About 60 million years ago, a chunk of the earth began heaving skyward to form the Adelaide Hills. Since then, the hills have been tastefully decorated with vineyards, orchards, all sorts of plants and animals and a number of quaint villages.
For those of us who live on the Adelaide plains, it’s nice to know that within 40 minutes we can be in another world; a place of winding country roads, lush green valleys, breathtaking views and delicious strawberries. Never has a region been more suitable for a day trip.
At any time of year it’s a feast of sensory delights, but when the new buds of spring announce their arrival, it’s surely time to head for the hills. With the fruit trees in full blossom the orchards are at their showiest, but nowhere are the colours of the season more vivid than at the Mount Lofty Botanic Garden, just down from the summit.
The garden showcases temperate climate plants from around the globe and is divided into zones representing world regions or specific species. Here, you can stroll through South American Gully, Rhododendron Gully and Fern Gully, before taking a breather on Dwarf Conifer Lawn.
Then it’s only a short drive to Mount Lofty lookout, where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views across the city to the sparkling blue waters of Gulf St Vincent.
Just across the freeway you’ll find the leafy towns of Stirling and Aldgate. From Aldgate, follow Mount Barker Road through Bridgewater, en route to that little piece of Germany in the hills: Hahndorf. German settlers arrived in South Australia aboard the Zebra in 1838. With the help of the ship’s Danish captain, Dirk Hahn, they were able to secure the land that later became the village they named in his honour.
Lined with 100-year-old elms and plane trees, the town’s lively main street is a diverse mix of craft shops, al fresco eateries, galleries and stores selling German cakes, pastries and smallgoods.
Many of the old buildings remain intact, adding to the town’s rustic charm. The Hahndorf Academy has been, among other things, a school, a seminary and a nursing home. By the early 1960s it was facing demolition but was saved and now plays host to regular art exhibitions. It also houses a small German migration museum, and it’s worth a visit just to see the remarkable model house built by 17-year-old W.A. Altmann in 1912, using only a pocketknife.
Throughout the Adelaide Hills it’s difficult to turn a corner without bumping into a winery. The area around Hahndorf is no exception and there are a number of cellar doors where you can sample the local drop. But if you prefer your indulgences to be absolute, then find your way to Hahndorf Hill Winery and embrace the chocolate and wine matching, ChocoVino experience. While overlooking the hills and vineyards, you’ll discover that two of life’s pleasures can get along together just fine.
For a cultural treat, head a kilometre up the road to The Cedars, the home of artist Hans Heysen from 1912 until his passing in 1968. Following a very successful exhibition in Melbourne, he purchased a small house and the 40-acre property surrounding it. Some years later he bought two adjacent properties for the sole purpose of preserving his beloved gum trees, giving him a total holding of 150 acres. Over the years the house has undergone major extensions, and The Cedars is still owned by the Heysen family.
Knowledgeable guides conduct tours of this magnificent home, which contains many of Heysen’s original works. These tours also include a visit to his purpose-built studio set among the trees of this sprawling estate. Visitors keen to see these surrounds through the artist’s eyes can follow a walking trail to some of his favourite locations, where artworks have been set up to show his interpretation of the view.
From here you can either head back to Adelaide via the freeway, or take a very pleasant drive through Balhannah, Carey Gully and Uraidla. This winding country journey passes through a mixture of dense native forest and storybook-like farmlands, where fruit trees and market gardens pattern the slopes, and vineyards lay draped over rolling hills. In a part of the world blessed with so many things to see and do, this is just one day trip in a region that would take a lifetime of day trips to fully explore.