Along the Away

travel, dream, create, inspire, appreciate

Despite our late return from Kangaroo Island the night before, day 6 of our one week holiday in Adelaide had us waking up early for our next adventure. 

What were we going to do now? Well in my research earlier in the week I found Escapegoat Adventures, a mountain bike tour company with great ratings on Trip Advisor. 
I have never mountain biked before but I have a friend who loves it and has spent more than a couple of lunch hours showing me Youtube videos. I’d always kinda wanted to try it as I love bike riding, but the wildness of mountain biking scares me a bit. I’ve always been cautious about sports that have an element of letting go and potentially getting hurt (hiking and yoga are more my thing!) Well, sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new gives you the best experiences. I really liked all the info on Escapegoat’s website, they sounded very considerate of all rider levels including beginners so I pitched the idea to my sister and she gamely agreed to give it a try.

We booked online for the 4 hour Lofty Descents tour and arranged to be picked up at our hotel. Before that we had time to squeeze in one other must-do beforehand – we took an early morning walk over to Adelaide Central Market.

Adelaide Central Market Breakfast

We had a great wander through the hustle and bustle and stopped for the most delicious breakfast at T Bar Tea Salon, including the best coffee I had in Adelaide the whole trip!

Adelaide Central Market Breakfast

We hot-footed it back to the hotel where Ian, the owner of Escapegoat Adventures picked us up in his van with his dad who was visiting from England for the holidays. Surprisingly we were the only ones booked for that day so we were very lucky to have a private ride with Ian.

We drove up to the Mount Lofty summit where Ian’s dad dropped us off with our bikes and helmets. We enjoyed the view of Adelaide and the Adelaide Hills from the highest point in the Mount Lofty Ranges.

MTB tour down Mt Lofty

After a little ride around at the lookout to get our bearings on the bike we followed Ian down the mountain.

MTB tour down Mt Lofty

It was an awesome ride! Over the total 18km we took a combination of road and dirt paths. The mountain trail parts were not always easy, there were some hairy moments, but I always felt in control of what I had to do.

MTB tour down Mt Lofty

On top of that Ian is also a champion koala spotter, we saw so many thoughout the whole ride, right in the branches leaning over the track.

Cleland Wildlife Park

Part of the tour is a stop at the Cleland Wildlife Park to visit the Australian natives and enjoy morning tea. This was an unexpected delight, the animals are free to roam around, we saw emus, dingos, tasmanian devils, kangaroos, and koalas amongst others.

Cleland Wildlife Park

Cleland Wildlife Park

MTB tour down Mt Lofty

We hand-fed the kangaroos puffed rice, holding out my cupped hands and feeling their whiskered muzzles tickling my palm made me laugh.

Cleland Wildlife Park

There are a number of koalas there, and thanks to Ian being such a familar face at the park he was able to approach one of the koala keepers as she was carrying one huge koala from the enclosure. We got to pat his fur and take a photo, he was humongous! Usually only seeing koalas in trees decieves how big they actually can be!

Cleland Wildlife Park - Koala Hug

From the wildlife park we got back on our bikes and entered the dirt track of the Cleland Conservation Park.

Ian was so patient and encouraging with our novice abilities, he suggested exactly how to pick a path through some steep corners of the track and encouraged me to give it a go when I got a bit daunted. There was one particularly steep, gravelly U-turn in the dirt path that genuinely scared me. I took one look at it and knew I’d get off the bike and walk down. Ian stopped and said to me ‘I reckon you can do this, just watch me go down and then give it a try’. He looked at Jo who had been taking things more cautiously and said kindly to her that he suggested she walk the bike down which she gratefully agreed with. I really appreciated that, I knew at that moment that he was properly guiding us and ensuring we had the best ride possible. I got on my bike, clamped my fingers around the handle bars and went for it. And I did it! I was so proud of myself and so grateful Ian gave me the encouragement to give it a go!

MTB tour down Mt Lofty

We enjoyed the trail about 10km which took us down to the outer suburbs of Adelaide. We cruised through some lovely neighbourhoods to a park near the CBD where we found Ian’s dad waiting for us, ready to drop us back at our hotel.

MTB tour down Mt Lofty

It was such a great half day adventure!
I should also add that the bike gear was in excellent condition which is pretty important for safety’s sake.

To anyone visiting Adelaide I highly recommend booking a bike tour with Escapegoat Adventures. It really is a must-do if you’re in the area!

I’ll end with some kangaroo out-takes too good not to share!

Cleland Wildlife ParkCleland Wildlife Park

Cleland Wildlife Park

Cleland Wildlife Park

The only thing Jo and I had pre-planned before arriving in Adelaide was this very special experience visiting Adelaide’s two resident Giant Pandas at Adelaide Zoo.

My sister had watched a TV segment about the Giant Pandas and really wanted to see them so we decided to gift each other the experience for our birthday (Twins! December birth date!)

Wang Wang and Fu Ni are the only Giant Pandas living in the Southern Henisphere! Why are they here? Well, they’re here to baby-make! That and help the international community to build scientific data and understanding of sustainable habitats for Giant Pandas. China have loaned Wang Wang and Fu Ni as part of the worldwide program to study the pandas’ nutritional requirements and reproductive biology.

