August 20, 2022

Northern Exposure: road trips north from Adelaide


A couple of days, a couple of ways. On two wheels or four, South Australia's mid-north leads you to some stunning gourmet and historic locations.


Words and photos Roderick Eime


I hope you are not bored with my fixation with South Australian riding, but you’re getting the idea that the land of the Croweaters presents a great variety of rewarding riding environments. From lush forests with twisty, turny byways to wide open Arizona-like desert landscapes. All within an hour or two of the CBD.


To the north of Adelaide are the flat plains of Virginia and Elizabeth, bordered to the east by the Mount Lofty Ranges which, as you continue north, lead to the iconic Flinders Ranges.


I’ve ridden motorcycles on these roads more times than I can honestly recall, both solo and in company, all through the Barossa, Clare and Eden Valleys on either day- or multi-day excursions. Planning is easy, roads are generally excellent and there are lots of accommodation options with plenty to explore and experience.


For the sake of this exercise, let’s follow the well-trodden route from Bolivar, around the Edinburgh RAAF base on the M2 toward Gawler from where we can decide to continue north to the Clare Valley and the so-called Copper Triangle - a historic region founded by Cornish miners in the 1860s - or east to the Murray River outposts of Blanchetown, Swan Reach and Walker Flat.  These villages all have either bridge or ferry crossings that take you beyond, through vast, rolling wheatfields, to the Riverland towns of Renmark, Loxton and Barmera. We’ll tackle these another time.


Unless you’re in a hurry, ditch the featureless A32 and instead dawdle along the B roads through either Kapunda or Hamley Bridge, both of which offer fuel and refreshments. I’m embarrassed to say, the Hamley Bridge Hotel and the four Kapunda pubs remain untested in recent times, so please let us know your favourite. The brand new bakery and cafe, L’il Mo’s, is worth checking out. I hear the chunky beef pie is a big hit with visitors. 


Glorious back roads just outside of Clare (RE)

Another 70 clicks beyond is Clare, a great place to linger and explore. If you’re bedding down here, I can vouch for the Discovery Park, especially for groups and mates who don’t mind sharing a cabin. The main street is chockers with places to eat and drink. On one recent trip, we enjoyed a hearty lunch at the Main Street Bakehouse and we’re still talking about the Ned Kelly (with whole egg) and Shiraz pies.

If you’ve decided to stay overnight, you can suss out any number of wineries in the vicinity and sip your booty in the comfort of your cabin. The Clare Valley Wine, Food and Tourism Centre is right next door to the Discovery Park, so you can pop in and plan your attack. Or you can just cheat and buy your wine there as the selection is a comprehensive sampling of the famous region. Coffee and snacks too.


Bikes lined up at the superb Watervale Hotel (RE)

On one recent ride astride a fancy new Harley-Davidson Sportster S, we treated ourselves to an overnight stop at the completely renovated Watervale Hotel - and what an eyeopener that was. A labour of love of power couple, Warrick Duthy and Nicola Palmer, the once ramshackle pub is now a stunning gourmet retreat of the highest order. The Watervale Hotel lifts the bar (excuse pun) to stratospheric levels thanks to expert chef, Nicola, and offers international standard cuisine using predominantly regional produce, much of it from their own biodynamic farm just down the road. For overnighters and groups, there is a whole house next door for rent.

Now, if you’re riding with one of the motorcycle clubs, chances are you’re heading on to Burra for lunch. On one excursion, the Royal Exchange Hotel put on a BBQ lunch in the beer garden, but there are several decent pubs in town and plenty of places to stay amongst the historic sandstone neighbourhood.

'Diesel and Dust' near Burra

If you’re a history nerd (my hand is up) you can check out the old copper mining ruins just outside town and if you widen the arc you’ll find such gems as the Midnight Oil house (from the album we’ve all seen), the restored birthplace of Sir George Hubert Wilkins (look him up, he’s amazing) at Mount Bryan and silo art at Farrells Flat. 

