South Australia and the Southern Ocean Lodge
One of the world’s premier destinations to sample food and wine
By Denman Moody
My visit to South Australia in late June/early July 2011 cemented my view that the region is one of the premier trips of the world for sampling food and wine. This includes Kangaroo Island, the home of Southern Ocean Lodge. Before discussing this unique, to-die-for travel destination, I’ll restate a position I’ve held since my first visit to South Australia: There’s so much to see and do, lining up a driver and a tour is a must. In my case, on Kangaroo Island, about a 25-minute hop by plane from Adelaide, Tim Harris with exceptionalkangarooisland.com showed me more in two days (before and after a lunch he cooked “in the bush” each day) than I could have seen in a week on my own. On the way to each scenic wonder we strayed to tour some impressive wineries.
While meandering up a walkway from the ocean at the famous Seal Bay Conservation Park, I met my first bull seal. He appeared to weigh about 400 pounds, so I gave him the right of way. The majestic animal was attempting to become acquainted with one of the many female seals taking cover in the bush to keep the cold wind away (it was wintertime, but not too cold). Other sights, such as Remarkable Rocks, a huge geological structure with a cluster of precariously balanced boulders, are must-visits.
However, virtually none of the scenes could rival the coastal vista views beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Southern Ocean Lodge. In some ways, this is my favorite lodging facility in the world. For openers, every member of the staff knew my name when I arrived on the property — not sure how! Next, from the lobby, as far as the eye can see are miles of gorgeous, unadulterated coastline, synergistically paired with the pristine 250 acres of natural bush in which the lodge is ensconced.
There is one small walkway that winds its way from the lodge toward the middle of the bush and then snakes its way back to the ocean. While exploring one of the paths off the walkway, I encountered a large kangaroo. The native animal stood up less than six feet away from me, did a double-take and hopped about 10 feet the other way in one bound, before lazily bounding off. On the way back to the lodge, I spied another kangaroo about 40 yards away and whistled at it. It turned toward me, and we were momentarily transfixed. I estimated that he matched my frame at about 6 feet 2 inches, weighing in around 200 pounds. He never moved as I eased down the trail, almost tripping over a small wallaby!
In the lodge, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., there is an open bar. Around 40 of the best wines of South Australia are lined up, along with a plethora of mixed drinks. And the meal that followed, with a glass of my favorite wines with each course, was more than memorable. The lodging is reminiscent of a yacht; if you have to inquire into the price of a suite, you probably shouldn’t go. But for those who desire first class all the way (everything is included in the room price), this is it! southernoceanlodge.com
Adelaide is the epicenter of the great wines in Australia. Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills are Napa, Sonoma and Russian River Valley look-alikes, respectively. My driver/tour guide here was fellow Texan Ralf Hazlic of lifeisacabernet.com. Ralf is a multi-talented “mate” who has escorted everyone from Tom Jones and Roy Orbison to Willie Nelson throughout Australia — partly owning to his days in the entertainment industry and his business association with Jimmy Buffet.
Although Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale (and Clare Valley) boast a plethora of top wines, I focused on Barossa for this trip. As an aside, if in Adelaide Hills, don’t miss the Hahndorf Hill Winery, where for $20 and up, one can experience one of the world’s acclaimed chocolates matched with Hahndorf Hills wines.
A good starting point is visitadelaidehills.com. McLaren Vale is about 45 minutes south of Adelaide; Adelaide Hills just a few minutes away; and Barossa about an hour north. The restaurant scene has changed dramatically since I visited years ago, making it problematic for me to decide during this trip where to dine!
Some highlights from my Barossa trip included:
Kabminye Winery and Krondorf Road Café — A “must” luncheon stop at this winery/café, located in a small valley with a lovely pastoral view from the all-glass dining area, to experience substantial portions of traditional settlers’ foods from the mid-1800s. The owner-chef should know, since her family owned the property in the mid-1800s! And her husband, the winemaker, is the ultimate experimenter — excellent wines from grapes such as Kerner and White Frontenac, along with the ubiquitous fabulous Shiraz. Kabminye.com
Rest, dinner and overnight at Jacob’s Creek Retreat in the midst of Moorooroo Park — An exclusive property offering opulent accommodations, boutique wines and intimate weddings. In the dining room, looking out upon the gorgeous landscaping and trees gives one a sense of animated beauty — it’s almost too beautiful to be real. jacobscreekretreat.com.au
Seppeltsfield Vineyard Cottage — The slogan here is Heritage-Luxury-Privacy. Perfect for several days to experience an ecologically and painstakingly restored 1960s cottage with a wine cellar below and a vineyard right outside the back door. Pricey but unique! Seppeltsfieldvineyardcottage.com
The most important visits for oenophiles include the great wineries that abound in Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley, all within an hour of Adelaide. While in Barossa, the one wine stop that is mandated is Artisans of Barossa, where seven of the top winemaking families in Australia have teamed up to produce seven outstanding wines. The most famous of these is John Duval, former winemaker at Grange (artisansofbarossa.com). For a look at the wines tasted on this trip, primarily from Barossa, read the wine article in the September 2011 issue. Other stops recommended in Adelaide include the Vintner’s Bar and Grill, where the local winemakers gather (vintners.com.au); Ferment Asian, excellent food; and internationally famous Maggie’s Beer Farm Shop (maggiesbeerfarm.com.au).
Back in Adelaide, plan to have dinner at the Penfold’s Magill Estate Winery and Restaurant. This is the home of the “whacking” (as they say in Australia) best wine in the world — OK, maybe just Australia — Grange (formerly Grange Hermitage). Almost any of the top Penfold’s wines made — even Grange back to the 1950s — can be ordered with the smashingly good-tasting dinner. My meal began with Krug Grand Cuvee Champagne with paté, and along the way, Grange 2006 and Grange 2002! In the world-class barrel room, just four barrels of one recent vintage (400 bottles in each barrel worth $600 a bottle) equated to almost $1 million worth of wine at retail. Unbelievable!
Other recommended stops in Adelaide include the reasonably priced Rendevouz Allegra Hotel and a jaunt through the Central Market nearby, as well as La Trattoria, an immensely popular Italian restaurant. The most important websites to explore are barossa.com and southaustralia.com.
To facilitate your trip to Australia, Qantas now offers nonstop service from Dallas. The trans-ocean flight is a little over 15 hours, so I recommend going at least Premier Economy or Business if possible.