As the only pair of Giant Pandas in the Southern Hemisphere Wang Wang and Fu Ni had enabled a completely new set of scientific data highlighting the differences between hemispheres and how it affects pandas’ biology.

We were lucky to go when we did, a couple of months after they stopped the Panda Encounter indefinitely due to the breeding program.

Getting to the Zoo was easy, after a CBD breakfast off of Rundle
Mall we walked down to the river and followed it through the parkland to the zoo.

Adelaide Rundle Mall

Adelaide Rundle Mall

We were so pleasantly surprised to find we were the only two taking part in the experience the day we went, so we were lucky to have a private tour.


When we arrived our wonderful personal guide and panda keeper met us and took us for a wander through the zoo before it had opened for the day. I wish I could remember his name as he was a delightful older gentleman who was cheerful and passionate about the Zoo and pandas.

Panda Experience at Adelaide Zoo

We got to meet a number of little creatures, many of who were eagerly enjoying breakfast.

Panda Experience at Adelaide Zoo

A highlight was the Red Pandas, who were inquisitive and energetic, plus more than a bit adorable!

Panda Experience at Adelaide Zoo

Panda Experience at Adelaide Zoo

We ended up our tour at the Panda exhibit, Wang Wang and Fu Ni were both up and active, though sitting apart in their seperate exhibits. Both were munch-munch-munching away at their stock of bamboo.

Fu Ni sat with her back against the glass not too interested in us. She is supposed to be the more playful of the two, having been a twin and reared in her childhood with a playmate, but apparently she is very aware of her status and has learnt how to get what she wants and when she wants it – we weren’t really of any value to her!

Panda Experience at Adelaide Zoo

Wang Wang was just as nonchalant. He sat facing us, both paws stuffed with bamboo and alternating between each to stuff his face – so cute and funny to watch.

Panda Experience at Adelaide Zoo

After a while he got up and ambled around his enclosure, with all the lazy confidence of a guy happy with his lot in life.

Panda Experience at Adelaide Zoo

Panda Experience at Adelaide Zoo

We learnt a lot about Wang Wang and Fu Ni, especially their personalities and all the little tricks the trainers have to get them to cooperate AND all the little tricks they have to get what they want.

The pandas are trained to inch right up to the steel bars, sitting upright, allowing keepers to take their temperature daily and blood samples as required. 

All the training they have both had is rewarded with food. They particularly like apple slices and “panda cake” – a concoction of corn and rice powders, soy flour, ground bamboo, sugar, and eggs.

Fu Ni has also been trained to lie on her side, to get ultrasounds. When we visited the Zoo was hoping Fu Ni had a bun in the oven but it was too early for them to tell – a couple of months later they determined she was showing some signs she was though it is impossible to confirm a panda pregnancy until right at the end. There had been a couple of false starts over the previous few years. The zoo has tried. Wang Wang and Fu Ni tried (kinda,Wang Wang was a bit disinterested actually). Despite the Zoo looking after Fu Ni as though she were pregnant last year, it turned out she had a pseudo pregnancy complete with a pseudo labour- poor Fu Ni! The Zoo will keep trying though, hopefully one day she will have a baby, for the sake of the conservation of the Giant Pandas.

Panda Experience at Adelaide Zoo

It really was a most wonderful experience, and the lovely location of the zoo next to the Botanic Gardens meant that when we left we ambled through them, grabbed a picnic lunch and enjoyed the afternoon sun.

After a couple of hours it was time to pick ourselves up and start making our way to the airport. The end of a wonderful week in Adelaide, what a great end and start a year!

Kangaroo Island Tour

Our first adventure on our second (and last) day on Kangaroo Island was to go koala visiting. Despite the island being called after a different Australian animal, there is actually a huge koala population there. I saw more koalas here on one day than I have ever seen in my life!

Kangaroo Island Tour - KoalasKangaroo Island Tour - Koalas

We drove to the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary where we were free to wander among the eucalyptus trees at our own leisure, our heads craned backward, eyes glued upward at the tree branches. We didn’t have to go far to spot them – in fact we saw a mum and baby in a tree along the driveway!

Kangaroo Island Tour - KoalasKangaroo Island Tour - Koalas

There were plenty more, many were rolled up in balls nestled into the nooks and crannies of the tree branches, others were lazily looking around or blinking down at us. We didn’t see any on the move, they were pretty settled. We must have seen over 30, it was a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.

Next we drove to Flinders Chase National Park, to see the iconic Remarkables. Kate gave us lots of info on the way.

Kangaroo Island Tour

The national park is named after Captain Matthew Flinders who navigated and chartered all of Australia between 1791 and 1810. He was the first to identify our shape! He named this great southern land ‘Terra Nullus’, which essentially means great south land unknown.

Kangaroo Island Tour

Of course we know that this land was certainly not an empty land, the indigenous Australian clans had been settled all over Australia for centuries, but at that point in history, explorers from the modern world were not very respectful toward native populations. That’s part of Australia’s shame unfortunately, but that is a whole other matter than the focus of my blog post! Essentially, it is from ‘Terra Nullis’ that ‘Australia’ came from, and Flinders was the first to call us ‘Australian’.

