Coonawarra Wine Region

When visiting the south coast of Australia I thought it would be a good idea to visit one of the wine regions in the area to challenge my poor opinion of Australian wines.

Two popular wine regions I read about are the McLaren Vale and the Coonawarra region. I decided to choose the Coonawarra region due to its proximity to caves.

Working title: “Australia is closed for the holidays/fire/whatever”

I misread my check-out time of the Airbnb in Port Fairy and rush to put all my crap into the car when the owner arrives to clean for the next guest. Thank goodness I didn’t have to carefully pack my backpack -> one great advantage to having a car for a week.

Before I leave Port Fairy I do a stop at the beach there, beautiful as is the rest of the coast.

I continue my drive watching as the temperature gage slowly rises in Celsius. Watching temperature rising seems to be the theme of the next two days, as well as watching news of the Australian fires. Although the fires are getting worse, they are not yet affecting the regions I am at.

Temps go up to 99 F (37 C) during my commute to the next location.

I am staying in a bubble tent for two nights at Coonawarra Bush Holiday Park.

Due to popularity the holiday park has purchased some new tents. Some of the older tents are in need of repair and are not in use this evening. The campsite is installing a new one for me and it isn’t ready yet.

My package deal includes wine and chocolate. I throw them both in the camp refrigerator for later so they don’t go bad.

While they are setting up my bubble tent I head into the nearby town (Penola) thinking I can find a restaurant but nothing seems to be open. Either everything closes early in this sleepy town or I am here off season. Even the grocery closes early (7 pm!). I need to pick up some food for the night before I lose that opportunity as well. I find out later that if I want a better selection of restaurants and stores I need to drive 30 minutes further to Naracoorte.

The disappointment I feel of things being closed seems to be a common theme in this area. Many good wineries exist in Coonawarra but the region is insufficiently able to handle tourism (local or foreign). Some of my bad luck is caused by traveling in the slow period before Christmas where everything comes to a halt. I wish I would have known but I am not sure more research would have told me this information ahead of time. I do stop at one winery cellar door for a quick tasting before grocery shopping – Patrick’s of Coonawarra – and I am the only one in the tasting room during my time there.

I head back to the campsite with my groceries and try to find room in one of the two refrigerators for my groceries in the camp kitchen (side note – finding room in shared refrigerators becomes a frequent activity I participate in while van camping in NZ but more about that later).

My tent is now ready and the air conditioner works on cooling the tent. In time I find it is way too hot to lounge inside the tent with the sun during the day; there is an air condition unit and wine chiller but they are no match for the heat. The bubble tents are really more appropriate during cooler months, not in the middle of an Australian heat wave.

There are vineyards next to me and I have a nice view of the sunset. The top of the bubble gives me an semi-obstructed view of the stars and moon.

On the right is camping bathroom. I use to pee once or twice but really I preferred walking the distance to the bathrooms in the campsite.
wine fridge, filter water, and air conditioning

There are privacy curtains but they don’t seem to work well. I use my hairclips to try to hold them together.

Things get fun when the sun sets. There are mood lights in the tent. Luckily it cools down without the sun. Between the darkness and air conditioning it becomes comfortable to sleep. The previous generation of tents were held up by pressure inside but these are held up by inflation of the pentagon shapes into a sphere. The AC combined with the outside air did still cause some pressurization and some of the Velcro sections would frequently come detached as a result (like the door on the “privacy room”). Despite the inconveniences it is a fun and unique experience and I would do it again sans heat.

The next morning I cook breakfast on the camp grill. the food I cook is included in the package deal I had booked.

The rational for staying in this region is for the Coonawarra Wine Trail. The wine trail is group of wineries that are all in walking distance of each other. The camp site I am staying at is supposed to have a van that will drop me off at parking at one of the wineries and pick me up later in the day. I organize a ride in advance but when it is time for me to leave the driver is no where to be found. I wait for a while for the driver who seems to be off doing errands but I am getting very hungry so I head out to get lunch. The first restaurant I stop at is closed. I am not sure if I missed opening hours or it is closed for the day since there is no sign stating the status, just a person inside who motions for me to leave because they are closed. I am disappointed because it is one of only couple choices in the area. I additionally try the nearby general store which advertises to-go lunches. The gentleman working looks at me like I have two heads when I ask for a take away lunch since they have nothing appropriate for that.

My last hope is buying a fancy lunch at a winery ten minutes away. I am crossing my fingers it is available.

And it is.

Hollick Estates

From there I move onto the wine tastings at the wine walk but I have to be super careful and discriminatory about what I taste since I will have to drive myself back eventually. I know there are wine tours because I see wine vans it’s just they are not heavily advertised like one would expect in a wine region. I have no idea how I could have booked one of them.

Finally I get to the wine walk and the first winery I try to visit Brand’s Laira is unexpectedly closed for the day and it’s not even 2 PM – This is the second time I get hit with “it is the slow season so we’ll just close when we want”. They do have a small wine history path on site where I get a little history lesson of the area.

But I am here to sample wines so I move on to the next winery in the wine walk

It is hot by the way. It isn’t a cool comfortable stroll.


I head to Wynns where I get to try some Pedro Ximenez. I spend some time chatting with the very friendly lady providing the wine samples. I am a fan of this winery, too bad I already have too many bottles to travel with or I would buy more.

