Cycling the Riesling Trail in the Clare Valley has been on my bucket list of things to do for ages.
Years of leaving it in limbo were over, but what I could never have foreseen was that by riding the Riesling Trail I would end up in a hell hole.
For any of you who doesn’t know already, the Riesling Trail is a long cycling and walking trail.
It is one of the biggest attractions in the Clare Valley wine region and can be found in South Australia – only a 2-hour drive away from Adelaide.
The Riesling Trail is a 35 km (22 miles) pathway that stretches through a famous South Australian wine region known for producing excellent quality Riesling wine.
It was initially an old railway line. However, after its train tracks were destroyed during a disastrous fire known as the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfire, it became repurposed as a cycling and walking track.
Like a phoenix that has risen from the ashes, you could say that the Riesling Trail did the same thing after Ash Wednesday.
The tourism Gods did a great job on this occasion. Then again, maybe it was Hermes, the God of travel. This land is under the spell of Argus, so it is possible.
The reason I say this is because the historic Northern Argus newspaper covers the Clare Valley region.
These days people visit the Clare Valley from all over Adelaide, Australia, and the world, with many of them visiting especially to enjoy the scenery along the Riesling Trail.
Walkers and cyclists love it!
The Riesling Trail
The beauty about riding your bike on a path through vineyard territory is that you can easily stop at one of the wineries nearby to enjoy a wine tasting.
Clare Valley has a fantastic reputation for producing some of the best Riesling wines.
Wine tasting combined with relaxing bike ride is the reason why a trip to the Clare Valley seemed so special.
I really wanted to go for a bike ride on the Riesling Trail and visit a winery to taste a few of the fabulous riesling wines on offer.
Some even use the Riesling Trail as an excuse to go for a long lunch at a winery.
I didn’t opt for a long lunch because I wanted to cover a fairly decent amount of territory on the Riesling Trail.
Otherwise, it may have been tempting to spend the majority of my time at a winery.
The winery I wanted to visit was Sevenhill Cellars, the oldest winery in the Clare Valley.
At the end of the day, tasting a few riesling wines along the Riesling Trail while enjoying great scenery in wine country was the big lure for me.
Wine regions close to Adelaide
Many Australians and worldly tourists knowledgeable about wines may have heard about Australia’s most famous wine region, the Barossa Valley.
Still, I bet that not many people have heard about its little less famous sister, the Clare Valley. It’s a bit of a secret.
I have a great post on 30 of the Barossa Valley’s best attractions if you’d like to find out more about the Barossa Valley.
Personally, I’d have to say that the Barossa Valley is more beautiful overall when compared to the Clare Valley.
But the Clare Valley has its own charm, and for walking and cycling enthusiasts, it is the Riesling Trail.
To me, the name alone – The Riesling Trail – makes the Clare Valley a magical place to visit.
Adelaide also has the Shiraz Trail associated with the McLaren Vale Wine Region, but the Riesling Trail in the Clare Valley has much greater pulling power.
The reputation of the Riesling Trail as a tourist hotspot is legendary.
Wineries surround Adelaide. You have the Barossa Valley and Clare Valley wine region to the north of Adelaide. The McLaren Vale wine region to the south, and the Adelaide Hills wine region to the east.
Then you have most of the popular beaches in Adelaide on the western side of town.
It’s as if Poseidon, God of the sea, rules one side of Adelaide, and Dionysus (Bacchus), the God of wine, rules the countryside.
Intro to exploring the Clare Valley
The Clare Valley is most well known for its Riesling wines.
On my trip to the Clare Valley, I also discovered another wine tasting experience like no other.
I’m sure this wine tasting experience would be hard to replicate anywhere else in the world. I’ll reveal it to you very soon.
After you’ve read about my own cycling experience on the Riesling Trail, I’ll provide you with all the relevant details you need to know in regard to cycling (or walking) the Riesling Trail.
This guide to the Riesling Trail shows you a map of the region so you can plan your own cycling or walking trip as best as possible.
