Travelling country South Australia

South Australia ~ state of surprises

Found, the quintessential country pub.

Don't you just want to pull over here and park outside, spend an hour (or three!) in the warm sunshine, yarning with a few friendly locals over some cold beers? Don't you wish you lived a lot closer? 

Burra is not exactly on everyone's travel map. Two hours  north of Adelaide, it's best accessed by road. We had come across country from Mildura, then Renmark, heading for Port Augusta, so this was an ideal spot for a much-needed break. 

On a previous visit, we had stopped at Good Golly Miss Polly for an excellent Cornish pasty because Burra has a fascinating historic link with Cornwall.

Read on and see why...

This town, with a population of around a thousand, has a recipe for success for travellers in any part of the world: history, wines (that's from Burra Creek Wines, or Clare, half an hour's drive south-west) and plenty of quirky discoveries.

In many rural towns in Australia, there is usually a Commercial Hotel...

...a soldiers' memorial (left, above) and a rotunda or bandstand in the town park. Burra has all three.

But our guess is that this is the one and only Cook'o'Burra.

We wanted to see what had made this small town famous and wealthy in its early days. After discovery of a rich vein of copper in 1845, miners from many places, including Cornwall, UK, migrated to the area, and names of Cornish towns can still be seen in this area.

However, after around thirty years of mining in the area, the mine was closed, reopening only for a short time in 1977. It's a fascinating story of a discovery that grew a town and then left only the steep cuttings behind.

Read more here...

To reach our accommodation that evening, we took the main road, passing many abandoned stone cottages like this along the way. Locals later told us that the government at the time provided some money for farmers to set themselves up on a small holdings but, because of the area and the dry climate, it was not large enough for the farmers to support their families, and so they walked away, leaving this evidence of many broken dreams behind. 





Location and locomotives. 

Surveyed in the late 19th century, Peterborough (originally called Petersburg after a local landowner) became an important town, located on the crosshairs of two major Australian rail lines that became, in the 1920s, the Transcontinental and The Ghan.

In keeping with history, we booked a night in one of two repurposed railway carriages on a property a couple of kilometres out of town.

Surprisingly large, our luxury 'carriage' also had an ensuite and a couple of bunk beds in addition to the lounge and breakfast area.

The view through the original carriage window looked out over South Australian farmland.

Owners, Neil and Antoinette Sleep, like many other local residents have added new projects to their already busy lives. Off the Rails B&B is only part of their activities. Willangi Bush Escapes offers bush camping and bushwalking as well as 4WD drives in the area.

These carriages have had a busy history. After their life on the rails, some were taken to Tanunda and converted into motel accommodation, where they stayed for around 30 years. In 2014 the carriages were brought to a cow paddock near Strathalbyn, and it was here the current owners found them.


After a very comfortable night in our railway carriage B&B, we were even more interested to see the effect railways have made on the town.

It may be motorbikes in town (above), but we wanted to visit the Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre a little outside the town centre, a fascinating place for anyone who likes anything to do with rail travel.

The history of the town which was established in the mid 1800s is very apparent. Visitors may take a self-led History Walk, following interpretative signs.

Great care has been taken to preserve the original colours and style of the main street's sandstone buildings.

This town is particularly proud of its Town Hall, one of the largest heritage-listed town halls in country South Australia. Completed in 1927, the left hand foyer is known as the Federation Foyer and is where you can see and hear about the magnificent Federation Quilt.

Of course no one should leave town without first meeting Bob the Railway Dog and learning his story

Better still take a (virtual) trip on the permanently stationary train at the Town Carriage Museum.

The interior has been left in original condition, except for the 'historical movies' being played on the windows.

Best of all - it's free.



But never underestimate this state - it has surprises at every turn. Like this town, 25 minutes north-west, with a seven-letter name that uses only two.

On the main street are these whacky fixtures. Not just horsey faces, their bodies move and undulate in the wind.

Watch the video to see for yourself!



Port Augusta ~ between the water and the desert

By the time we reach Port Augusta, we can sense the outback calling. 

The city itself has a population of around 13,000, but more important is its strategic position at the top of Spencer Gulf, a deep inlet and early seaport, but also on the cusp of two major rail lines. All this, as well as its proximity to the Flinders Ranges and further inland to Wilpena Pound and beyond, make it an ideal base for many tours.

Most botanic gardens are lush with flowers, shrubs and trees. For a short while we found it difficult to get our heads around the idea of an 'arid' one. Yet once we take one of the four walking trails, we can soon see why this 200 hectare space is such an important place to visit.

