The steady rain subsided overnight and the early morning sky showed patches of blue to the east. Thought the weather report was for continued rain, today the rain promised to be an on-again off-again affair as we wound our way down from the Barossa Valley to Adelaide to visit the capital city of South Australia.
Our first stop, still in the Barossa Valley was the Barossa Reservoir Dam. Built in from 1899 to 1902, it was considered one of the engineering marvels of its day. It was one of the first concrete arch or parabolic dams and the first and highest in Australia. A side effect of the parabolic shape is that sound travels clearly from one side of the damn to the other, 144 meters, clearly. Hence, the name Whispering Wall and the birth of a tourist attraction that attracted more than civil engineers.
Narrow roads continued down past Kangaroo Creek and into the rugged gorge that it has formed. Though this route takes more time than the main road between Adelaide and Barossa, it is far more scenic and has no stoplights.
The Gorge Wildlife Park (08-8389-2206), about halfway between the valley and the city, is a small zoo. Here, kids (and adults) can stroll past plenty of exotic parrots and birds, walk among and feed kangaroos and wallabies, and hold a koala bear. The wildlife park also has wombats, alligators, emus, ostriches and dingos.
I had a chance to hold a koala bear. Molly was her name. Cuddly little critter Molly was with razor-sharp claws, including a special pair used only for grooming. I thought her fur would be soft like a plush teddy bear or my girlfriend’s cat but it was rough and matted, more like mattress ticking or attic insulation. Her breath wasn’t bad and her nose quite cute. Molly was appropriately huggable especially when placated with a wand of eucalyptus leaves and I didn’t seem to terrify her enough to get those claws.
Adelaide was another 25-km. drive down Gorge Road. The city with its tall buildings and bustling traffic was a dramatically different scene from Barossa and the mountains that border Adelaide to the north and east. After checking into the Adelaide Hilton (08-8217-2000) right in the center of the city on Victoria Square, we met our first local guide, George Gleeson (mobile; 0402 165800), who runs one of the stalls in the Central Market and also organizes tours of the market and its various stands and shops.
The Adelaide Central Market is only a few steps from Victoria Square. Operating since January 1869, it is only open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The original market site still has 80 stalls selling everything from water and juices to fruits and vegetables and flowers and sausages to cheese and oysters. According to George, this market is the most-visited destination in Adelaide and the largest fresh-produce market in the southern hemisphere.
The market serves as a focus for food producers that grow and graze on the fertile lands that surround Adelaide. Vegetables and greens come from the hot houses in Virginia just to the north. Oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits come from the Riverlands. Stone fruit such as cherries, pears, peaches and apples come from the Adelaide Hills. Lamb, beef and olive oil come from the Fleureu Peninsula.
For any foodie, the Adelaide Central Market is an essential stop.
The market generates activities that fill all its nooks and crannies with action and aromas. Fishmongers lay out oysters, cod barramundi and more in their glistening colorful splendor. Butchers cleave into lamb carcasses, carve out chops and shoulders, and parcel out pork knuckles that will be simmered into stews. Flower stalls overflow with exotic blooms from the tropical north as well as favorites such as mums and roses. Some stands sell strictly organic produce and locally-farmed South Australian produce, while others hawk fruits and vegetables that come from throughout the greater Southeast Asian region. CafÃ© tables and chairs are filled with shoppers pausing to enjoy coffee or tea together with a pastry purchased from one of the stalls.
Across Gouger Street from the Central Market the Star of Siam (08-8231-3527) serves Thai food to a large lunch crowd. Several local cuisine magazines rate this is the best Thai Restaurant in Adelaide. They specialize in very affordable lunches with dishes such as Pad Thai, Green Curry and Chicken in Peanut Sauce served for between A$9.50 and A$10.50. It is a tasty bargain.
The Adelaide city guide met us as we finished lunch and were talking about the trip over steaming Chinese jasmine tea. We headed to Victoria Square and began the tour walking up King William Street. The guide told us that virtually every building in Adelaide and North Adelaide is built of stone because of the big problem that the original settlers had not with fire, but with termites. Bluestone, fieldstone and limestone solved the termite problem and sure helped with the fire problem as well.
