South Australia’s wine trail to the Outback
Head due north from Adelaide for about 125 kilometres and you’ll climb about 500 metres to the Clare Valley, a wine region best known for its Riesling, though it’s home to a wide range of other varietals. With more than 30 tempting cellar doors, it’s a good place to abandon the car and cycle instead. Fortunately, the valley’s disused rail line is now the Riesling Trail for walking and cycling. As it was originally for trains, the gradients are gentle — unlike the terrain on either side.
We took an organised tour with Tour de Vines that was fun, challenging, and rewarding. While some of the Clare vineyards were known to me, we were taken to three boutique wineries. Kilikanoon, where the “Oracle” shiraz was one of the most spectacular wines tasted, and Skillogalee vineyard was the perfect stop for lunch on the balcony, overlooking rolling vine-covered hills while eating excellent steaks.
Sevenhill Cellars is a very special place with an unusual history. It was the first vineyard in the Clare Valley, began in 1851 for the Jesuits to produce sacramental wine (the altar wine for communion) — a service it still fulfils today. Indeed the last Jesuit winemaker, Brother John May only retired in 2002. While you can follow a self-guided walking tour, at 11am Monday to Friday there’s a guided tour that includes the historic underground cellar and the old-vine Shiraz vineyard, plus shrines, the church, and crypt.
After a day riding bikes, it was wonderful to ride into the town of Clare and settle into one of the Mill Apartments with views over the creek behind. Besides being immaculately clean and providing all the ingredients for a substantial breakfast, the Mill has another significant feature: it’s next door to Seed Winehouse and Kitchen. Housed in a beautiful 1880s-era historic building, Seed’s degustation experience — the “seed table” with four courses and matched wines for $99 — is great value for the very creative dishes served.
The Riesling Park trail is available for cycling
Goyder’s Line defines South Australia’s Outback. In 1865, the then Surveyor General drew an east-west line marking the northern limit of at least 250 mm of rain annually; north of the line was regarded as unsuitable for cropping, only pastoral use.
That sounded purely technical until we were travelling north from Clare with Dave Willson of Clare Valley Tours the next morning. Right on cue, the vegetation we were driving through suddenly changed from green to the reds and yellows of the Outback. The next town we hit was Orroroo, a small town with a heritage streetscape and surprisingly good coffee.
Less than an hour earlier, we passed through Jamestown — a name that seemed quite familiar. Dave informed us that this was the home of Elon Musk’s battery that now forms part of the South Australian electrical grid. Apparently Jamestown was also the birthplace of Edward Both, who created a light, affordable version of the American “iron lung” in 1937.
Hawker was our next stop. I knew it solely from a line in the old Redgum song, Lear Jets Over Kulgera: “And LTDs in Hawker, and talk of a tracking base, talking mineral yields in uranium fields, and looking like they own the place”.
Apart from being the southern gateway to the Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park, Hawker has the Jeff Morgan Gallery where the artist displays a series of large panoramas, the largest of which, the Arkaroola Panorama is an astoundingly detailed 46 x 5.5 metre painting. The collection of rocks and mineral on display is equally impressive, particularly the fluorescent rock display.
Rawnsley Park Station is a working sheep station overlooking the amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound. It offers a range of accommodation from campsites to units in a natural bush setting but the pick must be the luxury Eco-villas with uninterrupted views of Wilpena Pound and the surrounding ranges. Lying in bed in these villas, you can operate the electronic ceiling and roof to look straight up into the clear, star-filled sky.
Sunset at Rawnsley Park Station is the time to gain some elevation. A two-hour bush-bashing “Sunset on Chace” tour provides the opportunity to meet the kangaroos and emus of the station before a brilliant Flinders Ranges sunset illuminates the Chace Range.
The sunset from Rawnsley Park Station is something to behold
The better option to preparing your own dinner is to eat at the newly renovated Woolshed Restaurant that has a genuine working shearing shed attached, and offers fine dining with modern Australian cuisine for lunch and dinner.
A few days at Rawnsley Park could be readily filled with guided walks, 4WD safaris, or mountain biking. But only by taking a scenic flight over Wilpena Pound with Chinta Tours can you understand this convoluted landscape. Longer flights continue beyond Wilpena Pound and the Flinders Ranges to Lake Torrens and even Arkaroola.
At Wilpena Pound Resort, a wide range of walks are available. Some venture into the Pound itself while a two-hour “Yura Udnyu” tour led by a representative of the takes you along Wilpena Creek’s river red gums to Old Wilpena Station, one of South Australia’s oldest and best preserved pastoral settlements.
Coming back onto the plains from the Flinders Ranges through the Bunyeroo and Brachina Gorge gives the chance to see yellow-footed rock wallabies and perfect panoramas from several lookouts.
Three days is not enough to see this part of the world but I was due back in Adelaide. A fitting finale was lunch at the historic Prairie Hotel that is most of the infrastructure of Parachilna, a stop on the road to Alice Springs. Claiming to be both hip and “Australia’s #1 Outback culinary destination” the pub’s signature dish is the “Feral Feast” of kangaroo, camel, emu, goat, and quandong with saltbush dukkah.
As the bright lights of Adelaide came into view that evening, I was already planning my return to Outback South Australia. Next time there’s Arkaroola, Lake Eyre, Dalhousie Springs, and — of course — Coober Pedy to stay in underground accommodation.
Have you visited the Clare Valley or the Flinders Ranges? Do you have any travel tips for this part of the world?