Charcuterie Traiteur, in Adelaide's Central Market, is a foodie paradise. Picture: Gemma Nisbet

“I like your plating up,” Callum Hann says, admiring the glass in which I have arranged the layers of my dessert. I can’t help but feel a little giddy at the praise, for — as the 2010 Masterchef runner-up turned cookbook author and cooking school proprietor — Callum’s culinary credentials are solid. This is a young man who knows his food.

We’re here today with Callum and his friend and business partner, dietitian Themis Chryssidis, at Sprout, their cooking school above Adelaide’s Central Market. The pair have been running cooking classes here since 2011 and, as Callum explains, the philosophy is all about teaching people to cook fresh, healthy, seasonal meals they can re-create at home.

“It’s great-tasting, fresh food which happens to be good for you,” Themis says.

Our class began a few hours earlier when, having greeted us with a snack of South Australian cheese, and walnut and fig bread from the bakery downstairs, Callum and Themis lead us down to the market to see some of the local produce we’ll be preparing.

The Central Market is “iconically South Australian”, Themis says. “It’s one of the best markets in the State, and Callum and I are very passionate about it.” Officially opened in 1870, the market has reinvented itself in recent years as a destination for visitors, although, Themis says, plenty of locals shop here, too. A series of pop-up stalls helps to keep things fresh — when we visit, it’s an artisanal pickle-maker stall.

Our first stop is Wild Loaf, the bakery responsible for the delicious bread loaf we sampled upstairs, followed by the aptly named Smelly Cheese Shop, where we taste some of the international and locally made cheeses on offer. At Charcuterie Traiteur, a bank of glass-fronted fridges is packed with cheeses and cured meats, while shelves to the ceiling heave with jars of olives and preserves.

There are also the more usual grocers stands, with gleaming piles of fruit and vegetables, and butchers with cabinets full of deeply marbled meat. At our final stop, Providore, a glossy chocolate fountain sits on a glass cabinet filled with sweets.

It may be all the cheese I’ve sampled but the profusion of it all is quite intoxicating. There’s a sense of possibility into seeing all the produce, laid out and ready for someone to buy it, take it home and transform it into a meal.

This is precisely the point, it seems, for we now head back up the stairs to Sprout to begin cooking. Callum and Themis are patient and enthusiastic teachers, walking around the room to provide instruction as we cook, guiding us through the preparation of our three courses. We make Vietnamese-style pork and apple salad, followed by Cajun salmon with yoghurt and dill dressing and a peach salad, pausing in between to consume the fruits of our labour along with wines chosen to suit. Then to finish, it’s my triumph of presentation: a deconstructed individual cheesecake comprising passionfruit curd, cheesecake mousse made from low-fat cream cheese, honey and lemon juice, and a crumbly base.

It’s a delicious end to our first day of a food-themed tour of South Australia organised by AAT Kings and serves as our introduction to the company’s Short Breaks holidays — two to seven-day coach-based tours in Australia and New Zealand, based around immersive experience such as this, which help travellers get under the skin of their destination.

The day began fittingly enough with an introductory lunch at one of Adelaide’s newest restaurants, the Argentinean La Boca Bar and Grill, followed by a whistlestop coach tour of the city’s highlights.
As our genial tour guide Dave tells us, Adelaide began life as a planned city, laid out by surveyor general Colonel William Light in the 1830s to provide an egalitarian model colony for free settlers, in contrast to the convict-founded settlements of eastern Australia. And as we drive out of the city the following morning in the clear, autumn sunlight, the tree-lined boulevards, handsome churches, historic stone houses and neatly tended gardens look every bit the prosperous, European-influenced ideal.

Our destination is one of South Australia’s culinary capitals, the Barossa Valley. We follow the highway through a pastoral landscape of rolling valleys before turning off the highway, past vineyards and stone cottages, to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop, near the picturesque town of Nuriootpa.

As a cook, author and television personality, Beer has done as much as anyone to promote the Barossa as a foodie destination. She and husband Colin moved here in the early 1970s, intending to become vignerons but ended up rearing pheasants instead. Not many people knew how to cook the birds, so Beer began making pates to showcase them, and preparing picnic lunches for visitors.

These days the range of products available at the Farm Shop has grown exponentially: everything from quince paste and preserves to verjuice and her burnt fig, caramel and honeycomb ice cream, which has garnered something of a cult following. They still rear pheasants and other poultry, alongside an olive grove and orchard with stone fruits, apples and quinces. A picnic fare menu is available, and we opt for a seasonal fruit tart of figs with frangipane before availing ourselves of the product samples in the shop.

