The run of the place

That fa­mil­iar Mcleod’s Daugh­ters home­stead has opened as a stylish coun­try­house ho­tel

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CHRIS­TINE MCCABE

WHO would have thought Drovers Run was an easy 45-minute drive from Ade­laide air­port and only mo­ments from the cel­lar doors of the Barossa Val­ley?

Those glossy-haired stars of tele­vi­sion’s pop­u­lar McLeod’s Daugh­ters, beloved across the globe (par­tic­u­larly in Ger­many, it seems), weren’t in the mid­dle of nowhere af­ter all.

But the il­lu­sion of TV is noth­ing com­pared to the magic wo­ven by the new own­ers of Kings­ford (aka Drovers Run), Ste­fan and Leanne Ahrens, Barossa busi­ness iden­ti­ties who have lav­ished count­less hours and even more dol­lars on restor­ing one of our most recog­nis­able home­steads.

Dat­ing from 1856 and hewn from Ed­in­burgh stone brought to Aus­tralia as ship’s bal­last, this hand­some Ge­or­gian-style house, with cu­ri­ous gothic por­tico, was built by pas­toral­ist and en­tre­pre­neur Stephen King.

His 19th-cen­tury spread has been whit­tled down to 90ha, hid­den in golden, rolling hills above the sleepy North Para River on the western edge of the Barossa.

And the prop­erty has passed through sev­eral hands since King’s pi­o­neer­ing day, in­clud­ing, most fa­mously, the Nine Net­work un­der Kerry Packer, who used the work­ing farm to film 224 episodes of McLeod’s Daugh­ters.

The Ahrenses have long known and loved Kings­ford. Their fourth-gen­er­a­tion, fam­ily-owned en­gi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion busi­ness, now a large na­tional con­cern with a min­ing ser­vices di­vi­sion, be­gan life in a tiny far­rier’s shop in nearby Shea-Oak Log in 1906 and Ste­fan, now the com­pany’s man­ag­ing direc­tor, re­mem­bers playing in the river at Kings­ford as a boy.

As we ap­proach the home­stead, which opened this month as a lux­ury coun­try-house ho­tel, along a nar­row gravel track (a path trod al­most ev­ery other day by Ger­man back­pack­ing McLeod’s Daugh­ters fans in­tent on a glimpse of the house), the 21st cen­tury re­cedes and a pal­pa­ble, lost-in-time magic takes hold.

It’s al­most as if this is still a film set. Sud­denly we are in the back of beyond and be­fore us is a house as el­e­gant as it is lonely and un­likely, sat like a gen­tle­man ex­plorer sur­vey­ing the dry hills with a linen hanky to his nose.

We are greeted at the large front door by Jas the sheep­dog and our hosts Pat and Sally Kent, who re­cently moved to Kings­ford from Ark­aba Home­stead in the Flin­ders Ranges.

They are still mopping up af­ter the builders, who spent three years work­ing an in­cred­i­ble trans­for­ma­tion. I don’t want to talk out of school, but those McLeod gals were no do­mes­tic god­desses.

The house was in a right state when the Ahrenses took over. It was strung with old light­ing ca­bles, an up­stairs room was en­cased in egg car­tons (for sound in­su­la­tion), the high ceil­ings and cedar trim­mings unloved and ig­nored for decades.

Pat rus­tles up a glass of bub­bles be­fore we climb the im­pres­sive cedar stair­case to em­bark on a quick tour of the new and very glam­orous Kings­ford Home­stead. There are six gue­strooms in the main house and an­other in the old stone­ma­son’s cot­tage tucked be­hind the kitchen gar­den.

Named for pre­vi­ous Kings­ford own­ers (in­clud­ing Kerry Packer), the suites have been stylishly kit­ted out in muted tones of cho­co­late, cream, dove grey and aubergine, and are equipped with large, su­per-comfy beds. The luxe en­suites are in a range of clever con­fig­u­ra­tions and fea­ture a se­lec­tion of tempt­ing tubs — claw­foot, spa and egg-shaped. There’s even an al­fresco op­tion — ‘‘a bush bath’’, Pat and Sally call it — by the river, out of sight, and cen­tre­piece for a sig­na­ture Kings­ford ex­pe­ri­ence.

