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Destination of the Week: Adelaide

by on March 21, 2014 · 4 comments

in Australia, Destination of the Week

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Though summer has reached an end in the Southern Hemisphere, fall can be an ideal time to escape the cold up north and head to Australia. For today’s Destination of the Week, TPG Assistant Editor Melanie Wynne explores Aboriginal culture, native gardens, regional wine and cuisine, and lots of friendly marsupials in and around the historic city of Adelaide. 

Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia, and set on that state’s southeastern coast. As distinctly Australian as the larger and more touristy cities of Sydney and Melbourne, but with much smaller crowds, Adelaide offers history, modernity, a relaxing pace, a focus on locally-sourced food and wine, and a lovely stretch of coastline beside the Gulf St. Vincent.

Adelaide (the red star on the right) is the capital of South Australia (pink, on the left), one of Australia's six states

Adelaide (the red star on the right) is the capital of South Australia (pink, on the left), one of Australia’s six states

WHAT TO DO

Founded in 1836 as a British colony of free settlers, Adelaide still feels like the wealthy frontier town it once was. Dating from the city’s mid-1800s land boom, much of the historic architecture here was built of sandstone mined from the nearby Basket Range and trimmed with ornately wrought iron. Its compact city center (referred to locally as the CBD) is composed of five manicured squares – Victoria, Light, Whitmore, Hurtle and Hindmarsh – and a wide ring of green spaces collectively known as as the Adelaide Parklands.

The fountain at Adelaide's Rundle Mall

The fountain at Adelaide’s Rundle Mall

Adelaide’s most popular tourist attraction, Rundle Mall (a long portion of Rundle Street that runs between Hindley and Pulteney Streets) turns the city’s vintage aesthetic on its head, filling remodeled arcade facades with entirely modern shops, department stores, pubs and more. Don’t miss the central copper fountain (copper mining was big business in the Adelaide area between the 1840s and 1860s, and began a slow revival in 2007); a stacked and shiny piece of public art called Mall’s Balls; and the bustling Beehive Corner, home to the flagship of Haigh’s Chocolates, which has been making treats in Adelaide since 1915.

You'll find historic architecture and the flagship of Haight's Chocolates at Beehive Corner

You’ll find historic architecture and the flagship of Haigh’s Chocolates at Beehive Corner

Though it’s home to a surprising mix of every culture imaginable, Adelaide makes a special effort to honor its Aboriginal (or First Australian) roots. Next door to the Victorian-era Art Gallery of South Australia and its large collection of Aboriginal art, the comprehensive South Australian Museum features the profoundly moving Australian Aboriginal Material Culture Gallery. For over a hundred years, white Australians kept a detailed anthropological record of Aboriginal people, in an effort to provide evidence of their supposed sub-humanity. This now-debunked record forms the basis for Aboriginal land claims, as well as a spectacular array of artifacts. Many of the latter are on display in the Culture Gallery, in addition to modern artworks and compelling, emotional video testimonials.

South Australian Museum Adelaide

South Australian Museum Adelaide

One block from these museums, sprawling Tainmundilla Park contains several historic University of South Australia buildings, as well as some of the city’s biggest attractions. The 41-acre Adelaide Botanic Gardens is home to enormous trees that have long served as homes, farms and even pharmacies for First Australians. Beside the gardens, you can attend a wine tasting at the ultra-modern glass-and-wood National Wine Centre of Australia, which showcases wine production and varietals around both South Australia (in regions like the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale) and the entire country.

Enormous eucalyptus tree in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens

Enormous eucalyptus tree in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens

To explore the shore, head to the popular beach area of Glenelgset beside the Gulf St. Vincent’s Holdfast Bay. Go for a stroll along the wide white-sand beach or out onto the Glenelg Jetty (a 705-foot-long pier), or take to the water for a sunset sail. Along Jetty Road, you’ll find modern nightclubs, small concert venues, shops and eateries set largely in renovated mid-1800s buildings. To get to Glenelg, catch the City to Bay Tram, which runs every 15 minutes from various stops throughout Adelaide’s city center (including Rundle Mall) and ride it to the end of the line at Moseley Square.

