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Wine, Kangaroos and Playgrounds

01 February 2001

by Jillian Frater

At the suggestion of winter last year, Fraser and I hastily arranged a trip across the Tasman in search of less severe overnight lows and new terrain to explore by bike. South Australia appealed. Adelaide is by reputation a low key, traditional place without a Sea World, Movie World or any other kind of World seducing the kids. The new world's 'old world' Barossa vineyards lie to the north, majestic in their tradition and grand architecture. I've always maintained that cycling and wine tasting is a worthy mix. To the South is the raw and ruggedKangaroo Island - only recently made easily accessible with a regular ferry service.

We arrived mid May. It was a little cold and rainy, but still preferable to summer when the mercury easily hits 35 degrees and more. A little earlier in autumn or even spring would have been better. Our two boys, Max (four) and Finn (16 months) travelled in the bike trailer. Fraser was the horse. I carried panniers with our clothing and other bits and bobs. The terrain was undulating and we were able to skirt around the few grunty hills without compromising our route.

Adelaide is mostly flat and endowed with a number of bike paths, so it's pretty cruisy getting around the place. Bicycle South Australia produces a great set of maps showing the cycle paths and recommended routes. We effected our escape from Adelaide via the Glenelg bike path that surprise, surprise, led us to the seaside settlement of historic Glenelg. We discovered the first of many amazing Australian playgrounds where money appears to be no object. Fraser distracted the kids for eons as they took turns water-skiing ona spinning gizmo behind a wobbly boat mounted on giant springs. The cycling was punctuated by many such interludes. The kids always enjoyed a break from sitting in the trailer and we got to chew the fat with the locals hanging out there with their own kids.


Due to the time of the year and our reluctance tobe burdened with lots of winter stuff we decided not to camp. Instead we dossed in cabins, historic hotels and on occasion 'suffered' some drop-dead gorgeous B 'n' B's. Often we ended up staying in the country and were amazed at the huge number of kangaroos roaming around at dawn and dusk.

Being commitment-phobes we didn't pre-book any of our accommodation. It was good to be flexible - especially with the younger family members - riding just as far as we wanted to each day. This proved okay most of the time, but not on weekends when the denizens of Adelaide flee the city. Once or twice we had to invoke the assistance of the local tourist office and assorted deities to ensure we didn't end up destitute.

From Glenelg we headed down the coast, travelling on quiet roads near the beaches before joining a bike path next to the new southern expressway. The expressway is stark and boring but was still under construction so there was a complete absence of cars. By now there will be a continuous stream of vehicles burning vast amounts of fossil fuel. While the bike path is very functional, I would probably recommend other routes for scenery and interest.

Our route south took us through McLaren Vale, home of many a yummy wine. Then down (or perhaps that should be up and down) the hilly Fleurieu Peninsula. From the southern tip of the Fleurieu it is just a hop, skip and a marsupial jump to Kangaroo Island. We badly underestimated its size. Part way into the first days cycling we calculated it would take us another three or four days to do it justice. Shops and accommodation were also quite far apart - particularly in winter when much closes down. After much gnashing of teeth, we decided to cycle on to the main town of Kingscote and then rent a car for a day so we could tick off the main tourist sights. The Remarkable Rocks were mind blowing, and the seal and sea lion colonies equally good fun. A bit like Cinderella we were urged by the bloke who rented us the car to be home before dusk to avoid colliding with, or being jumped upon, by one of the island's numerous kangaroos. Apparently they are drawn to the warm tarseal. We saw enough roo road kill to make us take the warnings seriously.


Back on the mainland we checked out the cutesy towns of Strathalbyn and Hahndorf... and the best playground of the whole trip. It was in Victor Harbour and came complete with train, castle and pirate ship! We also stopped at the Herbig Tree in Springton, a large hollow river red gum that a family lived in with their ten children for several years in the 1850s.

Like bees to honey, the scent of Late Harvest Riesling drew us northwards to the Barossa. A spot of wine tasting followed by a picnic lunch in the sun at Yalumba remains a highlight. Another 'highlight' was 'Lego Man' - a 70-odd year old local who has a sprawling collection of Lego housed in his double garage. He gives 'garage tours' and rattles off the names of all the pieces like a machine gun. It's definitely look don't touch - agony for a four year old. All quite impressive, if a little spooky.

We put aside the rest of the Barossa for our return trip, and pushed further north to the Clare Valley. Another fine wine growing region, with a rail trail through its centre. It rained constantly as we poked around a few vineyards along the Riesling Trail, but not so much as to dampen our spirits or our appetite. We ate a wonderful lunch at Skillogalee Winery and enjoyed the cellars at Sevenhill Cellars, originally founded by Jesuit monks a few centuries ago. There are many delicious Bed and Breakfasts and cottages in the region. We spent alovely night at a beautifully restored mud-brick cottage on the outskirts of Auburn, complete with open fire, claw-foot bath and cooked breakfast. Life is good.

'Forced' to backtrack through the Barossa Valley in order to return to Adelaide, we had more great experiences of the grape at Peter Lehmann, Seppelts, Jacobs Creek and Yaldara. We could knock off about four wineries in a day - although the cycle computer didn't clock up too many miles in that mode. I loved that heightened sense of anticipation as we coasted the last few metres to a stop outside the next tasting room.

Finally we tore ourselves away from the Barossa and headed back to Adelaide, stopping at Australian icons such as the National Car Museum in Birdwood (the decoupage Hillman Minx with caravan took my fancy) and the Big Rocking Horse at Gumeracha. Getting into the city was a blast as we hooted down a little used gorge that links up with a bike path along the Torrens River, that spat us out in downtown Adelaide.

South Australia definitely has a lot to offer. Remarkably we didn't see any others on bikes while we were there. Clearly, only crazy kiwis tour in winter. If sumptuous wineries, historic Bed and Breakfasts, wild coastlines and bouncing kangaroos aren't your thing, there are always the five star playgrounds.

Nitty Gritty

  • Lonely Planet Cycling Australia and the tourist commission were both great for initial planning and for sussing out accommodation. 
  • Bicycle South Australia - are enthusiastic, helpful people who sell maps, offer advice and hire bikes. 
  • The Royal Automobile Association (41 Hindmarsh Square) has great maps - free if you are a member of the AA in Australia or New Zealand (be sure to take your card).
  • We had a Burley D'lite trailer. It can carry two kids and a reasonable stash of gear. It's relatively light (9kg unladen) and folds flat for freighting. With the two boys and our gear, the total towing weight was close to the trailer's rated 50 kg max. That's okay on the flat but 2 - 3 gears slower on the hills.