We’re visiting Adelaide in celebration of Tara’s birthday.
While we still give and receive small gifts, we decided a while ago to forego stuff in exchange for experience.
From the moment we landed, I knew we were in for a wonderful time!
Adelaide is not the most famous of Australian getaways. Sydney to the east and Melbourne to the southeast tend to hog the tourism bragging rights. Perhaps it’s because Adelaide doesn’t feel like a “major” city even though it’s the 5th largest city in Australia, home to 1.3 million people. The capitol of South Australia strives to keep a low profile, literally, building ordinances limit the height that structures can be built in order for the city retain it’s old world charm.
Laid out in a one imperial mile square grid system, and surrounded by serene parkland, Adelaide is super easy to walk. If it ever gets too much, there is a free bicycle program to motor around town or a free city tram that runs through the CBD is also available.
Upon arriving at the airport, we checked in at the Information Booth for the city shuttle. It’s a $10 per person ride door-to-door to your hotel, but of course, we had just missed the last run. We were told by the smiling woman behind the counter that it would be at least a 45’ wait for the next shuttle. Ugh! Damn those incessant bathroom breaks. She offered us a buy one get one free coupon at the coffee shop at the end of the terminal for the inconvenience (sweet!). In the meantime she beamed, “Where are you headed?” She then spent the next 10’ of her own accord making sure we knew the best places to visit, and the best ways to get there. We were captivated by her friendly demeanour and grateful for her encyclopaedic knowledge of the area.
Our shuttle finally arrived. Our driver was a busy fellow, full of puns and less than stellar jokes, but at least he tried to make the journey to the hotel entertaining and educational.
When we arrived at the reception area of the Adabco Boutique Hotel, we were warmly greeted by the woman at the desk. She, too, was a fountain of information of all things Adelaide. It’s clear that the people really love living here. Not only that, but they are friendly and eager to help.
Due to the shuttle delay, we arrived later than we had expected so we quickly dropped our bags in the room. The room was spacious, but not overly adorned. A typical room designed for a business traveller, with a large built in desk across the far wall, and a TV tucked into the corner. The queen bed stood offset to the entry way. The wardrobe in the short hall was clearly IKEA but it could easily store our stuff. A quick duck into the loo and we were off, ready to explore the city by foot.
We were located in the eastern end of the CBD so we started there. It was going on 5 o’clock, peak rush hour, and we couldn’t believe how little traffic there was. Taking a left toward the gardens, we strolled down Hutt Street, looking for a geocache or two. We thought there was one outside a pub, but we couldn’t find it. The cache was actually across the street at Rymill Park and the Australian Light Horse Memorial. Eureka!
From there, we window shopped past some higher end shops on the east end until we reached Rundle Mall, a wide open, pedestrian strip, featuring just about every shop one would expect at Westfield’s. I must admit, I was a bit let down.
However, further exploration allowed us to meet Horatio, Truffles, Augusta and Oliver. Four life-sized bronzed pigs that root around a bronzed rubbish bin. We did stumble across a creepy wig shop tucked into one of the arcades. Floating mannequin heads were fitted with a variety of styles. An American Indian Style headdress certainly surprised us. Buskers were out in full force at Rundle Mall. Some needed a bit more practice, but a young violinist was playing “A Thousand Years.” It was beautiful. The notes seemed to float in the air throughout the mall.
It was getting late by this stage so we stopped for a bite to eat at the Metropolitan Hotel. A little busy from the pre-theatre crowd, we enjoyed a couple of beers until the crowd died down a little before ordering dinner. The beers were crisp and cold. Perfect after an afternoon of getting to know the city. When we were finally served, Tara declared her schnitzel to be one of the best schnitzels she’s had in her life. Tender, juicy and coated with delicious mushroom gravy. I’m not a mushroom fan, but I have to admit, it did taste pretty damn good.
The following morning, we fortified ourselves with the included continental breakfast from Adabco, and set off for the Botanic Gardens via Rymill Park to start our day.
You’ve got to appreciate the lengths that Colonel William Light, who designed the city in 1837, went to establish the Park system around the city. You are never far from lush green if you ever need to escape the city. We went the long way around, and we were glad we did. We stumbled onto the Wine Centre of Australia, a wonderfully modern building that looked like it was made from Oak Barrels. We made a note that this would be a stop for us next time (it wasn’t open yet…), so we kept going around the corner to enter the Botanic Gardens.
For a long time, we considered the Sydney Botanic Gardens to be one of our favourite spots on the planet. With the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, we have a new contender. Education seems to be the priority here. Learn which plants cure different maladies from the past as well as the present. See how desert plant species adapt in similar ways on different continents. Watch the cafe chefs hurry with their baskets to the herb garden. Every corner you turn offers something different to view. It was simply heavenly.
We still had a busy agenda for the morning so we vowed to return to the Gardens in Spring, when everything is in full bloom.
We headed west along North Terrace to the cultural district of Adelaide. North Terrace is home to a number of museums dedicated to South Australian history. It’s also home to the University of Adelaide, which has a beautiful campus, but we were most interested in seeing the Mortlock Wing of the State Library of South Australia.
