Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Australia & the Pacific
Reload this Page >

So much good wine, so little time; South Australia's Limestone Coast

So much good wine, so little time; South Australia's Limestone Coast

Old Aug 16th, 2014, 08:32 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 18,120
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
So much good wine, so little time; South Australia's Limestone Coast

After much debating about how best to utilize a coveted week of vacation (in the dead of the Australian winter no less), our little family of two finally agreed to return to South Australia. We’d thoroughly enjoyed a trip to SA in 2009, and while there we’d heard references to the Coonawarra, one of Australia’s finest wine regions.

Once we settled on which state to visit, it seemed only sensible that two enthusiastic wine drinkers investigate this cold climate wine region and its mysterious terra rossa soil.

The next hurdle was arranging flights. Living in the forgotten land of Western Australia, our airline choices are rather limited. Attempting to book the only daily flight to Adelaide on Jetstar drove us to utter teeth-clenching, hair-pulling despair. Just when we thought we were making progress, we were led to another inane choice with yet another fee...Starter Fare, Plus Bundle or Max Bundle? Oh, you want to take luggage? That’ll be another $18.50 for 15 kg, $20.20 for 20 kg, $27 for 25 kg, blah, blah, blah. Oh you want an assigned seat? That little convenience will be another $. The process was so infuriating that my usually sedate spouse came very close to cancelling the trip altogether. Instead, we slept on it, got back online the next day and booked with Virgin Australia instead. Best idea ever. Take that Jetstar.

Our VA flights were about $400 each round trip; same price as Jetstar, but without the considerable hassle factor. The quoted fare included those frivolous little extras like checked luggage and assigned seats. Dealing with VA was a breath of fresh air.

Then came the hard bit, crawling out of bed at 3 am, fingers crossed that our pre-booked taxi would actually turn up at our door at 4 am. It did! We were checked in at Terminal Three of the Perth Airport drinking coffee and nibbling on a weird doughy bagel by 4:35 am. As the Aussies say, “too easy”.

For those who’ve never had the pleasure of flying domestically within Australia let me tell you, it’s a wonderful thing. One only need arrive 30 minutes prior to check in for most flights; there are actual people at the check-in counters (!) and security is a breeze. Want to take that 1.5 liter bottle of water? No worries, just pass it through the scanner with your cabin bag. Want to keep your shoes and belt on? No worries, no stripping necessary. Want to maintain ownership of that tissue and wad of lint in your pocket? It’s all yours. For us travel worn Americans accustomed to being bullied by TSA, it was very civilized indeed.

Our 5:40 am flight to Adelaide left on time – nice new 737, friendly crew, mercifully turbulence-free. Because the plane was only half full, they’d left the middle seats empty, nice touch. It took just under three hours and a weird 90 minute time change to reach Adelaide. VA is our new friend.

We were on the road by 10:30 am in our little red Ford Focus, booked with Thrifty through Vroom, Vroom, Vroom - $312 for nine days. I’m not known for my navigating skills, but I managed to get us from the airport to Hahndorf without too much drama. We celebrated our success at Chocolate @ No 5, a little slice of heaven we discovered in 2009 and have dreamt about ever since. This unassuming little chocolate café (yes, an entire café dedicated to chocolate, what’s not to love?) has the best hot chocolate either one of us has ever had, full stop. Sipping a mug of their decadent liquid chocolate is a near religious experience. (I’m almost embarrassed to admit that we visited them four times during our stay, and consumed roughly two million calories each).

After dessert we sought out lunch, ending up at The Haus for no other reason than their vast menu of German grub looked promising. We shared a plate of wurst, washed down with some lovely German wheat beer ($52).

