It was an overcast morning in Adelaide when we boarded our 4WD bus, a cup of flat white coffee in hand. This was my first visit to Australia, and I was feeling on top of the world, despite being “down under.” I was in the South Australian capital and 10,303 miles away from home. Our agenda today was to explore the Fleurieu Peninsula en route to Kangaroo Island. After a warm welcome from my host, Ben Neville, owner of Off Piste Tours, I set off on my first Australian adventure.
Ben was generous with the photo opportunity stops. I had been in Australia just over a day and got to see my first family of wild kangaroos. I admired the roos as they seemed to pose, framed by yellow wild flowers. They looked like they were having a fun day too! My next sight was a scenic overlook on a brand new viewing platform over the Onkaparinga River, called “The Punchbowl.” Ben explained that he has been taking bush walks here with his family from an early age and the area is now recently home to a mountain biking trail.
It was a good idea to establish a sense of trust, because next he drove straight down a gorge, through a river. We were truly off piste. It was a bumpy ride, but also a lot of fun as we splashed through streams before settling at the bottom of the gorge.
Ben set up refreshments in a secluded grove by the river, sheltered by the gorge’s tree covered walls. I enjoyed a beautiful pairing of a d’Arenberg sparkling wine with ashed French style brie. Ben does not neglect any opportunity to be impressive. Producing a didgeridoo, he began to play. I felt very fortunate to begin my stay in South Australia by experiencing the sights, tastes, and sounds of South Australia all at once. It would be a lovely bonding experience for any group, being together for this exclusive but rugged luxury. I eventually headed back on our 4wd and climbed back up the gorge’s walls.
We moved on to the Mclaren Vale and the renowned, family-owned d’Arenberg Winery. This idiosyncratic yet refined winery is a lot of fun. d’Arenberg dates back to 1912, but is in the midst of a generational mentality shift. Tradition and innovation carry equal weight here. The new age monument, the d’Arenberg Cube commemorates the next generation with its modern and unique design. The Cube was just about completed when we visited, but eventually it will be home to a restaurant, rooms for wine tasting, and other activities. Built to resemble a rubix cube, the idea is to show complexity of the wine making process. This was something I had to keep in mind for our next project—d’Arenberg’s “Blending Bench”.
The goal of the blending bench is to create your own shiraz blend by sampling three different varieties from the property. Each is unique and offers different elements to the finished product. I had one glass of d’Arenberg’s Dead Arm Shiraz as reference to what a balanced blend should be. Using pipettes and a graduated cylinder, I experimented with different ratios until I (hopefully) created a balanced blend, or at the very least one I personally enjoy.
This challenged me to really stop and think about the wine — what I liked about it or what I would change. I was very proud of my finished product, which I named “Fast & Fleurieust”. I left d’Arenberg with a new appreciation for the complexities of wine, as well as purple stained teeth.
Next was a quick stop to Goodieson’s Brewery to sample numerous small batch series of pilsners, stouts, ales and beers before lunch. As we drove through miles of vineyards, the sky brightened and the sun broke through the white clouds. I’m not sure how Ben got the weather to clear up, but I am inclined to give him credit for thinking of every little detail to make our day superb.
We arrived to an idyllic scene—a cheery red table cloth adorned with apple blossoms and framed by fruit trees. Purple wisteria clung to trellises, mimicking the shape of grapes on vines. No matter how much time we were scheduled for lunch, it wouldn’t feel like enough. It was very easy to imagine staying here for much longer.
I had another glass (or two) or McLaren Vale wine, some produced from the very grapes surrounding us. It would be easy to fixate on the massive batch of paella Ben’s team was cooking for us, but the Coffin Bay oysters and good company helped pass the time.
The colorful serving of paella was filling and delicious. This made it all the more surprising when the team started asking how I would like my steak done. I thought they were joking because their generosity had already exceeded any expectations, but I happily accepted the steak as well.
Wine was followed by a whinny. My next stop was Port Willunga Beach for a relaxed horse ride. My helpful guides from Port Willunga Beach Rides introduced me to Dontai and Harry. These big boys have a pretty good gig here, taking leisurely walks up and down the beach. This was something I had wanted to do all my life and became the perfect way to finish a perfect day.
A short drive later, I arrived at the Cape Jervis ferry terminal. I knew that I had Kangaroo Island to look forward to next, but I couldn’t help feeling a little sad knowing that this day was ending. My time on the Fleurieu Peninsula felt like a vacation within a vacation. I can’t believe I had so many rich and unique experiences in one day and one place. I enjoyed nature, culture, exquisite food and wine with fantastic company all within a 45 minute drive of Adelaide. If you are considering visiting Kangaroo Island, I suggest that rather than flying you take the road less traveled.