Barossa Valley & Kangaroo Island

November 3, 2009 - Barossa Valley

Approximately one hour 's drive northeast of Adelaide is Australia's premier wine region, the Barossa Valley. German and British familes first settled the area over 160 years ago and today there are more than 700 grape growing families, many sixth generation, and about 120 wine companies, including many that are well known in the States such as Jacob's Creek, Penfolds and Peter Lehmann. Our handy dandy GPS purchased in Adelaide with the irritating Aussie voice lead us straight to our home for the next three nights, Blickinstal Barossa Valley Resort, located in a hillside vineyard just outside the pretty town of Tanunda.

 Our self contained accommodation is one of four similar studios set back from the main house.

The daily farmhouse breakfast was enough to feed several farm workers - a massive piece of toast, two fried eggs, half a dozen slices of thick bacon, two tomatoes and several mushrooms. This was after we had started with the poached pears! At least we didn't have to worry about wine tasting on an empty stomach!

Our host Sue also tempted us every afternoon with a delicious and irrestible afternoon tea. It's a long time since we had scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, so somehow we always found our way back to the dining room by 4:00 pm. Pity the poor guests who arrived late and missed out entirely ! 

Tanunda is the perfect base to explore the region and we started by following the Barossa Scenic Heritage Drive.  We could not have visited the region at a better time, the roses were in full bloom and I don't think we have ever seen so many beautiful gardens displaying so many varieties. There were rose trees, rose bushes, roses trailing up buildings and rose arbors in lots of fabulous colors - really a wonderful sight.

November 4, 2009 - Barossa Valley

In Australia they promote wine tasting as "Cellar Doors". With so many wineries we were spoilt for choice so we narrowed down our list to four and set off in search of their Cellar Doors. We didn't really enjoy the wine tasting experience because we didn't particularly like any of the wines but after tasting half a dozen wines we felt obliged to buy something and ended up paying far more than we really wanted to for a wine we didn't really want


One of the better wine tasting experiences was at Chateau Tanunda, an old building that really did make you feel like you were in the Loire Valley. The wine was much more to our taste and we brought a bottle to drink with the locally made cheese, which we purchased from the cheese shop in the quaint town of Angaston. The cheesemaker (who had started her career as a winemaker) sold us the cheese personally. There's something special about eating cheese when you have met the person who actually made it.


When we got back to Blickinstal's a new couple, Trevor and Karen English had just checked in. Meeting people like Trevor and Karen is what traveling is all about. They now live in Wellington, New Zealand but Trevor is originally from England and Karen from Canada. It was fun to share travel experiences and learn about their life in New Zealand. We later made plans to meet up with them again when we get to Wellington

November 5, 2009 - Barossa Valley

 This morning Kris ordered a half breakfast but she still felt like she had eaten too much !

 Kris was very keen to visit a nearby lavender farm at Lyndoch.  I had read about the Lavender Farm at Lyndoch and imagined the acres of lavender you see in photos of Provence. I had to see this, so we set off for Lyndoch. The farm turned out to be a big disappointment, nothing like the carpets of lavender I had expected. We did learn that there are many different types of lavender - I guess the Provence lavender doesn't grow in Australia.

 The Lavender Farm at Lyndoch

(OK - this isn't lavender, it's a purple flower, but it makes for a pretty picture and is what Kris was expecting to see at the Lavender Farm - and it WAS taken in the Barossa Valley !)

That evening, we had an excellent dinner at one of the oldest restaurants in Tanunda, the 1918 Bistro & Grill.

After dinner, we decided to drive up to a wooded area near Blickinstal's where Trevor and Karen had spotted several kangeroos the night before. They didn't come out to see us, but maybe that wasn't such a bad thing as they have a habit of jumping in front of unsuspecting cars at night and end up as road kill  and damage the front of the cars that hit them! The stars were pretty, though.

November 6, 2009 - Barossa to Kangaroo Island ferry

We had already booked our rental car on the KI (Kangaroo Island) ferry for 3:30 pm and as it only takes a couple of hours, we thought we had plenty of time. We left Blickenstal after breakfast and headed first for Hahndorf, a pretty little town which acts as the southern gateway for the Barossa Valley. We were using our trusty GPS but we did miss a couple of turns which confused the GPS lady ("recalculating, recalculating") and us as well. No worries - we arrived in Hahndorf a little later than planned but still with time to spare.

There wasn't a lot for us to see in Hahndorf but we were looking for a WestPac ATM (so we don't have to pay ATM Fees) AND we stopped to check our e-mail AND it was a nice warm day AND we thought we had plenty of time, so by the time we left, we were actually a bit later than we had planned. However we made the ferry in good time, but we never did find the WestPac ATM we had been looking for.

 Not exactly a superliner but the crossing WAS only 45 minutes so we didn't need a lot of facilities. It was windy, though !

Once we were off the ferry, we drove for a couple of hours more to the far (western) end of the island, where we had booked our hotel, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat, (Sounds very fancy, but it was really a slightly rustic hotel with a tame kangaroo hopping around the front of the reception area).

By the time we arrived and checked  in it was time to eat. As there really wasn't anywhere else, we had dinner in the hotel, which actually was better than we expected. And so to bed !

November 7 - Kangaroo Island - West End

Although we had "seen" the island the previous day as we drove through, all we had really seen was the road, so we set out to discover the sights. Flinders Chase National Park is only a couple of miles from the hotel (sorry "retreat") so we thought we would start there. Although there are several hikes in the park, we decided to focus on the two highlights - the Remarkable Rocks and the Admiral's Arch, both obviously named by someone fond of alliteration.

