South Australia has it all and combines these riches into regional bundles that are easy to manage, whether it means hubbing in Adelaide, sidetripping to Kangaroo Island, going on a mini-walkabout in the Flinders Ranges or heading into the scenic and quaint foothills of the local wine and food belt to taste what’s on the cutting edge of Australia’s culinary movement.
Adelaide gets much less attention from international visitors than it deserves. Its location in South Australia is 20 minutes from the beaches and Port Adelaide and at the same time 20 minutes from the hills of its celebrated wine country. With the Indian Pacific and Ghan rail lines at its doorstep, Adelaide makes a good starting point for travelers who want to head into the Great Red Center and onto the Northern Territory, or to the Western city of Perth. Similarly, Adelaide can be a terminus or starting place for rail trips to Melbourne and Sydney.
The town itself is a sleepy small city with plenty of attributes to be considered. The center of town is quite walkable with some 17 hotels within a few short blocks of each other, all buffered by open shopping promenades and markets, restaurants, museums and grand gardens. It was created in 1836 as a capital of the free British. Named for Queen Adelaide, the German consort of King William IV, the region saw an unusual influx of Germans to its shores, mostly fleeing persecution from the Prussian province of Silesia (modern day Poland). And they settled in the hills north of Adelaide where temperate climes created the perfect conditions for the blending of Cabernet Sauvignon and later, some the Australia’s most coveted Shiraz labels.
A bit of German history remains in such towns as Hahndorf, seen in the fachwerk buildings and cafes serving German fare. But folks roaming through the Adelaide Hills and the slopes of Barossa Valley are coming as much for the food as they are for the beauty. Australian is the fourth-largest exporter of wine in the world. It’s as big a part of the culture, as it is the economy and tourism. Visitors come for the kangaroos, the beaches and the wide-open spaces. But they also come for the wine.
Adelaide is surrounded by some of the country’s top wine regions: McClaren Vale, the Barossa Valley, and Coonawarra. In the Barossa, about an hour’s drive north of Adelaide, find what is considered Australia’s most famous winery: Penfolds, whose Grange, is possibly Australia’s most notable and expensive wine – pouring at a mere $125 a glass. The Shiraz (96%) and Cabernet Sauvignon blend retails at more than $400 a bottle.
For wine and food enthusiasts, a stop at Penfolds winery in Barossa is not only a must, it is a fun and unusual experience. The winery offers a laboratory where guests don white jackets, grab measuring flasks and bottles of Grenache, shiraz and cabernet and set forth to blend their own labels, getting messy and silly as the session wears on. The winery is often included on tours and group itineraries as a perfect icebreaker and one that allows guests to take home their own creations.
Beers is considered the Martha Stewart of Australia, although with a much more warmer appeal. She gained her fame in opening the Pheasant Farm Restaurant on the site, working magic with game and plying creative uses for her verjuice, which she sells by the riverful at her farm store on the same site. From her shop and restaurant she tapes shows and offers cooking demos of handpicked recipes. The stop is as popular with groups as it is with individuals, especially when cooking sessions are involved.
Travelers will find other attractions along the byways: Lyndock Lavender Farm, Jacob’s Creek Visitors Center, The House of Olives, the Barossa Farmers Market (Saturday mornings), Mengler Hill Lookout and the Williamstown Whispering Wall. It’s all put together through a South Australia Tourism concept called Barossa Butcher Baker Winemaker Trail, in maps and value card to highlight what the Barossa does with local ingredients. The trail leads to local wineries, bistros and dining venues and farm shops that offer intimate food and wine experiences and products made with traditional methods and ingredients. The trail provides a road not only to retailers and artisans, but also to special tours and gourmet themed programs, ongoing and seasonal. Brochures and maps can be found at visitor centers in Adelaide and Barossa.
Closer in, the Adelaide Hills east of Adelaide presents a lovely drive through 19th century European villages and historic mining towns. Mount Lofty Summit has the views over Adelaide Plains, complemented by a shady botanic garden. Nearby Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary has the potoroos, the platypuses, the bilbies, bandicoots and bettongs and, of course, kangaroos. Food lovers will want to visit Birdwood Wine & Cheese Centre for samplings of artisan cheeses and boutique wines, and have lunch at the Locovore Restaurant in Stirling, where only foods grown, made or distilled within a 100-mile radius are served. From the artsy village of Stirling it’s an easy drive to Hahndorf for quality crafts and galleries, and delightful cheeses. Beyond its nearly three dozen cellar doors, the area is dotted with a smattering of unusual finds: Fairyland Village in Lobenthal, the National Motor Museum in Birdwood, Melba’s Chocolate Factory at Woodside, the 54-foot-high rocking horse at Gumeracha … all about 20 minutes from the center of town.
Life is a Cabernet offers tailor-made tours from Adelaide into McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and the Barossa with great guidance from local wine and food lovers who are characters in their own right. Rates for customized private tours run $71 USD/hr, minimum four hours.
A Taste of South Australia provides full-day food and wine tours of the Barossa and McLaren Vale for apprx. $350 USD. It also offers comprehensive multi-day tours with car and driver and entrée to some exclusive spots. A very unusual option with plenty of appeal is the locally hosted dinner option that allows guests to enjoy a home-cooked gourmet dinner in the home of a local resident. Groups can reserve the local dinner option for $79 per person with a minimum of 8 guests (maximum 16) including transfers. Guests are asked to bring their own wine, however