Terra Australis – South Australia
If I’m honest, I didn’t have any desire to go to South Australia prior to my friend moving there. I had previously read about Adelaide when I was considering taking the train from Perth to Sydney, and nothing about the place really sold it to me. Living in New Zealand, we are constantly fed images of Sydney and the Gold Coast as ideal holiday locations, and whilst the east coast of Australia is cheap to fly to, any further west than Melbourne is more expensive. Having not seen my friend in over 2 years, and with her now living in Adelaide, I decided to make use of an airline sale to venture over there to see her.
Flying low over the Adelaide Hills, we swung round the edge of the city and approached the airport skirting the north of the CBD. My initial impression was how small it was. The CBD itself is a tightly packed cluster of high rise buildings surrounded on all four sides by parkland, separating it from the suburbs which sprawl out in all directions. It was a very quick bus ride into the city, and I was immediately struck by how devoid of people it was. After checking in at my hostel, I went in search of somewhere to have dinner and everything I came across was closed! For a Saturday night there was barely a soul about and even the takeaways and fast food joints were in the dark. I was shocked. I came to realise that I had arrived on a long weekend, with a public holiday to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. The shops had shut early, and only certain areas of the city were open for business. Thankfully, I eventually stumbled upon Rundle Street where there was plenty of choice to both eat and drink to my heart’s content, and finally there was a flurry of activity about the place with many of the restaurants and bars already packed both inside and out.
The first thing I had done on my arrival was book a day trip to Kangaroo Island for the next day. It was an early start, getting picked up at 6am for the 1.5hr drive down to the ferry terminal. The sun rose as we left the city behind, but unfortunately the further south we headed, the rain clouds rolled in and the mist came down. Still, it was possible to see many kangaroos roaming the fields at the side of the road, and when we arrived to board the ferry, it was clear that the clouds were moving away. After a 45 minute ferry ride over to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island, the sun was out and we bundled back onto another bus for a long day of driving. I had been recommended to spend a couple of days on the island, as the day tour would be quite rushed, and if I had had more time I would have done so. As it was, it was quite an expensive excursion for 1 day, never mind 2, and I just didn’t have the time. It was definitely one of those days where more time was spent sat on a bus than was actually spent at all the stops we went to, but it was a good over-view of a very enchanting and idyllic island.
The first stop was at Seal Bay Conservation Park where a colony of Australian sea lions come ashore to rest. Even on the walk down the path towards the beach, there were several lying in the way or in the dunes either side. A pup lay suckling from its mother as we walked by, and several sea lions lay fast asleep, oblivious or unperturbed by our presence. Reaching the sandy beach, groups of sea lions lay fast asleep, whilst others mulled at the water’s edge. They’re such pretty creatures, and having only ever seen them in a zoo before, it was fantastic to see them in the wild.
A short drive from there, we reached a park area where we were to be guaranteed to see some koalas. Sure enough, wandering through a group of eucalyptus trees, it wasn’t long before some were spotted. I saw 6 in total, and 5 of them were doing what koalas do best: sleeping. The other one was climbing down the tree, the most activity I have ever seen a wild koala doing. I once saw a juvenile koala running, but it was in a zoo, and it was running away from older koalas who were attempting to beat the poor creature up. Every tree it climbed it was met by an angry adult koala who swiped at it and groaned at it. I’m sure similar behaviour occurs in the wild, but no matter what time of day I see them, all the wild ones I’ve ever seen are curled up on a branch, fast asleep.
Nearby there were some kangaroos mowing the grass, and we watched them for a very short time before heading on to our lunch stop. Suitably refreshed, we continued west to the Remarkable Rocks. On the southern coastline within Flinders Chase National Park, sits some bizarre shaped rocks on a smooth granite rock base. They are naturally formed, but very localised to one area, and have been sculpted into their current shape by the wind, sea and rain. Our guide told us that tours on the previous two days had spotted migrating humpback whales passing by and I stared out to sea ever hopeful for a glimpse of my favourite marine mammal. By this point it was a gorgeous sunny day, and despite my mild disappointment at not seeing any whales, it was a beautiful spot to be by the sea under a clear blue sky.
