South Australia: A Whistle Stop Tour

Feeling slightly worse for wear after the previous evening’s Christmas booze challenge, I hugged Will goodbye and kickstarted the next chapter of my trip with Mum and Dad. We flew to Adelaide where we spent that night. It was a beautiful, warm Friday evening and I was quite struck by how few people we came across. Where was everyone having after work drinks?! We walked past some terraces of pretty, old houses and through a park to the little centre of North Adelaide. This is known as a younger, trendy area of the city – and a few blocks later we did finally come across some signs of life at a buzzy bar and kitchen, which became our dinner spot. Gin Long Canteen is a modern Asian place with great food and a good drinks menu. We sat at a table opening out onto the street, eating some delicious sharing dishes and getting excited about the adventures in store in South Australia.

Dinner at Gin Long in North Adelaide

The next morning, with breakfast and coffee requirements fulfilled, we left the city for a taste of the outback. We were headed for the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park 500km north of Adelaide. We drove for about 5 hours, with the road getting emptier and surroundings getting dryer and more remote as we went. We stopped in a tiny town called Stirling North for lunch, seeking out the only food available at a small pub. It was quite an amusing experience, walking into a local where the handful of people inside were busy placing bets on the various sports events showing on the TV screens. As we walked up to the bar to order, we received some sideways ‘you’re not from round here, are you’ looks – an expression I’ve become quite accustomed to over the course of my travels! After some food, we continued north, where the road became even quieter. Over the course of the next 3 hours, we can’t have seen more than 10 cars. At one point, on a very long, straight piece of road, we couldn’t help but take a picture standing in the middle of the road. It must be one of the most remote roads I’ve ever travelled on – which felt significant given the weird and wonderful places I’ve been lucky enough to experience since I left the UK. The inaugural outback experience continued as we spotted some emus and some kangaroos – and drove through areas where the wind was whipping up sand twisters across the red landscape around us.

The long, straight road to nowhere

Mid-afternoon we arrived at our destination: the Arkaba Conservancy, a few kilometres outside the boundary of the National Park. This is a good time to mention that this stay was by no means backpacker budget-friendly (which goes for most of the lovely places I stayed at courtesy of Mum and Dad!). Arkaba is a Wild Bush Luxury property; an old sheep station with the homestead building transformed into a beautiful, rustic lodge catering for up to 10 guests at a time. It sits on a private 60,000 acre wildlife conservancy, where the team are attempting to protect the indigenous species and foster an environment hospitable for breeding species that may already be extinct in the area.

We spent the next 3 days and nights relaxing and exploring the land – to be so remote and cut off from the modern world (no WiFi or phone signal) was refreshing and quite invigorating. There was some form of activity every morning and evening to get out and about and make the most of the unique location. We went on walks, some around the Arkaba land and one up to Wilpena Pound in the National Park itself. My favourite evenings were spent on the bush drives; going out around the property in a modified Land Cruiser, with the knowledgeable guides imparting wisdom on the plants and animals we saw along the way. We saw emus, a variety of birds and too many kangaroos to count (my favourite fact of the experience was that the collective noun for roos is a mob – how great is that?). Luckily – and I think mum was particularly pleased about this – we didn’t come across any snakes or gruesome spiders. I did see her check her shoes a few times before putting them on.

Bush drives and wildlife spotting

When we weren’t out wandering, we basked in the sun and swam in the pool. We also ate like kings. Arkaba has two chefs, and the food was outstanding. No detail was overlooked, almost everything was homemade – including butter, crackers and dips. Every morsel we were served was delicious – and there was a good amount of tasty wine to accompany as well. Meal times were spent chatting to the other guests, and we met some really interesting people there – primarily fellow Brits and Americans. After dinner one evening we went out and sat under the stars – and I’ve never had a stargazing experience like it. Being so remote, with no light pollution, on a clear night it feels like you can see the entire universe. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience that again, it really was a very special place.

Sad to leave but also looking forward to what was next, we headed back south. As with other states, South Australia has its fair share of famous wine-producing regions, and we were off to sample one. After around 4 hours of driving (and several kangaroo dodges) we stopped off for a tasty lunch at a winery called Skillogalee in the Clare Valley, sitting on the terrace overlooking the leafy green vines. We continued on around an hour to the Barossa Valley, where we were to spend the night. It was a flying visit, just long enough to enjoy some dinner in Tanunda the evening we arrived, and sample some of the region’s wine the next morning before we moved on again. In wine country, all mealtime rules go out the window as tastings begin barely later than breakfast time. Dad took one for the team as designated driver, so Mum and I worked our way through the offering at Wolf Blass and the Artisans of Barossa. Well, it would have been rude not to.

Breakfast wine at Wolf Blass

Many samples and a few purchases down, we got back on the road to continue on to our next destination: Kangaroo Island. We drove for a couple of hours to Cape Jervis, the ferry departure point. Dad participated in the giant game of tetris required to get the cars, coaches and surprisingly large freight trucks onto the ferry, and 45 minutes later, we were there. The island is much larger than I’d expected; our first accommodation was at the western end and it took us an hour and a half from the ferry at Penneshaw to get there. We arrived at the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat in time for dinner, and also in time to witness a group of wallabies grazing just outside the rooms. Another tick off the wildlife spotting checklist. KIWR offers dormitory accommodation as well as private rooms in the lodge, so it’s an option for Backpackers looking to stay near the Flinders Chase National Park on the western tip.

