Sitting on Adelaide’s doorstep, the small South Australian town of Willunga punches way above its weight in terms of offering attractions to excite and entertain grey nomads.
This heritage-rich community sits in a stunning location, with glorious beaches to the west, rolling hills to the south, and the iconic McLaren Vale wine region to the north.
What’s not to like?
The district was initially known for growing wheat and, as the cereal and flour industry flourished in the 1850s, jetties were constructed at Port Willunga and Port Noarlunga to assist in the speedy transport of goods.
As time passed, focus switched to what became a booming slate quarrying industry, and then to the production of some top-notch wines from wineries such as Clarendon, Morphett Vale, Reynella, Happy Valley and McLaren Vale.
Given that it is just 50 kilometres from Adelaide it was inevitable that tourism would slowly become increasingly important to this town of less than 3,000 lucky residents.
The coastline to the west is magnificent and there are some great walks for visitors to enjoy including the cliff walk from Port Willunga Beach to Aldinga, and the Coast to Vines Rail Trail follows the 37-kilometre route of the original railway from Marino to Willunga.
Stunning though it is, the rocky coastline can also be treacherous for shipping. Back in 1888, the Star of Greece was sunk after being blown onto a reef at Port Willunga and the wreck can be seen at low tide.
As one of the state’s earliest towns, Willunga is positively dripping with history and boasts some 60 heritage buildings including cottages, churches, government buildings, pubs and shops. Highlights include the Willunga Court House & Police Station Museum which was built in 1855 and is now a National Trust Museum, the Old Post and Telegraph Station built in the mid 1850s; the Old Bush Inn which was first established in 1839; and the Willunga House residence built out of Georgian stone in the 1850s.
For visitors interested in the town’s slate history, the Willunga Slate Trail is a designated walk which takes in attractions such as the Slate Museum, Arthur’s Cottage which boasts slate water tanks and slate window sills; the Alma Hotel which opened in 1856 and still has a slate veranda and internal floors; and the Wesleyan Church and Cemetery which has a number of slate headstones.
As a popular tourist destination, the town obviously offers of good range of services and boasts several pubs, a general store, a post office, a fuel station, and a caravan park. Willunga – and Port Willunga which is 10 kilometres west – are both well known for some excellent markets and superb festivals.
The Willunga Farmers Market is held every Saturday in the Willunga Town Square, and the Willunga Artisans and Handmade Market is also a favourite with visiting grey nomads. Top festivals include the Fleurieu Folk Festival, the Almond Blossom Festival, and the Willunga Christmas Tree Festival.
Forget what the map says, the bright lights and urban sprawl of Adelaide are a million miles away from this slice of grey nomad heaven.