Cape de Couedic with its lighthouse was not much further round the coast, and from the viewing platform it was possible to look east along the coast and see the Remarkable Rocks in the distance. Down a walkway from the lighthouse was Admiral’s Arch, a sea-blasted archway in the rock, around which was the home of a colony of New Zealand Fur Seals. I have seen plenty of these guys in New Zealand, and if you know where to go, especially in the South Island, they are everywhere, but this colony was bigger than any I had seen back home. The size of the colony also meant a stronger smell, and with little else happening other than sleeping, I didn’t mind the restricted time that we had been allowed to stay for. It was a beautifully rugged coastline though, taking the full brunt of the southern seas.
I got a nice surprise when we stopped at the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre on the way back towards the ferry. Aside from some gorgeous red parrots near the entrance, I went for a short wander to kill time whilst everyone else meandered round the gift shop. Meandering round the car park, my attention was caught by some rustling in the under growth and a movement in the corner of my eye. I couldn’t believe my luck to see a wild echidna snuffling through the leaf litter looking for an evening meal. It wandered oblivious to me, and I looked around excitedly wanting to share my find with somebody. I caught the attention of a girl on my tour bus, and the two of us silently watched the echidna rummage about, enjoying our private wildlife experience away from the noise of our tour group. Soon enough, we had to leave it behind, and head back to Penneshaw to catch the evening ferry back to the mainland. It was a long day, arriving back in Adelaide at 10.30pm in the dark, and hitting my pillow, I was out like a light.
With my friend not returning from a camping trip till the afternoon of the Monday, I took the opportunity in the morning to explore her home city. Arriving in the dark and being away all day the day before, I had yet to see much of the place. It was the Queen’s Birthday holiday so still a lot of places were closed, but there was a bit more activity going on with many people having the day off work. What I came to love about Adelaide were the heritage buildings which were all over the place within the city. From churches, to offices, and private residencies, there are some stunning colonial-style buildings from the 19th century, many of them baring the date of build or with plaques detailing some of the history of the place. Like any city, it has its modern multi-storey glass offices, but there was plenty of old architecture to keep me happy.
I didn’t have a plan, just wandering the streets from west to east and vice versa, working my way north towards the Torrens river. On its banks stands the casino and convention centre, and on the north side is the AFL stadium. The riverbank was in the process of being improved, and a relatively new bridge spanned the river. Pelicans slept by the water’s edge, and I followed the south bank to the east until I reached the edge of the CBD. Cutting south to the Botanical Gardens, I came upon a group of trees filled with colourful rainbow lorikeets feeding. Winter time is never the best time to visit gardens, as they aren’t in their prime, and the city council was clearly in the process of doing some renovations. After meandering past the university, the art gallery and the museum, I finally met up with my friend for a much needed catch up and dinner.
I don’t think I’ve ever been on so many wrong turns in my life, but by the time we reached the Barossa Valley, South Australia had really grown on me. It is a wine-lover’s paradise, and we set about stopping at vineyards to do some wine tasting. I’m a white wine girl, and my friend is a red wine lover, and between the two of us, we worked our way through several winelists at each place. The first place we stumbled upon thanks to yet another wrong turn, but it had that quintessential Mediterranean feel to it, and it was exceedingly picturesque. With some more wrong turns, we eventually reached the Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre. For me, Jacob’s Creek had always been that cheap wine that everyone drunk as a student, so I wasn’t fussed about going there, but my friend had loved their special red from a previous visit and she wanted more, so we duly turned up, and I found myself buying some delicious wine that blew me away. The grounds were stunning, and having packed a picnic of cheeses and spreads, we sat out in the cool winter sunshine and pigged out on the most amazing picnic I have ever had.
A few more cellar doors later and we had both purchased enough wine to see us through for a while. It was great fun, and a fantastic way to explore the region, sampling so many local flavours along the way. As the day wore on, we headed back towards Adelaide and continued that little bit further west to reach the sea at Henley Beach. It is a beautiful coastline with several beaches and suburbs littered along the way, and we parked ourselves on a bench with fish & chips to watch the sun set over the sea. It was cool, but beautiful, and we headed to the local gelato shop prior to calling it a night.