Opening in 1884, this Romanesque building is one of Australia’s most impressive library spaces, with elaborately carved wood, wrought-iron balustrades embellished with gold and an arching glass lantern ceiling that lets in ample natural light. The ground floor serves as a museum with exhibition bays set up to convey a particular theme regarding South Australian life—from colonisation, childhood games, wine literature, and sport. It was an eclectic collection worth stopping to explore.
The upper levels of the Mortlock Wing provide the studious atmosphere one would expect in such an elaborate setting, with much of the original furniture still in use. Pay a visit to the Royal Geographic Society of SA on the 3rd floor. Their library contains one of the most significant collections of rare geographical books, atlases, and manuscripts in Australia. They have 27 books published before 1599 and an artefacts collection that includes Colonel Light’s (Adelaide’s original city planner) brass surveying level. The Library is staffed by volunteer librarians and library technicians who share a deep love of Australian history. We found it really quite fascinating.
By now, we were getting hungry so we headed to the Central Market, Adelaide’s food hub for over 140 years. We found an array of farm fresh fruits and vegetables, artisan cheeses, and specialty foods here.
But it was Le Souk where we stopped. We were seduced by the owner, Azou Bouilouta, with a date (as in fruit). He charms you with his infectious enthusiasm about the 23 spices they use to flavour their dishes. He’s hard to resist, and I’m glad we didn’t. It was one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time. We sat at the bar watching as he continued to charm his customers and lure in more diners with his wares. We had a mouth-watering Merguez (lamb sausage) with chickpeas, carrots, peas and mushrooms, served over couscous. We ordered Mint Tea for Two, served with a long pour from a traditional silver teapot into glasses that held pine nuts. Delicious and refreshing, my mouth is watering as I write this.
Bellies fully sated, and knowing there would be little interest in dinner later, we picked up a few goodies from the local farmers and cheese mongers for a picnic later on. It was time to get to our next stop.
We waddled back to Victoria Square in the middle of the CBD to catch the tram to Glenelg. Although I testily insisted the fare was free, it was not, but it is indeed fairly cheap as Tara repeatedly told me. On the way, we met a delightful woman named Sue. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, and she inevitably asked what we do for a living. “We gave up corporate jobs to become travel bloggers,” we replied! “Oh how wonderful”, she exclaimed, “Good for you. Life is too short. My husband was just 50 when he died of a heart attack.” Without skipping a beat, and with a beaming smile, she let us know what we’re missing: “You must go to the Port Adelaide tunnels where they used to smuggle rum into the port. Then, you must take an aboriginal tour at the mouth of the Murray. We had the greatest time doing that.” It’s this kind of life affirming spirit that we found in each person we came across in Adelaide that insures that we will return.
The last stop of the tram (stop 17 @ Moseley Square) left us at the boardwalk near the Glenelg beach. On the day of our visit, the weather was dreadful, cold and breezy with a deep grey sky. To make matters worse, a huge tractor was looping along the beach extracting sand from the beach. The noise was relentless.
Needless to say, the area was a virtual ghost town. Only a few locals getting in their exercise joined us on the boardwalk. We obligingly snapped a few pictures, walked to the end of the peer, snapped a few more pics and decided to call it a day. We headed to the closest bar and enjoyed the warmth of being indoors, the quiet reflection as sunset fell upon us, and a lovely beer.
The “footy” was on the night we were there. As we headed back to the CBD, fans poured onto the tram in their Adelaide Crows colours. The South Australian government spend nearly half a billion dollars renovating the stadium so that football (AFL) could coincide with the cricket ground, so I hope the folks will get their money’s worth.
We initially balked at going anywhere near the oval on game night, due to the crowds, but we couldn’t resist seeing the River Torrens lit up at night. It was worth the effort. The railing on the footbridge over the river leading to the oval was lit up like Christmas tree lights, all white and glistening. The lower span near the water glowed with soft pinkish red, all reflecting brilliantly against the river. Further to the east, a fountain jetted water upwards of 30 feet with an accompanying waterfall cascading down with blue, red, and white lights. With the Oval brilliantly fluorescent in the backdrop, we thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance, never mind the pop tunes blaring from the stadium. Footy fever spread far and wide.
It had been a long day and we had the Barossa Valley in sight for the next day, so we headed back to the hotel. According to the iPhone, we walked about 20 km.
But we weren’t done yet. We decided we wanted wine to go with our nibbles from the Central Market. Off we went again for another 2km loop, but hey, we’re an hour from the Barossa …how could we not indulge in some delectable shiraz from the region?
Later, Tara told me that Adelaide, for her, felt like the Australia she left 20 some odd years ago. The people are warm and engaging. It’s more than that though. There’s so much on offer here and it comes to you when you are ready for it. There is an undefinable air of sophistication blended with the aura of a big country town. A mere 20 minute drive takes you out of the city and into the tranquil hills. Keep going for a little while longer and you arrive in the vicinity of three of the world’s great wine districts. Check out our post about the Barossa Click here to read it– it’s a great read.
Everything is close and intimate here, waiting for your embrace.
Thank you Adelaide for your sincere warmth and generous hospitality.