Adelaide: The sleeper capital

  23.10.16    Australia

Adelaide has frequently found itself labelled ‘Australia’s overlooked state capital’. Sydney has the bragging rights, Melbourne the sport and restaurant scene, Brisbane the sunshine and even Perth has come into its own as a hipster capital a long, long way from anywhere else. But being something of a sleeper has its advantages, as South Australia’s capital of Adelaide and the surrounding wine regions of McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley provide for a memorable break, without the hordes of tourists. You come away with the distinct impression that, before long, this city will be staking its claim as the Land Down Under’s next must-visit destination.

Historically, South Australia was the only state not established as a British penal colony. It was also a pioneer in women’s rights as it boasted the first representative government in the world to allow females to become Members of Parliament, a defiantly liberal streak that has remained to this day. This liberal streak is also apparent in the way that the city sports an indisputably young and friendly feel to it. American singer-songwriter Ben Folds immortalised it in his song Adelaide. He sang the lyrics ‘Here you know the world could turn, or crash and burn, and you would never know it. Going where the air is clear, there’s better beer, in Adelaide’. The city clearly had a huge effect on him as he ended up moving there from New York.

Let the train take the strain

Getting to Adelaide is easy from Hong Kong, with direct flights on Cathay Pacific, but if you have time, there’s a far more romantic, historic and relaxing way to arrive. From either Perth or Sydney, you can take the train (HK$5,000 from Perth, HK$4,400 from Sydney; as Adelaide is perfectly positioned along the line served by The Indian Pacific. This venerable old service, running 4,352km all the way from one ocean to another, provides a truly extraordinary experience, the breathtaking vastness of Australia’s interiors engulfing you for up to three nights.


The Indian Pacific is comfortable in the extreme, with excellent food and wine included throughout, while the highest level of sleeper accommodation is more of a rolling luxury hotel room. The train windows provide a constant flow of landscape images like something from a John Ford western. For example the Nullarbor Plain – twice the size of England – takes its name from the Latin nullus arbor or ‘no trees’ because vast tracts are devoid of any discernible fauna, just rocky moonscapes. And where else in the world can you get to pass through a succession of double-entendre locales such as Ghooli, Cocklebiddy and Pinkawillinie?



Wickets, wine and wilderness

Once you’re actually there, Adelaide has more than its fair share of sights, attractions and museums, as well as oodles of history and a host of iconic markets. There are also buzzing neighbourhoods with different vibes and nationalities, making for a unique cultural patchwork. But we’re here for the wining, dining and a little spot of cricket. So, if you’re a cricket fan, then the Adelaide Oval ground (War Memorial Dr, North Adelaide SA 5006, Australia, +61 08 8211 1100; is a great draw, while the city’s most famous adopted son, legendary batsman Don Bradman, has a dedicated collection within the stadium that’s well worth a visit. (

But there’s no escaping the fact that most visitors come to South Australia for the wine. It’s the country’s largest wine producer, home to the most iconic Aussie labels. Chief among them is Penfolds (78 Penfold Rd, Magill SA 5072

+61 8 8301 5569, a must-visit as one of the world’s few urban single vineyards, only 15 minutes drive from downtown. It’s a beautiful spot in the foothills, commanding views down to the ocean. Founded way back in 1844, front and centre in the property is Grange cottage, which, incidentally, they named their most exclusive vintage.


Guided tours (HK$115) across the 12-acre property (they have more than 2,000 hectares of vineyards outside the city in the Barossa Valley) show you Shiraz vines and the world’s oldest ongoing cabernet sauvignon vineyard. The tour staff also provide insights into the vintage process that normally takes place in February, led by only four master winemakers since 1951. Fear not, you also get the chance to ogle at some of the world’s most expensive and exclusive bottles here before starting a tasting or hitting up one of the award-winning restaurants on-site.


Further out of town, a 45-minute drive from the city takes you to McLaren Vale. The sight of olive trees is unexpected but subsequently explained as they were originally planted as windbreaks for the vines. There are 65 cellar doors to choose from in the gently rolling hills, from classics like D’Arenberg ( +61 8 8329 4822 Osborn Road, McLaren Vale SA 5171) and the picturesque Coriole ( Chaffeys Road, McLaren Vale, SA +61 8 8323 8305) to spots like Pannells ( 60 Olivers Road, Mclaren Vale +61 8 8323 8000, a defiantly rock ‘n’ roll joint where its prestigious Jimmy Watson trophy for ‘winemaker of the year’ is placed on the windowsill with an ironic arrow pointing at it while the Foo Fighters and The Pixies serenade sippers and swillers.