You definitely don’t need to ride the whole trail. You can ride as long a section of the Riesling Trail as you’d like.
Walking a section of the Riesling Trail is also one of the best things to do in the Clare Valley.
Cycling the best section of the Riesling Trail
The Riesling Trail starting point for me began in the small country town of Clare.
I arrived in Clare at about 11:30 am and parked my car on the main street.
Parking on Clare’s main street was easy enough as the car parks on the side of the road were humongous.
There are several small towns in the Clare Valley. However, Clare is the largest town with a population of around 3200 people.
Clare seems to be the most popular starting point of the Riesling Trail, though by starting in Clare, you will be doing it in reverse.
The official starting point happens to be in the town of Auburn.
You can see the Riesling Trail sign located at Auburn at the top of this post, it’s the featured image.
Starting the Riesling Trail in Clare
My bike frame was sitting on the car’s back seat, and the two wheels were in the boot.
You can also easily hire bikes in Clare, including e-bikes (electric bikes) if that’s your preference. Auburn also has places where you can hire a bike.
After I assembled my bike back together on the footpath next to my car, I was off.
The plan was to be back in Clare by 6 pm at the latest, so that meant I could ride for about 3 hours in one direction before having to turn back.
To play it safe, I decided to turn back by 3:30 pm at the very latest, no matter where I was on the Riesling Trail.
You can easily reach the Riesling Trail from Clare’s main street. It is only a few hundred meters to the side of the town’s main street where most of the shops are located.
Once you reach the Riesling Trail, you’ll most likely see a large sign with a map of the Riesling Trail.
The massive display sign also provides you with some other interesting information about the trail.
By luck, the first side street I rode down took me straight to the giant map of the Riesling Trail.
It’s a good idea to get your bearings first. Even at that stage, I still didn’t know where I’d likely end up on the Riesling Trail, but I didn’t plan on pushing myself too hard.
I never expected it to end in hell but that’s where I ended up.
Dangers of the Riesling Trail
In 2016 a couple of cyclists experienced the worst of the Riesling Trail. They both got jumped on by a kangaroo from a higher ledge.
Two female bike riders suffered injuries as a result. One rider suffered cracked ribs and ruptured her breast implants as a result.
The other cyclist was concussed after being attacked by the kangaroo on the Riesling Trail.
This bizarre true story was reported in the Northern Argus newspaper, a paper first published in 1869, which covers the Clare region even to this day.
It also made the news in many other news outlets because it was a pretty incredible story.
Argus or Argos is a many-eyed giant in Greek mythology, so make sure you keep your eyes on the lookout for any dangers on the Riesling Trail at all times.
Coming across a deadly snake on the trail crossed my mind, but to be honest, coming across a maniac kangaroo wasn’t on my worry list.
Maybe I’d get a flat tyre or something along those lines but a kangaroo attack seemed impossible.
I can’t recall any other kangaroo attack like it when I think about it.
My visit to the Clare Valley would hopefully be a relaxing experience, one mixed with a bit of wine tasting along the way, while taking in some of the spectacular views of Clare Valley’s countryside.
Eating a picnic lunch somewhere nice, and generally smelling the roses as they say (or in this case, the riesling).
Cycling from Clare to Sevenhill
The first thing that really struck me when riding from Clare to Sevenhill was a steel rusty silhouette of a train on the way to Auburn, just outside of Clare.
It is an art piece showing a train’s side view, a reminder of bygone days when trains were running in the area.
The benefit of a trail where trains were once running makes the trail quite easy-going as there are no big hills to traverse on the Riesling Trail. It’s a very gentle sloping track.
In general, you won’t find inclines greater than 1.5% at any stage along the Riesling Trail. This is great because you won’t be huffing and puffing trying to make your way to the top of any large hill.
It’s all pretty much smooth sailing on the Riesling Trail.
The Riesling Trail Bridge over Quarry Road
After riding for a short while on the Riesling Trail, I reached a small bridge with red side arches.
