22-27 January: The Barossa Valley

Author: Mr A

Location: Tanunda, Barossa Valley, South Australia

When Australians talk about wine brands they love, it’s pretty much guaranteed that one or more they mention will be grown in the Barossa Valley, where we just spent the last five days. We have a friend there who invited us to come and park up on her driveway in the small town of Tanunda, which is nestled pretty much bang in the middle of the winemaking action.

Our generous hosts, Phil and Lindsay

The area we now called the Barossa has been home to the Peramangk, Ngadjuri and Kaurna people for thousands of years, and when South Australia was formed as a state in 1834, it was the only one who recognised the prior occupants of the land as having a right to occupy it. However, this document was subsequently ignored by the those who followed and the First Australians were dispossessed of land by the waves of European settlers who followed. Decimated by small pox and other diseases, there is little historical record of these first peoples thereafter.

As Australia Day fell while we were in the Barossa, it was a timely reminder of how the various factions in Australian society are still trying to agree on the part Europeans played in the crippling of the world‘s longest continuous culture, in what are called the “history wars”. We watched on the news protestors who think the day should be moved, and those who think we should just “move on”. It‘s a complicated topic, but Catherine and I continue to be shocked at the level of racism that we still witness here in Australia, and in fact seems to have been given legitimate expression by the election of a President of the US who throughout his presidency displayed the behaviour and spoke the words of a racist. Let’s hope those voices are now stilled a little with the regime change there.

We were taken out on a couple of brilliant wine tastings, but also sampled some of the fantastic produce that is coming from the area. Even the local pub in town served amazing food!

Wagyu Beef schnitzel was huge and melt in the mouth at The Clubhouse
Delicious wines at Langmeil Winery, home to the oldest Shiraz Vineyard

Then we had dinner at a place called Harvest Kitchen, famous for its “Eat Like a Barossan” option on the menu. Of course we did! Wow..such great food.

Harvest Kitchen is set in beautiful surrounds

The family we were staying with was a big blended family by today’s measure, six kids and two parents, and what a reminder it was of how tough our grandparents must have had it when such a size was often the norm. It was brilliant seeing how they all worked together to keep the home running, with rosters posted on the fridge for everything.

Family roster and weekly menu plan
We cooked a chicken Penang curry one night – loved the lively dinner table discussions
Bertie the blue eyed rag doll cat, Prince the Eclectus Parrot (friend to Rosie, not pictured) and Tikka the wine loving parrot all add colour to this eclectic household

There was a real team spirit in the house, and we felt privileged to have been welcomed into this family. Australia Day was also the 7th birthday of one of the kids, and the 10th birthday of a cousin, and of course they were celebrated in style. I didn’t hear a cross word all day between the kids! Amazing.

Clockwise: Bertie the rag doll cat, birthday boy cousin Lewis, Elija looking suave, birthday boy Matthew bouncing on his trampoline, Lindsay and Phil, super parents
Clockwise: Grandpa Pete and Evan, Mrs A, Lindsay and Ali, and again with Phil’s friend Matthew, and finally Mrs A and Pete

Unfortunately we were beaten back inside by the heat on a few days, it was over 40 degrees on one of them, so it was relief when the mercury dropped and we could get out on our bikes to explore. We followed the Barossa Trail, a way-marked tarmac path winding its way around though many of the wineries, and had a great lunch before heading back. The path was a little like a roller coaster with around 440 metres of climbing (Strava link), and ours legs were feeling pretty wobbly by the time we got back. There’s a lot of work to do to get us back bike fit!

Mrs A whizzing down a welcome descent
We started the day dressed for the cool but soon stripped off the layers
A beautiful avenue of eucalyptus trees
Of course there was a wine sculpture
A dead tree that could almost be a sculpture itself

Well, it was time to move on, so we packed up and once again said our goodbyes, although we are relieved to know our return visit to Adelaide is scheduled in our future, as Catherine will need to be back for some more medical treatment in early March. In fact she managed a quick catch up with one of the people in the support group she runs who lived locally. Another life made a bit easier by Catherine’s tireless work in helping out those who suffer from the same rare disease as her.

Catherine and Sam

Five surprisingly good locations across SA & NSW

Author: Mrs A

To conclude our top 20 locations on our lap of Australia, our final 5 leave Western Australia and take us in to SA and NSW. These locations were surprising in that we had reasonably low expectations and were delighted by what we found there.

