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Hal and Nancy in South Australia, 2002

Here is a description of Hal and Nancy's 2002 trip to South Australia. For those of you who have read my (Hal’s) other trip reviews, such as here, you'll know that there is a lot of mundane information included, including my selections from restaurant menus and wines. I've included these because the purpose of this article is to be a memory jogger for us, not entirely for everyone else. (By the way, in some of the photos below you'll see Nancy in a cast. She recently broke her wrist ice skating, but her cast was not too much of an impediment on the trip.)

25 Dec: Departure

UA 863 departed at 11pm Christmas night for a 14-hour flight, plus an additional two hours waiting for a maintenance delay.  This overnight flight is a good one because you can sleep at about your normal time and arrive in the morning, although you "lose" one day along the way.

27 Dec: Sydney

We arrived at 10am and checked in to Le Meridien hotel, near the Rocks and Circular Quay, a very nice business hotel. We lunched at Eastbank Cafe outside on the Quay; I had "white bait" on lettuce, which turned out to be dozens of tiny whole fish, smaller than sardines, deep-fried and tossed in a mustardy sauce.

We took a reasonably informative hop-on-off double-decker bus tour called Sydney Explorer. Dinner at Salt restaurant in the Darlinghurst district, serving very trendy modern Australian cuisine: scallops in a ceviche-like presentation, strawberry daiquiri sorbet, and a fabulous veal loin. The wine list was small, but excellent, and I ordered by the glass: 02 Millton Viognier, 00 Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay, and 97 Grant Burge Cameron Vale Cabernet.

28 Dec: to Adelaide

Torrens River
camels

We were up early for the 2-hour flight on Qantas. There's a 30-minute time zone change from Sydney (so it is 18.5 hours ahead of San Francisco). We rented a Hertz Ford Falcon, the color of which was described by the rental agent as Barossa, giving it more of a local flavor than Burgundy. This was our second experiment in driving on the left side of the road and it worked out fine; Australian roads and highways are very well marked, much more so than comparable roads in the U.S. Our hotel is the Hyatt Regency, comfortable and convenient (and pretty cheap in US $).

It's very hot today--upper 90s Fahrenheit--and really debilitating in the direct sun. It's South Australia Day today, the 166th anniversary of the state, and there are festivities on Lake Torrens (really a wide spot in the river), which attracted about 1,000 people to hear bands and ride camels. (We heard later in the trip that Australia has the largest herd of wild camels in the world.)

We walked through the Rundle pedestrian mall, supposedly the most concentrated shopping area in the southern hemisphere. Lunch of pizza at Amici's, which was unmemorable. The South Australian Museum had interesting Aboriginal art and cultural exhibits, stuffed fauna, and a giant pigmy blue whale skeleton (in the cafe, oddly). And air conditioning!

Adelaide

Adelaide is a nice city, rather small (about one million people, with a central business district you can walk across in 10 minutes), and very green. It’s completely surrounded by parks and has no freeways in the center. We remarked to ourselves about how clean it was, with virtually no trash or graffiti. It's not a city to spend a lot of time in, although there is a zoo, a botanical garden, and a few museums and historic buildings. We spent most of our time driving around outside, returning mostly for dinners.

Dinner that night was at Le Zinc, a casual and pleasant bistro with a really good winelist: chicken liver pate, confit du canard, 99 d'Arenberg The Custodian Grenache.

29 Dec: Around Adelaide

flea market

The forecast was for 100+ degrees and humid today, but thankfully it was overcast and coolly pleasant all day. (We found during the week that the Australian weather forecasts were often inaccurate.) We started by driving to Port Adelaide, an old fishing port. Lots of museums and cruises here, but we chose the Fishermen's Wharf flea market, a huge building with two levels of stalls. Wow, was this stuff cheap! Next, the Semaphore beach district, with a long jetty into the sea, cafes, a tiny carnival, and a narrow-gauge steam railroad. 

wildlife

Then back through the city to the nearby Adelaide Hills. We stopped at Mt Lofty Summit, which isn't very high, but it dominates the landscape of Adelaide. There's a beautiful view, and we understand from a cab driver that it is particularly impressive at night. Nearby was Cleland Wildlife Park, which was like a zoo without cages. We saw koalas, wallabies, dingoes, emus, kangaroos (red, gray, and Kangaroo Island varieties), and Tasmanian Devils. The Devils were confined behind a wall, but we got to interact with and pet all the others. We even saw Kookaburra birds stealing chips from the outside tables of the cafe, where we had lunch. Some of my favorite animals, wombats, were missing due to renovation of their habitat.

