The descent is near vertical – if it weren’t for the scenery, I’d struggle to coerce my eyes towards the windscreen.
We bounce down the incline, over craggy sandstone the colour of marmalade, and my ears pop as we lower into a gorge said to be as deep as the Grand Canyon.
“This is sacred land,” says our tour guide Ben as we finally reach the riverbed. “This is women’s business. A birthing area for Kaurna ladies.” The gorge’s very name – Onkaparinga – translates to “women-only places along the river”.
In the past, Kaurna women came here to give birth, a tradition that ensured new mothers maintained a spiritual connection to the land.
The indigenous Kaurna are the traditional owners of this land, but there’s not another soul to be seen now among the dusty-green leaves, tawny reeds and sleepy river – the stillness, soft light and scenery unsullied by human hands makes me feel as though I’m walking straight through a landscape painting.
Most visitors to this national park, a 45-minute drive from Adelaide’s city centre, are restricted to glimpses of the gorge from lookout points or face multi-day hikes to reach its depths. But the fat wheels of our four-wheel drive were made for the jagged rock faces and, fortunately, Ben holds the very keys to the national park.
A day trip into South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula promises almost every quintessential Aussie experience on your clients’ checklists: bush, beach, wine and indigenous culture are all within easy reach here.
And touring with local company Off Piste not only affords your clients privileged access to storied landscapes and boutique local wineries but throws in the thrill of four-wheel driving for good measure.
On our tour, we cruise from the bowels of Onkaparinga Gorge to the towering, windswept clifftops of Port Willunga, where the Mount Lofty Ranges meet the sea, with plenty of pit stops along the way.
In the peninsula’s acclaimed McLaren Vale wine region – one of the most geologically diverse in the world – we head to a private tasting via a small, minimalist cellar door.
Producing just four wines in tiny quantities, available almost exclusively via the company’s allocation list, Bekkers has an exclusive feel.
Hidden amid a sea of vines, it would have been hard to chance upon without Ben’s guidance. We gaze from the floor-to-ceiling windows and sip a silky smooth Syrah and Grenache blend as owners Toby and Emmanuelle talk us through the berry and dark pepper notes.
Later, we move from grape to grain at nearby Goodieson Brewery. “It’s an advantage to have a brewery in a wine-growing area,” says co-owner and head brewer Jeff with a smile. “Winemakers drink a lot of beer.”
Jeff and his wife Mary started the brewery almost nine years ago, though their love of hops started much earlier. The two met as backpackers in Austria. “We couldn’t afford to buy beer, so we started home brewing,” Jeff explains.
He later worked for some of the industry’s biggest names before opening this small-scale family operation with handcrafted beers. It has since received numerous awards.
There are more than a dozen brews to sample on the shady terrace, with some offering a keen sense of place – the tart cherry saison has been aged in Shiraz barrels from nearby Gemtree Wines.
Back in Adelaide that same night, my driver to the airport neatly sums up the charms of this overlooked corner of South Australia.
“Tourists have usually heard of the Barossa and in a way it’s a good thing – on the Fleurieu Peninsula you don’t have busloads of people,” he says. “There are stunning beaches, smaller cellar doors and you can run into the winemaker. It’s personal.”
Book it: Austravel offers a 14-night holiday to Australia from £3,095pp including accommodation, a five-day Great Ocean Road self-drive with car hire, a two-day Best of Kangaroo Island Sealink Tour and a Fleurieu Explorer Off Piste 4WD Tour. Price includes flights from Gatwick, based on selected travel in November 2018. austravel.com