We poked through kitschy Hahndorf for awhile (Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement), surprised at how busy it was at 1 pm on a Friday afternoon. As we mulled over the olive choices at the IGA deli, the young man working the counter offered us a taste of a particular olive. I turned to my husband and said,’ yeah, taste it’, wherein the young man popped the olive into his mouth and proclaimed it good. It didn’t dawn on him what he’d done; so we just smiled, selected some of the olives he’d approved, and went on our way. Ah, youth.

http://hahndorfsa.org.au/

To be continued...
Melnq8 is offline  
Old Aug 17th, 2014, 03:53 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 13,665
Likes: 0
Received 4 Likes on 1 Post
Could be worse, Mel - he could have offered you a wine tasting!

Good to see you've been getting in some culinary practice for your Christmss fare.
Bokhara2 is offline  
Old Aug 17th, 2014, 07:24 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 10,694
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Chocolate.....
Toucan2 is offline  
Old Aug 17th, 2014, 07:36 PM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 18,120
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
Chocolate indeed Toucan. Sex in a cup. The.Best.Ever.
Melnq8 is offline  
Old Aug 17th, 2014, 07:38 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 4,447
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Jetstar's online booking process is an absolute disgrace and I don't know how they get away with it. It would be a cold day in hell before I flew with them.

Having got that off my chest - please keep the report coming Mel - thoroughly enjoyable read.
stormbird is offline  
Old Aug 17th, 2014, 07:55 PM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 18,120
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
Back in our little red car, we had trouble figuring out how to go southeast on the M1. We could only find one on-ramp at Hahndorf and it went back to Adelaide. So we took it, eventually finding a place to get off and back on the highway going in the opposite direction.

Soon we were driving through a landscape mildly reminiscent of NZ and TAS – gentle rolling countryside – every imaginable shade of green - yellow flowers seemingly everywhere. But as we approached Murray Bridge, our surroundings abruptly became depressingly flat.

We drove through the sad looking town of Tailem Bend, now on the Dukes Highway, where we encountered our first ‘average speed zone cameras’, three banks each of two stacked speed cameras. We’d never seen these before, although I can certainly understand why they exist - the temptation to speed through this flat, naked land of grain elevators is hard to resist. We saw a train carriage being transported atop a massive truck, hoping it was headed to Perth and our overtaxed local train line.

In researching this trip I’d read about albino kangaroos, so we detoured to Bordertown, so named due to its proximity to the Victoria border. We found the white ‘roos and several peacocks grazing in a fenced enclosure right in town.

http://www.pbase.com/jhphoto/animals_bordertownwildlife

Some 6.5 hours after leaving the Adelaide Airport, we arrived in the flatter than a flitter, thriving metropolis of Naracoorte on South Australia’s Limestone Coast, some ~340 km southeast of Adelaide.

So, where’s the coast?

Accommodation:

http://www.carolynnescottages.com.au/

Our home for the next three nights was Robin’s Retreat, a very well-equipped and cozy free-standing two bedroom cottage ($170 per night). The décor was a bit old lady for my tastes, but it was spotlessly clean and very comfortable. I’d mistakenly thought that a cooked breakfast was included, but no, breakfast provisions were included; apparently, I was to be the cook. The provisions were quite generous, more than we could possibly eat, although less meat/eggs and more cereal for the picky one wouldn’t have gone amiss. Our only complaint about the accommodation was the lack of reliable internet and satellite TV. Both were available, they just didn’t work very well.

As we got settled we heard the grisly news about MH17, a depressing start indeed.

To be continued...
Melnq8 is offline  
Old Aug 17th, 2014, 11:35 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 438
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Mmmm - chocolate heaven from the sounds of it. We missed that last time we were in Hahndorf, about 15 years ago. Sounds as if another visit is due.

Looking forward to more of the report.

Dot
dottyp is offline  
Old Aug 18th, 2014, 12:35 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 13,665
Likes: 0
Received 4 Likes on 1 Post
Those albino kangaroos are fascinating.
I wonder whether their ears are subject to sunburn - perhaps that could be the cause of the damage remarked on in some of the comments.
Bokhara2 is offline  
Old Aug 18th, 2014, 04:45 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1,468
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Ooh, I've been looking forward to this. Thanks for getting it underway.
sartoric is offline  
Old Aug 18th, 2014, 05:51 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 10,694
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I don't think I ever saw Albino kangaroos. Looking forward to more of your report!
Toucan2 is offline  
Old Aug 18th, 2014, 07:09 PM
  #11  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 18,120
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
Happy to oblige sartoric.