The beach at Glenelg glimpsed from the Oaks Pier

The beach at Glenelg glimpsed from the Oaks Pier

Adelaide is surrounded by day or weekend side trips that are best undertaken with a rental car (if you’re skilled at driving on the left/British side of the road) or by hiring a driver. These three jaunts will give you a taste of the flora, fauna, art, history and wine of the greater Adelaide area.

A half-hour southeast of town on the South Eastern Freeway (past signs that warn of koala crossings), the vine-covered Adelaide Hills are the foothills of the Mount Lofty Ranges and home to Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, Hahndorf. Started by Prussian Lutherans escaping religious persecution, Hahndorf today is a small tourist mecca full of artists. Wander through the shops and galleries on Hahndorf’s Main Street, and head up to The Cedars, the home and studio of South Australia’s most famous landscape artist, Hans Heysen. Out in the lush flower gardens surrounded by a forest of gum (eucalyptus) trees, keep an eye out for Crimson Rosellas, red-and-blue parrots which are as common as pigeons in this region. Consider setting off on the Adelaide Hills Cheese & Wine Trail and making time for ChocoVino, a tasting menu of a global assortment of chocolate paired with wines from Hahndorf Hill Winery.

The Cedars, artist Hans Heysen's home in Hahndorf

The Cedars, artist Hans Heysen’s home in Hahndorf

Fifteen minutes northeast of town, the Gorge Wildlife Park in Cuddlee Creek will allow you to hold a warm, furry orphaned koala toddler as it munches on a eucalyptus branch. Other animals at this 14-acre zoo include a spectacular array of native birds and small mammals, as well as huge enclosures of wallabies and kangaroos. Buy a bag of the park’s peanuts and stroll out amongst these soft, gentle and food-motivated marsupials.

Wallabies at Gorge Wildlife Park

Wallabies at Gorge Wildlife Park

About a half-hour beyond Cudlee Creek and a full 45 minutes from Adelaide, the Barossa Valley is arguably the most famous wine-growing region in Australia. You could explore this region for a week or more, or just get a taste of it on a day, overnight or weekend. Highlights include the opportunity to “Make Your Own Blend” of red wine at Penfold’s, a winery that dates to 1844; the full-bodied, Rhône-style reds at Charles Melton Wines;  St. Hallett Wines, acclaimed for its old-growth vines, dry Rieslings and Shiraz (which Aussies pronounce, “Shih-razz”); and Peter Lehmann Wines, home to a big art collection and an even larger array of vintages.

The Barossa Valley at golden hour

The Barossa Valley at golden hour

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

Spend a few hours eating your way through the Adelaide Central Market. The market can be toured with a professional chef like Mark Gleeson (who co-owns market stall #66, a gourmet specialty store called Providore), or you can just nibble your way along the many stalls on your own. You’ll find produce grown all over South Australia, as well as bakeries, butchers, cheese and more from around the world. For a sit-down meal, try the fresh Mediterranean-style sandwiches and salads at Zed’z Cafe, with a hibiscus soda on the side.

Adelaide Central Market

Adelaide Central Market

First opened back in 2000, the cool, elegant and modern-Italian Auge Ristorante has expanded its focus on seasonal and 6- to 8-course degustation menus to include an Italian/Australian wine bar and a spuntini bar (Italian for “snack”) for small bites and casual meals. Press Food and Wine has a different menu just about every day, designed by chef Andrew Davies and featuring seasonal produce from his Adelaide Hills farm. Downstairs is walk-in and has a casual bar vibe, while reservations are required for the upstairs dining room, which pairs blue velvet banquettes with an unfinished, sky-lit ceiling.

While in Glenelg, have a carbon-neutral lunch or dinner upstairs at Goodlife Modern Organic Pizza, which specializes in wood-fired pizzas made with regional produce from around South Australia. Along Main Street in Hahndorf, stop into Udder Delights and tuck into a basket of local cheeses like Heysen Blue, a few house-made spreads and a warm baguette, or pick up picnic fixings for your adventures along the area’s wine trail.