Wallabies in the middle of the Wilderness Retreat

We started the following day with a visit to the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in search of another furry Aussie favourite: koalas! It isn’t the kind of place where you can pay for the experience to touch or hold the animals like some others I’ve heard of, and I really liked this. It’s quite a low-key set-up; the staff provide you with info cards and a quick briefing when you arrive, and send you out on your way to wander the ‘Koala Walk’ and ‘Wallaby Way’. They place flags at the bottom of trees where koalas had been seen earlier that morning, so we set out to try and spot some. We weren’t disappointed. We saw one in the very first tree we came to, and over the course of the walk, saw maybe 15 more – including a few mothers and babies. They really are quite endearing animals with their fluffy ears and penchant for curling up for a nap on branches that seem to sway dangerously under their weight. I managed to master the art of taking photos through a pair of binoculars so we had some mementos of their cute little faces! At $10 each it was affordable for all visitor budgets and well worth the admission – and it was also a bonus that there were only 4 other visitors the whole time we were there. I really enjoyed it.

A furry friend at the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

From Hanson Bay, we drove back west into the Flinders Chase National Park where we parked up and headed off on a walk. There are a few different trails you can do of varying length and difficulty. As there were other things we wanted to see that afternoon, we opted for the fairly short Platypus Waterholes route. As suggested by the name, at certain times of year, you’re in with a chance of seeing platypus. They’re fairly rarely sighted, not only because you have to be there in the right season at the right time of day, but also because they’re extremely shy and tend to flee at the sound and sight of people! If you’re visiting the park across the Spring months, go to the waterholes at dawn or dusk and prepare to be patient. You might get a glimpse. We were there in the wrong season and at the wrong time of day so unsurprisingly we didn’t see any platypus, but we still enjoyed the walk.

On a walk in the Flinders Chase National Park

At the end of our trail, we grabbed some lunch at the park cafe then continued through the park to the southwestern tip of the island, Cape du Couedic. The more discerning of you may have noticed the mish mash of English and French-sounding place names. This is because an English surveying mission under Matthew Flinders crossed paths with a French counterpart, Nicolas Baudin, on the island in 1802. They shared information, Flinders having come from the east and Baudin from the west, naming as they went along. Fun fact of the day.

At Cape du Couedic, we walked down towards a landmark called Admiral’s Arch. It’s a natural arch caused by erosion, and it’s quite striking. But even more than the arch itself, we were struck by the local inhabitants: a colony of fur seals. Seeing them was quite unexpected so that was a nice surprise – my photo-taking through binoculars again came in handy! From the arch we headed ourselves back up the cliff steps to the Cape du Couedic lighthouse, from the base of which we had a beautiful view over the southern ocean. It was a weird thought that the next piece of land you’d hit going due South from there would be Antarctica. I wouldn’t have wanted to go overboard in those waters, that’s for sure.

Fur seals basking under Admiral’s Arch

From the lighthouse we drove the short distance further round the coastline to another Kangaroo Island landmark; the Remarkable Rocks. The road between the Cape and the Rocks was something in itself, opening out to a stunning view along the coast of the island and out to the ocean. The Remarkable Rocks themselves are a group of rocks that have been wind, water and sand-blown into weird and wonderful shapes, leaving a structure that looks a bit like a man-made sculpture. Very Instagrammble. It’s a good idea to head to the Arch and the Rocks earlyish in the morning to avoid the tour buses from Adelaide that turn up from early afternoon. A stroll and a few arty photographs later, we returned, very windswept, to the car and headed back to our cabin for dinner overlooking the wallabies.

Hanging out under the Remarkable Rocks

The following morning we left the Wilderness Retreat and drove to the northeast coast to our second accommodation on Kangaroo Island, on Emu Bay. We stopped off on the way for a post-breakfast beach fix at Vivonne Bay, which was beautiful: quite rugged and windy given its position on the south coast, but with clear water and white sand – and upon our visit, barely another soul in sight. It’s a huge beach, and can be good for surfing. However, if we thought Vivonne was lovely, we were in for a treat when we arrived at our Airbnb in Emu Bay. Walking up the stepping stones to the top of the cliff overlooking the ocean, we were struck by a view which looked like it could have been from the Caribbean. The sand was soft and white, the sea calm and bright turquoise, and again, there was barely anyone there. Magic. We spent the next couple of days having barbecues, drinking gin, and soaking up the sun in this little corner of paradise.

Enjoying the majestic Emu Bay

All too soon, we were leaving Kangaroo Island for Adelaide and the last day of our road trip. It was a roasting hot day in the city with temperatures lurking around 40 degrees. We sweated our way around the botanic gardens, and stopped to spectate a little of the Tour Down Under – a famous cycling event in South Australia. Approaching terminal temperature, we decided we needed a drink to cool down – and soon found ourselves at a trendy rooftop bar called 2KW. It’s not cheap, but they have a great drinks menu and regular DJs and live music events. After sampling a few cocktails and local spirits, we headed back to freshen up before dinner. The cuisine on the menu that evening was very tasty tapas at a small restaurant called La Rambla. We got the impression it’s a place that is always busy so there is probably often a wait for a table – but they moved quite quickly, and there’s a good bar to have a drink or three whilst you’re in the queue.

A hot afternoon in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens

The next day we flew back to Sydney, and a couple of days later, I was really sad to be saying goodbye to Mum and Dad as they began the long journey home. It was such a fantastic month of very memorable and unique family time – and just as I’d got used to them being there, it was time for them to go!

An awesome trip in South Australia with these two

Next on the life itinerary, two very different outback experiences: one for fun, and one for farm…

Until next time,

Number of strangers I’ve spoken to today: 4, including a hostess who almost didn’t let me into a bar with Mum and Dad because I didn’t have my ID. She looked like she was trying to stifle a laugh as I pleaded with her to permit me entrance on account of the fact I might look like I’m 17, but I’m actually 26.
Interaction was: reminiscent of my school days, despite the fact I am no longer actually lying about my age. I’ve decided I’ll take it as a compliment.

One Woman and her Backpack x

Follow me on Instagram @ellielfield

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