The Australia All Visitors Would Want to See—If Only They Knew About it
If you're not so familiar with South Australia, you will be soon. From its endlessly varied beaches to its red-earthed outback, the state has been making all kinds of headlines lately—and not just because it landed the cover of the Sports Illustrated 2019 Swimsuit Issue. Though there is that—and it’s turned a spotlight on the amazing local wildlife, landscapes and wines.
While the spotlight isn't what this unscripted, unmanufactured—and utterly Australian—state is used to, the attention is well deserved: South Australia is home to not only one of the Nine Great Wine Capitals of the World, but the 2019 Wine of the Year—at least according to the judges at the London Wine Competition, who’d tell you that Kellermeister’s Wild Witch Shiraz is one worth traveling for.
Clearly on a hot streak, South Australia also happens to be home to the venerable Good Food Guide's 2019 Restaurant of the Year. The winning eatery—Orana—sits in the center of Adelaide, the state capital and your ideal first stop on the continent, where the refueling ops are obviously next-level.
And though you’d be perfectly happy if all you did in South Australia was eat, drink, and marvel at the local representatives of the animal kingdom, the state also happens to be home to awesome adventures and cultural outings—all within easy access of Adelaide. A 20-minute flight, for example, will have you hanging with the same hallucinatory wildlife that greeted this year's SI Swimsuit models. A 40-minute flight is all that separates you from your first (but once you've had a taste, certainly not your last) Southern Ocean seafood safari. And a two-hour flight will land you squarely in another dimension. Think Mad Max.
Read on for the details of these—and five other—amazing adventures.
Taste your way through some of the world’s best wine regions
The accolades have been, well, pouring in for this charmed wine-growing state, where Shiraz, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc grapes thrive. Adelaide sits within a two-hour drive of more than 200 cellar doors (another reason this city is the ideal first stop). Start at the aforementioned Kellermeister Wines, because how can you not visit the home of the Wine of the Year? That this mud brick outpost happens to command some of the best views in the fabled Barossa Valley is a beautiful bonus—as is the fresh local produce you’ll get when you do tastings here.
But Barossa isn’t the only South Australian wine region generating a buzz: Mclaren Vale—the bucolic birthplace of South Australian viticulture—recently debuted the d’Arenberg Cube, a Rubik’s Cube-inspired statement on the complexity of winemaking, and one of the world’s Insta-worthiest sipping stops. With various bars and tasting rooms—and a multitude of interactive winemaking installations—the facility lets you play winemaker in a hands-on blending experience (then take home your own bespoke bottle) or learn how to impress everyone at your next dinner party with a varietal discovery masterclass.
For its part, Adelaide Hills—yet another winemaking region—pioneered the famous Australian sparkling reds more than 125 years ago (thank you, Adelaide Hills!). And that pioneer spirit has continued into the 21st century with some of Australia’s most original winemakers and producers. Swing by Unico Zelo/Applewood Distillery, where hand-crafted regional wines and artisanal gins are being produced under one roof. The native botanical Amaro put the makers on the map, while a fine slate of small-batch gins handily keeps them there.
And given that all of the above is just a tiny sampling of South Australia’s 18(!) wine regions, the serious vinophile will clearly want to dedicate a fair amount of time to exploring the state’s cellar doors. But if you can’t do the complete cellar circuit, make sure to visit to the National Wine Centre of Australia (part of the University of Adelaide), where sample-sized pours from dozens of top labels are available, with award winners handily arranged in one section.
See wondrous wildlife up close
At about seven times the size of Singapore, Kangaroo Island (KI to locals) is a legitimately vast natural wonderland just 10 miles off Adelaide’s coast. As for what you’ll see there, well, the name’s a bit of a tipoff. You’ll spot kangaroos, and then more kangaroos. There’s even a subspecies: the sooty—or Kangaroo Island ‘roo—that’s indigenous to the island.
But don’t let the name fool you: You may well spot koalas, echidnas, black swans, sea lions, fur seals, dolphins and wombats, and various other animals who may strike you as particularly untimid in the absence of any natural predators on the island. In fact, a koala even made it into the aforementioned Swimsuit Issue—in the arms of a smitten Hailey Clauson.
The photographer, who happens to be Australian, actually sees the island as the perfect microcosm of her homeland—all “surf spots and sand dunes, dense bush and red-rock outcroppings.” Little wonder so many creatures congregate here. See them on a day trip or—even better—on an overnight. In fact, one of the favorite local retreats, the clifftop Southern Ocean Lodge, comes with built-in wildlife viewing ops from the property's own coastal boardwalk and beach access. (Other standout elements include the spa, where you should try the locally-inspired Kodo Massage, and the wide-open ocean views from the farm-to-table restaurant.)
