It would be fair to say that our trip to Adelaide didn’t get off to the most auspicious start. Arriving at our hotel very late after a three hour flight and “losing” two and half hours travelling east from Perth, the receptionist seemed to have trouble finding our details. I passed her my phone impatiently showing the email from Agoda confirming the booking. After glancing at it for a moment or two she passed it back to me and politely suggested I scroll down on the email. Following her instructions I read with horror the phrase “we apologise but on this occasion we cannot confirm your hotel reservation”. I immediately changed tack from affronted customer to sheepishly asking if they had any rooms available – which luckily they had, for about double what we thought we were going to pay! It took eight months for this type of cock-up to occur, so that isn’t too bad.
Despite being one of Australia’s largest cities, Adelaide seems to have a slightly tarnished reputation, being seen as slightly dowdy, old fashioned and out in the sticks…..Sadelaide?. Even locals talked it down a bit suggesting that there wasn’t really much to see or do. We have to say that this was not our experience. Adelaide is a beautiful, vibrant place with tons to see and do in and around the city.
On arrival the Adelaide headlines were all about the weather, the temperature topping 40 degrees on our first day, and reaching a ridiculous record breaking 47 on the second, so we ventured out with some nervousness plotting a course through the city centre from one air conditioned location to another. In doing so we marvelled at the architecture that has been protected so well in the city, from civic building to the iconic Beehive Corner that helps to create a sense of history and stylish gravitas.
The City’s bustling Central Market offered another welcome diversion from the heat, full of life, colour, smells, fruit and veg we couldn’t identify…..and people with lots of body art …Tatadelaide? (Editors Note: that’s enough Adelaide puns!) Given its world famous vineyards, it wasn’t surprising to see lots of different grapes on offer at the market.
Day two presented a real challenge for us as we had to check out of the hotel, and kill several hours before we headed off to our house sit late in the afternoon, negotiating a day that was to be the hottest we’ve ever experienced and the hottest on record for Adelaide. About 800 metres away was the City’s Library and Art Gallery – which came highly recommended to us. We set off, stepping out of the hotel into an oven (we now have a vague idea of what it feels like to be cremated), aiming for every spot of shade on offer between us and our destination. This included contorting our bodies to fit the shape of even the slimmest of shadows while waiting at traffic lights. With fellow pedestrians doing the same we must have looked like an anguished mime flash mob, manically dispersing to more shade as soon as the green man appeared. The heat was breathtaking as we slowly made our way along the street occasionally stepping into its full glare before stepping into the sanctuary that was the library. This isn’t just any old library, in keeping with Adelaide’s historical swagger it contains the Mortlock Wing, a gorgeous interior of dark wood surrounded by shelf upon shelf of books that probably haven’t been opened in decades. In the tradition of all good libraries it also had people pretending to study in it.
We cooled down and enjoyed excellent displays, including one on the history of the establishment of colonial South Australia – as a free State rather than one based on convict labour – becoming a self governing colony in 1856, and in 1895 being one of the first places in the world to grant women the vote and the right to stand for election. There are always two elephants in the room when you start to look at Australia’s colonial and constitutional history. The treatment of its indigenous Aboriginal people, and the ongoing role of the British Monarchy represented by the Governor-General. It was interesting to see the demonstrations on Australia Day which marks the anniversary of the landing of the British fleet. The demo’s have rebranded it “Invasion Day” with the slogan “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land”. We certainly noticed a lot of recognition of Aboriginal heritage when we reached Melbourne. The sense is that the numbers challenging the current Australia Day is growing, whether it will change the date and meaning of the Day remains to be seen, but it’s a fascinating example of how history and its legacy is being reviewed and challenged here and elsewhere.
Our second house/pet sit in Australia was in the neighbourhood of Seaton Park, west of the city centre and just a ten minute drive from the long strip of pristine beaches that border the City. We had just over a week looking after a gorgeous Australian Sheepdog called Harley and a couple of rabbits (Peter and Asta). We immediately fell in love with Harley, funny, playful, obedient and very, very intelligent, we knew our time with him was going to be a delight.
We started every morning with a long walk along the beautiful beach at Grange, much quieter than its more famous and busier neighbours in Glenelg and Brighton to the south. Harley had boundless energy chasing balls that we threw for him left, right and centre – he must have walked and run 10 metres for our every one. He did have a slightly inconvenient habit of dropping his ball in the sea making us wade in to find and retrieve it before hurling along the sand again – it seemed to be his way of maintaining a balance of power with his new best friends. With a face like that it was very hard to tell him off….
The long morning walks on the sand were an idyllic way to start the day, and given the heat, the best time to get out. We miss our greyhound Ruby terribly, so having bursts of dog sitting is a great antidote, especially in such a perfect environment. As well as miles of sand, Grange Beach had a jetty that was great for sunset watching.
…and boasted a glorious Victorian three story terrace built in 1884 and the only one of its kind on the Australian coastline.
Drowning not waving
When not out walking with Harley we managed to see a number of sights in and around Adelaide, with two very contrasting days looking for dolphins. On the first of these we signed up for the classic “go swimming with dolphins” offer. What could go wrong: taking a magnificent catamaran out of the harbour at Glenelg..