From Burra, you can head north toward Peterborough where you are reaching the limit of your daylight-saving day-trip range, especially if you drop into the dinky motorcycle museum where more than 60 bikes are on display as well as various antique curiosities. The collection of Ian and Belinda Spooner is mainly small-capacity Italian machines with such esoteric marques as Garelli, Malaguti, Malanca and Benelli. But any admirer of motorcycles cannot help but be impressed by this rare assortment. But wait, there is one Harley-Davidson: a golf buggy.


The revived Bond Store at Wallaroo brews and distills their own drinks (RE)

If you’re making a weekend of it, consider heading west to Kadina, Moonta and Wallaroo. Long a popular weekend seaside getaway for Adelaide folks, the towns are now embracing more permanent visitors. The once sleepy fishing hamlet of Port Hughes, neighbouring Moonta, is now experiencing a minor boom with many seachangers setting up there. Some development has been interrupted by the COVID fiasco with the planned resort development at Wallaroo now due to open in 2023.

Nevertheless, the precinct offers lots to do and see. A favourite of mine is the maritime museum in the old Wallaroo post office which has all kinds of fun and interesting stuff reflecting the history of the once busy port. The headline act as far as gourmet tourism is concerned is the ’new and improved’ Bond Store Wallaroo, which sees a 150-year-old warehouse returned to its colonial glory as a bar, restaurant, microbrewery and distillery. If you’re staying in Wallaroo, it would be wise to make sure the Bond Store is within walking distance.


History relived at the National Trust's Moonta Miners' Cottage (RE)

Kadina, ten clicks SE, is the business centre but has its own attraction, The Farm Shed Heritage Museum, chock full of oldy-worldy stuff including traction engines, rural history and the massive Ruston Hornsby Diesel Engine which powered the heavy industry and is still operational.

Further down the Yorke Peninsula at Yorketown is the Bublacowie Military Museum and Memorial Park, curated by veteran Chris Soar. I’ve not visited this extensive private collection as yet, but hear me Chris, I am on my way!


If you followed our original route via Gawler and Clare, a return to the city via the Barossa and Eden Valleys is a natural choice. Of course, space does not permit me to elaborate on everything on offer along this route, but from numerous explorations, in Tanunda I can recommend breakfasts at The Red Door, dinner at either the Tanunda Hotel or Char Barossa and lunch at the Lambert Estate a little further along in Angaston. 


Breakfast at Tanunda's Red Door hits the spot. (RE)

To keep the story on-topic, the Lambert family arrived in the Barossa from Wisconsin about 20 years ago and set up a wine estate with their son Kirk and Peruvian daughter-in-law Vanesa as chief winemakers. The Barossa Valley, as we know, was kicked off by German immigrants in the 1850s from which this writer is directly descended. As a result, the ‘old families’ tend to dominate the winemaking business in the valley, so to have a bunch of mid-Western interlopers from the USA make a splash is quite the anomaly. The food and the atmosphere out on Long Gully Road are superb. And the road, BTW, is a fabulous route around Menglers Hill to the famous lookout.


Cass at the Eden Valley Hotel (RE)
If your timing works in one direction or another, the Eden Valley Hotel is another great stop for over-the-odds pub tucker. The schnitzel is like nothing you’ve had before, I promise. Tell Cass at the bar you read about it here and she’ll shout you a low-alcohol beer!

If you’re running out of light, it’s best to take the shortest route home via the Gorge Road (B10) or if time and energy levels permit, push on through to Lobethal and Norton Summit (B27). If you’re unfamiliar with these roads, I implore you to proceed with caution as there are plenty of nasty bends and blind corners to catch the unwary, evidenced by the black crosses erected along the route. 


If you’re doing the reverse route, then you may choose to stop at Birdwood and the National Motor Museum which, apart from the largest (claimed) collection of Holden cars in the world, has plenty of motorcycle history including a prince among V-Twins, a 1936 Brough Superior SS80, as well as a mighty fine selection of vintage Harleys.


So there you have it, just another day (or two) in the saddle in glorious South Australia.


SHORTCUTS


  • A direct route from Adelaide CBD to Clare is about 150kms or two hours.

  • Regional drive/ride suggestions are listed at www.visitburra.com

  • Barossa Valley feature story at Australian Road Rider with more tips



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