Hahndorf

Then it was a short drive to Hahndorf, a picturesque touristy town founded by German immigrants. Some wineries were nearby, such as Nepenthe and Shaw & Smith, but this was not a designated wine-touring day. For dinner, we walked to O'Connell St in North Adelaide, which has a number of nice casual restaurants. At Ciba Restaurant, I had zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and mushrooms, a veal chop, and a 97 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz.

30 Dec: The Barossa

Today is the first of our wine visiting days. (Nancy likes to limit winery visiting because she is bored by wine and has to sit in the car while I'm tasting.) The day was sunny to start, but a big thunderstorm hit suddenly at noon. All the locals were happy about this because Australia has been in a very lengthy drought. The Barossa Valley surrounds the cute little towns of Tanunda and Nuriootpa. This area is very reminiscent of the Napa Valley in California, but only in terms of terrain; the tourist infrastructure is more like California in the 1960s. Very few of the wineries I visited offered tours, which is generally the norm in California. Also, unlike California, where they typically serve three to five wines in the tasting room, sometimes for a fee, the Australian "cellar doors" often had 20+ wines to taste for free. I rarely had more than four or five, selecting the most interesting choices from their red wine lists. (And in case you wonder about my driving ability, I actually just taste wines and spit them out.) The cellar door tasting rooms were all very friendly. A thing I noticed was that the Australians who visited these rooms often wanted the sweetest wines available and were interested in the fortified selections, such as ports. During the week, I read in the newspaper that 54 percent of Australian wine is delivered in casks, otherwise known as box wine. Every winery I visited had significant bargains and the Australian wine lists in restaurants were low-priced and offered great selections. Here are the wineries I visited in the Barossa and the wines I particularly liked in each:

In the middle of the giant thunderstorm, we stopped at Maggie Beer's Farm for lunch. Maggie was the chef at a famous restaurant, but she and her husband now run a pheasant farm and winery and sell some of the ingredients that made her restaurant famous. We had an interesting cheese plate with a Cabernet paste (a very dense jam). Another highlight of her cooking is verjuice, which is unfermented grape juice used in place of wine in cooking.

Back in Adelaide, we had dinner at Nu's Thai restaurant on Gouger (pronounced Goo-jer) Street: duck and prawn spring rolls, green curry with prawn and chicken balls, 00 Rockford Moppa Springs GSM (Grenache, Syrah/Shiraz, and Mourvedre/Mataro, an up-and-coming blend in Australia, and well-suited to the spicy Thai cuisine).

31 Dec: South of Adelaide

Central Market

We started early in Adelaide at the Central Market, which had loads of great produce, meats, wines, and breakfast.

Then we headed south of Adelaide for our second mostly winery day. McLaren Vale is a much prettier wine region than the Barossa. The wineries visited and good selections were:

This essentially ended my wine touring. There are three other famous wine regions in South Australia, but all were too far away to be reasonable drives for this trip: the Clare Valley, Padthaway, and Coonawarra.

horse tram

In between these visits, we drove down the Fleurieu Peninsula to the town of Victor Harbor. We had only a very limited time to spend in town, but we were able to take the horse tram to Granite Island. This is one of only two horse-driven trams in the world and the big Clydesdale horses made easy work pulling a vehicle that was about the size of a double-decker trolley car. It was very windy on the waterfront and on the island. We had lunch at the Granite Island bistro, which was unremarkable. Another thing to do in town is to visit the whaling museum, but we chose to drive on.

Dinner in Adelaide was at Taj Tandoor, a decent Indian restaurant on Rundle Street. We actually had no reservations for New Year's Eve; we went early, wandered around, and selected something that looked good. We had both lamb and chicken dishes, names of which I cannot remember, and a 99 d'Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz. That night there were fireworks scheduled at Victoria Square, but we decided to watch them from our hotel window. Going home early was a good decision because high winds prompted the City Council to limit the fireworks to less than two minutes.

1 Jan: Around Adelaide

Happy New Year! Adelaide is a dead town on New Year's Day. I thought I had the opportunity to weasel in one more winery visit: Chain of Ponds is in the Adelaide Hills, and we took a long winding road to reach it, only to find that they were either sleeping late or lying about which holidays they supported. As a consolation, I visited the National Wine Center in Adelaide, which is a brand-new museum for the wine industry across Australia. It was moderately interesting, although I would not recommended for most people who are not interested in wines. We did eat at an excellent restaurant in the museum, called de Castelli's: duck leg on polenta, 99 Rochford Victoria Pinot Noir. As you might imagine, the wine list was excellent. We were disappointed to find that they are not open for dinner: we would have returned that evening if it had been.