Again, these are in order of visiting rather than ranked in any way:

1. Streaky Bay – Eyre Peninsula, South AustraliaReason: This was our first stop after having crossed the Nullabor, and our first taste of oysters since leaving Sydney back in May. It was spring when we reached Streaky Bay, and the weather was not quite settled. We had some fabulously warm mornings, but the afternoons often whipped up with quite a blustery wind. Nevertheless it was a great location to introduce us back into semi-civilisation, with a 10km coastal cycleway to explore, and some interesting road trips to natural landmarks. Quite a unique location.

2. Port Lincoln – Eyre Peninsula, South AustraliaReason: We visited this location purely so I could go cage diving with Great White Sharks (a bucket list item and well worth the trip – I chose the ethical option with Adventure Bay Cruises). We originally booked in at the caravan park there for two nights, but loved it so much we stopped longer. Port Lincoln as a town has some great little restaurants, fabulous seafood and plenty of services. A short drive away is Lincoln National Park, home sea eagles, osprey and fur seals you can snorkel with, and numerous picturesque beaches. A flat cycleway follows the coast around into town and along to the marina (and possibly beyond), great exploring with plenty of birdlife. We really enjoyed our time here.

3. Clare Valley, South AustraliaReason: Anyone who knows us well (and our love of fine wine) will probably question why this fits as a surprising visit. Well the fact is we almost left on the first night due to the cold damp weather, but we were pleased we stuck around. The rail trail is a great drawcard here, relatively flat and guiding you to some fabulous tastings. The visitor information centre is award winning, and if you are there on a Friday night they do a wine tasting with $5 glasses of wine and $25 bottles and a cheese and nibbles plate – a brilliant way to meet your fellow campers and taste some local fare.

4. Tanunda – Barossa Valley, South AustraliaReason: Of course the wine was fabulous – we had some great fun cycling around the area which is pretty flat with some off road cycleways, and great tastings. Highlights were Artisans of Barossa, Izway and the Taste of Eden. It was also our first opportunity to taste Vietnamese food in a long while at FermentAsian – a restaurant with a veritable bible of wine on offer – more than 1000 bottles. We settled for one!

5. Cowra – New South WalesReason: Cowra is just an hour from Orange which we have visited on many occasions, but remained a blip on the map for more than 18 years. This time we picked up some literature about it while visiting Forbes, and thought it sounded lovely. As usual we laughed about what the differences were likely to be from the marketing material (often towns read like quaint French villages but disappoint horribly!). Cowra actually exceeds expectations! Surrounded by rolling hills (making the cycling a bit more of an effort than we’d been used to!), lots of interesting history surrounding the Japanese POW camp and some stunning gardens, Cowra also boasts a wine bar with fabulous selection of local beers and wine, and some great places to eat out. We loved the Indian restaurant – we’d put it up there among the best we’ve been to in Australia! The campsite was delightful too, grassy and shady, hosted by a lovely couple who became friends. Definitely worth a visit.

And that concludes our top 20 locations around Australia so far! We’ll be setting off again in two weeks, first to the Sapphire Coast, before doing an about turn and heading north through to pastures new. We’re looking forward to more (hopefully positive) surprises on our horizon…

Where can you find these locations?

Day 184: 30 November – The last day of spring brings more sun and wine

Author: Mrs A

Location: Barossa Valley

Another warm day dawned in the Barossa Valley and we decided to remain here another night – Mr A even negotiated to have the night for free, given the construction works on the caravan site. It meant we could continue our touring of this beautiful region while leaving Tassie safe in an air conditioned caravan.Our first task was to travel to the nearby settlement of Nuriootpa to visit the bank. I had been paid for two years of work with Vanderbilt University with a cheque in USA dollars and had to pay it in before it expired. Of course this was not an easy task and required forms to be completed and for me to pay $45 fee up front for the privilege! I should expect to see my money in my account by the end of January next year…nothing is ever quick or easy in the world of banking! It just so happened the bank was next door to a very pretty bakery café, which then ended up as our lunch spot. Mr A proudly announced they had the best vanilla slice he had tried this trip. Big call – there have been quite a few vanilla slice tastings!

The supermarket was our next stop and usually would not get much of a mention in a blog post, but this was a brand new flagship store for the South Australian Foodland Co-Op – we were impressed. Unlike the gloomy, cramped stores we see in Sydney, this was architecturally designed with huge windows, high ceilings and lots of natural wood. There was a whole section devoted to locally produced conserves and other products. It was more like a market than a supermarket, with cheese counters and delicatessens spilling over with produce. It was overall an excellent experience. Even the staff were cheerful and chatty, with our checkout server proudly announcing the store was intending to steal the accolade of ‘Best Supermarket in South Australia’ from the store we visited in Frewville, Adelaide. I’d say they are not far off!

