x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Adelaide lifts its game

The smallest state capital in Australia, Adelaide is often overlooked in favour of its more glamorous, high-rise cousins Sydney and Melbourne, but it has much to offer tourists.

The famous Glenelg tram goes past the Glenelg Hotel, Adelaide.
The famous Glenelg tram goes past the Glenelg Hotel, Adelaide.

What do David Bowie, the late Sir Donald Bradman and Dubai have in common? They are all connected in some way to Adelaide. In 1931-1932, Bradman hit the highest score ever at the Adelaide Oval with 299 against South Africa and the following year, the ground was the scene of the infamous “Bodyline” affair, which prompted police to send in the mounted patrol to maintain order among the 50,962-strong crowd.

At the same venue in 1978, David Bowie played his first large-scale outdoor concert. And on November 1, 2012, Emirates flew its inaugural flight from Dubai to Adelaide, a four times weekly, direct service. Landing at 9.10pm, it was greeted by the majestic sight of the brightly lit Adelaide Oval, now the subject of a multi-million dollar upgrade.

Adelaide is one of the smallest state capitals in Australia. It is home to about 1.25 million people and is contained within the boundaries of the Mount Lofty Ranges and the Gulf of St Vincent. Wisely, Colonel William Light planned out the city beside the River Torrens and placed it within four terraces (North, South, East and West), each measuring a kilometre. Within those confines, the various city leaders have maintained the numerous parks and restricted building growth to avoid the skyscraper-skylines of Melbourne and Sydney. Returning to the city after leaving 20 years ago, I find that while much is still familiar, Adelaide has been brought into the 21st century in style.

One of the first changes I notice is that the single tram, which runs from the beachside suburb of Glenelg to the city, has been extended beyond Victoria Square and now continues along King William St and down North Terrace. While the tram is essentially public transport for many of Adelaide’s city workers making the commute each weekday, it has evolved into a traveller’s icon offering a pleasant meander through some of Adelaide’s leafier suburbs to Moseley Square at the end of Jetty Road. The extended route places the tram right outside the front door of many hotels, including the InterContinental, where I’m staying.

Most of the city is actually accessible on foot: North Terrace houses a variety of free museums, libraries and such, while nearby Rundle Mall has a selection of shops and eateries – and the occasional busker grateful for the odd coin. A visit to Haigh’s Chocolates (www.haighschocolates.com.au) there was always mandatory as a young boy in town for the day and this has not changed.

While the city offers a huge number and variety of restaurants, a lazy lunch by the Torrens is one of life’s little pleasures and Jolley’s Boathouse (www.jolleysboathouse.com; 00 61 8 8223 2891) is a haven. Grab a seat by the large windows if possible and savour your barramundi as you watch majestic swans glide by oblivious to the river ferry (Popeye’s) passing by with its collection of tourists.

Working off lunch is easy enough with a visit to the Adelaide Central Market (www.centralmarkettour.com.au; 0061 402 165 800) which has been a landmark in the city since 1869. Here stalls are piled high with a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, spices, meat, fish and goods.

The market, situated in Grote Street in the heart of the city, is particularly popular on a Friday evening as city workers stock up for the weekend. The massive building rings with the sounds of traders shouting out their specials mingled with buskers displaying an eclectic mix of talents. A didgeridoo player catches the eye as do a number of Arabic-speaking stallholders who sell a mixture of classic Middle Eastern foods such as hummus, giving UAE visitors a little taste of home.

Mark, my limo driver, takes us up to Col Light’s statue at North Adelaide for views across the Adelaide Oval. A migrant from Poland, he arrived in Adelaide in 1988 with his wife and in debt for his fare. Migrants looking to make their home in Australia have to garner sufficient points to qualify. The points are gathered from such things as their occupation and where in Australia they want to live. Those who opt for Adelaide over Melbourne or Sydney get more points.

“We love it here,” says Mark. “It is our home now. We came here with nothing and had to learn English. Now we have this business and nothing would make us leave.”

We compare notes about our time in Adelaide, and I comment that I seem to remember the trees around Adelaide Oval being smaller. “I believe they grew them to stop people sitting up here and watching the cricket for free,” he tells me.

For a rather different view of Adelaide, you can take to the air. Justin Stein of Balloon Adventures (www.balloonadventures.com.au; 00 61 8 8389 3195) has been around hot air balloons all his life having inherited the family business. His company offers a number of routes either across the vineyards of the Barossa Valley or along the Murray River, the source of Adelaide’s water supply and one of the most picturesque views of the South Australian bush and farming areas. The decision on which route to take, and even if it is safe to fly, is made at the last minute, after our tour group is weighed to determine how much fuel will be needed for the ride, and after small weather balloons are launched to test the wind velocity and direction. That determined we find ourselves gliding above the Murray River.

As a source of water for Adelaide, and the many settlements along its 2,375km path, the Murray has been both feast and famine, bringing floods as well as fecundity. For us, it means breathtaking views, sometimes a mere 60 metres above the almost-still waters, watching birdlife taking to flight and a kangaroo hopping along the shore.

The rest of the day is taken up with a culinary tour of the Barossa Valley, one of South Australia’s largest wine producing regions. Located about 60km from Adelaide it was mainly settled by German families in the 1840s, and later by the British. Visitors flock here to enjoy events such as the Barossa Vintage Festival or Barossa Gourmet Weekend, and drive through the acres of vineyards to visit the main towns – Tanunda, Nurioopta, Angastan or Lyndoch or one of the many smaller towns dotted throughout the countryside.

For a taste of what’s on offer try cheese tasting at the Barossa Valley Cheese Company (67B Murray St, Angaston; www.bvcc.com.au; 00 61 8 8564 3636), before lunching on modern south-east Asian dishes at ferment-Asian (90 Murray St, Tanunda; www.fermentasian.com.au; 00 61 8 8563 0765), or a visit to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop (Pheasant Farm Rd, Off Samuel Road, Nuriootpa; www.maggiebeer.com.au; 00 61 8 8562 4477). Based around her nationally famous television cooking show, it’s a delicious slice of contemporary Australian cooking.

After 20 years away, I can happily say Adelaide has not lost its charm, nor its ability to deceive: like the swans on the River Torrens, it appears to glide along but underneath  feet are churning away.

It’s fair to say that Adelaide operates at a far more leisurely pace than its eastern seaboard cousins and travellers might be mistaken for thinking that only a short stay is warranted. But, like Don Bradman, David Bowie and now Dubai’s citizens have discovered – there’s plenty in Adelaide to draw you back.

If you go

The flight Return flights on Emirates (www.emirates.com) from Dubai to Adelaide cost from Dh6,560, including taxes.

The hotel Double rooms at the InterContinental, North Terrace (www.ichotelsgroup.com; 800 116 000) cost from AU$200 (Dh780) per night, including taxes.