Flinders never named anything after himself but there have been many things named in his honor – such as this beautiful part of Kangaroo Island – Flinders Chase National Park.

When we visited it was cloudy, windy, spitting rain and generally very moody looking. We had lots of time to explore the rocky cliff top, with its curves and angles and peepholes.

Kangaroo Island Tour - The RemarkablesKangaroo Island Tour - The Remarkables

What a dramatic seascape!

Kangaroo Island Tour - The Remarkables

Kangaroo Island Tour - The RemarkablesKangaroo Island Tour - The Remarkables

Next we stopped at Admirals Arch on Cape Du Couedic to watch the fur seals hanging out on the rocks. Actually, they somewhat look like rocks themselves, with their big bellies camouflaged as boulders. But every now and then they flap about and when you look closer you can see them lounging all about.

Kangaroo Island Tour - The RemarkablesKangaroo Island Tour - The Remarkables

Kangaroo Island Tour - The RemarkablesKangaroo Island Tour - The Remarkables

We stopped at a secret beach that I don’t recall the name of (fitting – but I didn’t forget it on purpose!) To get to it we had to walk to the end of a strip of sand, then walk through the crevices of some large rocks where we came out the other side on to a lovely long stretch of sand.

Kangaroo Island Tour

The sun was out and lots of people were in the water, it was tempting to jump in but we didn’t have a lot of time, the only downfall of a whirlwind tour!

Kangaroo Island Tour

Kangaroo Island Tour

Kangaroo Island Tour

That was all the adventuring we had time for, so Kate drove us back to Penneshaw with an hour or so to spare before our ferry back to Adelaide.

Kangaroo Island Tour

Jo and I, along with Rebecca, a fellow traveler on the tour from Tassie, decided to pop into the pub for dinner as we didn’t expect to be back to our hotel until after 10pm. I had the most delicious watermelon salad with a crisp local white wine, while sitting on the verandah watching the ocean – highly recommended if you find yourself killing time in Penneshaw before a ferry.

Kangaroo Island Tour

The ferry ride and bus journey back to Adelaide was as smooth as could be. We hit the sack at 11pm, happily exhausted after our mini-break inside a mini-break to Kangaroo Island :-)

 

We had a whole week for our trip to Adelaide so we decided to spend two of the days on a trip to Kangaroo Island – I’m so glad we did as it was the highlight of our trip!

We wanted to make the most of our time so we booked to go with Adventure Tours Australia. My sister had been on a tour with them in Western Australia and had an excellent experience so we booked on the 2 day Kangaroo Island Explorer trip which cost just over $400 – and was worth every cent!

Starting bright and early on day 1 we were picked up from our hotel by a mini-bus and then transferred at the bus interchange onto a large coach to Jervis Cove where we would get the ferry to Kangaroo Island. We were a bit confused as the driver told us everyone else on the bus was doing a 1 day tour and he was going to transfer us to another group at the ferry – we didn’t have much more information then that, but it all worked out. When we got off the ferry after a 45 minute trip across the Fleurieu Peninsula to Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, we found a small minibus and our tour guide, Kate, waiting for us. 

Kangaroo Island Ferry

Kate was a brilliant tour guide, she was cheery, upbeat, and a great storyteller with a wonderful sense of humour.

We had a full bus, so about 12 of us from all walks of life though mostly in the 20s-40s age group.

Our first stop was Rob’s Shearing and Sheepdogs, a family operated sheep farm.

Rob's Sheep Shearing

This was a great experience as Rob himself spent an hour or so with us showcasing the work he and his sheepdogs do to get the sheep shorn.

Rob's Sheep Shearing

Rob is a real salt-of-the-earth guy, friendly, humble and good natured, he was very engaging and entertaining. His sheepdogs were also all of the above!

Rob's Sheep Shearing

They quivered with anticipation ready to jump at their master’s command. One was an older more experienced dog, the other was younger, more enthusiastic and a bit more easily distracted. It was interesting to watch the dynamics between the dogs and Rob, and how he made sure to be firm and show them who’s boss but also give them positive attention and affection when they did a good job. The pecking order was very obvious and as entertaining as they were to us, we could see they worked as a well oiled machine to get the job done.

We watched Rob give a shearing demonstration with just one of the sheep and it looked like bloody hard work! Impressive that he chatted to us through the whole process, efficiently working over the sheep, explaining the tools and the sling to protect the shearer’s back and telling us all about what happens to the wool. He passed around samples of freshly shorn wool which looks really dirty and matted on the outside and is soft and pure on the inside. Really fascinating!

Rob's Sheep Shearing

Next we hopped back in the bus to keep on track with the day’s schedule. There was always plenty to see out the window and time to pull over to admire the gorgeous coastal views and Summer’s day.

Kangaroo Island Tour

We continued on to Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery – which produces and distributes eucalyptus products around the world. I recognized the label from some beauty products I have been gifted from a friend, it was nice to see the actual place it came from. 

Mostly there was a big store with all the products, plus a small theatre showing an info-video about the distillery. It was very dated, the video is in need of a revamp I think (it was a bit comical) but the theatre has a tractor that you can sit in to watch the video so I guess that’s a novelty for kids.

