Taking in the wilderness, wildlife and wine that South Australia and Tasmania have to offer, Australia specialists Jenny Bouquet and Chris Wilson suggest how to combine the best bits of the great outdoors Down Under
Tasmania: Jenny travels over land and water around this wild Australian outpost
I first visited Tasmania in 2000 and have been back twice since. As more of a country mouse than a city slicker, I knew I would thoroughly enjoy the wild outdoors of Australia's southern isle. For me, the only way to see these all-consuming mountain peaks, sweeping beaches and mystical forests was to get in among them — climbing, walking, kayaking and swimming.
A four day walk around the little-known Maria Island, on Tasmania's east coast, was an amazing start to my recent visit. The island is designated as a national park and showcases what Tasmania is all about: history, wildlife, great food and wine, topped with picture-postcard scenery.
Within ten minutes, my little group had stumbled upon our first kangaroos. We didn't seem to faze them at all and they continued feeding, keeping a beady eye on us, before hopping of into the woods. It doesn't matter how many times I see a kangaroo hop, it's still amusing.
We walked the length of two beautiful, empty beaches and as we crossed the headland I discovered it was home to a family of wombats — huge balls of slow-moving, loveable fluff. Again, they gave scant acknowledgment of our presence as we carried on north to see evidence of Aboriginal settlements.
The walks can be as challenging or as relaxing as you want, tailoring the level of difficulty. The climb to the summit of Bishop & Clerk — 599 m (1,965 ft) — is a tougher section, but it offers incredible views of the Tasman Sea and the skinny isthmus.
Just north of Maria Island is popular Freycinet National Park, an adventure playground of sugary beaches and wild heathland sprawling down the peninsula. Having stretched the legs walking, Coles Bay is the perfect spot to give the arms a workout in a kayak. There is no better way to spot the plethora of bird life hiding in the trees of the rocky coastline than paddling silently across the water.
From sea to shore
I first heard about the Overland Track, perhaps the best known of Tasmania's walking adventures, on my first visit ten years ago and I was delighted to finally be giving it a go now. Starting at Cradle Mountain, the track wends its way through 80 km (50 miles) of pristine national park to arrive at the beautiful Cynthia Bay on Lake St Clair, the deepest lake in Australia. The 9,000 walkers that run the gauntlet each year do nothing to dampen the feeling of pure wilderness. My guide-escorted hike included hot showers, delicious home-cooked food and a well-deserved glass of wine at the end of a challenging walking day.
The walking is tougher here; the weather conditions, from snow and howling winds to beautiful sunny blue skies, are more extreme. Over the six days of my hike, I had come to know the stories of Tasmania's highest peaks, waded through rivers created by snow melt and, despite the cold weather conditions and the blisters, felt amazing on my new diet of home-cooking, fresh air and exercise.
The unspoilt environment of Tasmania's alpine moors, lofty mountain peaks and wild forests provide the perfect playground for the outdoor adventurer.
South Australia: Chris talks history and wine in Adelaide's hills
I first visited South Australia in 2002 and it was love at first sight, bite and glug. Sat on my villa's balcony, overlooking the vast expanse of beaches on the horizon, where the sun was setting over Kangaroo Island, it was not hard to see why. The day's catch sizzled on the barbecue, fine wines were chilling and tiny camp fires lit up the shoreline; perfection.
Over dinner we discussed the Aboriginal artwork we'd purchased that morning in Adelaide, at a market down by the River Torrens. People come from far and wide on a Sunday morning to appreciate the creations of this ancient culture. South Australia, and Adelaide in particular, take great pride in their Aboriginal heritage and the city's outstanding museums — especially the magnificent South Australian Museum and the Migration Museum — are a testament to this.
Armed with this knowledge I headed south to the lagoon landscape of the Coorong Wetlands, a name derived from the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal word Karangk, meaning 'long neck'. A Ngarrindjeri population still lives here and the locals have opened up vast tracts of their land for visitors to enjoy the wildlife that make this place so special. At Camp Coorong you can kayak, hike and bush walk with Aboriginal elders, listening to their dreamtime stories under the southern stars.
Along the grape vine
Tourism here is very much linked to the land, preserved for our enjoyment in the volcanic national parks of the north, wildlife islands and woodlands of the south and, importantly, in the vineyards of South Australia's hilly interior.
A day trip (or a weekend jaunt) from the state capital is done for one purpose only: to sample some of the best New World wines. We can thank Thomas Hardy and Dr Rawson Penfold for planting ancient vines in this fertile soil in the mid 1800s. Now we have boutique vineyards in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale beside olive groves, dairies, fruit orchards and bakeries — allowing you to enjoy some of the world's finest cheeses, artisan breads and olive pastes after a leisurely morning sampling the latest vintages.
These scenes are repeated throughout the state, every day of the week. Many of the visitors to McLaren Vale will have come down after a morning swim with dolphins off popular beachside resort Glenelg. In the Barossa, companies deliver bicycles to your accommodation so you can cycle between the vineyards.
If food and wine first brought these communities together, then the ultimate expression of community is in their festivals. The Murray River is synonymous with jazz and chillout music, which feature in regular riverboat concerts (the Sounds by the River Concert in early January is by far the best). This leads into the harvest festivals of February, the now world-famous WOMADelaide (World of Music, Arts and Dance) celebrations in March, and the Adelaide Festival, Australia's largest multi-arts festival.
This combination of dramatic scenery, the finest wines and food lovingly nurtured by a passionate people, creates a magical adventure that deserves as much time as you can afford.
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