Cheese, charcuterie, bread and wine at Hahndorf's Udder Delights

Charcuterie, bread and wine at Hahndorf’s Udder Delights

Along the way to Cudlee Creek, try a Melting Moment (the Aussie version of a shortbread cookie) and an espresso drink at  Café Va Bene, a popular, family-owned Italian pastry shop in a North Adelaide mini-mall. Australians don’t favor a strong brew of coffee, so be sure to mention if that’s how you like your java; click here for a complete guide to ordering coffee in ‘Stralia.

In the Barossa have lunch or dinner at Vintner’s Bar & Grill, which feels just like a winery, with its wood-beamed ceilings and tangles of grapevines. Try the tea smoked duck salad with pomelo, green papaya, chilli and mint, and dip the house-made bread into some local olive oil and dukkah, an ever-changing Australian blend of herbs, spices and seeds.

Vintner Bar & Grill in the Barossa Valley

Vintner’s Bar & Grill in the Barossa Valley

GETTING THERE

The small but efficient Adelaide Airport (ADL) serves Oneworld members with Qantas (the major carrier here), as well as Cathay Pacific and Malaysia. Star Alliance members Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines fly here, but SkyTeam is not represented. Additional international carriers serving ADL are Air Asia, Emirates and Virgin Australia, and domestic carriers include Tiger Air and Jet. Itineraries from North America to ADL are generally routed with stops in Sydney (SYD), Brisbane (BNE), Melbourne (MEL) or Auckland (AKL).

Adelaide Airport

Adelaide Airport

The public JetBus (route J1/J2) picks up/drops off every 15 minutes from a stop at the left hand side of the plaza as you leave the main airport terminal; single-trip tickets into the city center ($5 AUD [$4 US] peak/$3.10 AUD [$2.80 US] non-peak) can be purchased directly from bus drivers with coins or credit. A 20-minute cab ride from ADL to the city center costs between $16-20 AUD ($14-18 US).

Renting a car isn’t necessary or even advisable; driving is done British-style, on the left side of the road, while the city center is walkable and otherwise well connected by public transit. If you want to rely on public transit, consider purchasing a 3-day Visitors Pass; when its time has expired, you can add to it just like a regular Metro card, at tram and train stations.

WHERE TO STAY

Adelaide is a small city, so hotel options aren’t as plentiful and diverse as other major hubs like Sydney or Melbourne, but there are still some great options.

Hilton

Hilton Adelaide Hotel

Hilton Adelaide Hotel

Hilton Adelaide Hotel: Centrally located in Victoria Square, this modern, 374-guestroom hotel features a variety of suites, two with spa baths. WiFi is available for a fee, but Executive Lounge guests have access to complimentary WiFi, as well as breakfast and evening refreshments. In addition to an outdoor rooftop pool, there’s a small fitness room, a jogging track and a tennis court. The upscale Brasserie restaurant features South Australian cuisine, beers and wines. In April, rates at this Category 6 property start at $159 AUD ($144 US) a night or 50,000 HHonors points.

IHG Rewards

InterContinental Adelaide on the River Torrens

InterContinental Adelaide on the River Torrens

InterContinental Adelaide: Set on the banks of the River Torrens near the South Australian Museum, this elegant, modern 367-guestroom, 21-suite hotel offers great views of Adelaide. Most guestrooms feature work desks, marble bathrooms, and terry robes. WiFi is free for all IHG Rewards members, and is $25 AUD ($23 US) each 24 hours for non-members. The gym features an extensive array of machines, and there’s an outdoor, heated pool. In addition to a cocktail lounge in the soaring lobby atrium, there are two restaurants on-site, the casual Riverside, and Shiki, which features Japanese teppanyaki. In April, rates start at $207 AUD ($187 US) a night or 40,000 IHG Rewards points.

King Balcony Room at the Crown Plaza Adelaide

King Balcony Room at the Crowne Plaza Adelaide

Crowne Plaza Adelaide: This 15-story, 300-guestroom property is located in Hindmarsh Square, near the Adelaide Botanic Garden. Each guestroom and suite includes a work desk, and suites include whirlpool baths. The property includes an Executive Club, and while WiFi is free for IHG rewards members, it’s $19 AUD ($17 US) each 24 hours for non-members. In addition to a large fitness room, there’s an indoor lap pool, whirlpool, sauna and steam room. Redsalt Restaurant and Bar serves local tipples and seasonal menus with South Australian-sourced ingredients. In April, rates start at $170 AUD ($154 US) a night or 35,000 IHG Rewards points.