Most exciting was that this stop was where we had lunch, which was organized by Kate – she brought out lots of containers of salad ingredients, bread, meats and veggie patties and fruit. It was a great spread of fresh healthy ingredients, fuss free but filling, I was impressed (as a vego I have learnt to not expect too much from tour group food, I was pleasantly surprised on this tour!)

We sat on the back patio at picnic tables, kept company by an emu who was watching us from the other side of a wire fence bordering the property and a sweet Joey who was in residence after being rescued (I believe her mother was killed on the road). She was quite tame and used to humans so let us carefully approach to say hi – I couldn’t help getting some pics and a kangaroo selfie (I’ll save that gem til the end of the post!)

Kangaroo Island Tour

We went to visit the Seal Bay Conservation Park, where a wild breeding colony of Australian sea lions live. 

This excerpt from the Seal Bay website explains why the colony is so important and in need of protection:

Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea) are part of a group known as ‘eared’ seals. They use their front flippers to prop themselves up and their back flippers to help them to ‘walk’ on land. In the water their back flippers act as a rudder.

These fascinating creatures are one of the rarest species in the world. The entire population is estimated at around 14,700. Of these, 85 percent live in South Australia and the other 15 percent in Western Australia.

Seal Bay supports the third largest colony of Australian sea lions with a population of around 1,000. This is about five percent of the world’s total. The Australian sea lion was nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century. We can count ourselves lucky that places like Seal Bay exist today. 

We entered through the information Centre which has displays to learn about the sea lions, then were taken as a group down to the beach by a park ranger guide.

Kangaroo Island Tour - Seals

We walked on raised wooden boardwalks which gave a great vantage point of the seals down on the beach.

Kangaroo Island Tour - Seals

We headed down the stairs and stood on the beach keeping well back from the sea lions. They can be aggressive in self defense and when you realize the size and weight of them you really just want to keep them feeling very safe and secure!

Kangaroo Island Tour - Seals

It was a joy to watch them riding the waves, rolling in the surf and coming up to shore. They are so graceful in the water, such a contrast to when they are on land.

We called into the sand dunes of the Little Sahara, where some in our group went sand boarding. I was tempted for a few minutes but it was just so hot and I was enjoying watching everyone else stacking it down the dune. Some were really good and had a good ride down, but most got stuck every few meters or were toppling head over heels – very funny!

Kangaroo Island Tour - Dunes

On our drive to our accommodation for the night we stopped to see these iconic Australian mailboxes along the side of the road. Each are numbered for different properties in the area. There are multiple fridges, microwaves, crates, oil drums and other strange ‘mail vessels’ where the mailman/mailwoman leaves the mail!

Kangaroo Island Tour

We stopped at yet another jaw dropping lookout to take in the view, just look at it!

Kangaroo Island Tour

We arrived at our accommodation , Vivonne Bay Lodge, in the late afternoon. 

The tour description had indicated so many activity options to enjoy here but we actually didn’t arrive til about 4pm so we didn’t really have time. We could have kayaked on the Harriet River (free kayaks available), gone walking along the property’s marked tracks, or taken out the trail bikes. Instead we went for a walk, following the bush track to Vivonne Bay Beach with a group of other girls on the tour.

On the way there we stopped to watch a mama and baby kangaroo, then on the way back we spotted koalas in the trees.

Kangaroo Island Tour

We walked through the scrub toward the beach and more kangaroos skipped across our path as we surprised them in their dusk-time grazing.

The ocean was perfect for a body surf, and the sun was just right to relax on the beach for awhile. As the sun prepared to set we walked back and took turns using the showers to get ready for dinner.

That night it was New Years Eve, but it was very low key. We had our BBQ dinner out on the back verandah as the sun set, most had brought along some wine or treats (Jo and I had a nice sparkling from our winery tour). We sat and talked with others until midnight approached and we went into the Rec room and watched the Sydney firework on TV. So even though we escaped our home town for NY, we still ended up celebrating with it – that’s because it really is a spectacular show :-)

As mentioned above, I’ll leave you with this. My Kangaroo Selfie, which is apparently a thing!

Kangaroo Island Tour

We intended to spend our third day in Adelaide making the most of the city’s free bike program, which is open to everyone, everyday. Free bikes are located all around the city at places like tourist attractions, education centres, and hotels, and can be hired for daylight hours just by providing ID. It sounded like a great way to enjoy more of the path by the River Torrens, especially as the path runs all the way from the CBD to Henley Beach via the Linear Park Trail (more information is provided on the SA Trails website and on the Bikely website).

Unfortunately, despite our grand plans it was not to be. Free bikes can’t be booked ahead, it’s first in first served so we decided we better get in early. We walked to one of the university campus bike hire locations but sadly temperature restrictions kicked in! Bikes won’t be hired out on days forecast to reach over 38 degrees. This was a disappointment as we thought we’d be able to handle the heat considering we were starting so early in the day, however it is good to have safety precautions for the Australian heat.

