The Adelaide Hills wine region is just 20 minutes from Adelaide, closer to a capital city than any other wine region in the world.
By Max Anderson
Nigel Steele Scott owns the world’s only surviving Rolls-Royce Twenty ‘Burlington’. What makes the 1922 British beauty unique is its Australian-made body, which has hatches in the back instead of seats so it functions rather like a ute. Embracing the Australian side of his imperious marque, Steele Scott cheerfully takes the vehicle off-roading on his 30-acre property near Bridgewater.
“You’ve gotta use these things!” he says over the 20HP engine as we bounce across a cow-filled paddock. “What’s the point of having it sitting around?”
“To safeguard your investment?” I suggest, mindful of the six-figure value.
“Sure!” he says, “But you’re a long time dead!”
I’d bet my knackered old Honda CRV that the Adelaide Hills is home to one of the largest, most valuable car collections in the world. On many occasions my jaw has dropped upon seeing private troves of gleaming metal tucked away in sheds (most memorably when an insouciant barn door was tugged aside to reveal six classic Aston Martins packed in like sardines).
On any given weekend, the Hills’ country lanes reverberate to the throaty roar of Stags and Jags, Healeys and Bentleys, MGs and RRs. British classics easily outnumber the foreigners, but this is very in keeping with the tangible Englishness of the region; a green and pleasant land rendered this way by its 700-metre elevation and prodigious winter rains.
The upshot is rich, peerless driving country – think tight curves through plunging valleys of fruit orchard, think racing straights that blur the fields of vine. So, before we take a tour of six signature experiences, let’s get you properly kitted out at Adelaide Hills Touring which has a useful array of suitably purposed chariots.
May we suggest the drop-head Porsche Boxster?
Take a tour and stroll in the gardens at The Cedars, home of the late Sir Hans Heysen in Hahndorf.
The Adelaide Hills wine region is just 20 minutes from Adelaide, closer to a capital city than any other wine region in the world. It’s home to some 50-odd producers, most of them with cellar doors.
Wine touring is definitely a Hills hero experience, though it arguably offers four hero experiences: fireside-cosy in winter, fresh and surprising in spring, languorous in summer, and OMG Instagram stuff when the leaves are on the turn in autumn.
Many Hills producers are excellent, a few of them are adventurous (look out for interesting German and Italian varieties like Gewurttraminer and Fiano) and practically speaking, even the largest are boutique.
You can easily lose a day (and indeed yourself) driving the back country lanes looking for less-familiar names but if time is short, recommendations may help.
If you want big names and beautiful scenery, go Shaw+Smith and Nepenthe at the back of Hahndorf; or Petaluma and Bird in Hand behind Woodside.
If you want to get off the beaten track, try the stunningly-located Lenswood trio of Mt Lofty Ranges , Pike and Joyce and Anderson Hill .
And if you want one of the best dining experience in South Australia, head to The Lane Vineyard with its trifecta of amazing food, great wine and sunny decks beside the vines.
Finally, let’s not kid ourselves: the real point of ‘wine touring’ in the Adelaide Hills is to hole up and indulge for at least three hours until you’re nicely toasted and weeping gently into your cups at how beautiful life is.
Which means you should forget the car and order a cab.
Sir Hans Heysen captured the Australian light, loved the Australian gum tree and did much to bring the Australian landscape into the hearts and minds of the world. Until the new millennium however, he’d come to be derided as passé – which is why a tour of his country home near Hahndorf is an eye-opener on so many levels.
Apart from anything else, The Cedars is a pretty if quite humble retreat with flower gardens, paddocks, forests and a small lake. It’s where Sir Hans worked until his death in 1968, and where many famous people came to visit, including Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Nellie Melba.
The stone studio, surrounded by weighty cedars, is like a small church, a still and peaceful place where Heysen’s materials lie seemingly where he left them. At its heart is an easel showing the sublime landscape The Way Home, lit softly within the hallowed gloom.
Tours run regularly inside the family home, notable for the huge collection of works (including some beautiful family portraits) as well as the distinct – slightly odd – feeling of looking into a private affair.
Car lovers should pop over to the brick stables where a Model Ford A sits complete with Heysen’s small caravan. He used the latter when he toured the Flinders, capturing seminal portraits of a landscape that previously frightened the hell out of Europeans.
If you’re visiting in April, don’t be surprised to see huge clouds of dust over the paddocks. Each year, The Cedars hosts the three-week International Sculpture Symposium where six sculptors carve vast blocks of stone with angle grinders. Their works can be found on a sculpture trail across the Hills.