I wonder if the albino kangaroos are protected since they can't blend into the landscape?

--------------------------

Day 2- 3: Exploring the Connawarra wine region

I’d been warned that it would be cold down here, and as much as it pains this Colorado girl to admit, it was. Of course, the customary lack of insulation and Australian version of heating didn’t help much, a reverse cycle unit that felt great when you stood directly under it, but was of little help at a distance. But between it, cozy warm electric blankets and wearing our fleece indoors we were comfortable enough. The temp dipped to 4c while we were there – that’s about 40 F, which isn’t particularly cold by North American standards, but it was that damp kind of cold that just sets in your bones. In Perth we’d just go outdoors to warm up, but it was cold out there too, even in the middle of the day, which surprised us.

Each morning of our stay began at Sweet Espresso, where we lapped up the locally famous, self-described ‘epicurean coffee’ of Mahalia, whose roasting house is located in nearby Robe. It suited this coffee snob nicely, although not opening until 10 am on Sunday seemed a bit cruel. Unsurprisingly, the building that housed Sweet Espresso was ice cold, effectively discouraging a leisurely sip, and one morning the music was deafeningly loud, the youngsters behind the counter oblivious to the vibrating building.

Naracoorte’s claim to fame is Naracoorte Caves National Park, South Australia’s only World Heritage site; that, and being honored as Australia’s Tidiest Town in 1994 pretty much sums it up. We found it remarkably similar to other small Aussie country towns we’ve visited, one main street of commerce and more bottle shops than one would think such a small town could support; in a word, non-descript.

Heritage status aside, we were here for the wine, not fossils. So we spent our two days imbibing. Lest anyone think that Naracoorte was a strange choice for a base from which to explore Coonawarra, I agree. I’d half-heartedly looked for accommodation in Penola, but nothing appealed. So when a poster on TripAdvisor raved about Carolynne’s Cottages, I booked and never looked back. What I didn’t realize is that the wineries of the region are spread out between Naracoorte and Penola covering a distance of 50 incredibly flat kilometers, the majority of them closer to Penola than Naracoorte.

The township of Coonawarra boasts a population of about 25, and is located partway between the small towns of Naracoorte and Penola. Incidently, Coonawarra is an Abroginal word meaning honeysuckle, and being 450 km from Melbourne 380 km from Adelaide, it's rather isolated.

Across two days we sampled the Cellar Dwellers offerings of Brands Laira, a 1994 and 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (preferring the ’04). We also sipped at DiGiorgio, liking every wine we tasted, in particular their 2013 Kongorong Riesling (a surprise, as we’d not expected to find dry Rieslings in the area). We visited Blok for their Vertical Tasting of ’06, ’07, and’08 Rieslings and had a spirited chat with the proprietor. We also visited Wynn’s, Bowen Estate, Patrick (really nice 2004 Riesling, the color of straw) and Katnook (loved their dry sparkling Shiraz). But even wine enthusiasts get wined out, and two days of wine tasting was plenty.

The area isn’t brimming with dining options, so I’d booked lunch well in advance at Upstairs at Hollick. As advertised, it’s upstairs from the cellar door with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the vines. The meat eater reported that the Angus sirloin was chewy and sinew-riddled, but cooked as ordered ($39). My main of local quark*, spinach and romano ravioli was delicious but stingy ($32 sure doesn’t get you much). We rather enjoyed Hollick’s 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, although I fail to see how it coming from a magnum is a selling point, but what do I know? Service seemed awfully slow for so few customers.