The bridge over Quarry road is about 2km south of Clare. It is one of the iconic images of the Riesling Trail, often used as the signature image in Clare Valley tourism brochures.
Here’s the view looking out to the right side of the bridge.
Racing a cyclist on the Riesling Trail
Soon after crossing the bridge, I somehow got into a competitive bike race with this guy. It was mountain bike versus road bike.
I ended up beating the guy, but it was a close finish.
The Riesling Trail attracts all kinds of bike riders. I saw people with road bikes, mountain bikes, girly bikes, and even e-bikes (electric bikes).
The most popular bike used on the Riesling Trail seemed to be e-bikes. These electric bikes require peddling, but they give you a big boost.
They cost a bit more to hire. Even so, I personally think they’d be so worth it.
People riding them seem to zoom along so fast, and it really looks as if it would be a breeze to ride one.
The Riesling Trail is mostly compacted gravel, so it is probably better suited for bikes with wider wheels.
Even so, I still did see several road bike riders wearing lycra speeding along the trail.
I’m more of a mountain bike guy myself. I like to get away from the traffic, motor noise and smelly petrol fumes. That’s why I prefer riding a mountain bike.
Cycling the Riesling Trail and escaping from the busy world was a beautiful experience.
It really felt as if you were in a serene wine country in a place where gentle flowing hills seemed to roll on forever.
A few quiet road crossings are necessary when riding the Riesling Trail, but nothing that takes away from the ride’s peacefulness.
I don’t think I had to give way to a single car, which was great.
There were also a few walkers on the Riesling Trail and I even saw one lady jogger keeping fit.
After the bike race with road bike guy, I burned a lot of energy, so it was time to refuel.
At the time, I was getting close to Sevenhill Cellars, so I decided to have my picnic lunch there.
Sevenhill Cellars was started by Jesuit priests who fled from religious persecution in Prussia.
In my opinion, they should have been followers of Dionysus (Bacchus), the God of wine. It just makes so much more sense to me.
If you’re in the mood to watch some wine movies related to Dionysus, you need to check out this post.
Sevenhill Cellars is the first winery in the Clare Valley and was established by Jesuits in 1851 to produce sacramental wine.
I thought I’d have to ride up a quiet road to get to the winery, but I found a small rusty side gate just before I reached the road. From there, a narrow dirt pathway led to the winery.
On my way there, I saw some lovely flowers nearby next to the trail, so I decided to stop and take a photo before proceeding further up the pathway to Sevenhill Cellars.
You can see the church on the right and the cellar door building on the left in the photo below.
You may be wondering why someone claiming to be a representative of the Greek Gods on earth would want to spend time at a winery linked to the Christian religion. Good point!
Picnic Area at Sevenhill Cellars
The main reason was that I wanted to sit down on the beautiful grass area to enjoy my picnic lunch.
Sevenhill, by the way, was named after the seven hills of Rome. It’s almost like spending a bit of time in Italy when you’re in Australia.
I think they hoped the village also named Sevenhill would become a center for Catholicism in the region.
The Clare Valley was extremely dry overall. Not much greenery along the trail except on the vines.
It was peak summer time when I rode the Riesling Trail, but Sevenhill Cellars, with its shady trees, offered a bit of otherworldly beauty and coolness that I couldn’t resist.
I also saw quite a few other cyclists riding the Riesling Trail enjoying the beautiful picnic lawn area. I definitely recommend stopping at Sevenhill Cellars for the grass alone.
Wine Tasting at Sevenhill Cellars
Before eating my picnic lunch, I decided to visit the cellar door at Sevenhill Cellars for a wine tasting.
They offered a structured wine tasting and charged $10 for it, which included a tasting of five wines.
I decided to do it because it was likely I’d only be there once. Plus, the attractive brunette serving me made it an easy decision to make.
My initial request was to try five Riesling wines, however they only had three riesling wines on offer.
I tasted all of them, and they seemed ok, but after that I had to choose a couple of reds.