One of the major adjustments we needed to do was to look down at our feet, where there was a multitude of small hardy plants, ideally suited to desert-like conditions.

There was no shortage of other life either - 150 species of native birds (there are two bird-hides in the garden) as well as insects and lizards. It is an ideal place to visit with children and there is a cafe at the Visitors' Centre. Even better, admission is free.

From the Matthew Flinders Red Cliff lookout we paused to enjoy the view of both the backwaters of Spencer Gulf as well as the distant ranges and those flat plains that stretch on towards Australia's interior.

The busy town has a good vibe to it, with plenty of things to do, but with a respectful nod to history, the traditional owners, and the city's many carefully preserved old buildings as well.

There are some eye-catching public murals too, but we were struck by this very lifelike statue (complete with a stylish hat!) of a genteel lady, apparently considering what the city is up to.

We guessed well. While we were taking this photo an elderly man came up and introduced himself. "Who was this elegant lady?" we asked. 

She was former Mayor Joy Baluch AM, he told us, now-deceased, a kind and generous person, someone who helped people.

"She saved my life," he said simply.



The Southern Flinders Ranges

As we head south, the land quickly turns its back on the deserts to the north and becomes more agricultural. This paddock of wheat would have been planted just months ago, but we guessed that the stone church in the distance was one of the first buildings in the area.

Occasionally bright splashes of crimson bottle brush brighten the roadsides.

Heading south now, we passed through the Southern Flinders Ranges, steepish in parts, but easy travelling and with breathtakingly long views,



Clare - back into wine country

On previous trips to the winelands of South Australia we have begun in Adelaide and travelled north. This time we start with Clare, an important wine region in its own right. 

Technically, Burra is in this region and it would have made perfect sense (if we hadn't wanted to see Port Augusta) to simply cut across to Clare. We presume the winemaker, Mark Barry, chose this eyecatching name for his winery, on the highway, north of the town.

It is worth stopping at this landmark on the northern outskirts of Clare. Here, the original Enterprise Brewery, built in 1878, is now home to the cellar door and microbrewery of Knappstein Wines

But not everything is about wines.

Early settlers in the area, many from central Europe, brought their heritage recipes with them and grew the fruit and vegetables they needed to create startlingly good dishes never seen before in this country. 

This 35 kilometre-long walking and cycling track runs between Auburn, the town where poet CJ Dennis spent his childhood and Clare, passing through several towns and villages along the way.

Travelling in these wine-rich areas is like dawdling through a top-class wine cellar, but it's even more fun than that! Allow yourself enough time and you can spend a few hours tasting some of the world's best wines. 

With most of the arrows pointing right, we decide to go left. Just because we can!



Sevenhill - heavenly wines

One of Australia's most unusual cellar doors was founded by Jesuit priests in 1851 and because there are seven hills around Clare, they named it after the seven hills of Rome.

Built as a spiritual home and retreat, there was one thing missing: altar wine. 

Quickly determining that as they had chosen an ideal grape-growing location, vines were planted and five years later the fruit was turned into wine. Two years after that the wines won their first award.

As time passed, and other wineries began in the are, later attracting tourists, Sevenhill Cellars became a popular place to visit. With its fine location, beautiful gardens - and of course the opportunity to taste and buy award-winning wines - it is now an important stop on the Riesling Trail.



It's not all about wine...

While this part of South Australia produces many world-class wines, do not overlook some of the other drinks available here, like this delicious cider we tasted one evening.

The Hills Cider Company launched in 2010 with the aim of producing Australia's best real cider made from 100 percent local apples and pears.



The beautiful Barossa

When Australian wine regions are discussed worldwide, one of the first mentioned is often the Barossa.

This region, located in valleys to the north of Adelaide, was established largely by German settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Bringing with them the wine-making skills of their home country, and capitalising on the rich soil and good climate of this area, it is little wonder that the wine industry went from strength to strength.

But it's not all about the wines.

The small towns in the region specialise in artisan breads, cheeses, olive oils, condiments, sausages, smallgoods and virtually anything that goes well on a platter to complement those premium wines.

If there is a farmers' market on one of the days you visit, make sure you head for it. 

If everyone has heard of the Barossa, then there are just as many people who know of Maggie Beer. In 1991 her Pheasant Farm Restaurant launched even more successes when it won the Remy Martin Cognac / Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year Award.

Since then her name, as well as a wide range of her products, have become even better known through her Maggie Beer's Farm Shop in Nuriootpa

Those who have followed her TV cookery programs will recognise the kitchen (above) where, for several years, she was filmed preparing simple and delicious dishes, featuring the lush produce of the area for which she had now been rightly named, Barossa Ambassador.