*I’d never heard of quark either, it’s a curd cheese.

http://www.hollick.com/restaurant/up...t-hollick.html

Lunch the second day was at Foddor’s in Coonawarra, which we’d booked a day in advance, quite unnecessarily. I loved this place. This cute café is housed in a former school house across the street from the imposing heritage listed Wynn Estate. It has a relaxed and cozy vibe and they use produce from their own garden, which is always a selling point for me. We love woodfired pizzas, and as luck would have it their eclectic menu included a wide variety of them. I started with a cup of zucchini, turmeric and coconut soup, served with three small slices of sourdough. Bill went right for the garlic oil, chili and pecorino pizza, for me it was pancetta, asiago and capsicum, both were excellent ($58 total with a glass of wine each). We’d discussed returning later in the day to pick up a takeaway pizza with the waitress, but when we called in around 5 pm, we were turned away by the owner who told us she needed to prep for dinner service. Okay.

http://www.fodder.net.au/

Late afternoon of both days found us in Penola, wandering the yarn bombed streets, admiring the historic buildings and inevitably ending our stroll at diVine for coffee and a shared slice of Crème Brulee’ cake, both times assisted by the unsmiling proprietor. Penola may be sleepy, but its main street is far from peaceful, as we discovered while sitting outside diVine, mere meters separating us from trucks hauling sheep and logs through town. These must be the same trucks that woke us up every morning around 4 am as they lumbered past our cottage.

http://blogs.abc.net.au/sa/2013/05/y...th-colour.html

http://penola.org/listing/divine-cafe/

Somehow between all the wine drinking we managed to fit in the mildly interesting 5 km Naracoorte Creek Walk, which led us through a section of bush and then back through town. We also drove out to Bool Lagoon, 21 km south of Naracoorte, which is described as “amazing” in the tourist literature. It certainly didn’t amaze us; we drove in, read the information board and drove back out, not remotely tempted to walk.

Our last night in Naracoorte we visited a local boozer, played the pokies just because they were there (no such animal in WA outside of the casino) and called it a day.

Impressions:

Topographically uninteresting region with beautiful wine; we didn’t care much for the area or the towns. Although neither of us can express exactly what we expected, Coonawarra wasn’t it.

To be continued...
Melnq8 is offline  
Old Aug 18th, 2014, 08:44 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1,468
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Oh dear, one armed bandits, that's really scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to do.

Sorry your Coonawarra wasn't stellar, although the wine sounded good.

Hey, I know what quark is, can be awful stuff, or strangely pleasant in a benign way.

Sadly common, but there's simply no excuse for an unsmiling proprietor. The service culture is changing, slowly in some regions it seems.

Gee, I hope Robe gets the green light !

Thanks again for your excellent contribution to the files of the future.
sartoric is offline  
Old Aug 18th, 2014, 09:31 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 2
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hello dear ,,,,i think i missed it....
Trevorborrer is offline  
Old Aug 18th, 2014, 09:35 PM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 13,665
Likes: 0
Received 4 Likes on 1 Post
Which of those Rieslings would you recommend, Mel?

Lovely detail as usual ... And I haven't has lunch yet!
Bokhara2 is offline  
Old Aug 18th, 2014, 09:38 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 2
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Yes Mr. Bokhara, its a great idea to have lunch there.. Ask to Mr. Mel
Trevorborrer is offline  
Old Aug 18th, 2014, 09:57 PM
  #16  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 18,120
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
sartoric - it was my first encounter with quark, and lucky for me it was a good one.

Generally speaking, we found the people in South Australia very friendly. We'd noticed that the first time around too. Much more so than here in WA, where we often feel as if we're putting someone out by giving them our business.