Before I arrived at Sevenhills Cellars, I had heard about sacramental wine, which Sevenhill Cellars produced for the Catholic Church.
I wanted to taste it, and the lady serving me obliged even though it wasn’t shown on the wine tasting list.
It is the wine given to Catholic Churchgoers when they eat their piece of bread. I found it quite sweet.
I’m no Church expert, but I’m assuming that this is probably why some worshippers attend church, to get their fix.
For my final wine tasting, I tried the Brother John wine.
I told the wine lady that I’d try Brother John because my name is John. She chuckled slightly and then went to get the premium wine for me.
I didn’t end up buying a bottle of wine to take back with me, mainly because it would be extra weight in my bag, though if you do, the $10 wine tasting fee is waived.
After I finished the wine tasting, I started thinking that maybe it made me a Catholic boy.
These church guys are pretty weird in their initiation beliefs, so who knows?
Tell me where you can get a taste of sacramental wine followed by a wine named after you. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be easy.
Lunch at Sevenhill Cellars
After I left the wine cellar, I found a nice shady spot on the grass to enjoy my lunch.
I had bought a vegetable wrap and a Kitchener bun at the bakery at Sevenhill before driving to Clare. It made me think about how I nearly got ripped off.
The Little Red Grape Bakery at Sevenhill charged me $16 for the wrap and the bun. The thing was, I noticed that $6 was written on the paper wrapping of the vegetable wrap.
That made the Kitchener bun worth $10 if everything was correct.
I questioned the lady serving me about the cost of the cake, and she told me that the bun cost $6.
That’s when I knew a mistake had been made. It should have cost me $12, like the twelve Olympians. After realizing her error, she apologized profusely.
The vegetable wrap was delicious and very juicy, made even juicier by being in my warm backpack for a while.
The Kitchener bun was as good a pastry as you could hope to eat, and the cream filling was perfect. All up, it was a great lunch.
St Aloysius Church – Sevenhill
I finished eating at about 1 pm. It was then time to leave and continue my ride along the Riesling Trail. Before leaving Sevenhill winery, I did one more thing.
I visited the crypt underneath the St Aloysius Church, which was built in 1875.
I overheard someone mention the crypt as I walked past, and it sounded interesting enough.
On the church’s left side, I found an open door with a staircase leading down to a narrow corridor. This is where some of the previous church/winery hierarchy had been deposited at the end of their life.
It was a bit creepy. I thought it might have also been an entranceway to inside the church, but it led to a dead end.
It didn’t seem possible to go inside the church as I walked all the way around it afterward. I would have gone inside if it were open.
I’m so glad I went to Sevenhill Cellars because it is very close to the main Riesling Trail, and it was so simple to visit.
Wineries close to the Riesling Trail
As I was riding my bike during numerous stretches along the Riesling Trail I noticed many wineries seemed to be quite far from the main trail.
Numerous signs pointed to the direction of wineries and they often showed the distance away from the Reisling Trail.
For instance: Polish Hill River (6km), Mitchell (2.6km), and Kilikanoon (2.1km).
None of them really grabbed my attention as a must visit though. Sevenhill Cellars definitely seemed to be the best winery to visit.
Reaching the highest point on the Riesling Trail
A little while later after leaving Sevenhill, I noticed a sign informing me that I had reached the highest point on the Riesling Trail. Without the sign, I would have had no idea.
As you can see, there are no steep inclines or descents on the Riesling Trail. It looks quite flat overall.
The green section is the Riesling Trail, but there is also a continuation to the trail referred to as the Rattler Trail.
The Rattler Rail Trail
The Rattler Rail Trail is a 19 km rail trail. It joins the southern end of the Riesling Trail at Auburn. You can see the Rattler trail section in red in the photo above.
Many tourists end up cycling the Riesling Trail over a few days mainly due to a few obligatory winery stoppages, so this could be of interest if you prefer riding very long distances.
If you do, then you may want to add the Rattler Rail Trail to your cycling itinerary. Keep in mind, though, this trail is relatively unknown.