I am in the Min­calta Suite (the name the Wirra peo­ple gave this area), af­ford­ing lovely views of the golden hills, and have the run of the house, in­clud­ing self-serve drinks from the well- stocked fridge in the kitchen where Danielle Stone, who trained with Michel Roux Jr at Le Gavroche in Lon­don, is whip­ping up din­ner.

There’s a comfy lounge with log fire and small li­brary, but the ve­randa is the best place to sit and read. The si­lence here is un­canny, with only swoop­ing swal­lows and ca­reen­ing red rump par­rots to break the reverie.

Kings­ford’s out­build­ings are as in­trigu­ing as the main house, and in­clude Meg’s Cot­tage (now Pat and Sally’s home) and a stun­ning stone wool­shed soon to be trans- formed into an en­ter­tain­ment space. A tow­er­ing stone wall has been re­paired and will shel­ter a heated swim­ming pool and day spa pavil­ion.

In the slate- flagged hall, a loom­ing cedar buf­fet (dubbed ‘‘the cof­fin’’) con­ceals the en­trance to a se­ries of cel­lars where bushrangers are thought to have once sought shel­ter. Today you’ll find noth­ing more men­ac­ing than an out­stand­ing col­lec­tion of wine picked by Ste­fan’s Barossa cronies.

Danielle serves din­ner in th­ese at­mo­spheric old store­rooms, honey-stoned walls flick­er­ing with can­dle­light, Barossa shi­raz flow­ing like the Mur­ray in flood. We tuck into local beet­root and goat’s cheese, wild-picked mush­rooms with truf­fle po­lenta and Kings­ford’s sig­na­ture wagyu beef daube with Barossa shi­raz jus. The Ahrenses have ac­quired a neigh­bour­ing par­cel of land and in­tend to rein­tro­duce here­ford cat­tle to the prop­erty, along with horses for de­voted McLeod’s Daugh­ters fans (al­ready book­ing in num­bers).

The Kings­ford team has also been busy re­plant­ing bush cor­ri­dors along the river and land­scap­ing nearer the house. For the mo­ment there is just the sense of a gar­den yet to grow but the lawns are in place, cuff­ing tall gums and drop­ping pep­per­corn trees.

Down by the river, the soft win­ter sun il­lu­mi­nates aged river red gums; deep pools are threaded with tall reeds and ar­ti­chokes grow wild. A marked walk tra­verses steep gul­lies where you’re likely to en­counter kan­ga­roos, and wa­ter­birds are here in abun­dance in sea­son. There are loads of won­der­ful picnic spots and the kitchen is more than happy to pack a bas­ket of local good­ies. Or you could head back to the house for an in- room mas­sage ( the ther­a­pists from the Green Room in An­gas­ton are ex­cel­lent) or tu­tored wine tast­ings in the cel­lar.

Guided wine tours are an­other op­tion. The near­est cel­lar door, only 10 min­utes away, is Pin­darie where Tony Brooks and Wendy Al­lan have worked yet an­other restora­tion mir­a­cle, trans­form­ing an old barn into a stylish tast­ing room with some of the best views in the Barossa. Come here in win­ter for a lo­cally made pie by the log fire.

Other lun­cheon op­tions in­clude Fer­ment Asian in Ta­nunda for fan­tas­ti­cally fresh and tasty Viet­namese and South­east Asian cuisine (the herbs are grown by chef Tuoi Do’s par­ents) or the just-opened restau­rant at Hent­ley Farm in Sep­pelts­field where ac­claimed chef Lach­lan Col­will is serv­ing up in­ven­tive de­gus­ta­tion lunches (think: Storm Bay salmon with sausage tartare, wild rice and sour sob flow­ers; and sweet potato ice cream) in a rav­ish­ingly re­stored sta­ble.

Af­ter­wards, if you ask nicely, Pat will col­lect you. The Kents are won­der­ful hosts and noth­ing is too much trou­ble. If you are af­ter a glass of bub­bles down by the river or a cuppa on the ve­randa while pe­rus­ing local pa­per The Bun­yip, just say the word. The McLeods may have gone but Kings­ford has never looked bet­ter. Chris­tine McCabe was a guest of Tourism South Aus­tralia and Kings­ford Home­stead.

Dat­ing from 1856, Kings­ford has been trans­formed from a run-down build­ing to a lux­ury coun­try-house ho­tel

Own­ers Leanne and Ste­fan Ahrens

Mem­bers of the cast of McLeod’s Daugh­ters

at ‘Drovers Run’

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