We learned that a street named for a commoner couldn’t cross any street named for a king. Hence streets crossing King William Road have a different name heading to the east than they have heading to the west. Sturt street comes meets King William from Whitmore Square. On the other side of King William, it continues with a new name, Halifax Street. Rundle Street with famous shopping is to the east of King William and Hindley Street is to the west. It helps to make sense of this one-square-mile business district.
Around Victoria Square were the South Australian court buildings and St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, the main Catholic Church. Along King William Street we passed the Post Office and the Medina Hotel (once Adelaide’s Town Hall).These were what they call pre-federation buildings built between the 1870s and 1901 when the Federation of Australia was founded. Another important building is the Haigh’s Chocolate Center where the local chocolatier first set up shop. Haigh’s has become Australia’s most celebrated chocolatier an only recently have their products been sold outside of Adelaide.
Parliament Building, a post-federation building, is on North Terrace Street that defines the old northern edge of the original town. In this region the history of Adelaide started and several old buildings still stand such as the police station, police stables, an old church and the Migration Museum that is housed in what was once Adelaide’s Destitute Asylum, the former home for wayward women, those pregnant out of wedlock.
The city’s library and its museums also line North Terrace Street. The library’s original hall is a wonder soaring room of dark wood and bookshelves. The South Australian Museum has an excellent display of Aborigine art and artifacts collected from across Australia. Spears, boomerangs, shields, boats and totems are all displayed to educate viewers about the Aborigine culture and their unique ways of communication. This museum also has an exceptional collection of Egyptian artifacts and natural history displays.
Next door to the South Australian Museum is the Art Gallery of South Australia with period art from Australian artists as well as a good collection of contemporary art. Just past the museums the ornate original buildings of the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia stand.
Turning south down Pulteney Street brought us to Rundle Street. Between Pulteney and King Williams Road Rundle Street is a pedestrian shopping zone where the country’s largest chains such as David Jones and Meyers have major stores. Several galleries spurring off to the sides filled with many smaller local shops. There is a curious collection of bronze pigs in the middle of the Rundle Street Mall. One is depicted as climbing up onto a trash bin and munching on old milk cartons and refuse. Strange, but interesting. I have no idea of what the story is behind this porcine art collection.
Note: The best coffee in Adelaide comes from Cibo, with shops scattered around the city center, or from Lucia’s in the Market.
Dinner was a superb elegant gourmet experience at Penfolds Magill Estate Restaurant (08-8301-5551). The restaurant sits on the original lands of the Penfolds Winery estate and the home of Dr. Penfolds and his family. Over the years the vineyards have been whittled down and sold as the Penfolds vineyards were planted, fermented and bottled elsewhere in Australia. However, the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me production of Penfolds Grange wines has always remained at this location.
The Magill Estate Restaurant with a wall of glass has spectacular panoramic views over the city of Adelaide. The meals are as wonderful and memorable as the wines that they blend at this location. Our degustian menu paired with champagne, Sherries and wines was perfectly prepared. Anyone who doesn’t this rate this restaurant and the accompanying wines as exceptional just don’t know what they are writing about or had a rare bad meal.
Organic cauliflower soup paired with a medium dry amontillado sherry was the fist course. It was followed by Kangaroo Island Lobster Medallions with gewurzteminer, then by a Timbale of Duck Confit accompanied with a Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz blend, and finally with Wagyu beef sirloin paired with the 2003 Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz. Dessert was a pineapple tarte tatin together with a Moscato d’Asti.
The piece de resistance was a tasting glass for $50 of the 1987 Grange Hermitage that was 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 90 percent Shiraz. It was delicious and could have lain for another decade at least in the cellar. Anytime a wine can last thirty years, it is exceptional and the winemaker should be honored. It understandable that this wine should be rated the best in the world by experts. I, who only serve $10-$12 bottles, know an exceptional drop when it passes my lips and this Penfolds Grange Hermitage meets every test. Having a chance to taste it was worth every cent.