We decided to get the tram to Glenelg Beach and walk along the coastal path there instead of cycling. The tram was easy enough to navigate to using the Metro trip planner again. Glenelg is at the end of the line so it was obvious when we arrived – especially the fresh salty air and beach greeting as right at the tram stop.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

The Glenelg Jetty is a beautiful site stretching out 215m into Holdfast Bay, in the Gulf of St Vincent. It is a shorter replacement of the 381m original built in 1859 which suffered damage on a number of occasions over the years due to storms, a lighthouse fire and finally a freak cyclone in 1948 when it was replaced.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

We started on our walk making a few decisions to navigate around some hotel and shop developments to pick up the coastal path. The one-way distance is 7.5km which was bearable in the heat thanks to the coastal breeze and opportunities to walk along the water’s edge to cool our ankles as we walked along West Beach.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

We were careful to keep lathering the sunblock on as there is no shade along the walk at all, we walked on or beside the sand the whole way.

The are numerous art sculptures and memorials along the way which are nice to stop and admire.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

Henley Beach is a gorgeous long beach which also has a long jetty and a smaller, quieter row of cafes and shops than Glenelg.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

I loved the pretty chalk art on the pavement in Henley Square outside the Surf Life Saving Club.

Chalk Mehendi at Henley Beach

Ironically, along our walk we noticed a number of people riding free bikes along the coastal path so some of the hire outlets obviously did not get the weather forecast memo that morning!

Henley Beach SLSC

By the time we arrived at Henley Beach we had worked up not just a sweat but a raging appetite. We had lunch at a cute cafe called Swedish Tarts. I had the Mushroom flatbread and a coffee slushie – yummo!

Swedish Tarts - Henley Beach

We also bought some tarts to take with us back to the beach. We went for a swim which was delightfully refreshing. There was no surf so it was very relaxing just floating around. By this time of day the heat was pretty brutal, we kept intending to get out of the water but found it hard to leave. Eventually we got out and join the crowd of sunbathers all crammed into the shade formed under the jetty.

Relaxing at Henley Beach

That was a pretty funny sight as the long sparkling stretch of sand was left empty while we all sheltered from the sun. It was just too hot, but we were still able to relax and enjoy the beach and our treats!

Relaxing at Henley Beach

We decided to walk back to Glenelg in the afternoon – which was pretty bearable for me but my sister suffered a bit. It was HOT walking beside the sand reflecting the sun’s heat back up at us! Our idea to walk in the morning was a better one than in the extreme heat of the day.

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

Glenelg to Henley Beach Walk

By the time we got back to Glenelg we were hungry again so we decided to have dinner at a restaurant called Goodlife – delicious healthy salads and bread to share. It was good food, but a ridiculously looooong wait, though perhaps that was the exhaustion setting in.

We grabbed some gelato from a nearby store while we waited for a tram back to the CBD. It was great to have an active day to feel that healthy summer buzz but we sure did sleep well that night :-)

Our second day in Adelaide began with an early morning walk along the River Torrens. We were up and out the door before 6.30am, I was eager to start the day on a healthy note as I knew it was going to end up being pretty indulgent by the end of it. It is all about balance (and easing guilt ;-)).

We headed past Rundle Mall, and over to the Elder Park Rotunda, which was erected in 1882 – making it 101 years older than me!

Walking along the Torrens River, Adelaide

I was quite taken by the ‘paper boat’ sculptures appearing to float in the river. I’ve since discovered they are an installation by local artist Shaun Kirby, titled ‘Talking Our Way Home’. The five glass and steel origami style boats are representative of Kirby’s mid-sixties immigration to Australia as a ‘ten pound Pom’. An excerpt from this article about the boats provides:

Dispossession is one aspect of this dialectic: another is migration. The floating boats touch on the experience of moving from one geographical and cultural zone to another and for the artist “of being out of your depth, between places… not really grounded here, but no longer in England”. The fragility of glass points to the fragility of self in this whole process. The folded boats carry text too, printed and fired onto the glass surface: the text is from settlers’ and migrants’ journals and diaries.

Walking along the Torrens River, Adelaide

We continued on our walk picking up the path alongside Torrens River, which is also know by its native Kaurna name ‘Karrawirra Parri’, meaning redgum forest.

Walking along the Torrens River, Adelaide

What a glorious time to be out for a stroll! So nice to enjoy the fresh morning air before the heat sets in and the morning light gleaming on the water. We saw a few other people out as well, walking dogs or riding bikes.

Walking along the Torrens River, Adelaide

After crossing the river and walking back on the other side, we crossed again and retraced our steps to the hotel with time to stop briefly at Cafe 55 for brekkie.

Walking along the Torrens River, Adelaide

Our big adventure for the day was a tour of the Barossa Valley vineyards! I compared a couple of options online and booked a full day tour with the Taste of the Barossa company. It is consistently rated highly on Trip Advisor with excellent testimonials – I have to agree, we had a wonderful time so I will join the hordes of people who highly recommend them.

