Fleurieu Peninsula, SA

Fleurieu Peninsula is a picturesque triangle of land located south of Adelaide, some 20km to McLaren Vale and about 70km to the southern tip of Victor Harbor. Named after the French explorer and Napoleon's navy minister Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu in 1802 (by another French explorer Nicolas Baudin... talk about kissing up), this area is famed for its coastal thrills, secluded beaches, gourmet foods, wineries,  and unspoiled wildlife.

It's a paradise for divers and snorkelers, with dramatic shipwrecks and stunning marine life. McLaren Vale is home to over 60 vineyards, which, by some, are considered the best in the country.

The bus first took us up to the Adelaide Hills, which technically, is not a part of the Peninsula, but spectacular, nonetheless. Having spent 15 min trying to spot elusive koalas in the natural habitat, we headed off to a historic village of Hahndorf.

A view from Adelaide Hills

Fleeing religious prosecution in Prussia, 50 German Lutherans came here in 1859, mostly farmers and laborers with their families. The oldest-surviving German settlement in Australia, Hahndorf is a quaint village, lined with antique shops, cafes, and gourmet food shops, and a few traditional half-timber Germanic houses. The Beerenberg gourmet foods is one of the well-known family-owned production of fine foods, mustard, jams, preserves, relishes, that has been in business for over 150 years.

Hahndorf was named after Hahn, the Dutch captain of Zebra,
which brought the first Germans here

Taking a scenic route, we passed through Mount Barker and Strathalbyn. The latter was founded by Scottish settlers, just two months after the establishment of Hahndorf. Local municipality with a vision has preserved the main streets, complete with blue-stone buildings, which now make up a terrific walk. Known for excellent antique stores, galleries and fine craft shops, this lovely village is perfect for aimless wandering!

Moving further south, we headed to Goolwa, a point where Australia's largest river - Murray, meets the ocean. The state's first railway line was built here to move cargo to Port Elliot. 

Oscar W steamboat- the authentic, 102-year-old, wood-fired paddle steamer
still operational today at Goolwa

The muddy waters of the Murray River after 2 days of rain
The Murray River is Australia's greatest river that snakes down 2,520km from the Snowy Mountains to the Southern Ocean. It is a vital source of irrigation in four of Australia's states, as well as water supply to most towns along the river, and many further away through various pipelines.

The Murray Mouth is the point at which the Murray River empties into the ocean. Since the early 2000s, special machines have moved sand from the channel to maintain a minimal flow from the sea and into the Coorong's lagoon system. Without it, the Mouth would silt up and close, cutting the supply of fresh sea-water into the Coorong, which would then warm up, stagnate and die.

The map of Murray Mouth

Moving west through bohemian Port Elliot, we reached a popular holiday destination and South Australia's retirees' paradise, a town of Victor Harbor. It has about everything for a holiday - the sun, surf, sand, stunning views and wildlife, colonial architecture, gourmet restaurants, and nearby wineries. It is a popular whale-watching destination during the mammals' mating and breeding season, May-October.

Ocean at Victor Harbor
Whale Discovery Centre

The town is protected from the Southern Ocean by Granite Island, connected to the main land by a causeway. The 1894 horse-drawn double-decker tram takes visitors to the Island, which is also home to a colony of little penguins.

Granite Island across the bridge

A horse-drawn tram

With around 76 winery cellar doors, McLaren Vale is the largest and closest to Adelaide of the two Fleurieu Peninsula's wine regions. The bus driver told us that a general perception of the Vale is of a non-commercial, family-owned, your 'mom and dad' vineyards as opposed to the corporate Barossa. A few years ago, the Hardy's group's ownership moved back to Australia from the US. The pride I heard in his voice was similar to a wave of corporate patriotism around the country when Tim Hortons changed ownership from American to Canadian.

Shiraz is a specialty, as are Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, while Merlot is becoming increasingly popular as a varietal. Chardonnay dominates the white varieties but Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are also gaining kudos, and experimentation is taking place with Viognier, Marsanne and Sangiovese.

McLaren Vale
Wine-tasting at Hardy's was quite interesting and satisfying