Purring through the pancake-flat pastoral countryside, north of Naracoote, my Great Ocean Road and Beyond small-group tour was on final approach to glittering Adelaide. With a population density of around one person per square kilometre, the sprawling landscapes of the Murraylands wrapped around us, a bucolic expanse of rural life, rich in colour and texture. Our final day’s touring encompassed the rich variety of South Australia’s sightseeing bounty, from sweet little hamlets and storied heritage to the decorated vineyards that carpet South Australia’s landscape. A coffee-stop beckoned in pint-sized Coonalpyn, which has become a reflexive stop for travellers, pausing to admire the monumental public art.
Three years ago, Guido van Helten was given the keys to Coonalpyn, transforming five towering grain silos into skyscraper murals. The artist painted five local schoolchildren on the 30-metre tall Viterra silos, blasting through 200 cans of spray paint and bucketloads of normal paint. It’s a masterly work, so be sure to acquaint yourself with the silo kids: Ciara, Blake, Reef, Kiarah and Macey. Back on the road, before long, the asphalt met the river and we crossed the mighty Murray by ferry at Wellington. Like New Zealand’s capital, the settlement takes its name from the Duke of Wellington and was the first established ferry crossing point, traversing the Murray, transporting people and goods across the water since 1839.
South Australia’s spoil of wine regions is tantalising, from the big boys at Barossa to the boutique delights at McLaren Vale. A runaway highlight of the day was to sample a wine region I had been previously unfamiliar with: Langhorne Creek. Located on the plains southeast of Strathalbyn, wreathing the lower reaches of the Bremer River and Angas River to Lake Alexandrina, Langhorne Creek is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions. The area was founded in the 1850s’ on the broad flood plain crowned by majestic River Red Gums. Fresh, crisp evening breezes from Lake Alexandrina provide a micro-climate of milder summer days and cool evenings, pitch-perfect for the extended ripening of the grapes which helps produce intense cooler climate flavours.
We parked up at Bremerton Winery, a family-run operation for the Wilson sisters, where a sublime cellar door and restaurant has been set in a restored iron stone barn that reaches back to 1866. Lavishly-loaded platters, showcasing gourmet regional delights from jams and cheeses to cured meats, served as a flavourful lunch, alongside sampling some of their award-winning wines. Signature drops include their Selkirk Shiraz and Coulthard Cabarent Sauvignon.
After much indulgence, our final romp led us through Strathalbyn, a Scottish serenade to the Adelaide Hills, thick on the ground with antiques and collectible stores. Vintage purveyors, rejoice. But the star attraction of the verdant and cooling Adelaide Hills is indisputably Hahndorf, the historic German village. Founded in 1839 by Prussian and east German Lutherans fleeing persecution, the town's main street is flanked by about 90 historic buildings, brimming with craft shops, galleries, cellar doors and restaurants. It is an ideal place to buy traditionally made wursts and small goods or indulge in German teacakes and strudels.
Needless to say, Hahndorf’s seduction is swift and strong. The German settlers brought farming and artisan skills to the fledgling colony and their remarkable story is deftly told at the Tourism Information Centre in the lovely Hahndorf Academy. Alighting from our coach, with free reign to delve into the main street delights, the stand-outs for me started with the Hahndorf Inn. For the full German eating experience, this is where to head for their pickled pork hocks, pork knuckles, sauerkraut and array of bockwurst, bratwurst, weisswurst and kransky sausages. If that sounds like wurst-overload, at least pop in for a stein of German beer and a pretzel.
Udder Delights Cheese Cellar is a must, specialising in goat's cheese and its $30 high tea includes sandwiches, cheese and onion tarts and chocolate and raspberry cheesecake. Sinfully indulgent. Hahndorf has been reinvented in recent years with a much greater focus on premium food and wine. The colourful main street is aflutter with more than 30 epicurean outlets, restaurants and cafes. Artisan chocolates are being made at Chocolate @ No.5 (beware the lethal chocolate tiramisu in raspberry coulis), there's fresh smoked salmon at Harris Smokehouse and outlets specialising in German pastries. Wrap your lips around a bienenstich! Need a cooldown? Don’t miss the kerbside Icecreamery. If you’re up for more wine tasting, on Main Street, the welcoming Moody family has opened a cellar door showcasing its Somerled wines.
Across the road is One Planet, which sells its wines in eco-responsible cartons. Renowned Australian landscape painter Hans Heysen lived in Hahndorf for more than 50 years. If you have the time, pay a visit to his former home, The Cedars, which lies on the outskirts of town. The homestead is chock-full of family treasures and paintings by Heysen, including many portraits and still-lifes. His studio is freeze-framed, just as he left it, when he died in 1968. Our riveting four day swing on the Great Ocean and Beyond tour climaxed atop Mount Lofty summit, where the citywide panoramas across lush and leafy Adelaide are seraphic. This is a journey of great discovery and great company, right-sized and leisurely-paced, delivered with personable style, care and comforts galore.
Staying in Adelaide? Pullman Adelaide lords over the gardens of Hindmarsh Square in the heart of the city. This new 5-star hotel sports comfortable, ultra-contemporary decor and deluxe amenities. All rooms include an ergonomic work-desk, an LCD TV with cable channels and luxurious bedding; you can unwind in the lap pool, enjoy a work-out in the well-equipped fitness centre and dine at Salt restaurant and bar, which serves up a superb buffet breakfast. https://pullmanadelaide.com.au/
Great Ocean Road and Beyond combine awe-inspiring sightseeing, local secrets and vivacious company with elegant four-star accommodation options, throughout this four day tour from Melbourne to Adelaide. Breakfast and lunch is covered by the tour, at characterful cafes and eateries where you get an indelible introduction to the friendly locals, while dinner is up to you, from the plethora of local hospitality options. Savour the splendour of Southern Australia on this unique four day tour, which is leisurely paced, loaded with memorable experiences and sparkling company. Soak it all up, in style and comfort. https://greatoceanroadandbeyond.com.au/
Are you planning a great escape to the diverse riches of South Australia? Make your first stop the official tourism website, awash with trip inspiration and touring ideas. www.adelaide.co.nz
Award-winning Air New Zealand fly non-stop from Auckland to Adelaide, four to six times a week, whisking you direct to the delights of South Australia, eliminating the hassle of airport transits and onward connecting flights. For best fares and seats to suit, jump to www.airnewzealand.co.nz
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.