We booked online, and had two friendly phone calls the day before, once to confirm our pick-up location and second to slightly change our pick-up time due to other pick-ups being made. We were ready and waiting around the corner from our hotel when a mini-bus pulled up and our very friendly driver/tour guide gave a big wave and hello from the window. We hopped in and off we went. Our guide had really positive energy and a great sense of humour. He provided lots of anecdotes and history for the first 30 minutes or so as we headed out of the city. Then he turned up the music and let us enjoy the view out the window for awhile which I appreciated – sometimes it’s nice to be left to soak up your surroundings.

Our first stop was Murray Street Vineyard, which was a great start as the picturesque stone building and rolling green vineyards were absolutely dazzling under the brilliant blue sky and sunshine. We had about 15 minutes to wander around the garden and sit on bean bag chairs to enjoy the sweeping views. Then we were led inside to a large tasting room with wine barrels lining the walls and a long table to all sit together at.

Taste of the Barossa wine tour

We listened as our glasses were filled and we were told the history of the vineyard, which is relatively young having only opened in 2004. Owner and chief winemaker Andrew Seppelt is a 6th generation Barossa wine maker who has worked in wine regions around the world though, his wines are heralded as bridging ‘old’ and ‘new’. The wines we tasted were really lovely, as was the lady who led us through our tasting. After some purchases were made we hopped back in the mini-bus to continue our tour.

Murray River Vineyard

Over the course of the day we went on to visit Peter Lehmann, Hermera (formerly Ross Estate) and Chateau Yaldara. All were very enjoyable with a good range of wines and friendly, informative sommeliers.

We stopped at Menglers Hill Lookout where there is the Barossa Sculpture Park, which was a great opportunity for some photos and a wander in the sunshine. The original 9 marble and granite sculptures were created by artists hosted by local residents for the park’s opening in 1988. For the 20th anniversary another 8 sculptures were made and installed.

Taste of the Barossa wine tour Taste of the Barossa tour Golden grass in the Barossa

By the time we stopped for lunch at Peter Lehmann I was pretty hungry after all the wine sipping. We were presented with the most delicious lunch platters, fresh breads and cheeses and antipasti. The platters were shared between two, with ample food for all. As a vegetarian I was provided my own mini-platter for one, and it was such a generous spread I couldn’t eat it all. I wish I had taken a photo but I must have been too hungry!

Peter Lehmans

Hermera Estate, formerly Ross Estate, was a very entertaining stop thanks to the cheery personality of the woman who showed us around. They were so busy that they were at capacity in their usual tasting area so she set us up in their warehouse section complete with wine glasses balanced on a pallet of cardboard boxes!

Hemera Estate Winery

We did enjoy a wander throughout the storage areas, the smell of the wine where the barrels were stored was intoxicating (pun intended!) Like being inside a red wine bottle, really heady and earthy. Delicious!

Hemera Estate Winery Hemera Estate Winery

 

Chateau Yaldarra was our last vineyard so at this point I was starting to decline some of the tasting (hot day + red wine = feeling it!) but I did find room for a couple – I loved the 20 year old tawny especially. The chateau building and grounds themselves are pretty special as well, though we did not really have time to spend looking around.

Chateau Yaldara

We stopped at Tanunda town for a stroll on our way back to Adelaide, there was not a lot happening there but it was good to stretch the legs, walk off some of the wine, and look in the old lolly shop and gift stores.

It was such a big day, once we got dropped off we went back to the hotel and had a rest for awhile. By the time we felt hungry again it was somewhat late-ish. We remembered on our walk that morning we had walked past Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian restaurant. We have previously attempted to go to the Sydney restaurant a couple of times but never made it as we’re too last minute to make a booking. Given how quiet we were finding Adelaide we decided to give it a try – it was busy but we were able to get a table straight away. Despite the earlier indulgences our appetites came roaring back – the black truffle risotto and raspberry pavlova was delicious, yum! :-)

A special end to a fabulous second day in Adelaide!

Jamies Italian

Once again I find myself doing a little belated post-holiday updating! Seems to be often the case, but that’s OK – the reminiscing is good for the soul ;-)

Over the last new year break I went on a getaway trip to Adelaide with my twin sister. While my hometown is famous for its spectacular NYE celebrations, the mega-crowds it attracts can make planning anything around town a bit of an effort, so we fancied spending the holiday out of Sydney.

We decided only a few weeks before that we’d take the trip, so I spent about a week googling ideas and asking friends for suggestions on things to do. For some reason Adelaide has a reputation for being a bit… plain. A lot of people responded with “WHY!?!?!?” when I said I was going to Adelaide for New Years. After a truly wonderful, jam packed  7 days I’m going to tell you why over the next series of blog posts! The key is to do some research ahead of time and have a rough idea of what you want to do and when. Adelaide may not be the best city to just turn up and see what’s happening – the streets are so quiet, and at times we found ourselves musing ‘where is everyone?’ in a tone on the border of FOMI (fear of missing out) and eeriness (was there an apocalypse? has the city been evacuated?)

Here’s an overview of our one week itinerary in Adelaide:

Day 1: Fly into Adelaide early, day trip to Hahndorf

Day 2: Day long Barossa Valley Wine Tour

Day 3: Tram to Glenelg Beach and a coastal walk to Henley Beach and back

Day 4 & 5: Two day tour to Kangaroo Island

Day 6: Mountain biking down Mt Lofty, picnic in the Botanic Gardens

Day 7: Panda experience at Adelaide Zoo, lunch and shopping in the city, evening flight home.

