Sydney-sider Kate Ayrton heads south to discover the culinary delights and natural wonders of SA.
South Australia is like the redheaded stepchild of Australia – often overlooked because of her more popular sister states, New South Wales and Victoria – but in fact the one with more personality, style and substance. From the coast to the desert, through farmland, bushland, wine country, and along the mighty Murray River – there is an abundance of flora, fauna, marine life, history, and a rich cultural heritage that prides itself on its independence. As the first “free colony” with no convict settlers, SA has often been at the vanguard of political and social change in Australia. They were the first state to give women the right to vote as far back as 1895 and during World War I a whopping 28,000 South Australians enlisted. Its brave, pioneering spirit and deep agricultural roots make it a vibrant, innovative and dynamic community – little wonder it is called the ‘Festival State.’ Whether partying in the city, making your own wine at Australia’s oldest winery or enjoying an indulgent ‘bush bath’ at the Kingsford Homestead in the Barossa, SA delivers a range of travel experiences you simply won’t want to miss. Here are a few highlights to get you going!
Adelaide is regarded as Australia’s culinary Mecca and where all good foodies come to dine. The city is alive with colorful farmers markets like the Hahndorf Market, Stirling Market, Adelaide Hills Farmers Market, and the Adelaide Central Market – a foodie institution and the biggest undercover produce market in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also home to two of Australia’s most celebrated chefs, Maggie Beer and Cheong Liew. Liew is considered the father of ‘Modern Australian’ cuisine pioneering the fusion of Eastern and Western food techniques and ingredients, which earned him an Order of Australia medal; while Maggie has blazed her own food trail through the Barossa Valley and beyond with her popular cookbooks and gourmet food products.
Where to Stay, Where to Eat?
Today Gouger Street in the CBD (Central Business District) is heaving with delicious Asian eateries just begging to be tasted as diners happily queue for tables. It’s also home to the popular Sticky Rice Cooking School, which offers classes like ‘Cooking Journeys for Food Lovers’ and tours like ‘Adelaide Hills Gourmet Produce and Farmgate Trail.’ The school also offers newly completed Balinese-style villa accommodation.
Other fun accommodation includes, the Firestation Inn, which if you are traveling with kids is a must as it features a real fire truck in the bedroom! Kids (and some adults too) will go nuts. The InterContinental Adelaide is popular with Executive types wanting luxury and convenience, and is ideally located in the city centre overlooking the Torrens River. While there is no shortage of fine restaurants to choose from in the city, the Star of Greece (named after a nearby shipwreck) is just outside of town in Port Willunga and worth the trip to sample a fine selection of local ‘pan-pacific’ food and regional wines in a beautiful coastal setting overlooking a picture perfect sandy beach.
What to Do?
But there’s more than just food and wine on the menu in Adelaide. Since the inaugural Adelaide Festival back in 1960, other festivals and fringe events have flourished around it. WOMADelaide (World of Music, Art & Dance) – a world music festival – is the biggest of them today. Others include the Cabaret Festival, the Guitar Festival, OzAsia. Visit the Jam Factory – a glass blowing workshop and school for artists supported by the local government. The Art Gallery of South Australia, currently showing the hauntingly beautiful ‘Turner from the Tate’ exhibit, houses a comprehensive collection of Australian art from the time of European settlement in the early nineteenth century to the present day, including one of the most important collections of Indigenous art. To learn more about Aboriginal art, culture, music, and dance, stop by the Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute. Tandanya, meaning “place of the red kangaroo”, is Australia’s oldest Aboriginal-owned and managed multi-arts centre.
At Gorge Wildlife Park, visitors can get up close and personal with real kangaroos, koalas, wombats, dingos, echidnas, Tasmanian devils – and a very proud peacock that tosses his fantail around like a southern belle fanning herself in a heat wave. But it’s the koalas that are the real showstoppers. They are brought out three times a day for a cuddle.
