South Australia Is Totally Having A Moment – Here’s Why
The Australian state is totally having a moment.
You’ve probably heard a lot of good things about South Australia recently; SONIA TAYLOR visits the state to find out why.
I’m one of ~those~ Australians; the ones who spend years jetting off to exotic, faraway places without ever taking the time to explore beyond our east coast. Ask me if I’ve been to Tassie, and I’ll say no – but Copenhagen? Youbetcha. Perth? Not yet, but you must check out Kerala in southern India. And Uluru? It’s on my bucket list, but I’ve done the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and the llamas were adorable.
It’s easy to be swooned by the faraway, where the grass feels greener and more exciting simply because it isn’t here. But despite our big island home having some of the most diverse landscapes and wildlife on the planet – unlike any other country on earth – we still have a tendency to want to ‘save it for later’; loading up the campervan for our retirement road trip around Aus, cracking open a tinnie in a lawn chair on some red earth in the desert.
But what if I told you there’s a place where you can have your international fix at home? Where you can stroll fields of fragrant lavender as if in Provence, watch sea lions bask in the sunshine like San Francisco’s Pier 39, dive limestone sinkholes similar to Mexican cenotes, visit a lake in an extinct volcano that isn’t Oregon’s Crater Lake, and have enough pristine, white-sand beach all to yourself to rival a private Caribbean Island? What if this place had a Mediterranean-classified climate (and food to boot), with 13 world-class wine regions? And what if this place was less than 2.5 hours flying from Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne?
You’d want to go. And That’s precisely why Lonely Planet has named South Australia on its Best in Travel 2017 list. The Queen Mary II has put SA on her list too, choosing to dock at both Adelaide and Kangaroo Island.
I wanted to rectify my clearly foolish thinking, so I made my way to Adelaide to see a little for myself.
Adelaide punches way above its weight
Last weekend, Adelaide threw a block party to celebrate the state’s #5 spot in Lonely Planet’s prestigious list. We wove in and out of laneways strewn with lights, teeming with carts peddling produce from the region – from boutique distilleries to natural wines – as crowds listened to DJs and folk bands. Every bar or café we passed was charming and well kitted out.
One such post is the award-winning Pink Moon Saloon, a cabin-inspired A-frame bar and kitchen built into a four-metre-wide laneway. I was hoping to avoid the obvious comparison, but you don’t get much more Melbourne than that.
The city, like Melbourne, is well planned – but this is where my comparison to Melbourne ends. The weather, for starters, is Mediterranean. In fact, it’s classified as such. It has hot summers and mild winters, which makes it perfect for the never-ending festivals the city loves to host, and perfect for producing top notch food. Oh, the delicious food. Chef and TV presenter Callum Hann says, “SA’s food scene is a slice of Aussie culinary heaven” and I’m not going to disagree with the man.
Gimme all the food
It’s obvious the city is passionate and proud about food culture and seasonal, local produce. You can find it everywhere – from the beehive on the rooftop of our hotel, The Mayfair, serving up honey as local as it comes, to the almost exclusively regional wine lists at any bar we visit. The Clare Valley wine region is even collaborating with the Eyre Peninsula to transport fresh seafood to its cellar doors for pairings with its world-class Rieslings.
There’s a swag of great new and beloved eateries (check out Andre’s Cucina and Polenta Bar, Africola, Gondola Gondola, Osteria Oggi or Orana), rooftop and laneway bars, as well as food trucks in the CBD. It’s also a given that Adelaide’s café culture is on point. This southern city is positioning itself as a top Australian foodie destination, and it deserves the reputation.
The grass is greener
Adelaide is compact but has a spaciousness you just don’t get from other capital cities (bar Canberra), so I took an EcoCaddy tour of the city to take it all in. My guide, Jake, tells me the parklands are “the city’s biggest asset” – and they’re usually fringed by heritage sandstone cottages. The omnipresent green spaces are a point of pride to Adelaidians – even the Adelaide Oval (home to cricket and AFL) was designed so that punters always have a view of the surrounding parks.
And the festivals are plentiful
It doesn’t matter what time of year you head here, either – there is some kind of festival on. There’s everything from the Adelaide Fringe to WOMAdelaide to the Cellar Door Wine Festival, Clipsal 500 and OzAsia. I mean, for its size, Adelaide has a lot going for it.
Your gateway to the Outback
Hit up the Flinders Ranges to find mind-blowing vistas with rock formations, desert and ruins from pioneer homesteads (and a few emus pottering about). You can camp or even stay at a Station for a real Outback experience.
The Hills and valleys and beer and wine
The vine-covered Adelaide Hills area has more than 60 cellar doors and is known as “the land of the long lunch” (and probably long hangover, too). There’s also a Brewhaus at Hahndorf and the Prancing Pony at Mount Barker produces Australia’s only fire-brewed small-batch beer. And wine-lovers are in the right state – the Barossa and Clare Valleys are also a must-visit.
The jewel of SA
Kangaroo Island must be South Australia’s most famous port of call. It’s a rugged sanctuary for wildlife with impressive, diverse scenery. It’s kind of known for being a zoo without fences, and you’ll see kangaroos (obviously) but also rare birds, tammar wallabies, short-beaked echidnas and a bunch of koalas. Plus there are whales in winter and (another) colony of sea lions.
Surfing is pretty great here, but if you prefer dry land, you’re in luck! There’s a desert. Yep. A mini desert on the island known as Little Sahara where you can go sand boarding. You can also check out the National Park, which has the renowned wind-sculpted Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch.
When you’re done, take a load off and have a swill of Wild Gin from SA’s only boutique distillery, Kangaroo Island Spirits – it’ll go nicely with the Ligurian honey straight from the hive, handcrafted sheep’s milk cheese or sweet, freshwater crayfish.
Because that’s what you do in SA. You let its bounty and scenery – wild, yet familiar – transport you to another place.
(The writer was a guest of South Australia Tourism. All photos are author’s own.)