Middling along in South Australia

South Australia is situated in the middle of Australia south of the Northern Territory, and its coastline makes up part of the Great Australian Bight, which does look like someone has bitten a giant piece out of Australia.

It is the fourth largest of Australia’s six states and two territories; it has boundaries with every state and territory except Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.  South Australia has a population of just 1.6 million, most of who live in South Australia’s Capital, Adelaide.  South Australians are given the nickname crow eaters, I have no idea why they are called that, but Adelaide is home to one of the world’s most unusual meals, a little dish that you eat standing up at the counter of a pie van called a pie floater.  This remarkable dish consists of a meat pie spread lavishly with tomato sauce, or ketchup as some people call it, then turned upside down and plopped into a bowl of thick pea soup.  Although getting a mention in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, this dish has not yet captivated the palates of the world so remains popular only in Adelaide, where no doubt it will remain for a very long time to come.

South Australia is unique in Australian history in that there was never an attempt to start a penal colony there, so it was settled by those who chose to make the voyage to start new lives. As a result, many of the early settlers were of German origin and they recognised that the land just outside of Adelaide would be perfect for grape growing.  Today, thanks to that German inspiration, South Australia is home to some of Australia’s best wines, and over half of all wines produced in Australia are made here, also much of the wine is exported overseas.

Much of South Australia is arid rangeland, but there are also pockets of mountainous country, one of which is the Flinders Ranges, home to a huge natural amphitheatre called Wilpena Pound.  The south east portion of South Australia used to be an area of intense volcanic activity, but now just a few water-filled extinct craters can be found around the town of Mount Gambier.  The south west is dominated by the Nullarbor Plain, so named because it lacks trees, and when you traverse it you see kilometre after kilometre of not much which, far from being boring as you may expect it to be, is actually quite fascinating.

Mining also plays a significant role in keeping the local economy buoyant, and Olympic Dam has the world’s largest single supply of uranium, with 40% of the world’s reserves in the one area, it also has significant amounts of copper and gold.  Coober Pedy is another unusual mining centre, because it is rich in the gems called opals, but it is better known as the town that is built underground – simply because the most efficient type of insulation in this hot area is earth, so the original miners just burrowed underground to live, and that tradition exists today.    

One of the rarely seen South Australian attractions is Lake Eyre – the world’s largest salt lake. However, it’s mostly just salt, but it has been known to fill up just three times in last 150 years.  When it is dry, not much exists there, but when it becomes an inland sea Lake Eyre teems with both birds and fish.

At the other end of the scale is verdant Kangaroo Island.  This was voted by National Geographic Traveler Magazine to be the world’s best island for sustainable tourism.  A short ferry ride from the mainland, it is chock full of amazing beaches, lush forests, mighty dunes and highly productive farmland.

Australia’s longest river, the Murray, ends its journey from the Australian Alps to the sea in South Australia.  It is also a popular spot for tourists, and a cruise along the Murray, whether onboard a luxury paddle steamer, or moving at your own pace on board a houseboat, brings its own rewards.  Along the Murray you’ll some of Australia’s most productive orchards and vineyards, but you’ll also cruise past steep cliffs on your leisurely journey up or down stream.

South Australia is generally underrated as a travel destination, but it is often the case that those places which don’t seem to offer much can be the most surprisingly interesting places to visit.  South Australia offers just that, from the great gourmet and cultural experiences that are available in Adelaide and the wine regions to sedate cruising on the Murray, or that perfect outback adventure in the Flinders Ranges, you will find an experience to always remember.

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