…donning our wetsuits, masks and snorkels and heading into the St Vincent Gulf. Sadly, out at sea the water did not look like the picture above, in fact it was really quite choppy. After about 45 minutes of kangarooing about on the boat our guides spotted a school of dolphins and got us ready for our encounter.
However, this was not going to be a gentle floaty snorkel with Flipper and his mates. Instead, we were to launch ourselves into the ocean and hang onto a large rope trailing the catamaran (without a life jacket) and listen to instructions on the whereabouts of dolphins while partly submerged. As I type this I can’t believe we actually jumped into the sea. Things started badly, inadvertently hitting the rope as I jumped in I managed to rip the mask off my head….twice! Eventually we were both in the sea hanging on to the rope for dear life – our main concern at this moment was not whether we saw a dolphin, instead focussing our efforts on not drowning. Sure enough a guide saw an emergency signal from one of the “swimmers”, a life buoy was thrown out and a few seconds later I saw a bedraggled Sam slowly pass me in the water being towed back to the safety of the boat. This was health and safety of Indonesian proportions. Despite this traumatic start and partly out of a morbid curiosity to see if my life would pass in front of my eyes I jumped in for a second time and found myself hanging on to the rope a long way from the boat.
It was a strange mixture of exhilaration, seeing dolphins dart about below us, and abject terror being in the ocean with only the strength in my tiring arms keeping me attached to the boat. Of course seeing the dolphins was great but what I really enjoyed was hearing the strange sonic ethereal noises they make as they communicate with each other. I’m no expert on “dolphinese” but I think one of them was pointing to me and saying to his mates “I’ve got that twats’ mask”. Here is a bit of footage from the safety of the boat….
In complete contrast we spent the next day serenely kayaking around the Port Adelaide estuary. Here you can gently paddle among eerie shipwrecks that despite their dereliction intimidate as you get close to them:
..and gingerly work your way into the mangroves through small openings into an overgrown maze of watery routes that quickly befuddle your sense of direction, with the only sounds being the splash of your paddle on the water and the occasional thud of your head hitting a low hanging branch.
Here the Estuary dolphins gently glided by, a welcome change to the adrenaline fuelled panic 24 hours earlier. It was another example of the astonishing range of waterways Australia offers. It’s far from being all about those perfect sun-kissed beaches and the variety makes exploring this fabulous country constantly fun and invigorating.
Deutscheland Uber Alles
One of the most popular day trips from Adelaide is into the rural and rustic Adelaide Hills, where the city quickly yields to bush and offers panoramic views of Adelaide and the ocean beyond from the summit of Mount Lofty
It makes for a beautiful scenic tour, every now and then hopping out at a vintage looking store to stock up on refreshments where the welcome is so warm and friendly.
A short deviation from the Adelaide hills takes you to the slightly bizarre historical village of Hahndorf, Australia’s oldest German settlement which dates back to December 1838 when 52 of the founding families of Hahndorf arrived from Germany. Given my heritage this was a trip I was looking forward to and it wasn’t long before we got into the spirit of things, marching down the high street and behaving in a suitably Bavarian manner.
Kitsch doesn’t come close to describing Hahndorf. It’s quaint and quite endearing, but surely there is a limit to how many shops can sell cuckoo clocks and frankfurters.
Much further south on the unpronounceable Fleurieu Peninsula is Victor Harbor a great little town that is connected to Granite Island by a long walkway. Here the scenery is rocky, jagged and wild – and when you look south from the island you realise there is nothing but sea between you and Antartica. We didn’t get to see any of the penguins the Island is famous for, but we did enjoy the unexpected works of art that have been installed at the top of the Island.
The views from the Island back to Victor Harbor are stunning. It’s a perfect day trip and we subsequently discovered that we were lucky to visit it when we did – a few days later the roads in and out of Victor Harbor were cut off by bush fires.
Our travels around Adelaide continued to offer so much fun and diversity from watching the incredible efforts of the competitors at the Australian Open Water Swimming Championships on Brighton Beach, to snuggling under blankets in surprisingly cool temperatures at the Adelaide Moonlight Cinema in the Botanic Gardens to watch The Favourite, complemented by our daily walks with Harley – we felt very lucky to be experiencing so much in picture perfect Adelaide.
Our experience of Glenelg had been tainted by the dolphin experience, so on our last night we returned there to walk along the beach, enjoy the sea lapping over our toes and watch a beautiful sunset. No trip to Adelaide is complete without a Glenelg sunset.
Our time in Adelaide had come to an end, and with it a very special part of our travels. Saying goodbye to Harley was terrible and we consoled ourselves with the thought of more wonderful doggies and house sits to come in our journey across Oz. As for Adelaide – don’t listen to any naysayers, this is a wonderful city that offers something for every taste and interest. We can’t wait to have an excuse to return. Our sadness in leaving was tempered by the thought of the journey ahead – the Great Ocean Road trip to Melbourne.
Top Travelling Tips
It’s been a while since our last TTT’s and will be obvious from our Adelaide and Fremantle posts. We would recommend investigating house/pet sitting. As well as getting the opportunity to indulge a love of animals you get to stay in lovely homes free of charge – a big help when it comes to budget management – where you can self cater (you really can get very tired of hotel food) and live like a local getting off the tourist trail.