Max Anderson discovers six surprisingly different and varied destinations within the timeless Clare Valley.
By Max Anderson
John Horrocks was a gentleman explorer who mapped desolate country around the salt lakes of the north, however he’s more famous for having owned a cantankerous old camel called Harry the Horrible.
Given half a chance, Harry would take anything between his jaws and shake them until they broke including sacks of flour, whole goats, and servants’ heads.
During an expedition in 1846, the beast lurched, causing a gun to discharge and Horrocks to die of his wounds 19 days later.
The story might have ended there, but Horrocks’ final will stipulated the camel should be shot. The task was given to the mayor of Clare, who was lousy with a gun and who succeeded only in causing the beast to go bananas and injure another man, before someone with a truer eye could finish the deed.
Alas, Horrocks has come to be forever connected, not with mapping the outback, but with his beastly camel.
The explorer’s small, whitewashed cottage is just outside the pretty village of Penwortham, though it barely gets a second glance as people seek out the cellar doors of award-winning wineries like Kilikanoon and Penna Lane .
The story serves to illustrate that Clare Valley has a fascinating backstory, even if the area has gone on to become more famous for its stellar Riesling wines. So here are six destinations that offer a perfect historic introduction to more contemporary attractions of this rich and surprisingly varied region.
Pikes Winery is but one of over 40 cellar doors in the Clare Valley
Sevenhill Cellars: wine
The reliable rains and fertile soils of the southern Clare Valley proved irresistible to the early British and German settlers trying to make a quid in the new colony of South Australia.
In 1851, Jesuits from Silesia saw their opportunity and planted the region’s first vines.
Today, both vines and Jesuits are still producing at the same site, now called Sevenhill Cellars and one of South Australia’s most lovely estates with its elegant stone church, St Aloysius.
There are over 40 cellar doors in the region, offering tours and tastings within the vales and valleys that drew the earliest settlers.
Famous vineyards include Jim Barry, Pikes, Knappstein, Annie’s Lane, Paulett Wines, Taylors and Skillogalee.
Be sure to grab a cellar door guide – and never be afraid of getting lost in the back-country lanes to find those famous names we haven’t heard of yet.
The Old Chaff Mill: food
Two years ago, the 1850s Chaff Mill on the northern end of Clare’s main street was made over to become one of the hottest new restaurants around.
The Seed Winehouse and Kitchen bills itself as ‘relaxed regional dining’, serving the like of suckling pig from Eagle Spirit farm in Auburn, and black linguine with Blue Swimmer Crab from the blue waters of Gulf St Vincent.
It’s not alone in serving great food in surroundings that are imbued with the past. Try Terroir or the Rising Sun Hotel in the village of Auburn; the wooden veranda of the 1851 Skillogalee farmhouse is still one of the most idyllic places to savour flavour; and the funky iron shed that is La Pecora Nera serves wood-fired pizzas in the old copper town of Burra.
Martindale Hall: tours and heritage stays
Martindale Hall is one of the prettiest country mansions in Australia, presenting as a pocket-sized version of Britain’s Chatsworth House with its Italianate styling.
Though perhaps more famous as a setting for Picnic at Hanging Rock, tours of the house reveal an interesting past (British royalty and the English XI cricketers stayed here) as well as an enduring myth of unrequited love.
Bungaree Station is another eyeful of grandeur, this time a pastoral seat dating back to 1841, with a hitherto private village alongside. Visitors can stay at this fascinating heritage station, now also run as a working farm by the same family that established it.
Anlaby Station, once owned by the Dutton family, is another extraordinary stately home, and has B&B accommodation in the Manor House. And dozens of 19th-century cottages are offered as B&Bs right across the region, placing you squarely in vineyards, pastoral plains and in the heart of historic townships like Mintaro, Auburn and Burra.
Auburn Railway Station: happy trails
The lovely old station at Auburn hasn’t seen a train in 32 years, but as the home of Mount Horrocks Wines, it has seen a few thirsty cyclists and walkers.
The old rails have been taken away, the embankment resurfaced and given over to people who want to see the region in a completely different way.
To the north of the village is the Riesling Trail, extending 32km to Clare; while to the south is the Red Rattler Trail, extending 19km to Riverton through the pretty Gilbert Valley.
Both offer a peaceful, traffic-free perspective of famous vales, villages and vineyards. (Bikes are available to hire in Clare and Auburn.)
For a real change of scenery, drivers should check out the Dare’s Hill and World’s End circuits in the region’s mid-North.
Both offer access to little-seen but often powerful outback vistas, as well as the chance to see small, isolated communities that continue to make their livings from marginal, rain-challenged country.
The Burra Burra Monster Mine: buried treasures of the Clare Valley
Today, no small amount of South Australia’s fortunes have come from its wine industry, but 150 years ago its wealth came from copper.
In 1845 a chance discovery of copper in rolling hills northwest of Clare led to what would become the world’s largest mine – but first, two competing interests would have to draw straws to see who got the pay dirt.
This and other stories come to light in the remarkable town of Burra.
You can self-drive or walk around the sights, but the Heritage Passport is particularly good, giving you the keys to eight locked sights, including mine workings, the world’s only fully restored engine house, Redruth Gaol (used in the movie Breaker Morant), the dugout homes of ‘Creek Street’ and the life blood of the town, the Unicorn Brewery.
Not far from Burra is Red Banks Conservation Park, which was once the playground of diprotodons.
Today you can join an interpretive walking trail to learn about the prehistoric landscape in what’s now considered one of the world’s richest megafauna sites. Diprotodon remains can be seen in the foyer of Burra’s Council Office.
Still with buried treasure, Burra is also home to a rather large collection of antique shops.
Old Burra Post Office: art galleries
The Burra Post Office is now the Burra Regional Art Gallery.
As well as rooms filled with local art, it’s home to a very special collection of four ST Gill paintings.
Samuel Thomas Gill has recently come to be reappraised as one of Australia’s important 19th-century artists, not least for his recording of the Victorian gold rush, a pivotal chapter in the nation’s history.
The Burra collection relates to Gill’s time at the Burra Burra Monster mine.
Clare Valley has long been a home to artists, and has galleries up and down the region.
Ian Robert’s Medika Gallery in Blyth is home to the artist and his world-renowned bird portraits.
Jen Prior’s beautiful Irongate studio in Mintaro has recently garnered a reputation for her extraordinary contemporary fine art giclees.
Many cellar doors in Clare Valley have art and craft offerings for sale; Mt Surmon Wines and Pikes Wines both have substantial galleries.