It would be rude not to do a wine tasting after all that administrative and housekeeping work, so we took ourselves off to Izway. We’d been eagerly anticipating this since our poor experience at Torbreck. Izway is a partnership between two winemakers, one of which is Craig Isabel, former winemaker at Torbreck, the other Brian Conway, these days more concerned with sales and marketing and based in Melbourne.

It’s a small winery with around 8 acres of vines, producing a selection of single vineyard wines and sourcing grapes from appropriate vineyards around the Barossa and Eden Valley for others. Assistant winemaker Liam met us at the cellar door, with boundless enthusiasm for the wines he was pouring, full of stories about the grapes, the naming of the wines and the influences.There were some delicious wines – their single vineyard Three Brians Grenache, made from 116 year old vines, was a standout, and we bought a bottle of the Maurice Grenache (also single vineyard, younger 50 year old vines) and the Rob and Les Shiraz. We are seriously running out of wine storage now! We headed back to camp after this tasting. Tonight the weather is due to change quite dramatically, with temperatures predicted to drop more than 10 degrees with torrential rain and thunder storms – already there is discussion of sandbagging shopfronts and preparing for flooding. There’s nothing more people love to talk about than a dramatically extreme weather event!We’re getting as packed up as possible while the sun still shines. We’ll be moving on tomorrow to our next location, a few kilometres closer to Sydney, somewhere along the River Murray (hopefully not on a flood plain!). We have really loved our time in the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley – a combination of lovely people, stunning scenery, great cycling (despite no other cyclists!) and fabulous food and wine. We are sorry to leave, but sure to return.

Day 182: 28 November – Exploring Barossa on two wheels

Author: Mrs A

Location: Tanunda, Barossa Valley

Distance cycled: 25km

We left the car behind today and jumped on the bikes for an explore. We had the ‘Barossa by Bike’ touring map I had picked up at the caravan park office and I had plotted a potential route to ride. We rode past the first few cellar doors, making a random selection for our first taste and heading into Hewitson. I was particularly attracted by the 97 points they had just been awarded by James Halliday (wine critic) for their Mother Vine Monopole. We were the only people tasting at this newly opened cellar door with fabulous views stretching over the vineyard.

They had some nice wine, with their Old Garden Mourvèdre a stand out, and of course the Monopole. We won’t be heading back for those bottles though, as at $88 and $150 a bottle respectively they are slightly out of our caravanning budget range! We asked the wine specialist for her recommendations locally and she circled a few on my map. Onwards we rode.

Whistler Wines was next on the schedule. We wound our way down the driveway and found a couple of fence posts to lean our bikes. Despite being on a ‘wine tasting rail trail’ it seems that bike parking is not a priority for any of the vineyards. In fact everyone seems shocked that we rode at all!

Whistler wines was not to our taste at all. They seem to specialise in ‘Next Gen’ wines, more fruity and approachable (dare I say alcoholic grape juice?) than the ‘traditional’ wines, all at a $25 price bracket, and often containing a ‘mystery blend’ of grapes and aimed at 20-somethings who want a drink-now wine that will not offend. There was one GSM they had open which was more to our taste, but at $45, again, beyond what we are willing to pay for something we want to drink immediately.

From Whistler we diverted to visit Torbreck, one of our favourites. We were keen to taste some wines not previously tasted. Again there was no bike parking, so we found a couple of trees to lean our stallions on and entered the cellar door.What a disappointing experience. Initially, we were ignored, before the gentleman behind the counter came over and asked us what we’d like to taste. We selected something we’d not previously tasted, he poured us a sample and walked away. The tasting notes were minimalistic – simply the grape and whether it had been in a barrel or not. We tasted and tried to regain eye contact hoping he might return and instil some of the magic – the stories behind the wine, where the grape was originally grown, how it came to this vineyard, the flavours and aromas you might encounter, the colour, any prizes or reviews the wine had, where it is sold – all help bring a tasting to life. There was none of that here. A second cellar door person emerged and we called her over to see whether she would tell us more. She asked with irritation ‘What are your questions?’. If I hadn’t wanted to try more, we would have left there and then. Mr A almost did.

Torbreck broke our hearts. We’ll not be hunting out their wines again in a hurry.Our enthusiasm for wine tasting waned after that third experience, and so we decided to continue our circuit and head back into Tanundra for some lunch, riding through some spectacular scenery and seeing no other cyclists. We settled at a lovely little café for some great food.