It was a jam packed week, which I’m now going to relive here, one day at a time…

So the day after Boxing Day, after a quick coffee and bagel at the domestic terminal, we left Sydney EARLY at 6:45am with Jetstar and had a good flight to Adelaide.

Airport Waiting

Compared to the Sydney comparative we were impressed how cheap and easy it is to get a bus into the city from Adelaide airport. Relying on my iPhone map app we got off the bus in the right place and found our hotel, the Grand Chancellor on Currie St. I had booked it through Webjet after comparing a few CBD alternatives, we were happy to find it clean, comfy and conveniently located.

The great thing about our early flight was that we arrived with the whole day ahead of us. In my research I’d read that the German heritage town Hahndorf is a great day trip excursion from the city and easily accessible by bus. We’d purchased a Day Trip Metroticket for the airport bus for $10, so it was a good economy to go to Hahndorf that day.

We were on our way there within an hour of checking in to the hotel using the Plan My Journey feature on the Adelaide Metro website. We spent a few minutes walking up and down the block outside our hotel trying to work out which of the three bus stops we were supposed to be at but we found it eventually. It was about a 50 minute journey and easy to know when we’d arrived – the main street is just as described.

Hahndorf town

Lots of quaint shopfronts, tree-lined footpaths, cafes with tables and chairs clustered out the front.

Hahndorf town

First order of business was coffee and scones sitting in the sun on the veranda of the Herbees Garden Café, which is a historical German house built in the 1850’s.

Cute cow milk jug, Hahndorf

We spent a couple of hours wandering down the Main Street, there are lots of stores worthy of popping into – bakeries and fudge shops, and giftware and designer boutiques.

Street art, Hahndorf

We had lunch at Café Assiette which was packed went we first wandered by. I usually can’t help myself and check online for recommendations for food and coffee when I am somewhere new. Trip Advisor reviews raved about Café Assiette so we decided to take our chances on loitering nearby for awhile – and we got lucky! The wait staff were rushed off their feet but going out of their way to make everyone happy. The food was really great (veggie pie was delicious), made even better sitting outside under the trees, listening to the live music playing next door.

Hahndorf town

We spent some time in the Hahndorf Academy art gallery and museum, a beautiful 19th century heritage building which was once a boarding school and then a maternity hospital. There is a mix of contemporary art on display as well as some rooms presenting art and artifacts from the area’s past. There is a shop with an interesting range of gifts including local art and jewellery – it is well worth a visit.

Art in Hahndorf town

It was a bright, sunny day so we stopped by one of the artisan ice cream shoppes before we hopped back on a bus to Adelaide.

Hahndorf town Hahndorf town

We finished off our first day of sightseeing with a walk through a deserted Rundle Mall (seriously, where is everyone?) which hosted a number of interesting street sculptures and Christmas decorations.

Rundle Mall

 

In general, work/life balance for me is not an evenly dispersed kind of thing but more like all-consuming-projects punctuated with an annual travel adventure when I disappear overseas for four weeks. I used to want to balance it all out, but now I accept that I actually like life being ‘all on’ when I’m hooked on a project and then changing track and escaping somewhere else when it’s done. Something I could do better is managing my wellbeing across these times. I tend to burn out, thinking I’ll sleep/breathe/recharge later. Well… I really don’t really want to sleep/breathe/recharge once or twice a year. I’d rather that be an all of the year thing.

So I started looking after myself better. I cut down on chocolate (I haven’t eaten any since the 28th June 2015 actually). I didn’t let my morning bush walk slide off my schedule when I was busy, it has become a non-negotiable. I started a regular weekly yoga practice after years of patchy attendance, and I sat down to daily meditation. I’ve kept to it all pretty faithfully and the result was that at the end of a pretty big work project last year I needed some time out for sure, but I wasn’t an exhausted shell left barely standing. I had energy, so after my work trip to Singapore I hopped on a plane to Koh Samui and straight to Vikasa Yoga Retreat. I stayed for 15 days.

I found Vikasa through a Google search, it sounded promising with great Trip Advisor reviews and plenty of travel blog trip reports.

Yoga paradise at Vikasa Yoga Retreat

It is set into the cliffside on the west coast of Koh Samui, with the cafe/reception area sitting up the top and everything else – accommodation, yoga shalas and swimming pools – cascading down the cliff. That means steps – and lots of them! I didn’t find this a problem at all, though I’ve seen some complaints on tripadvisor about them. I think if you’re there to do yoga then a five minute walk up the stairs should be within your ability to manage. And where there’s a climb there’s a view – and this one is worth the effort!

They have multiple accommodation options which is a great way to make the retreat possible for yogis of all budgets. I contemplated the options but after my hard work I decided to treat myself to a balcony facing the ocean with the Ocean Room. My first impression of the room was that it’s a lot smaller than it seems on their website, and also nestled quite close to the other rooms/bungalows either side; the balconies line up next to each other with no privacy from your neighbors, you feel like you need to keep your window curtains closed for that purpose as well. It would just be perfect if they were more private, but having said, they were clean, had aircon, an outdoor shower, and as time went on and I became friendlier with my neighbors privacy was not such a concern.

