Come to the beau­ti­ful south

Vis­i­tors in­vari­ably head to Ayers Rock and Syd­ney ne­glect­ing South Aus­tralia. Don’t, says Anthea Ger­rie

The Jewish Chronicle - - Travel -

IN A COUN­TRY packed with show-stop­pers like Ayers Rock, Syd­ney Har­bour and the Great Bar­rier Reef, it is not sur­pris­ing South Aus­tralia re­mains rel­a­tively undis­cov­ered by vis­i­tors. But that is a real shame, for packed into one easy-tonav­i­gate state (if “packed” is the right word for such mag­nif­i­cently empty ter­ri­tory) are hun­dreds of tourist treats, from beau­ti­ful wine coun­try to breath­tak­ing the Out­back and some of the most spec­tac­u­lar beaches in the world — all within an easy drive of Ade­laide in­ter­na­tional air­port.

The pret­tily named Fleurieu Penin­sula is the place to go for a heady com­bi­na­tion of vine­yards, beach and wildlife. A good fo­cus is McLaren Vale, known for a hand­ful of ac­claimed vin­tages. Tour­ing and tast­ing has been made easy by an in­ge­nious cheese-and-wine trail which in­volves pick­ing up a ham­per at the town’s Blessed Cheese café. This con­tains crack­ers, lo­cal cheese and other pic­nic fare, plus map and sug­ges­tions for match­ing wines. In prac­tice, the winer­ies will ar­range tast­ings of their range — and the best bit of the scheme is the voucher to ex­change for a take-home bot­tle.

A par­tic­u­larly good vine­yard to visit is the highly rated Wirra Wirra, which has lovely grounds and is close to a de­light­ful coun­try gallery, the Red Poles, which has a gar­den, en­tic­ing jew­ellery, pot­tery, pic­tures and rooms to stay.

But it would be hard to find a more sybaritic dwelling than the Vin­tage B&B, just out­side McLaren Vale with a fab­u­lous view of vines. It is a shame the DIY break­fast, lets down the qual­ity of the beau­ti­fully-dec­o­rated suites — on the sec­ond morn­ing we opted to break­fast in­stead at Blessed Cheese.

The best place to dine among the vine­yards is the award-win­ning Salop­ian Inn, which serves French fare with soft lights and mu­sic. But for lunch on a sunny day, there is no bet­ter place than the Star of Greece, a so­phis­ti­cated and colour­ful beach­side restau­rant which has at­tracted celebs from Kylie to Sting, serves de­li­cious food, wine and cock­tails all day at rea­son­able prices yet dis­plays no at­ti­tude.

It was at Port Wil­lunga, a 15-minute drive from McLaren Vale at the top of a long stretch of fab­u­lous clean, white sand which on the day we vis­ited was pretty well de­serted. Af­ter whiling away post-lunch hours swim­ming and beach-comb­ing, we headed to nearby Aldinga Beach just for the plea­sure of driv­ing the long stretch of sand de­sig-

nated for ve­hi­cles, and pho­tograph­ing the arty shel­ter com­plete with ca­nine sculp­ture and in­scrip­tion in me­mory of a much-loved lo­cal fish­er­man.

At the bot­tom of the penin­sula is the re­sort of Vic­tor Har­bour, which has all the at­trac­tions strangely ab­sent along the Aldinga stretch, per­haps the rea­son the beach is so de­light­fully un­der­used. Vic­tor Har­bour has less charm and more crowds, but for bird lovers it is the jump­ing off point for Gran­ite Is­land. Here, 2,000 of the tiny fairy pen­guins only found in the An­tipodes re­turn each night af­ter a hard day’s fish­ing, and vis­i­tors can book tours and travel the cause­way to the is­land on a horse­drawn tram.

But a more in­ti­mate op­tion is to take the tram by day, en­joy a su­per fish lunch at the out­door café over­look­ing the rocks, then in­spect the lit­tle birds at the res­cue cen­tre set up by Brit Dorothy Longden and her hus­band Keith.

Wildlife en­thu­si­asts with time to spare will also want to visit Kan­ga­roo Is­land, just a 45-minute cross­ing from the Fleurieu, which boasts not just a col­lec­tion of mar­vel­lous mar­su­pi­als, but many of the other curious and en­dear­ing an­i­mals for which Aus­tralia is fa­mous, from shy echid­nas to even more bash­ful koalas; here, also, are white dunes and spec­tac­u­lar boul­der­strewn beaches.

Food­ies on a tight sched­ule may pre­fer to stick to the wine coun­try — there is much of it to ex­plore in South Aus­tralia, no­tably the Barossa, where the big-name vine­yards are sit­u­ated, and the more rar­efied bou­tique op­er­a­tions of the Ade­laide Hills. Here, the lun­chonly Petaluma Restau­rant at Bridge­wa­ter Mill win­ery is one of South Aus­tralia’s most at­trac­tive.

But there are also un­miss­able sur­prises not far from the vines.

Head­ing north from McLaren Vale and skirt­ing the Barossa — paus­ing per­haps at the pretty town of Hah­n­dorf for a de­light­ful al­fresco lunch of dips and lo­cal cheeses at Ud­der De­lights and a tast­ing at the top-rated Hen­schke win­ery near Keyne­ton — vis­i­tors will sud­denly find them­selves en­coun­ter­ing un­ex­pected and breath­tak­ing Out­back very close to the Sturt High­way which con­nects Ade­laide with wild bush.

This is the jump­ing-off point for Por­tee Sta­tion, home to thou­sands of sheep coloured pink by the red earth; a long stretch of river frontage with ochre-coloured banks; and an ab­so­lutely de­light­ful Vic­to­rian home­stead run with great panache as an inn by Pat Kent and his wife Sally, a Brit and for­mer air ste­wardess.

The river view from the house is so stun­ning, it is tempt­ing to just crash in the spa­cious and com­fort­able bed­rooms with their pic­ture win­dows, or on the de­light­ful ve­ran­dah with a chilled bot­tle from the rea­son­ablypriced wine list. How­ever, the de­lights which come as stan­dard with the first night’s stay are not to be missed. This is wom­bat coun­try, and at dusk there is a chance to drive out along the out­back plains to look for the shy lit­tle crea­tures emerg­ing from their huge bur­rows. The trip is timed to co­in­cide with a spec­tac­u­lar sun­set along a private stretch of beach where Pat pours

Ade­laide, gate­way to the de­lights of South Aus­tralia

One of South Oz’s mag­nif­i­cently de­serted white sandy beaches

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