Views along the Riesling Trail
Riding along the Riesling Trailing will take you through a variety of landscape terrain.
Expect to see some terrific views of open fields as well as rows and rows of vineyards.
You will also pass through wooded corridors on the Riesling Trail.
It gives you the chance to stop for a little bit under the shade and have a drink.
The Riesling Trail is mostly a quiet ride, and you won’t see too many other people on the trail.
I think I saw about 50 people at the most on the pathway when cycling the Riesling Trail, though it was pretty warm and humid on the day when I cycled the Riesling Trail.
The Playboy Bunny Sign
One place that struck my curiosity immediately was this Playboy bunny sign. I wasn’t sure what it was all about at the time, but later I did some research.
It’s most likely the entrance road to where Bunny and Yvonne Peglidis first planted their vineyard in 1970.
The Peglidis vineyard grows fine Riesling. They’ve apparently made use of old school natural farming techniques with minimal processes onto the land to ensure the best possible vine health.
For a minute, I thought I was in Hugh Hefner’s wine territory.
As you ride along the Riesling Trail, you will see plenty of green vineyards. Just make sure you visit when the leaves are still on the vines.
Grape picking time for riesling in the Clare Valley is in March, which I found out after asking the young lady at Sevenhill Cellars.
Reaching Watervale on the Riesling Trail
Eventually I reached Watervale, and here’s the sign to prove it.
Before seeing this sign on the Riesling Trail, I noticed another sign on the road crossing the Riesling Trail pointing toward the Watervale Hotel.
I decided to turn back and check it out. I had to walk up a hill with my bike because my energy levels were much weaker at that stage.
Once I got to the top of the hill, I rode down and sailed past Crabtree Watervale Wines on the other side of the road.
At first I thought Crabtree was a hole because all I could see was a shed. However, further down the road I came across the Cellar door and to my surprize it actually looked quite good.
And finally – big drum roll – I ended up in a hell hole at the Watervale Hotel.
Jesus, I didn’t think I would end up in hell so quickly. Boy the Catholics work fast!
I should be kind though because this hotel looks fantastic. It seemed like a great place to stop for a drink and even a meal.
I tossed the idea around my head to go inside for a drink, but time was marching on.
It seemed fitting that my Riesling Trail bike ride would end at a hell hole so I left it at that.
Going back to Clare
Anyway, it was starting to get late. The time was 3:15 pm at this stage, so I decided to ride back into Clare.
As I was riding back into Clare, I spotted a few other riders heading back to Clare as well.
By 5:30 pm, I was back at Clare, which was a bit earlier than planned, but I was ok with it.
All up, it was a great bike ride, and I’m so glad to have done it. I didn’t cover the whole route but that was never the aim.
I enjoyed my afternoon out on the Riesling Trail and was content enough with what I had seen and experienced.
It was time to make the car journey back into Adelaide.
Guide to Walking or Cycling the Riesling Trail
Now, here’s some very useful info to help you when walking or cycling the Riesling Trail.
The Riesling Trail Sign
At the beginning of the Riesling Trail is where you’ll find the official entrance archway.
I had been there the evening before and also went to see it again in the morning.
I stayed the night at the Rising Sun Hotel in Auburn. The official start sign is only a few hundred meters away. The waitress at the bar of the Rising Sun told me it was 300m down the road.
The featured image in this post shows you The Riesling Trail sign as I saw it in the evening.
What amazed me most when walking there in the evening was that there were hundreds of squawking white cockatoos flying around between huge trees in the area.
These birds were roughly midway between the Rising Sun Hotel and the Riesling Trail sign.
I saw birds galore flying around in the morning and in the evening, but the number of birds in the evening were far greater. It was as if they all returned home for the night.
My expectation was never to ride the whole length of the Riesling Trail.
I may have been able to reach all the way to Auburn from Clare, and I probably could have if I had started a bit earlier in the day, but it didn’t matter.
I started the bike ride in Clare, with the intent of riding the best section of the Riesling Trail.
