as well.
In the winter months (July to October), whale watching is also a popular pastime at Horseshoe Bay. Even for the rest of the year, you may still want to keep half an eye out at the water for dolphins and seals.
Lady Bay is only a short walk from Horseshoe Bay but well hidden from many holidaymakers. It offers an impressive coastline and an idyllic beach. With much fewer visitors than Horseshoe Bay, Lady Bay always feel like a hidden paradise.
One thing to note is that there is a Ladies Beach along Horseshoe Bay, but it is on the Commodore Reserve side of Horseshoe Bay. Lady Bay and its beach are located on the jetty side of Horseshoe Bay (opposite direction to Ladies Beach).
An easier way to find Lady Bay is to locate the Port Elliot Obelisk and Freeman Lookout first. After admiring the breathtaking Southern Ocean view at Freeman Lookout, a clockwise walk along the Port Elliot Heritage Trail will eventually bring you to the alluring coastline of Lady Bay.
From Lady Bay, you will have the entire Horseshoe Bay and Pullen Island in one glance. Even the breakwater appears to be so strikingly beautiful from this spot. You can also get close to the breakwater by taking the well-maintained walkway down to the beach.
Although the beach at Lady Bay is much smaller in comparison to Horseshoe Bay, it is much more secluded. You can also bring a book and a sunchair for a relaxing afternoon here. The breakwater also makes this beach much calmer and more suited for a swim than Horseshoe Bay.
Only less than 1km away from Horseshoe Bay and Lady Bay, Knights Beach offers a distinctively different coastal experience.
Knights Beach is another stunning beach in Port Elliot. It offers a rugged coastline and some strong swells from the Southern Ocean. These heavy beach breaks have made Knights Beach a popular surfing spot, but they are definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Even if surfing at Knights Beach is not for you, you can still appreciate this rugged coastline from ashore. There is a well-maintained walk towards Knights Beach, where you can find a spot to sit down and admire the explosive waves and rocky cliffs at Knights Beach. Alternatively, you can enjoy some serenity by taking a relaxing walk along the foreshore area as well.
Victor Harbor is the most touristed township in the Fleurieu Peninsula. It is home to the popular Granite Island and the famous Victor Harbor Horse Drawn Tramway.
In a nutshell, Victor Harbor is a beautiful seaside village with many historic buildings. There is a range of facilities in Victor Harbor to suit all your needs. From my experience, you can often find more people and shops in Victor Harbor than in a beachside suburb near Adelaide (except Glenelg, of course).
Victor Harbor Horse Drawn Tramway
Victor Harbor Horse Drawn Tramway is one of the top tourist attractions in Victor Harbor and one of the last horse-drawn trams in the world.
First established in 1894, Victor Harbor Horse Drawn Tramway is more of a historic attraction than a mode of transport. Walking along Victor Harbor Causeway, the most beautiful and exciting sight is watching a horse-drawn tram passing by, which is a childhood memory of many generations.
You can also view these beautiful Clydesdale horses at the Victor Harbor end of the causeway, where they will be resting between shifts. Sometimes you can find them in the streets of Victor Harbor as well when they are ridden to and from work.
As the name suggests, Granite Island is made of granite. It is connected to Victor Harbor by the 600-meter long Victor Harbor Causeway.
There is a well-established circular walk around Granite Island to enjoy the spectacular views from all around the island. This circular walk around Granite Island can be completed within an hour, but you may want to plan at least a couple of hours on this island to soak in all the stunning views along this walk.
If you are visiting Granite Island during the winter months (July to October), you may also spot some Southern Right Whales along your walk around the island.
Granite Island has traditionally been a colony for fairy penguins. However, over the past decade, the fairy penguin population on Granite Island has sharply declined. Nighttime fairy penguin tours have been closed over the past few years. To protect the already fragile fairy penguin population, dogs are also not permitted on Granite Island.
If you still have enough time towards the end of your day trip, a visit to the picturesque McLaren Vale should be considered on your drive from Victor Harbor back to Adelaide.
Sitting between the Mount Lofty Range and St Vincent Gulf, McLaren Vale is home to a range of prestigious wineries. Even though you might not be a wine drinker, McLaren Vale offers several vineyards that will interest both wine lovers and non-drinkers.
The d’Arenberg Cube is a 5-storey, cube-shaped building in the d’Arenberg vineyard. This building offers wine-tasting and an interesting art exhibition. Dining options are also available with a view of this beautiful vineyard. An AUD15 entrance fee is required for entering the d’Arenberg Cube, but it provides you access to both the art exhibition and wine-tasting.
Down the Rabbit Hole is a vineyard with a modern twist. It offers a relaxed cafe feel, where you can pull out a rug and enjoy a picnic on the lawn. Alternatively, you can also enjoy a wine tasting in its charming pastel-blue double-decker bus. Down the Rabbit Hole does get quite busy on the weekends, but you can usually keep it all to yourself to enjoy when visiting here on a weekday morning.
Sunset at Blanche Point
Blanche Point is a clifftop near Maslin Beach. With its unique location, you can easily obtain the best bird’s eye view of the rugged coastline along Maslin beach. It is also one of the best places for sunsets near Adelaide.
Be sure to also bring some warm clothing when heading to Blanche Point for sunset, as it can get really windy up there.
For the best beach locations for a stunning sunset view, feel free to check out this: Best Adelaide Beach to Visit: comparison of all beaches 1-hour from Adelaide.
Visit Victor Harbor without a Car?
Visit Victor Harbor without a car? Don’t worry, you can go there by public transport!
Public transport is available between Adelaide and Victor Harbor. This makes it possible for visiting Victor Harbor and Goolwa from Adelaide without a car.
LinkSA operates regular regional bus services between Adelaide/Seaford and Victor Harbor/Goolwa. With public transport, a one-way trip between Adelaide and Victor Harbor normally takes 1.5-hour to 2-hour and costs AUD28 for a standard adult fare (at time of writing, May 2022).
Since it takes more time to visit Victor Harbor by public transport, you usually will have less time to explore each attraction. LinkSA buses do stop at Port Elliot, Middleton, and Goolwa. Hence, when visiting by public transport, it might be a better idea to pick only one or two locations to visit, instead of all the places in this itinerary.
If you are visiting on a day when The Cockle Train is operating, you can also combine these two modes of transport to view the entire stretch of coastline between Goolwa and Victor Harbor.
If you prefer to skip the hassles of taking public transport and/or organising a trip, you can also check out here on Viator for a guided day tour to Victor Harbor and McLaren Vale.
Check out this Victor Harbor Day Trip here on YouTube: