Adelaide - the city you could take home to meet your parents – Polite and modest with grand buildings and gardens, there’s also a fun side to the South Australian city - Scotland on Sunday Travel

Polite and modest with grand buildings and gardens, there’s also a flamboyant, fun side to the South Australian city
Koalas are a common sight around Adelaide. Pic: George PapanicolaouKoalas are a common sight around Adelaide. Pic: George Papanicolaou
Koalas are a common sight around Adelaide. Pic: George Papanicolaou

Someone suggested a drive up Mount Lofty. “From there it’s a one stop panorama of all that Adelaide has to offer.” And they were right. In 20 minutes from the high rise, climbing through Cleland National Park on a beautiful morning, I was hooked by views so stunning that if the police had pulled me over I’d have been done for being

intoxicated by scenery.

That’s when the jet lag hit. Below me an indigo haze lay across the tree tops. Above me the towering Flinders Column, named after the man who in 1802 had circumnavigated Australia, cast its shadow like the spike of a giant sundial. I could see everything – and nothing. I drove back down, freshened up with a shower and hit the streets to fill in some details. Map in hand, I sat on a bench by the River Torrens, noting the perfect rectangular grid of the city’s heart and the swathes of green that embraced and softened every view.

Adelaide, South Australia. Pic: Michael Waterhouse PhotographyAdelaide, South Australia. Pic: Michael Waterhouse Photography
Adelaide, South Australia. Pic: Michael Waterhouse Photography
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Tree canopies, pierced by slender church spires, formed a foreground to wheeling gulls and sweet blue sky. My eye was drawn by the silent glide of a river touring boat, the ‘Popeye’, my ear to the muffled cheers of children across the rolling acres of parkland. I noticed specks – possibly picnickers having lunch beside a pretty silver rotunda. It felt like an antidote to jet lag.

Adelaide seemed to be the city you could take home to meet your parents: polite and modest, it had seduced me. Entitled to call itself ‘National Park City’, (one of only two in the world), I thought I’d see it with an expert.

Flamboyance Tours, (I liked the sound of it – “fun, quirky and immersive exploring”), was my answer. My guide, Katina, raised in the city, whisked us by tram along King William Street (a free ride), hopping off at Adelaide Town Hall, straight up the grand staircase and out to the balcony. “Where you are standing is where The Beatles stood in 1964. Tens of thousands crammed the roads and flooded the side streets. The Mayor made a speech (did anyone hear him above the screaming?). The boys were given toy Koalas as souvenirs.” We were certainly off to a quirky start.

Next thing we were striding along North Terrace, facing a pristine stretch of parkland through which ran the languidly flowing Torrens, with side-on views of Botanic Gardens edged with grand buildings: The State Parliament, The Migration Museum, the Art Gallery of South Australia, their grand facades a symbol of 19th century wealth and civic propriety. Adelaide prided itself on its founding as a free settlement, unconnected (unlike Sydney) with the transportation of convicts.

The Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide. Pic: Leo HarigaThe Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide. Pic: Leo Hariga
The Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide. Pic: Leo Hariga

Katina steered me towards the State Library in the forecourt of which stood a strangely familiar figure atop a plinth, arm raised as if to shoo off pigeons. “Rabbie Burns!” Marbled and elegant, Rabbie gazed towards the library entrance, and beyond it towards the rotunda which in 1882 had been shipped from Glasgow.

Across North Terrace, behind the sculpture, was the Scots Kirk another reminder of Adelaide’s Caledonian roots. We dipped into the buildings then wound towards the thriving commercial grid, which on the map resembles a chocolate box packed with goodies: restaurants, galleries, small local coffee shops (coffee matters here), into the famous Central Market with its abundance of gourmet goodies spilling towards Chinatown. It was hard to be dragged away.

“You must see our balls”, Katina said. The balls were large, impressively balanced, poised on top of each other, and silver; they graced the pedestrianised main drag called Rundle Mall. “They’ve become a reference point and a meeting place.” Groups of kids were taking selfies, enjoying seeing themselves distorted in the reflections. That’s when Katina decided to leave me - primed to explore.

But being ravenous, I grabbed dinner at Soi38 (Thai cuisine heaven), then took the crowded tram to Glenelg, a commuter beach-resort where the ocean’s edge at sunset comes alive along Jetty Road. The air felt balmy, café lights coming on, couples strolling or canoodling on the endless strip of sand, and somewhere out there, Kangaroo Island.

Murdoch Avenue, Adelaide Botanic Garden. Pic: Matt Nettheim/South Australian Tourism CommissionMurdoch Avenue, Adelaide Botanic Garden. Pic: Matt Nettheim/South Australian Tourism Commission
Murdoch Avenue, Adelaide Botanic Garden. Pic: Matt Nettheim/South Australian Tourism Commission
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Next day I breakfasted at my digs, the upbeat Indigo hotel, where my room had an eagles-eye view of the city and the breakfast was all crispy bacon, sourdough toast and zingy salad, primed with coffee. The hit propelled me to Morialta Conservation Park – a short drive through dense wooded slopes where the twisting trails promised hanging waterfalls, Aussie wildlife and high-gliding raptors.

The walk delivered. From the car park I spotted koala chewing leaves in the forks of a gangly eucalyptus. Someone told me they’d seen an echidna. From a viewing platform later, shading my eyes, I saw the city shining distantly like glass. You could bring a picnic, or do as I did and walk for two hours along darting trails, then drive to the Topiary Café at Tea Tree gully, going native. Run by Kane Pollard, a starry name in Adelaide eating, the café nestled in brilliant dapple, serving ‘roo pie’, ‘blue swimmer crab’ and ‘slow cooked lamb’s neck.’ Foraged leaves were mentioned too. I shut my eyes, and jabbed my fingertip at the listings, landing on ‘mulloway carpaccio’. Melt in the mouth.

Next day, my last, I spoke at breakfast with fellow guests. They’d taken a paddleboat cruise on the mighty Murray River. “Fabby value, lunch included, you should go.” Another had spent a night with cricket fans watching “a slugging match” at the Oval. This didn’t sit with my notion of Adelaide decorum. And so on that ultimate languorous morning, I strolled, sniffing trees in Botanic Gardens watching a Ranger play pied-piper to hosts of school kids and, after a riverbank lunch at Jolley’s Boathouse Restaurant (couldn’t resist the barramundi), I ordered an EcoCaddy (a rickshaw trike) for a pedal-ride linking the parklands, pedalled by James.

“I’m feeling Zen,” I told him. “Go slowly.” So at dream-speed we went to Himeji, a Japanese garden injected with stillness, close enough to the city’s thrumming, thriving heart. There, I quelled my beating conscience – for not spending time enough in the galleries, the museums, the world class library, not paying homage sufficient to Rabbie. I crossed the stepping stones of the garden, lay by the Teahouse and closed my eyes – then, hearing voices that wouldn’t shut up, I knew I was talking in my sleep.

Henley Beach, Adelaide, South Australia. Pic: Josie Withers/South Australian Tourism CommissionHenley Beach, Adelaide, South Australia. Pic: Josie Withers/South Australian Tourism Commission
Henley Beach, Adelaide, South Australia. Pic: Josie Withers/South Australian Tourism Commission

Tom Adair travelled as a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission. For further information on the city and surrounding regions go to: www.southaustralia.com

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