South Australia Is Totally Having A Moment – Here’s 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 my country’s east coast. Ask me if I’ve been to Tassie, and I’ll say no. But Copenhagen? You betcha. 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 seduced by what’s far away, 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 “save it for later”, loading up the campervan for our retirement road trip.
But what if I told you there’s a place where you can get 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 find enough pristine, white-sand beach to rival a private Caribbean Island?
What if this place had a Mediterranean-classified climate, 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, right? I wanted to rectify my clearly foolish thinking, so I made my way to Adelaide to see a little for myself.
Punching Above Its Weight
In 2016, Adelaide threw a block party to celebrate the state’s #5 spot in Lonely Planet’s prestigious Best In Travel 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 4m-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 its similarities with Melbourne end. The weather, for starters, is Mediterranean. It has hot summers and mild winters, which make it perfect for the seemingly never-ending festivals the city loves to host and producing top-notch food.
All The 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.
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, to the almost exclusively regional wine lists at any bar we visit.
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. Adelaide’s café culture is on point, too.
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 (except maybe 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 for Adelaidians. even the Adelaide Oval (home to cricket and AFL) was designed so that punters always have a view of the surrounding parks.
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.
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) Have 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). Wine-lovers are in the right state – the Barossa and Clare Valleys are also a must-visit.
There’s also a Brewhaus at Hahndorf and the Prancing Pony at Mount Barker produces Australia’s only fire-brewed small-batch beer.
The Jewel Of SA
Kangaroo Island might 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, too, 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.
Sonia Taylor was a guest of South Australia Tourism. All photos are the author’s own.