Glenelg trolley

In the afternoon we took a 1929-vintage trolley car to the seaside town of Glenelg. The town was cute with lots of restaurants and cafes and was reminiscent, once again, of a U.S. town in the '50s.

Dinner in Adelaide was at the Universal Wine Bar on Rundle St: duck pate and rack of lamb with cous-cous, glasses of 01 Yalumba Eden Vallet Viognier, 02 Groom Adelaide-Hills Sauvignon Blanc, 02 Torbreck Jouveniles GSM, 00 Leconfield Coonawarra Cabernet, and 99 Seppelts Botrytis Gewurztraminer dessert wine.

2 Jan: Kangaroo Island

The next couple of days we spent on an arranged tour of Kangaroo Island. We took a 30-minute puddle jumper flight to Kingscote, its only airport. It is large island, 155 by 55 kilometers, with only 4,000 people, but 800,000 sheep. We were picked up by Ron of Adventure Charters of Kangaroo Island and were two of six guests in a customized and comfortable Toyota Land Cruiser. The others were a couple from NYC and another from Switzerland, both very friendly.

Ron was very knowledgeable about the island and its wildlife. In the first day we tramped around in the bush and saw glossy-black cockatoos, koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, a goanna monitor lizard, an echidna spiny anteater, and a laughing kookaburra. It was a cool day, so many of these generally nocturnal beasts were findable. We kept quiet and at a distance, trying not to disturb the wildlife. We also saw lots of road kill, including koalas and a full-size kangaroo.

echidna

goanna

Many of the South Australia cars and trucks are fitted with giant bumpers that are called "roo bars" to prevent damage from these large animals. In the afternoon we drove to Seal Bay, where we saw hundreds of sea lions lounging on the beach. Ron prepared a delicious barbeque lunch of local King John Whiting, salad, and a local wine, 00 Cape d'Estaing Cabernet. (There was also nice local Chardonnay.) The tour included dinner and a room at Kangaroo Island Lodge, which was a modest motel. The dinner was OK: tomato soup, fillet of beef, 00 Dudley Partners Porky Flat (KI) Shiraz. After dark, we borrowed 'torches' and went searching for wallabies. We found four in short order within 50 feet of the hotel. Their eyes reflect red! At night they look rather like enormous rats.

3 Jan: Kangaroo Island

arch

rocks

Our second day on the island involves a lot of long driving. We started at the Cape de Couedic, where a lighthouse had been built in 1902. We walked down a long boardwalk and encountered a dramatic archway in the rock, studded with petrified tree roots that looked like stalactites. Once again, there were lots of sea lions playing and fighting all over the rocks. Next, we visited the Remarkable Rocks, which lived up to their name. It is an enormous granite formation that pushed up over millions of years from 10 miles beneath the surface and has been so eroded over time that looks like giant individual boulders balancing on top of a hill. Ron prepared a picnic lunch, including salad, cold chicken, local cheese, and 01 Langhorne Creek Bernoota, a Cabernet/Shiraz blend. All of this occurred in the Flinders Chase national ark. In the modern visitor center, we were met by a young kangaroo who was quite tame. This made us rather sad because the kangaroo had turned into a beggar, looking for handouts, which is not something the Australians encourage in their wildlife. We completed the day by visiting a 3,000 acre sheep ranch station now owned by the Park Service. We wandered quietly through the bush looking for kangaroos and koalas and found a number of the former.

Our short flight back arrived at 7 PM in Adelaide, where we dined at Tiffany's Thai restaurant. I had Crying Rooster, which was like fajitas without the tortillas, and 99 Rouge Homme Coonawarra Cabernet. After dinner, we walked back and stopped at the high stand outside the railroad station next to the hotel and had a taste of the quintessential South Australian dish, a "pie floater," which is a minced meat pie floating in a bowl of green pea soup, topped with a swirl of ketchup. (It was actually better than that sounds.)

4 Jan: Return

Our final day was traveling, with a two-hour Qantas flight to Sydney, a three-hour layover, and then United Airlines 862 to San Francisco, a 12.75-hour flight. Although we departed Saturday afternoon, we arrived back in San Francisco Saturday morning.

We enjoyed our trip to Adelaide and South Australia. It was a relaxing time without any great tourist attractions comparable to, say, Disneyland. But it was a nice way to spend the holiday break. Visiting the bush on Kangaroo Island in particular was very enjoyable and the tour company did a great job. The thing that impressed us most about Australia was how friendly and outgoing all of the Australians are. There are still a lot of places in Australia we haven't visited and we hope to return soon.