Other Notable Options

One of the seven rooms at the Franklin Boutique Hotel

One of the seven rooms at the Franklin Boutique Hotel

Franklin Boutique Hotel: Set between the Light and Victoria squares, this artsy, relaxed hotel has only seven rooms, each with a different shabby-chic design. Several rooms feature soaking tubs, and one of the Premium Rooms has a three-headed shower. The cheery on-site pub/restaurant features cheese boards, burgers and local brews, as well as a large outdoor patio. WiFi is complimentary throughout the hotel. In April, rates start at $150 AUD ($136 US) a night.

Grand Chancellor Adelaide on Hindley

Grand Chancellor Adelaide on Hindley

Grand Chancellor Adelaide on Hindley: Located between Light Square and Rundle Mall, all 208 guestrooms at this hotel feature large spaces, muted colors and complimentary WiFi; the Executive Rooms on the uppermost floors offer sweeping city views. On-site Bistro65 serves a breakfast buffet, and dinner focuses on South Australian ingredients and wines. Cocktails, coffee drinks and bar snacks are served in Sebastyan’s Bar, which looks out onto busy Hindley Street. In addition to a small gym and sauna, the property has a large outdoor pool and attached hot tub. In April, rates start at $149 AUD ($135 US) a night.

Majestic Roof Garden Hotel

Majestic Roof Garden Hotel

Majestic Roof Garden Hotel: A couple of blocks from Rundle Mall, all 120 guestrooms at this cute little modern hotel have complimentary WiFi, king beds, and mini-bars that are stocked partially with snacks and drinks sourced in South Australia. The on-site restaurant, Culshaw’s, also offers South Australian-focused and sourced cuisine and wines. At happy hour, guests can purchase a discounted beverage in the lobby (try the Barossa bubbly), then bring it up to the roof garden for a wide view over downtown and the Adelaide Hills.  In April, rates start at $207 AUD ($187 US) a night.

The Oaks Plaza Pier Hotel

The Oaks Plaza Pier hotel is on the beach in Glenelg

Oaks Plaza Pier:  For those who want a longer stay in Adelaide or to be at the beach in Glenelg, this sprawling, modern property sits right on the shore at Holdfast Bay and offers studio, one- or two-bedroom apartment-style guestrooms. Each apartment has kitchen and laundry facilities, flat-screen TVs, and writing desks, and either a park or beach view. WiFi is complimentary for 30 minutes each day, and the property includes an indoor lap pool, whirlpool and sauna. In April, rates start at $144 AUD ($130 US) a night.

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  • iahphx

    I can’t really imagine any American making Adelaide their primary destination in Australia, but it’s certainly a pleasant enough place. The area surrounding Adelaide, especially the Barossa Valley, is certainly worth a stop. Sadly, wine is oddly expensive in Australia (largely due to tax), so it’s not a great place to actually BUY wine — just taste it.
    BTW, if you’re picking up a car for an extended trip, you might want to taxi/bus into town as you’ll save a ton in taxes compared to an airport rental (just like in the US).
    I’d also note that Kangaroo Island is near Adelaide and very worthwhile. We also saw whales near Victor Harbor. Further afield, if you have time and are a bit crazy (like me), Adelaide is a somewhat logical place to start an Outback drive.

  • JTI

    Agreed. Adelaide is nice enough, but you are doing yourself a disservice if you make it all the way to South Australia and spend much time in Adelaide. There are so many places nearby to explore (and actually stay in – not just day trip).

    We stayed at a remote cabin on Kangaroo Island, and it is one of my favorite places I have ever been. Definitely worthwhile.

  • melaniewynne

    Kangaroo Island is just amazing, it’s true! Adelaide makes an ideal hub for a great number of adventures, including KI, the McLaren Vale and the Eyre Peninsula.

  • melaniewynne

    I fell in love with Adelaide — it has such a relaxed pace, gorgeous museums, friendly people, great food and stunning water. Kangaroo Island is so far one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited, and could write about it for days… I’d still encourage wine purchases because so many vintages are hard to find outside Australia, but nonetheless, thank you so much for the tip about rental cars!

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