Bokhara - we loved Patrick's 2004 Riesling and a bottle of their 2013 actually made it home with us. I also put several *** next to DiGiorgio's 2013 Kongorong Riesling, but my wine tasting notes go a bit wonky after that
Melnq8 is offline  
Old Aug 18th, 2014, 10:16 PM
  #17  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 18,120
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
Day 4 -

After a final caffeine fix at Sweet Espresso, we left Naracoorte via the now familiar Riddoch Highway to Penola; the fifth time we'd driven this route in three days. Note to self, next time stay closer to Penola. We were amazed at the considerable traffic on the Riddoch Highway, but I’m assuming this is because it’s the main thoroughfare between Melbourne and Adelaide. We were also surprised at the number of lambs given it was July.

South of Penola the landscape dramatically changed, it was still flat mind you, but the miles of vineyards had been replaced with miles of pine trees, looking oddly out-of-place. Several sprawling houses appeared as we approached the town of Mt Gambier, and at long last, hills!

Mt Gambier and its 28,000 residents is the big smoke of the Limestone Coast; the second most populous city in South Australia. It’s situated on the slopes of an inactive volcano of the same name, a mere 17 km from the Victoria border.

The plan was to explore Blue Lake on the way to Robe, so we followed the signs through town, passing some fabulous stone houses. I was immediately smitten.

We poked around the Crater Lakes for while, visiting the many overlooks, walking a few trails. There were some nice views of 75 meter deep Blue Lake, and as pretty as it was, the vibrant blue we’d heard about wasn’t evident due to the time of year and overcast skies. We drove around the perimeter of the volcano and walked up to the Centenary Tower, the highest point of Mt Gambier at a whopping 630 feet. It was a steep climb; the views from the top were incredible, city on one side, country on the other.

Mt Gambier and the Crater Lakes area was an unexpected beautiful surprise. I could have easily spent a few days here.

http://www.southaustralia.com/info.aspx?id=9000854

I’d scoped out a place in town called Molten Chocolate Café, and with memories of Chocolate @ No 5 still fresh in our minds, we hightailed it there for a chocolate orgy of hot chocolate, macadamia nut brownies and a slice of Lindt chocolate mint torte. The hot chocolate disappointed, but our sweet teeth were more than satisfied.

http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Restau...Australia.html

Curious as to where this elusive Limestone Coast was, we continued driving south to Port MacDonnell, on the Great Australian Bight, for our first glimpse of the sea. Here we ditched the car at the Norfolk pine lined esplanade and walked the jetty before continuing down the coast to Cape Northumberland, South Australia’s most southerly point, and yet another unexpected surprise. This area is known for its rock lobster and little penguins. The sun was out now, the views of the craggy coastline and bright blue sea beautiful. And, as a bonus, when we walked out to the penguin colony, we saw whales frolicking in the far distance!

We finally tore ourselves away and continued our drive to Robe, slowly winding our way to the Princes Highway via some lonely country roads. Just when we thought we were hopelessly lost, we came upon the largest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere and rejoined the highway at Millicent.

The further north we got, the prettier our surroundings became. Evidently, there’d been plenty of rain, as large pools of standing water dotted the pastures. More than seven hours after leaving Naracoorte, we were pulling into the pretty seaside town of Robe.

To be continued...
Melnq8 is offline  
Old Aug 18th, 2014, 11:38 PM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 13,665
Likes: 0
Received 4 Likes on 1 Post
Bit of historical & religious trivia:

Mary McKillop, who went on to become Australia's first saint, started her working life as an 18 year old governess in Penola.

http://www.visitmarymackillop.com.au...an-penola.html
Bokhara2 is offline  
Old Aug 19th, 2014, 02:36 PM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 438
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Spring has come very early this year, Mel. I have been making weekly trips between Wellington and Havelock North since the start of June, and was really surprised to see several lambs as early as mid July. Now there are many lambs of varying ages, and lots of fluffy young calves. Not to mention all the daffodils flowering, too.

As usual, an engaging and interesting report, Mel. Have you considered writing a book of your travels?

Dot
dottyp is offline  
Old Aug 19th, 2014, 03:00 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 10,694
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Another Chocolate Cafe!

You know how to live Mel.
Toucan2 is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information