Thursday, June 23, 2011

Adelaide- Almond Hill

While we were in the Barossa Valley we stayed at a bed and breakfast called Almond Hill. We found it by a random internet search and it seemed nice, and it was a decent price so we booked it. It turns out that it was hands down the best place we've ever stayed at. It's a family home that happens to have an adjacent space, essentially a mother-in-law suite, that sits on a hill overlooking the Yalumba Valley. We were the only guests and had our own mini-house basically- really nice! They also had a family cat who roamed around all over the grounds. She was super-friendly, and since we were missing out kitties we were more than happy to give her a home. We named her Talulabelle.

Now, this B&B was different in one fundamental way than every other one we have stayed in. Generally, the managers cook you breakfast. This place didn't. They just provided fresh eggs, cheese, bacon, butter, tomatos, mushrooms, and home made bread and an outdoor range to cook on, along with a fully stocked pantry. Here's what the little kitchenette looked like.

It seemed like a hassle at first, "Wait. I have to come out here and pay money to cook my own breakfast?" But it was totally awesome, and really a lot of fun since it was winter. We got up, put on our robes, and then made an epic breakfast.  Cheddar cheese scrambled eggs with diced tomatos and mushrooms, cooked bacon on the side, toast and jam, and yogurt and muesli. Oh, and fresh-squeezed orange juice (we didn't make that though). All eaten out in the fresh air, looking out over the beautiful Barossa morning. How good does this look!?

Needless to say it was a fantastic room, and I haven't even talked about the fireplace yet. It's very rustic. A lot of Australia hasn't really caught onto insulation yet, and this place was essentially a log cabin. If it was freezing outside, it was going to be freezing inside. But we had a fireplace, so we could go to sleep with a roaring fire and little tea candles to light the night. Pretty romantic stuff.

Both mornings when we got up and when we came home at night Talulabelle came to greet us. We think it's because she loved us more than any other guest there ever, but it probably had more to do with Laurel putting out a saucer of milk every time we saw her.

Almond Hill had about an acre of property which was devoted to a few animals to graze on. They had two donkeys, two sheep, and an alpaca name Uncle Rupert. We loved Uncle Rupert. Here's Laurel feeding him some oats.

And here is one of the sheep. Greg tried to pet him but he was too shy.

Like I said, we were big fans of Uncle Rupert. He was not as big of a fan of us until he realized we had oats.

Along with the oats, they provided carrots to feed the donkeys. Greg thought the donkey was just going to take a bite of the carrot and he could feed them for awhile. The donkey had other ideas. The carrot went out, and he sucked the entire thing into his mouth. If Greg hadn't let go, fingers might have also been on the menu.

So, as you can tell, we are kind of in love with this place. So, if any of you are ever planning on vacationing in the Barossa Valley, you have to stay at Almond Hill!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Adelaide- Barossa Valley

The drive to Barossa Valley from Cleland takes about 1 ½ hours, and is really a tour in and of itself through many lesser known wine areas.  We passed countless numbers of vineyards that stretched across the hills as far as you could see.  The remaining land was dotted with peach and apple orchards, olive groves, and open pastures where sheep, cows, donkeys, and alpacas grazed.

It’s interesting driving through the Australian countryside and seeing Koala Crossing and Warning: Echidnas Next 1km signs mixed in with the usual Duck Crossing signs.

These birds are called gallahs, and are renowned throughout Australia for their general stupidity. However, they are gathering around the vineyard, so they can't be that dumb.

After our first afternoon of wine tasting, we left the Bethany Vineyard (how could we not go there!?) to be treated to this sunset. Good thing we left when we did, because it was gone two minutes later.

We started our next day at Yalumba, which was conveniently just down the street from our Bed and Breakfast (more on that later). Yalumba touts itself as the oldest single-family owned winery in Australia, having been around since the mid-1800's. It is giant and gorgeous.

In the tasting room, they had a stuffed bear to serve drinks. Not quite sure where they got him from since they don't have bears in Australia, but it was waaaay too good of a picture oppurtunity to miss. Thank you Sir Bear, I will try this cabernet.

While we were at Yalumba there was another group there, who were apparently big spenders, because the bartender brought out the super-fancy stuff they don't normaly let people taste. This meant we got to taste it too- Bonus! Since it was the really good stuff, they decanted it first to let the wine aerate and open up (how sophisticated do we sound right now?), and they had this awesome spinny decanter! Here's an action shot.  It's actually spinning . . . like a top.

Next we went to Maggie Beers which is a specialty food shop that makes jams, sauces, pates, and all things delicious. They also sponsor a small wine brand called Pheasant Farms, which is named for the phesants they keep on premises. The white ones are raised to go in the pate, but they also have some more exotic, colorful ones from around the world on display. Sucks to be the white birds.

Our last winery of the day was Seppletsfield, which specializes in fortified wines such as ports, muscats, and tokays. They've also been around since the late 1800's. During the Great Depression, to keep their workers employed and occupied, they planted date palms all around the vineyards, roadways, and buildings. It's beautiful, and is now the symbol of the winery. Apparently, Adelaide is warm enough for the date palms to grow and thrive, but not warm enough to produce fruit.