By the time we finished lunch it was almost 3pm so we rode back to the caravan park for a relax. By now it was about 30 degrees C and we were in need of refreshment. We decided to try out the park’s water park – what a laugh! We were immediately 8 years old as we screamed and slid down the water slides and tunnels – and definitely were nicely refreshed at the end of it.The remainder of the afternoon was spent simply relaxing, reading our books and sipping on a Bohemian Pilsner – a gift from Ali from Lobethal Bierhaus. Thank you Ali – they’re just the ticket and a reminder of wine (and beer) tasting with better service!

Day 181: 27 November – Barossa delights

Author: Mr A

Location: Tanunda, Barossa Valley

Distance driven: 45km Cycled: 12km

Feeling somewhat worse for wear from yesterday’s excesses, we packed up and bid goodbye to our wonderful hosts. The Lobethal Bakery provided a much needed food injection, and then we were off, the Barossa here we come.

It was a short drive through the twisty roads of the Adelaide Hills and we were soon driving through very picturesque little townships. This is our first visit to the area, one of the few wine region in Australia still on our unexplored list.

First impressions were “wow”, everywhere we looked so was so green and neat, clearly a lot of money floating around still. We passed some of the big producers like Grant Burge and Jacob’s Creek, not ones on our hit list but still it was interesting to see so many household names all clustered together and looking very prosperous. Bike paths were everywhere, although devoid of cyclists as per usual.

Our campground on the edge of the small town of Tanunda was deserted, so we were were somewhat mystified after we had unhitched to find ourselves right next to a construction site where they are building a new swimming pool. An ‘error’ apparently. They did offer another site but the thought of moving everything again…we gritted our teeth against the constant noise of paving slabs being cut.

I headed out into town on the cycleway to explore, and was absolutely delighted to find rows and rows of gorgeous little shops and cafes, with a real buzz about the place. I dropped in at a little bike shop housed in the lobby of the local museum, my brakes had been squealing and I wanted to get them checked over. What a well presented shop, and Evan the owner said he could look at the bike straight away. Amazing…

I supervised….We got chatting, and sadly an all too familiar story emerged. After 18 months of getting the shop set up he was throwing in the towel at Christmas. Just not enough business. He told me that cycling participation in Adelaide and its surrounds is down by 20% this year. A similar story to Sydney. We both mused over the cause. I shared with him a little bit of research I had done this week. If you’ve read my Facebook post skip this bit. After reading about another cyclist being killed in Sydney I Googled on the phrase “cyclist dies” and set my search parameters to Australia and the last month. Eight deaths and another two left ‘fighting for their lives’. In three of the cases the driver didn’t stop but just left the cyclist in the road. As Evan said, there’s not much good news reported on cycling in Australia. Instead it is often tales of road rage from either the motorist or the rider, or reporting on these terrible accidents.

Another reason we both agreed on, which is a little more controversial, and I do risk upsetting some of my “roadie” friends, is the idea that to use a bike you need to go and spend thousands of dollars on some lightweight machine that will tip you off at the first sign of rough road, and wear skin tight outfits every time you want to use the bike that are not exactly flattering to most folk contemplating riding. Then you can’t be seen on a slow cycle path when you’re clearly training to ride as fast as possible, you have to get in with the traffic and take your chances. Oh, and you musn’t look like you’re having fun either, a serious game face shows everyone this riding is not something you enjoy but is a process to go through to…get fit? Now I exaggerate for affect, but I can guarantee that if Mrs A and I smile and say “hi” to a roadie as we potter down the path (as we always do just to prove our theory) we will be completely blanked.

The concept of just stepping on your bike in normal clothes and shoes that you can walk in, heading out to meet some friends, or potter around the shops, its almost completely lost from our image of cycling in Australia.

Mrs A joined me in town and we soon found an ice creamery selling dairy free options as well. Yumm we like this place.

Catherine then got pulled over by the police for not wearing a helmet. Oh dear…more bad news for cyclists, you can’t just potter around the shops wearing a hat. You have to wear a helmet for every type of ride, including wandering along a cycle path to pick up an ice cream. So guess what, another reason people give for not taking their bike out for that quick trip to the shops.

We went back to camp to collect her helmet, and it was such a lovely evening decided to head out again around town. Right round the corner from our campsite we discovered this amazingly grand winery, with a blackboard outside announcing they have previously won the best Shiraz and Grenache in the world. We will certainly investigate this further!Everywhere is kept so spick and span, it is a real treat to see after these struggling outback towns we have spent so many months travelling through. The scenery surrounding the town is just gorgeous, rolling hills frame the vineyards. Who needs the Loire Valley?!A quick stop at the shops for some more supplies for dinner (so easy on a bike!) and we headed back for another fab meal, and the peace and quiet of no evening construction works, oh and no wine 🙁