South Australian history was never about convicts, and only about migrants forging new lives and making money. This is nowhere better demonstrated than in Hahndorf.
After landing in 1836, the original British colonists found they needed some hard-working artisans to grow their food and build their houses. Enter Captain Hahn (who was a Dane) plus a ship-load of Prussians looking for the luxury of practising their Lutheran faith.
They and those who followed clearly made hay on the rich Hills soils, establishing German towns like Grunthal (now Verdun), Blumberg (now Birdwood) and Lobethal. In Hahndorf, you can see more than 100 original ‘fachwerk’ houses lining the Main Street, along with two churches and indeed fruitful fields still tended by descendants of settlers. A good example is the Paech family which runs famous Beerenberg Farm, the place to stock up on their famous jams and go strawberry-picking in summer.
Hahndorf is no relic, however. On the contrary it’s a colourful strip of shops, restaurants and pubs that attracts close to a million people each year. These days you’ll find craft shops, quality comestibles, a dash of kitsch, plus a growing number of cellar doors from small-scale winemakers like Sam Scott and Somerled. Among more unusual purveyors are the Puppet Shop, Australian Minerals (fossils), Harris Smokehouse (smoked fish) and The Hahndorf Leathersmith as well as Poet’s Ode – a teahouse and an eclectic mix of homewares and artisan products from around the world.
For more of the town, join a Hahndorf Walking Tour with Sharon Pippos (on Facebook), or visit the museum in the Hahndorf Academy, an 1857 school building also selling exceptional local crafts.
Stirling and Druid’s Lane Market
Stirling has always been a dress circle town, favoured since the late 19th century as a summer retreat from the hot Adelaide plains. Mansions can still be seen among lush European gardens, arguably at their most stunning when autumn hits the legions of oaks and liquid ambers.
The town is pretty as a picture and a coffee/café haven loved by weekend breakfasters and squadrons of cyclists. Upmarket bedfellows of commerce include a string of teeny-tiny homeware shops that keep ladies endlessly fascinated, two very good bookshops, the fine Stirling Hotel and artisan chocolate maker Red Cacao which also runs a candle-lit dessert bar on Friday nights.
On the last Sunday of each month, Stirling’s Druid’s Avenue is given over to 80 market stalls, fragrant with the like of deep-dish Bull Creek pies, locally-grown organic veggies and honey from bees raised on whatever happens to be flowering. You’ll also find architected chook sheds, the designs of glass maker Tim Shaw (his seconds sell for a fraction of the thousands they cost) and garden art made from No. 7 fencing wire.
Now, you could gird your loins and do the steep hike from Waterfall Gully, 4km up to the 710m peak of Mount Lofty, enjoying forests of stringy bark, Superb Blue Fairy wrens, black cockatoos and quite likely the odd koala.
But you have a drop-head Porsche Boxster – so why would you bother?
The short walk from the carpark delivers you to the same place, namely the Summit Lookout, now with freshly painted monument and new binoculars. Views across Adelaide and the Gulf St Vincent are peerless.
From here you have two options, both worthy of an afternoon:
Mount Lofty Botanic Garden is a magical testament to how well European plants grow in this climate, with whole gullies dedicated to the like of rhododendrons and magnolias.
Alternatively, drive the winding hills-face road to Cleland Wildlife Park: this beautiful open grassland park is home to 130 native species including rare Yellow-Footed Rock Wallabies and the koalas you didn’t see because you drove here in your Porsche.
Birdwood Motor Museum
A fitting end to your journey is the National Motor Museum in Birdwood, dedicated to the nation’s ongoing love affair with cars. Housed in an historic mill, it has some 300 cars and motorbikes on display, about a third of them loaned by private collectors.
Among them are an 1899 Shearer Steam Car, (one of the first Australian-made vehicles, it was built 40km away in Mannum); Tom Kruse’s Leyland Badger truck used to deliver mail on the Birdsville Track; Premier Don Dunstan’s silver Datsun 260Z, and the first car to cross the continent, a 1908 Talbot.
Can you see Nigel Steele Scott’s Rolls-Royce 20? Actually you can: he’s a regular in the biannual Bay to Birdwood Run, which takes place in September. The world’s largest, most continually staged event of its kind sees some 1600 pre-1956 vehicles make the 70km journey from Glenelg to the Birdwood Motor Museum.
Next year, be sure to give him a wave.