If you are short on time, call Ralf Hadzic from Life is a Cabernet tours and let him guide you through all the city has to offer. You won’t be sorry… and don’t be fooled by the Texan drawl. This guy knows more about Adelaide than most Australians with a trunk full of stories to keep you entertained along the way. Only 30 minutes out of town is McLaren Vale on the picturesque Fleurieu Peninsula where more than 60 cellar doors beckon visitors, including charming boutique artisanal wineries like Samuel’s Gorge. Here guests can roister with the friendly winemakers in an old olive press and blacksmiths barn dating back to 1853. Located on the edge of a National Park amongst rolling hills, fruit orchards and dairy pastures, the barn is filled with historical farming artifacts and curiosities to peruse as you quaff homemade Grenache’s, Tempranilos, Mourvedres, and Shiraz. It’s an excellent place to find your drinking legs before hitting up the big boys in the Barossa Valley.
The Barossa is the Napa Valley of Australia. Fertile rolling hills look out across a patchwork of vineyards and farms bisected by quaint country towns and pretty stone cottages – many of which are heritage listed. The secret to having a good time here is simple: connect with the locals. This isn’t hard to do. The people of the Barossa are warm and inviting, and only too happy to share their knowledge and regional secrets with you. Although the valley encompasses a 1,970 square kilometer region – that’s small by Australian standards – everyone knows everyone so it feels more like a small country town. The British and Prussian pioneers who first settled the land here have left their indelible print on the local culture giving it a distinct European feel blended with a relaxed cheeky charm that is quintessentially South Australian.
What to Do?
Although only an hour’s drive from Adelaide, plan on staying a few days to really explore the area and its fabulous wineries, restaurants and hotels. A good place to start is at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop where foodies line up daily to buy her savory collection of gourmet goodies and picnic fare. Enjoy pates, cheeses, olives, pickles, relishes, woodfired bread and a glass of wine or bubbles in a relaxed setting on the terrace overlooking the farm dam. Daily cooking demonstration classes take place at 2PM in the rustic farm kitchen. (Book early to get a place.) Vintners Bar & Grill, offers more formal, but equally delicious dining in a pleasant vineyard setting adjacent to the historic Vintners Sheds where the famous Barossa’s Farmers Market takes place every Saturday morning. Award winning Chef and winemaker Peter Clarke’s innovative dishes make this another popular regional dining destination.
For a fun joyride through the countryside take a ‘Barossa Uncut’ trike tour. Owner Tony Tscharche can chauffeur up to 6 passengers around the vines with pit stops at cellar doors and local beauty spots like Menglers Hill for a birdseye view of the valley. For the even more adventurous, and an even better view, experience an uplifting hot air balloon ride across the valley with either Barossa Valley Ballooning or Balloon Adventures. With boots back on the ground, there are three vineyards not to be missed.
Hentley Farm sits on the banks of Greenock Creek at Seppeltsfield, and is a boutique, single estate vineyard that produces distinctive wines of character and substance such as the fruity Grenache Rose, the peppery Stray Mongrel GSZ and the Beast Shiraz – as big and bold as you’d expect. Considered one of the top cellar door experiences in South Australia, the robust wines can be sampled in their enchanting cellar door: an 1840s farmhouse that still has the original shearing tallies on the wall as well as other original architectural details, including an adorable pair of 19th century baby booties buried in between the walls for good luck. Hentley Farm also recently opened their new restaurant adjacent to the cellar door under the auspices of award-winning Chef Lachlan Colwill (ex-The Manse). His multi-course discovery menu has been getting rave reviews and is a delicious way to while away an afternoon, Barossa-style.
Rockford wines are not only big on charm but also big on personality. Set in a picturesque 1850s stone settler’s farm on five acres of land near Tanunda, this artisanal winery is family run and uses old fashioned equipment from the pioneer era to hand make wine in the traditional manner. It’s a living wine museum with a bit of a cult following in Australia. (My favorites: the Basket Press Shiraz and sparkling Black Shiraz.)