Always on my list of places to visit when in the area, is this heritage bakery, that still uses the original 1924 wood-fired Scotch oven for its slow-fermented breads.

And yes, although we are in the country here, Tanunda's Nosh Cafe matches anything you'd find in a city. Above it is the sign for the original flour mill that was built by early settlers.

This town, pioneered in 1842 by settlers seeking religious freedom, has a strong German heritage, Even so, it is not all about the past. This town has plenty on offer to people looking for stylish clothing, handmade jewellery and original souvenirs.

As tourism is a major part of the success of these regions, you will find plenty of signs to help you find what you are looking for. They are very necessary as the Barossa has a complicated network of small towns, and it is not difficult to miss a turn. Well, maybe that was just us!

The Barossa Visitor Centre is located in Tanunda.

Read more about the Barossa HERE...



Sweet scents of the region

Then, just to show that this region, primarily known for its wines can excel in yet another product, we take a quick trip to experience these products.

Established thirty years ago, this business has expanded from lavender sachets and oils...

.. to a cafe serving, of course, lavender-flavoured dishes...

...and, more recently, this unique product. Lovely to look at, and even lovelier to taste: lavender liqueurs.



Heading south

From the Barossa region, we skirted the city, heading through the lovely Adelaide Hills, then joining the road for Murray Bridge, which as the name suggests, crosses the mighty Murray River not far before it empties into Lake Alexandrina.

The Princes Highway hugs the coast for many kiometres as we head south. It is all part of the Coorong National Park, much of it marshy, with low scrub and plenty of seabirds, pelicans and sea life.

Fishing is the drawcard for many visitors, and if it is not that, then they come to taste the bountiful freshest-ever local seafood.

It was called Kingston SE (South East) to identify it as there was, at the time, another Kingston, which is now called Kingston on Murray - so now there can be absolutely no confusion!

The town has adopted the local lobster as its mascot for the area. As you can see this lobster is really BIG - weighing four tonnes and seven metres tall. He has been nicknamed Larry the Lobster, and has become a tourist attraction in his own right, with a restaurant and wine-tasting area.

Close up Larry seems even more intimidating.

While many restaurants in town serve delicious seafood dishes, there's also the option of buying and cooking your own, a great idea for campers. The Southern Rock Lobster season is from October to May.

However, it is not all about lobster in Kingston SE. Ask any local and they will tell you that there's squid to be caught, as well as salmon weighing up to a kilogram, at night off the jetty. We hadn't packed a fishing rod, so settled for this instead (above) at one of the town's restaurants.

We visit this lighthouse (above). Relocated from Margaret Brock Reef, it is now on Marine Parade.

The lighthouse theme continues, with this one in a local garden.

For tractor and engine buffs, Kev's is the place to go.

Don't miss the very unusual Sundial of Human Involvement...

More about Kingston SE...



Moving on to Millicent

Now 400 kilometres south of Adelaide, we stop briefly at the delightful town of Millicent, with perhaps the most eye-catching Visitor Centre drawcard we have seen. The Lady Nelson was a 60-ton sailing vessel built in 1799, and the first ship to sail along the coastline of South Australia.

The south-eastern coast of South Australia is called the Limestone Coast and there are some fine wineries in the area. 

See more about them HERE...



Mount Gambier

Mount Gambier with its volcanic craters, lakes, caves, sinkholes and mysterious underground waterways, offers much to visitors.

There are two State Heritage areas, and plenty of opportunities for cycling or walking. The one drawcard that everyone wants to see is Blue Lake which, on the day we arrived was obligingly deep blue. The weather, or time of year can affect its colour, so we counted ourselves lucky. If we could have come a month later, in November, we were told it would have been even more striking  - a deep bright turquoise.

There is a 3.6km walking trail around the lake, but as this was our final taste of the quick 'degustation' of the delights of South Australia, we needed to press on. 

This detour had been part of a much longer trip that included crossing the Nullarbor and a couple of weeks in Western Australia.

Now, it was time to move on, and head home...

We took one final look at the lovely lake, then headed off.


This had been a whistle-stop trip through our favourite parts of South Australia. If you want more about this amazing state, go to Food and Travel/Australasia, check the stories and pictures under South Australia.

You will find plenty there to inspire you to make your own tour.

More from South Australia Tourism....


Words and photographs: ©Sally Hammond

Video: ©Gordon Hammond

Sally & Gordon Hammond travelled independently on this trip.

READ MORE about South Australia HERE...


PLEASE NOTE: This trip was taken pre-Covid, so some places may not be open and operating as they were at the time we visited.


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