Numerous other visitors who cycle the Riesling Trail often say that the best section of the Riesling Trail is between Clare and Watervale.
It makes me feel good to say that, but that’s what I’d like to believe.
The truth is that I’m not fit enough to ride the whole trail and return to the same starting point in one day while also doing a wine tasting.
If I tried to ride the whole trail I would have been so exhausted.
Map of the Riesling Trail
This modified map (with enlarged print) shows you the whole route of the Riesling Trail. You can see it in orange.
The Riesling Trail starts in Auburn and actually ends in Barinia, about 8 km past Clare.
I once contacted someone from a bike hire company in Clare, and they informed me that no one really rides to Barinia. Most of the bike riders set off from Clare to Auburn.
If you have an e-bike, I’d say you have a good chance of getting to Auburn, but otherwise, you may prefer to call it quits at Watervale, like me.
Cycling the Riesling Trail – How long should you stay?
The Barossa Valley is about an hour’s drive away from Adelaide, whereas the Clare Valley is 2 hours drive away. They’re both in the same direction.
But whatever you do, don’t try and squeeze both wine regions in a single day as that would mean missing out on so much.
The Clare Valley really does warrant an overnight stay to do it justice, whereas the Barossa Valley can be visited in a single day without feeling too rushed.
I decided to stay for one night in the Clare Valley when cycling the Riesling Trail and I’m happy to say it was a great decision.
Sure, I could have driven there in the morning and returned later in the evening to Adelaide, but that would have felt so rushed.
I wanted more time to unwind and feel refreshed after visiting the Clare Valley, and that’s what happened when I stayed the night.
Traveling to the Clare Valley
I planned to get to the Clare Valley just before lunch and then go for a bike ride straight away.
My mother tagged along for the trip as well. She could do her own thing for one day while I went on the ride.
On Saturday, I planned on showing my mother some of the other attractions in the Clare Valley.
Places like Martindale Hall, where the classic Australian movie Picnic at Hanging Rock was filmed.
The Pink Lake (Lake Bumbunga), about 50km away, was another attraction I wanted to visit. Plus a few other places of interest.
Well, what I didn’t count on was the weather doing a 360 on me. This was the middle of summer, but on Friday, it turned out to be extremely chilly.
It was a very overcast day with grey clouds, and there were light showers in the morning.
By the time we had arrived in Clare Valley, the weather was miserable. It made me change my mind almost immediately. I decided to do the bike ride on Saturday instead.
The Rising Sun Hotel in Auburn
After an interesting day on Friday with weather changes that saw us experience four seasons in one day, we checked into the Rising Sun Hotel in Auburn.
The little town of Auburn is considered to be the gateway for the Clare Valley, located on the southern edge of the valley.
We checked in at the Rising Sun at about 6 pm, after a full on day of visiting many other attractions in the Clare Valley area.
Our dinner reservation was for 7 pm. For dinner, we both had chicken schnitzel and chips.
I had a glass of the Rising Sun Riesling wine, and I can honestly say it was the best white wine I have ever tasted. It was so perfect!
The chicken schnitzel was great, but a few of my chips were clumped together. Even so, the chips were still edible and tasty though I did leave a few on the plate. For dessert, I had a delicious butterscotch sundae.
As a place to stay, I highly recommend The Rising Sun Hotel.
All I could hope for was better weather for Saturday.
Early on Saturday morning, I went outside for a little walk while my mother was getting ready.
I took this photo of the Rising Sun Hotel as the sun began rising for the day.
On Saturday, the weather turned out to be just as I had hoped with blue skies.
This was probably all divinely orchestrated as it meant that there would be more people cycling and walking along the Riesling Trail as it was the weekend.
This would no doubt make my bike ride on the Riesling Trail more interesting.
I highly recommend riding the Riesling Trail if you can. The alternative is to find another wine trail in another part of the world. See what you can find and make sure you go for a wine tasting.
I’m sure it will turn out to be a memorable adventure just like mine.
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