Danielle Wright tours from Melbourne to South Australia sampling the iconic wines of the Barossa Valley, bush tucker along the Great Ocean Road and farm gate produce.

It's 9am in leafy Adelaide and already it's 32C. It's a dry heat and, in fact, South Australia is the driest state on the driest continent on Earth. This, it seems, makes it the ideal growing environment for all manner of food and wine and I'm travelling with a coach-load of Brits, Dutch, Kiwis, Koreans and a few Sydneysiders to experience all it has to offer.

The day before, we travelled along the zig-zaggy Great Ocean Road from Melbourne. The seaside village of Apollo Bay offered up award-winning scallop pies and Tower Hill volcanic reserve showcased Australia's bush tucker. It's there we try Yulu tea, a sweet blend of indigenous ingredients including lemon myrtle, aniseed myrtle, wild lime, wild rosella and Davidson's plum. It's the perfect fruity pick-me-up after a long drive and is described by our guide, Shannon, as the bush's "daily detox".

He also describes how his Gunditjmara Aboriginal ancestors saw more than just trees in the bush landscape. They saw their supermarket and chemist store in the foliage. He explains his people's classification of five seasons and four plant groups and talks of the medicinal qualities of the plants, such as bush tomatoes, which have contraceptive properties.

He crushes up native bush mint for us to smell the pungent, cleansing aroma before offering us a taste of wattle icecream, which he says is "better for you than brown rice and much tastier". It has a delicious coffee walnut flavour. He also makes wild celery icecream, which tastes like French vanilla with a crunch.


Not only were the plants useful in food and for healthcare, they were also markers of the seasons. For example, Shannon tells us if the Wattle trees flower it's a good day to catch crayfish and eels.

The experience leaves me with a real respect for the bush tucker, the medicinal plants and the knowledge passed down through indigenous Australian culture, the oldest living cultural history in the world, estimated to be at least 50,000-60,000 years old.
The next day, with an eye for European foodie heritage, we're in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, renowned for its 150 wineries and an emphasis on shiraz. It's easy to spot when you're getting close, because there are rows of grapes as far as the eye can see. There are quaint historic towns dotted around the countryside and one visitor to the valley in the 1830s sent reports home to England saying the Barossa was, "the cream, the whole cream and nothing but the cream".

One of the delights of the region for me is Maggie Beer's farm shop, set among quince and olive orchards along Pheasant Farm Road. It was started by the self-taught cook, author and "grandmother of Australian food" on a much smaller scale in 1979. In the shop, we taste test everything from tangy dried apricots in verjuice to melt-in-your-mouth salted brandy caramel sauce. You can pick up a picnic basket then take a walk around a pond filled with curious turtles. Daily verjuice and vino cotta cooking demonstrations are performed in a country kitchen lover's paradise at the back of the farm shop, complete with stacks of vintage china placed neatly in a pale blue cabinet. It's just how you wish every farm gate could be.

For lunch, we head to The South Australian Company Store with its beautiful heritage stone cottages, originally two army barracks with iron marks still burnt into the floor from when the soldiers ironed their uniforms.

Despite the 40C heat, many on the tour can't go past the hot Kangaroo and Shiraz Pie - you can't get more South Australian than that. Dutch Johnny and Maurice nickname it "Skippy on a Plate" and when it arrives, they wonder where the boomerangs are hidden. Canadian Brian also devours it and enthusiastically comments that he'd have it again, describing kangaroos as tasting like spicy beef. For me, it's exotic, but for these men, they can buy kangaroo back home in Holland - where there are kangaroo farms - and in Canada, where it sits next to bison in the stores.

Next, we're at the large airy Jacob's Creek vineyard for a tour. I'm drawn to the original 1920s sampling case on display, once used by Hugo Gramp (grandson of the founder) when he performed wine tastings. It lacks pretension and reminds me there must have been a time when people made wine to make a living, rather than to create a brand and foodie fame.

In front of the Jacob's Creek restaurant, there's a small patch of grapes set up for tastings straight off the vines before the inside wine tasting begins. It's an interesting way to experience the 14 varieties from viognier to pinot noir as we compare their sweetness and thickness of skin. It explains more about the wines than just a straight wine tasting, where I'm usually focused on whether I like the wine or not.

After the Barossa, we take a ferry ride to pristine Kangaroo Island. It's the third biggest island in Australia and seven times the size of Singapore. It's so large, it even has a highway.

We visit Andermel Marron Farm, where we're shown live marron, the island's prized freshwater crayfish, whose flesh is sweeter and more delicate than their salt-water cousins. The accompanying chilled Two Wheeler Creek wine tastes of the nearby coast: salty, fresh and full of character.

Alongside the stunning seafood, Kangaroo Island is also blessed with locally produced cheeses, the smoothest Ligurian wildflower honey, award-winning botanical gin and cider made with local apples. It would take more than 48 hours to get to all the farm gates.

Back on the mainland, our last stop is Adelaide Central Market, the largest fresh produce market in the Southern Hemisphere.

The sense of history abounds and we find 1950s businesses unchanged, as well as stalls with photographs of their businesses long ago - such as the 110 year-old Blackeby's sweet shop selling Golden North icecream, close to the hearts of Adelaideans.

On a short tour we're told about the long-standing market families. One is Lucia's Pizza Bar, which was opened in 1957 as a stall for Lucia (an immigrant from Southern Italy) to sell the Italian food so unusual to Australia back then. Every market day for the rest of her life she would come to the stall and make the sauces and doughs. Her daughters Maria and Nicky now carry on her traditional recipes and grandchildren opened the charcuterie next door.

Stories such as this abound and there's a United Nations of food stalls, including Dutch licorice, Russian pastries, French fondue, a Latvian lunch room selling herring and egg sandwiches, as well as speciality stores, such one dedicated to selling mushrooms, the "smelly cheese shop", an "exotic fruit shop" selling red bananas and yellow watermelon and The Mettwurst Shop selling the region's hottest sausage - which may or may not be "The Bum Burner'.

The market is very European in feel and as we leave, an accordian player at the entrance squeezes out toe-tapping French tunes. It's a place to which you wish you could return to discover more of its layers, characters and tastes.

Heading back on to the air-conditioned AAT Kings coach for the last time, rain on the window comes as such a surprise one passenger asks what the noise is. South Australia may be Australia's driest state, but the food and wine is flowing like water through its veins.

Getting there:
The Great Ocean Road and Kangaroo Island Escape is a seven-day guided holiday from Melbourne to Adelaide, including meals, sightseeing, accommodation, transport and airport transfers. For more on AAT Kings' guided holidays and short breaks, visit: aatkings.com, 0800 500 146, or ask your travel agent.

The writer travelled courtesy of AAT Kings.