Of course, it's not just coastal South Australia that wildlife flocks to: The interior is wildly popular, too. The Outback (more on that soon) is home to emus, wallabies, parrots, bearded dragon lizards, hairy-nosed wombats, pygmy possums and—this being Australia—more kangaroos. Many more, in fact. (Top spots for sightings include Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park and Arkaroola.)
Go on an outback expedition
In this gorgeous, untamed stretch that accounts for nearly 80 percent of the state's land (but only 1 percent of the population), expect the unexpected. The most recent headline-grabbing twist? Lake Eyre, normally bone dry, has recently become a massive inland salt lake thanks to floods in the north. The surrounding patch of desert is now a lush, green landscape, attracting fish and wildlife that haven’t been seen in these parts for years. If you want to see phenomenon for yourself (as record numbers of visitors have), consider a flightseeing tour from Coober Pedy—a direct flight from Adelaide, and an experience in and of itself.
If this arid, red dust-streaked mining town looks like something out of a film, well, scan your memory for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome—for which this otherworldly desertscape made the perfect backdrop.
Look more closely, and you’ll learn that life in Coober Pedy—dubbed the opal capital of the world —exists mostly underground. In attempt to deal with hot days and chilly nights, the founders started digging about a century ago, creating dugouts that now house about half the population, as well as hotels, restaurants, churches, pubs and museums. This, you really have to see.
Feast on glorious food
Thoughtful, produce-driven, honest cooking has always been at the heart of South Australia’s beloved food scene. Many of the the state's chefs still pick out their produce each morning at the the local markets, where row upon row of orchard-fresh fruits and vegetables jostle for space with homemade quince paste and just-baked sourdough bread.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Adelaide is the epicenter. And for one of the nation's smallest capital cities, Adelaide punches well above its weight in that category. A globally recognized genius, chef Jock Zonfrillo—who owns the aforementioned 2019 Restaurant of the Year—is fresh off another award, too: the 2019 Basque Culinary World Prize, which is decided by the likes of Ruth Reichl and recognizes those who are “transforming society through gastronomy.” Indeed, Zonfrillo has a deep respect for the traditional food culture of the first Australians and proudly embraces native ingredients at Restaurant Orana (think crocodile with Australian botanicals, or eucalyptus-scented whiting fish).
In the tastiest-ever display of sibling rivalry, Orana's sister restaurant—Bistro Blackwood—wins raves with the likes of fire-pit lamb shoulder, chargrilled squid and other local delicacies.
Adelaide is also home to improbably good African fare, as you'll find at Africola, home to amazing grilled and smoked meats and Mpumalanga Fire, chef-owner Duncan Welgemoed’s mythic hot sauce.
Not that the amazing eats are limited to the capital, of course. Seafood lovers, in particular, should head to the Eyre Peninsula's Port Lincoln to feast on just-caught oysters, scallops, abalone and prawns. In fact, more than 65 percent of the nation’s seafood comes from these waters. To get the most hands-on taste, book a local seafood safari . You'll collect cockles in the sand, throw a line from a gorgeous white beach into the aqua sea—and gather abalone offshore. Once all the raw materials are in hand, you'll kick back with some local wine (there's never any shortage of it in South Australia, as you'll quickly realize) while your bounty is barbecued for you for an eventual beach feast.
Immerse yourself in the coolest cultural offerings
Once known as the well-behaved City of Churches, the state's capital is now more commonly referred to as RAdelaide or Festival City. Barely a month goes by without a citywide celebration of some kind or other, from the globally acclaimed Film Festival to the quirky Fringe, where many an international star has been discovered. As for what's on next: the nearly monthlong celebration that is, by all accounts, the biggest and best cabaret festival on earth. That is, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which will bring no less than Ute Lemper and Megan Mullally to town, among many others from June 7-22.
But if you don't happen to be visiting when a festival's on, there will still be plenty to experience: Check out the gallery and retail spaces at the Jam Factory Contemporary Craft and Design studio; the Renaissance-style Mortlock Wing at the State Library; and the wealth of natural and cultural heritage at the South Australian Museum. And for a cultural experience of a totally different kind, hit an Aussie Rules Football game.
The hugely popular hometown Crows regularly sell out the Adelaide Oval, where you'll already be, well...ahead of the game if you remember to call it "footy." And because the team anthem is sung to a tune you already know—the hymn of the U.S. Marine Corps—you can earn easy good will points among locals by confidently humming your way through.