The Barossa is, of course, best known for its wines. So, following a lunch of bratwurst and sauerkraut — inspired by the region’s German influence — at the South Australian Company Store in Angaston, we head to Torbreck Wines to meet senior winemaker Craig Isbel.

Apologising if he seems “a little tired” — not only is it vintage, that is, picking, the busiest time of the year but he also has a new baby at home — Craig runs us through the history of Torbreck, which was started in the early 1990s and has since grown to become a respected producer of premium wines.

“We’re really focused on vineyard selection, the heritage of the Barossa and respecting the ancient geology of the area,” he explains. Craig himself took a circuitous route into winemaking. Born in rural Victoria, he studied sports science at university in Adelaide and was “hell bent” on playing professional cricket or AFL. It was during a surfing trip with mates that he got his first job in the industry, at Evans and Tate in Margaret River.

We try a selection of Torbreck’s wines, leading up to the grand finale, the Run Rig, a shiraz with a small amount of viognier which sells at the cellar door for $225 per bottle. It is far and away the most expensive wine I have ever drunk — knowingly, at least — but it’s by no means the most expensive drop Torbreck produces. That would be The Laird, at $900 a bottle.

The winery also sells oversized 27L bottles of some of its wines, which cost upwards of $10,000. Craig shows us one of these huge bottles, with a capacity equivalent of three dozen normal bottles, in the cavernous bottling plant. Here we also see some of the huge containers used to store the wine: metal vats filled with the deep purple grape juice and skins, the air full with the sharp, straw-like smell of the crushed fruit.

While our tasting at Torbreck is conducted in a quaint cottage, we’re greeted at our next stop — Jacob’s Creek, just a short drive away — by a sleek, modern visitors’ centre with big windows looking over the vineyards.

The Barossa is famous for vineyards such as Jacob's Creek. Picture: Gemma Nisbet

Here, bartender Sacha advises us on the etiquette of wine tasting: always hold the glass by the stem or base to stop the wine warming too quickly, swirl it around to get the aromas going, have a smell to get your tastebuds started and then take a sip, swishing it around your mouth before swallowing.

There are views over the Jacob’s Creek vineyards — along with more local wines — that evening at Harry’s Restaurant, at the nearby Novotel Barossa Valley Resort, where we stay overnight. So it is with sore heads that we board the coach the following morning to head to Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, where we’re shown around by Sharon Pippos, a chirpy local who runs walking tours of the German-influenced village, all the while dressed in traditional garb, complete with a bonnet.

After lunch, we press on towards the Fleurieu Peninsula and the coast. As we near the ocean, the landscape becomes sparser, the rolling green countryside giving way to stubbly yellow hills with the look of an old-fashioned teddy bear worn bare over time. Eucalypts provide splashes of dusty green, kangaroos resting in their shade.

At the seaside town of Cape Jervis, our coach is loaded on to the ferry alongside a semi-trailer carrying the precious cargo of one big, angry bull before we board for the 45-minute journey across the Backstairs Passage to Kangaroo Island. The scenery of the peninsula was a good primer for the island, which has the austere beauty of a landscape battered by wild weather. Scrubby bushland is interspersed with yellowed fields, rocky outcrops and trees bent sideways by the wind. Under the low, grey sky, it feels romantic, isolated, wild.

Inhabited by Aboriginal people until as recently as 2000 years ago, Kangaroo Island was so named by Matthew Flinders in 1802 for its marsupial population and subsequently charted by French explorer Nicolas Baudin. The first European settlers were sealers and whalers, men who kidnapped Aboriginal women and brought them here as their “wives”.

These days, it’s is something of a foodie paradise. Wine, wool, meat and grain are produced on the island and it also has fisheries and sheep dairies, marron and oyster farms, and what is said to be world’s last remaining pure population of Ligurian honeybees, which were introduced from northern Italy in the 1880s. As its name suggests, there are also tens of thousands of kangaroos, plus myriad other wildlife.

We set out to spot some of the latter the following morning, driving to the south-western corner of the 150km long island to Flinders Chase National Park. Pausing at the visitors centre for a coffee, we scan the trees for koalas but find only a lone Cape Barren goose, honking its way through the car park and seemingly quite pleased by all the attention.