Another interesting bit of history that Rockford wines help to preserve is the PS Marion – a Murray River paddle steamer built in 1897. It is one of the last operational, heritage, steam driven, wood fired, overnight passenger carrying side paddle steamers in the world. Every year from May till August, the winery hosts ‘Rockford Steam Powered Dinners’ where up to 29 guests can enjoy a weekend of fine dining cooked by the best chefs in Australia while quietly steaming along the majestic Murray River in this grand old lady. (AU$935 per person, including 2 nights accommodation, all meals and wines. All proceeds go toward the maintenance of the PS Marion located in Mannum, a two-hour drive from Adelaide.) For more information contact Pam O’Donnell on + 61 8 8563 2720 or email: email@example.com
Penfolds Winery is Australia’s flagship winery and creator of the world famous Grange dating back to 1951. To share a mature Grange, 15 to 20 years old, in fine condition, is one of the great wine experiences. Drop in to the cellar door for a tasting and tour or book in for the 90-minute “Make Your Own Blend” experience (AU$65 per person) where wannabe vintners get to mix up Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre to their own liking complete with white lab coats, test tubes and your very own personalized bottle to take home.
After all this wine tasting, an excellent place to rest is at The Louise – a luxurious vineyard retreat owned by a Californian tech tycoon who swapped one valley for another in pursuit of his dream to start a luxury hotel and restaurant, and in the process helped to found Luxury Lodges of Australia. Since it opened in 2006, Appellation has been awarded three Chefs hats and named top restaurant in South Australia by the Australian Good Food & Wine Guide. (Mission accomplished!)
After a siesta in the well-appointed and comfortable guest rooms (complete with terraces, fireplaces and oversized tubs), guests can freshen up and head to the Appellation Wine Bar and terrace for a pick me up before diving into the hotel’s signature Chef’s Tasting Menu. A synergistic experience of the best food and wine from the Barossa region created from the onsite kitchen garden and local farmers’ fresh seasonal produce. With dishes like South Australian squid and king prawns with fennel, peas and saffron, and slow roast leg of Eden Valley duck with beetroot braised lentils; it’s not hard to understand why this restaurant continuously ranks as one of the best in South Australia. Even if you don’t stay at the Louise, go for dinner. And if you do stay, consider having breakfast with the kangaroos at a nearby conservation park. On Saturdays, guests can join one of Appellation’s chefs at the Barossa Farmer’s Market as they shop for provisions and share their regional secrets.
The recently opened Kingsford Homestead also offers unique accommodation in an elegant Georgian sandstone house built by a wealthy pastoralist in 1856. In more recent times, many will recognize the house as ‘Drover’s Run’ from Channel Nine’s popular TV show McLeod’s Daughters, which ran for eight years in over 40 countries under the patronage of Kerry Packer. Now privately owned by a successful local entrepreneur and his wife, the property was meticulously restored over a four-year period with no expense spared. Originally intended for their own private use, the Ahrens family opened Kingsford Homestead to the public as a boutique guesthouse for the first time in history in 2012 with some assistance from the South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC). A labor of love from the start, this house has many stories to tell and is a beautiful window into the past.
Kingsford Homestead’s delightful hosts make you feel right at home in an intimate setting where everyone is treated like house guests rather than hotel guests. The seven guest suites (all named after previous owners) are spacious, light-filled and luxuriously appointed with big comfy beds, 1000 thread count sheets and gorgeous pastoral views from every window.
To get some perspective and fresh country air, take a constitutional walk around the property or jump in the ‘ute’ (an Aussie truck) for a guided tour of the 225-acre property. Guests can also take a refreshing dip in the secluded creek that runs through the bottom of the property or enjoy a novel private outdoor ‘bush bath’ under the gum trees, complete with hot water, a pot of ‘billy’ tea or chilled champagne. A perfect way to either start or end the day. Whether traveling alone, as a couple or a group, Kingsford Homestead is an idyllic spot to plant oneself for a few days and gives guests a rare glimpse into life as landed gentry in South Australia.
Wandermelon traveled as a guest of SATC.
* Photos by Kate Ayrton and courtesy of hotels and SATC. We love their recent TVC for the Barossa!