One curtain I always kept open was on the window facing the ocean so I had a front row seat in the morning when the sun rose over it right in front of my bed! I’m an early riser anyway so when my eyes flicked open in the mornings and caught sight of the horizon changing color I always jumped out, made a cup of peppermint tea and sat out on my balcony for an hour as it rose.

Vikasa Sun Rise

Vikasa calls itself a yoga retreat, I would describe it as a yoga resort, a subtle difference, but resort more accurately infers the freedom you have regarding how much yoga you do. There are three outdoor yoga shalas; the weekly timetable of scheduled yoga and meditation classes for guests are all held in the White Shala which is large and breezy. It’s entirely up to you what classes you attend – if any, no one keeps track of you, there are no expectations.

White Yoga Shala Vikasa Yoga Retreat

I tried to do at least one meditation and one yoga class a day, though sometimes I managed all classes (which was up to 6 some days). I found this freedom great as the first couple of days I took it easier as I adjusted to the heat, but by the end I craved going to as many as possible, though sometimes skipped some due to exploring the island or just physically needing a break.

Practising during the afternoon and evening tropical storms was a real treat. The rain thundered down and skittered under the roll-down shutters on the wind to land on my skin as I sweated away. The thunder boomed and the lightening sparked, it was magic. It rained probably half of the days I was there (September) but getting to practice yoga during the storms made up for the lack of beach time on those days. That and being curled up on a beanbag with a smoothie and a book in the cafe.

My favorite teachers were Simon, a South African born but now Koh Samui local who has a brilliant sense of humor and a very relaxed approach to practice, and Christian, a visiting London based yoga teacher who was more dynamic. The other teachers were all good as well, but as in life you click with some people more than others, which was the case here too.

Yoga Class at Vikasa Yoga Retreat

I came to Vikasa alone with no worries as I travel solo a lot, however I will admit that on the second day I had a moment of doubt. I hadn’t yet clicked specifically with any one, most of those I met were there on the teacher training group and were already in close groups. On the second night I started chatting to an Aussie girl after class though and we had dinner together. Then I met a Danish guy, then a Singaporean girl and an Aussie guy, an American girl and a Dutchman… I was set! The group of friends I made and hung out with each day at mealtimes and inbetween classes really made my holiday. I had such a fun time then, yoga was rewarding in itself but bonding with like minded yogis was the best.

Together we took taxis to beaches on the other side of the island- to Chaweng Beach for drinks and junk food, to Bophut for delicious Thai food at the Happy Elephant. We walked to Crystal Bay to get massages, and went on a jeep jungle safari in the rain and mud (so much fun clinging onto the side of the jeep and being flung about) which also stopped at some jungle water slides plus a few other key Koh Samui attractions. We did the Just Jungle tour which avoided all animal attractions, something I feel pretty strongly about not supporting.

I spent some time exploring on my own too. I got a taxi to the far side of Chaweng and walked the length of the beach, which was a feat in the heat but I was really missing walking by then. The roads in Thailand do not make for a pleasant stroll as the motorcycles travel along the kerb as well. It’s tempting to walk with an eye constantly over your shoulder to make sure they see you. Chaweng is a long flat beach so I was able to get into my walking headspace and chill out, stopping to swim or lay down and read along the way.

Chaweng Beach

I remembered when reading about Vikasa, that there was a gym across the road – Sky Gym – where Vikasa guests can go for free with tokens given out at reception. So I checked that out as a walking option. An energetic music playlist was always pumping when I went, and there’s pretty much everything you need there, for me that was just the treadmill so I could walk! The cardio equipment is all lined up next to windows that give the gym its name – there is a fabulous view on the blue sky days, but even on the cloudy days like when I took this photo it’s pretty nice to workout in front of!

Sky Gym

On my last night, a group of us who were all on the verge of leaving Vikasa went to Bophut for drinks on the beach at the gorgeous CoCo Tams, which has swing seats at the bar and big beautiful cushions around low wooden tables on the sand by the water. After a few drinks we wandered around the markets buying random finger foods (I ate a deep fried cricket…!!!) and taking in the atmosphere with new friends who felt like old ones.

I returned back to Sydney feeling happy, healthy, stretched out and sun-kissed.

Selfie in Chaweng

It was a feeling that stayed with me a long time, in fact I have maintained a yoga practice much more intense than I ever have before, averaging 3-5 classes a week even 5 months later. If I ever get the chance to return I will. I just hope that when I do, I meet just as lovely people as I was lucky to meet this time.

Heart Buddha Vikasa Yoga Retreat

If you are wondering why my post is a lot lighter on photos than usual, it would be because about 24 hours after getting home to Sydney, I was walking along the beach and drowned my phone in a failed but spectacular leap of enthusiasm over the lagoon channel… I sadly lost all my holiday photos, all except for the four I had allowed myself to post on Instagram while I was there and the few I sent on Messenger to my Mum. It just goes to show, it doesn’t pay to have a complete social media break while away… Hope you enjoyed this reflection on my blissful yoga holiday.

Chaweng Elephant