From there, a winding road leads to Cape du Couedic. It’s a rugged coastline, the grey rocks dusted with grasses and low-lying succulents, the larger leaves backlit by the sun so they seem to glow.

Standing on the walkway at the top of the cliff, we look out to two small, rocky islands known as The Brothers, just off shore. A lighthouse stands sentinel behind us. Unsurprisingly, these waters have claimed a number of ship.

There’s also a colony of seals, which we smell long before we see. It’s like the worst BO ever, incongruous with the sweet- looking animals basking below us on the rocky shore. One of the little pups flops about, disturbing a large male which briefly gives chase, barking in annoyance. In the protected pools at the water’s edge, some small seals splash and swim, waving a fin in the air.

I’m distracted by the stench as I follow the walkway around a corner, coming face to face with a dramatic archway beneath the cliff. This is Admirals Arch, created by thousands of years of erosion. The upper edge hangs jagged, like stalactites, and the surf is visible through the opening, pounding the rocks on the other side. It’s a spectacular surprise.

Admirals Arch, on Kangaroo Island, was formed by the marine environment over thousands of years. Picture: Gemma Nisbet

Perched on a headland just down the road, Remarkable Rocks is another reminder of the incredible power of this environment to shape the landscape.

Said by some to resemble a camel from a distance, up close the cluster of huge granite boulders looks like something from a Dali painting, the sinuous rock formations alternately enveloping us in their folds and framing vistas in their gaps as we wander through. I stand beneath a rock which looks like a wave about to break, peering out at the coastline from beneath the lip of the granite swell.

For lunch, we visit Andermel Marron Farm, where owner John Melbourne cheerfully introduces us to a large marron named Charlie. These crustaceans were introduced to the island about 50 years ago from WA and John has been raising them here, on a former sheep farm, for 16 years.

Although Charlie looks fairly fearsome, with his dark claws and beady little eyes, marron are rather delicate creatures, sensitive to chemicals, high water temperatures and salinity. They also, as John points out as he flips Charlie over, have two penises, which are blue. He talks us through the breeding process, but frankly my attention is too diverted by this bizarre detail to take much of it in.

Andermel also has a vineyard and cafe, so for lunch we tuck into a few of Charlie’s cousins, with John’s Two Wheeler Creek wines.

The wildlife theme continues in the afternoon, as we drive east to Seal Bay. It’s misleadingly named, for we’re here to see the world’s third-largest population of Australian sea lions. Leading us down to the white-sand beach, site manager Alana Binns tells us the sea lions are endangered, threatened by marine pollution. The animals don’t help matters by being less-than-prolific breeders, with their 17½ month gestation period meaning a female will have only five to seven pups in her lifetime, despite the fact she’ll be constantly pregnant and suckling a pup throughout adulthood. “We call them the super-mums of the ocean,” Alana says.

Seal Bay has been a sea lion sanctuary since the 1970s and since the late 80s visitor access has been limited to the boardwalks and guided tours. Visitors are allowed to get no closer than 10m and the animals seem unbothered by our presence, lolling on the sand and stretching their chests in the sitting-up pose of a yogi. Right in front of us, a mother suckles her baby, while a pup ventures towards us to investigate. Alana says sea lions have poor eyesight on land, so we would look like a blurry blob to the little pup. But he seems curious nonetheless, retreating only when a sub-adult male (known as a SAM) slides on to the shore and begins harassing the big bull lying at the centre of the group. He’s cocky — Alana likens him to a stereotypical teenage boy — but he’s no match for the bull, who sees him off with a single show of aggression.

The sea lions are so entertaining I could watch them all day but before long we’re back on the coach to catch the return ferry to Cape Jervis.

On the mainland, as we drive towards Adelaide through the dying light of the day, I think of the pup we saw surfing in the shallows, leaping and diving in the clear, cold water. And as the sun dips below the hills and darkness descends over the landscape, I can’t help but smile at the memory.

FACT FILE

AAT Kings’ South Australian Harvest short break usually runs over five days and is priced from $1795 per adult twin share and $1436 per child. Departures are available from October 28 to March 31. The itinerary includes accommodation, many meals, driver guide, travel by luxury air-conditioned coach and airport transfers. Travel agents or aatkings.com.

Virgin Australia has daily flights between Perth and Adelaide. 136 789 or virginaustralia.com.

The West Australian

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