A taste of the good life - Adelaide

A taste of the good life
by Pamela Wade

It’s a good thing Adelaide is so easy to get to, because there’s a lot to squeeze into a long weekend in this small, yet perfectly-formed, city.

Just over four hours from Auckland, an early flight plus the 2½ hour time difference not only allows for a full first day, but also a conscience-free second breakfast — which eases me into the local vibe straight away.

Food is important in Adelaide. Correction: good food is very important in Adelaide; and nowhere demonstrates this better than the Central Market where local foodie Mark Gleeson takes me on a grazing tour of the stands, all different, but all identical in their owners’ passion for flavour. The best borscht outside Russia, Croatian coffee, secret-recipe spaghetti, hand-cured prosciutto, fine chocolate, amaranth tea — it’s an unusual breakfast, but sets me up well for Rundle Mall.

More than 800 shops line this pedestrian precinct, which includes special treats like elegant Adelaide Arcade, an 1885 symphony in wrought iron, tiles and wood, with 70 boutiques — and the ghost of a beheaded beadle. Cafés, buskers and even a trio of bronze pigs can’t deflect me from the Mall’s retail challenge; but one block over lies North Terrace with different delights. The dignified sandstone buildings here hold Adelaide’s culture and history: museums, galleries, memorials and Government buildings.

Even the Casino is housed in the Victorian splendour of the old Railway Station. It’s grand, but welcoming too: there are trees, gardens, benches and best of all, entry is mostly free, and in the splendid Art Gallery I rest my feet and feast my eyes at the same time.

Next door, the Migration Museum doesn’t dodge the truth in telling the stories of immigrants: a free-settler state, South Australia had some sneaky ways of controlling who could enter. ??Those days are long gone, though, and an evening stroll along the restaurant sectors of Rundle and Gouger Streets presents me with a dazzling choice of ethnic eateries. I choose Nu Thai where the coochee prawns with chilli, basil and coconut milk are mouth-wateringly fresh and tasty; and afterwards pop along to the Festival Centre where there’s always something interesting going on. Tonight it’s Christine Anu, a strikingly beautiful Torres Straits Islander with honey-coloured skin and a fabulous voice.

Early next morning is the perfect time to stroll the three blocks or so to the Zoo, because the stars will be shining: Wang Wang and Funi, Adelaide’s Giant Pandas. On loan from China, they’re both out and about in their swanky new enclosures. Still teenagers, hopes are high they’ll produce a cub in a year or so, but for now they’re kept separate. Funi is busy with that never-fail toy, a cardboard box, dotted with an essential oil that’s sending her into ecstasies, while Wang Wang hunts squares of his favourite bamboo cake hidden through the feng shui landscaping of his outdoor area, complete with water- ooled rock for those hot summer days.

My personal weakness is date scones, and when Jan of Tourabout Adelaide whisks me off to the pretty little Germansettled village of Hahndorf, a café there presents me with the biggest one I’ve ever seen. This isn’t the only stone-built settlement tucked into the hills a short drive from the city: there’s English-looking Stirling, Bridgewater with its beautiful old stone flour mill complete with huge water wheel, and postcard-pretty Aldgate.

At the end of a winding track Joan shows me The Cedars, the home and studio of Hans Heysen, the celebrated German painter of Australian scenery. ??We finish with a visit to Glenelg, Adelaide’s seaside suburb of gingerbread cottages in stone and brick, roses growing through their wrought iron lace. The main street leads straight down to the sea and out over it on a long jetty, from where I watch a lazy sea lion lolling in the waves beneath. Fishermen are catching bream and whiting, people sprawl on the soft sand and in the museum there’s a collection of objects recovered from the sea under the jetty — war-time dog tags, false teeth, glasses and suspender clips — from what seem to have been livelier times.

For fun, I take the tram back to the city centre, riding free along North Terrace; and next morning make the most of a flat city and more free transport by borrowing a bicycle from Bike SA. I spin along the river, through the Botanic Gardens past the lovely Victorian Palm House, and drop into the Wine Centre where I try my hand at making a virtual bottle of red. The computer’s verdict doesn’t spare my feelings. “Fantastically bad: warrants a Public Health Warning” is a harsh judgement, but fair. Thus I revise my earlier observation – In Adelaide, good food and good wine are more than just important: they’re vital components of the city’s exceptionally good life.

FACTS:

Getting there:
Air New Zealand flies direct to Adelaide (4.5 hours) from Auckland (www.airnewzealand.co.nz).

Where to stay:
There’s a good range of accommodation in the compact central city area. The majestic Roof Garden Hotel is handy for Rundle Street shopping and eating, and the Zoo (www.majestichotels.com.au). The Hilton adjoins the central market, has a top-class restaurant and is close to Gouger Street (www.hilton.com).

What to do:
Tourabout Adelaide provides personal guides to the city and surrounds (www.touraboutadelaide.com.au). Mark Gleeson’s Central Market Tour (www.centralmarkettour.com.au) operates on the four days a week the market is open — or indulge your sweet tooth on a Choco-latte Tour (www.topfoodandwinetours.com.au). You can borrow a free bicycle (www.bikesa.asn.au), check what shows are on (www.adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au) and if you want to see the pandas, although there’s no extra fee, you must pre-book your viewing time online (www.adelaidezoo.com.au).

Further information: www.southaustralia.co.nz