A short detour south takes you to a beautiful coastline that seems almost entirely devoid of visitors. The Star of Greece (1 Esplanade, Port Willunga SA 5173 +61 8 8557 7420 ) in Port Willunga, perched on a clifftop, offers breathtaking views to distract you from the sensational plates from chef Shawn Peddle. That’s even before you head 65km further south to the renowned wildlife haven of Kangaroo Island.


Food, glorious food

Of course, there’s no better way to taste the region’s wine than alongside the region’s produce and, back in the city, visitors can discover one of the most exciting dining scenes anywhere in the country. In Australia, that’s really saying something, but Adelaide’s restaurants are packed with locals and knowledgeable visitors flying interstate to hit up some of the hottest tables.

The Central Business District has, by all accounts, undergone a recent metamorphosis from an unremarkable collection of offices to the beating heart of a vibrant social and dining scene. Sean’s Kitchen (Station Rd, Adelaide +61 8 8218 4244 ) is a beautiful, cavernous spot where local produce is the hero, from ocean platters to local steaks in the firepit. Don’t ask for the wine list – they prefer to call it ‘The Big Book of Booze’.

Kenji (Shop 5 242 Hutt St +61 8 8232 0944 ) is understated and intimate, a dining experience that over-delivers. Even if the term ‘Asian fusion’ makes you cringe, dishes like Barossa pork belly with steamed gyoza dumplings, crackling and a green apple and kimchi salad quickly win people over. Another strong option is Africola ( 4 East Terrace +61 8 8223 3885), a riotous celebration of all things South African. This is a colourful shebeen-style spot where sensational meats are cooked over ‘braai’ barbecue by chef Duncan Welgemoed.

Drink, glorious drink

After-dinner drinking doesn’t get much more fun than in the small Adelaide bar scene that’s exploded since the State Government relaxed its liquor licensing laws. Udaberri Pintxos Y Vino ( 11-13 Leigh St +61 8 8410 5733) is a dimly lit Spanish-style bar on two levels where DJs spin on the weekends and there’s great food to share when you’re not making your way through the gin list. Maybe Mae (15 Peel St is all about cocktails, accessed via a hidden door in a tunnel in an alleyway. It’s downstairs from Bread and Bone (same address, +61 8 8231 8535, which does the most amazing wood-grilled street food, meaning you can have an apéritif as you wait for your table upstairs. But the most memorable of venues is from the rooftop setting of 2KW Bar & Restaurant (2 King William St, Adelaide +61 8 8212 5511 with its stunning views over North Terrace and the Adelaide Oval.

All in all, Adelaide is a city which needs your time. It’s not a whistlestop town. You need to drift on in on the rails, tour far and wide for the wine, soak up some leisurely cricket and then eat and drink to your heart’s content. Proceed with quiet confidence, just like the city itself. As local writer David Sly said: “Rather than copy the style of other cities, Adelaide confidently speaks in its own clear accent.” He’s bang-on, too. Adelaide’s is an accent that should be heard more proudly and clearly in the years to come by discerning travellers down under.


How to get there

The most memorable way to get to Adelaide is to fly into Sydney or Perth and then take the Indian Pacific railway. Tickets cost from around HK$4400 from Sydney and HK$5000 from Perth ( and include all meals and accommodation along the 2 or 3 night journey. Qantas fly from Sydney (From around HK$2,000 inc tax) Perth ($2,700) and elsewhere  Alternatively, Cathay Pacific flies direct from Hong Kong to Adelaide five times a week (From HK$14,000 inc tax; ).

Where to stay

The Watson Hotel in Walkerville ( 33 Warwick St, Walkerville +61 1300 211 742) is a perfect base. Although not in the city centre proper, there’s a laid-back, neighbourhood vibe to it, while the huge apartment rooms are bright and equipped to set you up for days of exploring. Design-wise, indigenous artist Yannima Pikarli Tommy Watson enriches the communal spaces and walls with his remarkable works. The service is impeccable, just the right side of friendly. The studio suites start from around HK$800 per night, including tax.