This winery was massive. These were just the display barrels they had out for show. Greg is going to need a pretty big straw to make a dent in one of those.

For the true wine afficionado with lots of disposable income (i.e. not us) you can buy some of the 100 year old port. Each year, they set aside a single barrel of port to be bottled and sold in a hundred years. The 1912 is getting ready to go on sale for the bargain price of $2000 for 350 ml. Before you scoff though, it comes with an individualized bottle and special wooden case. Oh, to be rich.

Fast forward ten days later back at our house after all the delivery trucks had come and gone. Good thing we have a big dining room table. Our next guests will be the really lucky ones.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Adelaide- Cleland Wildlife Park

We just came home from our vacation to South Australia.  We saw the beautiful sights and critters of Adelaide and Kangaroo Island, and tasted many of the amazing wines of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.

Before beginning our winery tours through the Barossa Valley, we decided to spend the morning at Cleland Wildlife Park.  Not only do we love playing with critters, but well let’s face it, 9:30am really is too early to start drinking wine.  Cleland is about 15km SE of Adelaide.  It’s located on top of Mount Lofty which means an incredibly scenic and a bit scary drive up the twisty mountain roads that as usual do not include guard rails.  Like some others we have visited, Cleland is an open park with minimal physical barriers rather than a traditional zoo with cages animals.  Much of their critters actually have free-reign throughout the park.  Here’s a picture on the main building.

We were checking out the park map just outside the building, which we had assumed to be before any of the critters.  We were mistaken, because within a minute of arriving these little guys popped out of the bushes to check us out.  The park lets you buy bags of pellets to feed the animals, and these guys knew it.  They are called Potoroos (pronounced pot-or-roos).  I don't care if they do look like giant rats, they are totally adorable.  I’m pretty sure a couple followed us around during our visit because every so often 1 or 2 would pop out of the bushes looking for another hand-out.

Next we visited the Kangaroo/Wallaby section.  They all look to be varying sizes and types of kangaroos, but I’m sure there are more distinct differences between the species.   We got to pet and feed them all, including a super adorable baby wallaby!  Greg wants a pet wallaby now.  He insists the wallaby and kitties would be friends.  Here are a couple pictures of him.

Also, it is a truism of nature that whenever you set apart some land for nature, it will be inevitably overrun by ducks.

So, I’ll just take a minute to tell you a few interesting facts about kangaroos.  Even though the largest species are called Red Kangaroos, only the males tend to be red while the females are more of a blue-grey color.  They are incredibly adaptable and even have the ability (and foresight) to stop breeding during times of extreme drought to protect their current numbers.  That’s pretty clever for a critter!  Here’s a bunch of other Kangaroo/Wallaby pictures.


We checked out the Wombat section, but as usual they were sleeping.  They did have a glass wall in part of their sleeping cave so that we could see them.  This is by far the closest we’ve gotten to a wombat.  As always, they were facing butt first.  Here’s one of them.  There were 2 others in another window but I could get a picture because of the glare on the glass.  Oh well, another Wombat fail.  It’s apparently mating season, which is why 2 were together.  I wonder if the other one felt like a 3rd wheel or was jealous.

Meet Hank the Koala.  He was being a bit cranky that day because apparently the eucalyptus leaves his Keeper was trying to feed him were not up to his usual standards.  Clearly this guy isn’t hurting for food.  Nevertheless, he let us pet him and get a couple pictures.  Thanks Hank!

Next we visited the bird section.  There were so many beautiful and strange looking birds there.  We also loved the giant pelicans.  They were gracefully gliding across the water and making strange noises with their beaks.  To do this, it looked as though the bottom portion of their beaks were fluttering and making ribbony movements.  I’m sure that description means nothing but it was really interesting to watch.

There was also a cranky goose that was chasing everyone off, including a tiny Japanese woman tourist.  Yep, she literally screamed and ran as he chased after her.  He tried to chase me, but was not pleased when I didn’t run off.  He then decided to chase off some other ducks and funny looking water birds to make up for his failure.  This is him in the front.  We have no idea what kind he is, but he’s certainly the most colorful goose we’ve ever seen. 

Check out this crazy bird’s feet!

Dingoes!  Yep, they pretty much look just like dogs.  In fact, they’re at risk of becoming extinct not because of hunting or loss of habitat, but because they keep interbreeding with dogs.  More Dingo facts!  There is one theory that the reason that the Tasmanian Devil is only in Tasmania is that the dingoes are such good hunters and scavengers, the Devils were quickly out-competed and went extinct. The only reason they would still be in Tasmania is that by the time Dingoes came to Australia the land-bridge connecting Australia with Tasmania had already disappeared.  In fact dingoes can, and do, eat everything from insects to full-grown kangaroos.  Those are some powerful pups!

There's an expression for when it's really cold out- "It's a two dog night." This comes from the Aboriginals  who tamed dingoes for, among other reasons, to help keep them warm at night. When it was exceptionally cold out, you needed a dog on either side of you to help stay warm.