To the south-east of Adelaide lies Mt Lofty in the Adelaide Hills. From the viewing area at the summit, the city and coastline beyond are visible in the distance. It was a hazy day, so the view wasn’t the sharpest, but still you could pick out the airport and the various buildings of the CBD. I had read about the Waterfall Gully Track and managed to convince my friend to do it. Starting from Mt Lofty summit, it steeply descends down the mountainside through a eucalyptus forest, round bends and past waterfalls to a car park and visitor centre on a lower summit. It was a busy track, and the whole way down we passed red-faced sweaty runners and hikers slogging their way back up. It seemed like a never-ending hike down, but in actual fact, the way back up didn’t seem as bad as we anticipated, although it was definitely a tough walk. Surprisingly, there was very little wildlife in the forest, only a few cockatoos flitting between the branches near the top.
It was only a little further along the road to reach Hahndorf, a quaint little German town which I loved purely because most of the shops were unique and sold cakes, and cheeses, and meats, and chocolates. It was fantastic, walking round sampling all the locally produced foods, and we bought plenty of it to take home and eat later. After a delicious lunch in a cosy restaurant, and a bit more wine tasting, we headed back to Adelaide to prepare for a fantastic evening drinking Barossa Valley wine and eating cheeses, and spreads and cakes from our Hahndorf hoard.
There was still plenty to explore in Adelaide, and with a bit of time to myself to kill, I headed to the southern parks and wandered round the Japanese garden before heading up to the Central Market. I had read that it was a must-do activity in the city and I wasn’t disappointed. Getting there late in the morning it was absolutely packed, and it was an unbelievable sensory overload. Row after row of stalls sold meats, cheeses, fruits, veg, fish, bread, cakes, nuts, chocolates, coffee and flowers. There was so much to look at and smell, and with my belly craving lunch, there was just too much choice. Eventually I picked the most amazing sandwich I’ve had in a long time and some fresh yoghurt which I ate whilst waiting on the tram to Glenelg.
Glenelg lies on the coast to the south-west of Adelaide, about an hour on the tram from the CBD. Being winter, the beachfront was quiet and windy, but it reminded me of a quieter version of Surfer’s Paradise with its high rise apartment blocks lining the promenade. Had it been a sunnier day I probably could have sat by the beach for hours, but as it was it felt a bit exposed on that overcast day, and with my friend driving down to meet me, we wandered the streets instead, sampling a local coffee shop before taking a drive to Harbour Town for some outlet shopping. On the way home, we took a detour to go to Ikea, a store which I desperately wish would come to New Zealand, having furnished my flat in Scotland from there. It felt slightly surreal being at the opposite side of the world wandering round that oh-so familiar layout.
My last full day in Adelaide, the heavens opened. After breakfast at Central Market, I took refuge at the South Australian museum. It passed a couple of hours, but I was quite disappointed with it. The exhibitions were average and nothing really wowed me. To make matters worse, there were multiple school classes jostling about the place, and they got in my way and under my feet. With the weather not amenable to wandering further outdoors, I had a lazy afternoon prior to meeting my friend on Rundle Street for an evening of sampling the local nightlife. We ventured only between two bars, one of which had a dance floor upstairs, and I was impressed by the selection of bars, and restaurants in the area. My night club days long behind me, I felt old, but endevoured to last as long as I could, hitting the pillow after 1am.
With more time, I would love to get north to the Flinders Ranges, a region I’d hoped I’d get to on this trip until I realised how far away it was, as well as the Murray River. Having spoken to several other travellers, Adelaide seems to be a great starting point for heading north to Alice Springs and Darwin beyond, and eager to see these places myself, I would most likely head there from Adelaide in the future. Whilst not having the glitzy draw of Sydney and the Gold Coast, South Australia still has plenty to offer, albeit in a more laid back fashion. With wildlife, beaches and vineyards on Adelaide’s doorstep, I think it doesn’t deserve to be so overlooked.