The Remarkable Rocks is a granite outcropping right on the edge of the coast, which has been worn away over time into some interesting and curious shapes. I'm not sure about "remarkable" but certainly interesting.

The Admiral's Arch is a natural arch through the cliff and is reached by a very tortuous and elaborate walkway. Very scenic and impressive and rather smelly. There seemed to be several pairs of birds nesting in the arch and I suspect they were responsible for the smell. As an added bonus, the rocks surrounding the Arch are home to many seals and we enjoyed watching them swimming and diving, before hauling themselves laboriously onto the rocks.

 At the top of the cliff above the Arch is an old lighthouse from the nineteenth century. Not only is it picturesque (like all lighthouses) but it's still working, so it isn't open to tourists. Pity ! It would have been a great view.

Having exhausted the easy to reach wonders of the National Park, we decided to check out a beach, described in some places as the msot beautiful beach in Australia. Vivonne Bay was about a thirty minute drive away and when we arrived we discovered it was only accessible by dirt road. The rental car is uninsured when on dirt roads, so we are always a bit nervous, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. After a bumpy ride, we found the bay and although we would agree that it's pretty, we would dispute the "prettiest beach in Australia" title. We went for a stroll along the beach and even dipped our toes in the water, but it was VERY cold so any plans we had to go swimming were abandoned immediately ! Having bounced our way back to the main road we then checked out Hanson Bay - another bay reached along a dirt road. Not as large as Vivonne Bay, but also pretty but still too cold for swimming.

 Back to the lodge for a break and then dinner again and then out for what turned out to be a highlight - a nature walk in the dusk. This was at the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, a privately owned piece of land between the National Park and other preserved land. Our tour guide, James Tomlinson, who is also the manager, gives the tour every night which must ruin his social life. (Come to think of it, there probably isn't much else to do after dark anyway, so perhaps he isn't missing much). 

The tour started at dusk and we immediately saw Koala bears in the trees nearby. Males, females and "joeys" (young koalas). All very cute, although it's clear there's nothing cute about the behavior of the males to the females, but we didn't actually see any domestic violence. Koalas had been doing well on KI until the massive bush fires of 2007 cut their numbers back. However, the plentiful food supply means their numbers are recovering and a sterilization program to limit their numbers has recently restarted.

 As we moved on, we found a couple of kangaroos feeding and then as it went dark, LOTS of wallabies. Although it's called Kangaroo Island, the wallaby population has exploded in recent years and they are EVERYWHERE, although because they are nocturnal, you don't see them much during the day. As it got darker, we saw possums, spiders and could hear (but not see) the male koalas. James described it as sounding like "a pig on a Harley". Very descriptive.

The walk ended in total darkness and we headed back to our car pleased to have finally seen some wildlife in a natural environment.


November 8 - Kangaroo Island - Baudin Beach

We had realized before booking our accommodation on Kangaroo Island that in order to fully explore both ends of the island it would be better to split our four night stay into two nights at different ends of the island. We also wanted a hotel closer to the ferry for our 8:30am departure. We had driven from the ferry on the southern road and decided to take a different route back on the Playford Highway so that we could visit Kingscote which is the biggest town on the island. "Big" being relative, the town only had a handful of stores most of which were closed as it was Sunday. We stopped at Roger's Deli and Café and read the Sunday paper with a cup of coffee and a muffin.

Our bed and breakfast accommodation at Baudin Beach, The Fig Tree, was a block of three units set back from the owner's home. The three units shared a kitchen, laundry facility and BBQ area. We were the Fig Tree's only visitors so we had the place to ourselves. Our room was not bad except for one really bad design flaw - the bathroom door opened towards the vanity and it was really difficult to squeeze between the vanity and shower unit. Anyone weighing over 200lbs would be out of luck using the bathroom! In addition, the units weren't air conditioned and as the heat built up, our unit became quite warm. Fortunately, once the sun went down, the temperature dropped fairly quickly and with the help of a ceiling fan, we slept OK.

Baudin Beach was not particularly nice but we found other beaches in the area that were pretty, but the sea on all sides of the island was icy cold. We drove over to American River, a quiet community overlooking a small inlet named by a group of American sealers in 1803 who mistook it for a river.

The weather was extremely hot and we had been driving around for a while so we stopped at a bottle shop to buy beer. When Kris couldn't decide what brand of beer to buy, the good old boy who owned the store pulled out a light beer infused with passion fruit and said "This is made for the ladies". We sat outside at a small table watching the tide come in and the sun go down and the beer and passion fruit went down a treat. Business was slow so the good old boy came and sat at a table  next to us and made small talk. His accent was really difficult to follow and lost Paul at "Did you get off the macadam?" I guess you never forget a foreign language because even though Kris left Australia when she was 11, she was able to pull that word from the back of her brain - macadam = sealed road!

We drove to  Penneshaw, a town even smaller than Kingscote, but they did have a general store so we stocked up on dinner for that night - two porterhouse steaks, mushrooms, onions and corn. Paul cooked them all on the grill and apart from being attacked by flies, we enjoyed the meal.

November 9 - Kangaroo Island - Baudin Beach

We visited a few more beaches and found a nice secluded spot with a rocky backdrop on Pennington Bay. A cave under the rocks somehow pulled cold air from heaven knows where which blew out a blast of very welcome cool air onto us. If we had remembered to bring the fly spray with us it would have been a very peaceful couple of hours! 

Dinner that night was at the Penneshaw Hotel, which was doing a roaring trade - probably because it was the only place in town to eat. The fish and chips were great and Paul's chicken curry was pretty good too. And so ended another aussie day !