Road Trip: Adelaide to Sydney
There is something so liberating about a road trip. That feeling of throwing your head scarf into the wind. I don't wear nearly enough head scarves, but I did recently hop a plane to Adelaide on a Friday afternoon without my kids and husband, and it felt almost the same. Not so much joy, but sheer weightlessness. It was beautiful for about a half hour, before I started missing them. When I'd finished shopping.
I was on my way to meet my Mum in Adelaide. She was in the middle of a road trip to explore Kangaroo Island with her friend Deb (wearing Thelma & Louise T-shirts no less). After the island, Deb had to get back for work so I flew down to share the drive home to Sydney.
Mum put me in charge of choosing a couple of places to stay along the way and then I guess she crossed her fingers because my efforts as travel agent in the past have been a bit hit-and-miss. I once booked the wrong date for a water taxi in NZ and the whole family was left shivering on a wharf in the middle of the Malborough Sound as dark fell. These days, I'd Instagram it. It's a pretty place. Back then, no one saw the funny side for a long time.
My Mum and I have done some fantastic trips together. We're good travel mates and she doesn't look at me funny any more when I plan our stops around what restaurants and cafes I want to visit. She has been doing a few road trips lately so I bought her a book, Gourmet Touring Around Australia, to take on this one. You know, so she could do her own little version of Food Safari. Maybe she didn't quite get the point because she left it at home. So I went to her house and got it and brought it with me on the plane.
As much as we both would've loved swanning around the Barossa Valley for the weekend, we had 1500kms to cover in two and a bit days, which meant we swept through the Barossa after 45 minutes and entered the Riverland as the sun began to set.
This is old bushranger country, red-earthed and knarled but with its own spooky beauty. It follows the Murray River and its network of backwaters, and is renowned for its bountiful crops, orchards and vineyards. Also, birds. Native ones. The wetlands and their eerie, finger-like trees are home to a lot of them. If you're into bird watching, this is the perfect place for you. I prefer to admire anything with feathers from a (significant) distance or at least be separated from it by a pane of glass. With this in mind, choosing to stay right on the water at Pike River Villas was risky.
But I took one look at the view and got over the phobia. It was so quiet. The sort of quiet where you can hear a hush of breeze before you feel it. And the morning light was so clear, and the air so clean, it felt good just to breathe. And slow down a little.
The villas were exactly what we were after - big luxurious log cabins in the middle of nowhere. We stayed in the Water apartment, which had two bedrooms off a main living area and a fully equipped kitchen with provisions for a simple breakfast. I especially liked the bathrooms, off each bedroom, with their stone and timber details and huge rain shower heads. The power and water supplies to the villas and the nearby Woolshed are powered by an onsite solar farm, so I could feel good about standing under said shower. The views of the river from the outdoor decks are lovely and each villa has a private jacuzzi. I know, fancy! If you are looking for a bit of romance after a hard day's vineyard hopping, Pike River ticks all the boxes.
Pike Creek Rd
Day two, we headed over the border into Victoria and drove for an hour or so past countless roadside stalls and honesty boxes with their little blackboards shouting of almonds, olives, all manner of citrus fruit, table grapes and honey. If it wasn't for the dead straight road and the odd gum tree, we could've been somewhere in Tuscany. There was even the occasional fountain.
We stopped in Mildura for our morning coffee fix. The Touring Guide pointed us to Stefano's cafe/bakery and instantly proved it was worth its baggage weight. Stefano de Pieri, chef and author of A Gondola on the Murray, is an institution in this town, along with his restaurant and bakery.
A latte and a delicious cannoli (one end filled with vanilla custard, the other chocolate) was not enough. I had to have some of their house baked beans with bacon and poached eggs. They were pretty fabulous, in their terracotta bakeware, eaten in the sun under a canopy of red and orange leaves. I could've been greedy Miss Piglet and bought one of everything in the cabinet (I still regret not trying the coffee cake) but instead we were sensible and left with takeaway ham, salad and chutney rolls. I did grab a jar of Stefano's beetroot and apple relish and a tub of famed Murray River pink salt, both of which I have been putting to good use ever since.
For our second night, I chose the charming Wisteria Cottage in Narrandera, in the NSW Riverina. With not much going on in town, we decided on a simple pizza from Venice Pizza in the main street and settled into the cozy living room in front of the TV with a bottle of Tasmanian Pinot Noir and a huge pile of the owners' Vogue Living magazines. Mrs Owner is an interior designer with her own rather fabulous homewares store on the QLD Sunshine Coast, and her taste is impeccable. Look at the pretty...
It was like staying in an outpost of The Country Trader for the night. The two bedrooms were large and beautifully furnished with rustic, homely pieces. I very much liked the huge fluffy towels and handmade soaps. It's the little things, isn't it. After a good sleep in our queen beds, we woke refreshed and ready to tackle the home stretch back to Sydney. We bought our own breakfast supplies this time and were soon on our way, once again in search of coffee.
Absolutely nothing was open on a Sunday morning in Narrandera, so we drove towards Wagga Wagga and deferred to the ever-wise Touring Guide which pointed us to Premium Coffee Roasters, a little cafe tucked in a back street with a sort of cult following. The coffee was good and strong, and we felt quite hip and in-the-know as car loads of locals kept pulling up.
On we drove, and in between hours of girly gossiping and empire building, we ate cold pizza somewhere around Goulburn on the freeway. And then it was time to pull in and recharge in the Southern Highlands.
We stopped in Berrima because of its proximity to the freeway, which is very close, but you'd never know it. I'm going to sound like I need a grey rinse, but how lovely is Berrima! The little village is packed with homewares, foody and antique shops, and loads of cafes. We had afternoon tea at Stones Patisserie, a french-inspired bakery/tea room opened earlier this year by chefs Mark and Megan Stone, and I was in pastry heaven. Fresh hot jam doughnuts rolled in sugar sat across from chunky dark chocolate brownies which were next to a pile of peanut butter chocolate s'mores. My goodness. It's a testament to how much I can't resist a fluffy looking scone that we opted to share a Devonshire tea.
The scones didn't disappoint. We took the peach Danish thingy home because sometimes, particularly after sitting in a car all day, I have to put a leash on my inner Miss Piglet. Also in the doggy bag: one of those doughnuts and a peanut butter s'more for Mr LP as a small thank you and a sweetener for next time. I hear Margaret River or Tasmania could be on the cards!!