They have a nice exhibit on the history of the winemaker, the area, and winemaking in the area. I learn about local soil conditions.

Finally I make quick stops at both the DiGiorgio and Rymill wineries. I try a limited amount of those since it is getting late in the afternoon and I want to make it back to my campsite.



Rymill has a chardonnay I don’t mind the taste of.

It is almost Christmas here in Coonawarra

I head back to the campsite where I find the air conditioning unit in my tent does nothing to fight the sun. I feel my body cooking in the tent. I’m pretty much stuck outside waiting for the sun to disappear which isn’t until close to 8:00 PM or later. I’m hanging out out in the covered lounge area at the campsite drinking some wine, planning future travels, and catching up on family and friends back home. It was a dumb decision to book a bubble tent during the hottest time of year. By the way yesterday was the hottest day on record for Australia so I have impeccable timing.

I think that if I come back to South Australia it won’t be during their summer and I’ll probably give McLaren Vale a chance instead.

More Great Ocean Road Australia

I have just left my wildlife retreat. Currently (December 2019) Australia is experiencing an outbreak of fires. I start actively watching for news updates because the fires escalate day by day. I may need to alter travel plans or even leave the country.

Today I am heading to an airbnb in Port Fairy Victoria. I am staying in an adorable cottage for the night and stopping at some sights along the way.

Gibson’s steps

My first stop of the day is Gibson’s steps.

The steps provide a pathway down to a beautiful beach. Today the Gibson steps are closed due to storm damage and erosion. I just soak up the view up top instead.

Great Ocean walk

From the parking lot I notice a trail marker for the Great Ocean Walk. I read later that that it is an 100k scenic walk along the coast. Today I only walk a little bit of the trail since I hadn’t prepared for a long hike.

12 Apostles

I head back to my car for the short drive to the twelve apostles, a collection of limestone rocks off the coast.

I plan to head to the next rock formation down the road, Loch Ard Gorge, but I see a sign for a cheese and food trail and suddenly decide it is more important to follow that trail then to stop at any other roadside wonders.

12 Apostles Food Artisans

I follow the road with the food trail signs until I get to the first stop Apostle Whey Cheese. I skip the chocolate stop (Gorge Chocolates). I know you must be thinking there something wrong with me but I prefer a block of cheese over a chocolate bar 99% of the time.

I partake in a cheese sampler, tour the grounds and purchase to cheese to go.

I also pick up an official copy of the food map.

I head off to the next location but stop to look at some cows on the way.

I am heading to a brewery nearby, Sow and Piglets Production Brewery. From the website it appears that they sell sausages and such to eat. Beer samples and sausages sound good to me. When I arrive I find the brewery is closed for tastings. I must have arrived off season. If I want to try the beers I have to go to their microbrewery location in town.

Instead I head to the town of Timboon. My first stop is Timboon Railway Shed Distillery. It is a whisky distillery and restaurant. I try a couple whisky samples and then sit down for a late lunch.

Slow cooked beef over potato cake

I finally try a sow & piglet beer.

Right around the corner is an ice cream shop. I head over to Timboon Fine Ice Cream where they have some unique and fun flavors (at least to this American).

I order one scoop of Orange & Cardamon and one scoop of Rhubarb & raspberry. I really love the flavors.

After my ice cream I head back on the road. I plan to go straight to my Airbnb but I drive by Cheese World and I cannot help stopping.

They have Meredith Dairy in stock. I first learned about Meredith Dairy in central Florida where a local cheese monger sells the marinated goat cheese feta. It probably is one of the best cheeses I have ever tasted. Meredith Dairy cheese is produced in Victoria; in fact I emailed the farm to see if they gave tours before my trip and sadly they do not. In the USA we import the feta but some of their other products are new to me. I pick up some cheese to take back to my cottage tonight.

I check out the cheese store’s wine collection which is unfortunately heavy on the not so great wines we can already try in the USA. Luckily I already have some bottles I purchased a couple days prior.

I head to my cottage in Port Fairy to rest for the evening. It is an adorable cottage named Elizabeth Margaret Brady Cottage built in 1860.

There is charming bedroom and a cozy living room with a working gas fireplace that I use that evening.

The cottage can hold a small family. There is an attached area with another bedroom and bathroom. It is a pretty large place all to myself. There is also a washer on sight. I am happy to be able to do laundry.

additional bedroom and mini kitchen

There is complementary wine. I can add it to my wine and cheese tasting for the evening.

I prepare some snacks and a cheese plate and relax by the fire for a evening. Today has been a great day.

Fauna Australia Wildlife Retreat

My lodging for tonight is at Fauna Australia Wildlife Retreat (Update: currently closed due to COVID).

The retreat rescues and rehabilitates animals. Guests can stay at the retreat and learn about their rescue efforts while also supporting the organization by paying to stay at the retreat.

There are a set of rooms accessible from outside the retreat but my lodging is in a cabin inside the retreat. There is a deer that follows me to my cabin.

The retreat technically doesn’t rescue deer but the story is that this guy just showed up and hasn’t gone away since.

The cabin is family sized and big for just me but it is all that is available at the time of booking.

I drop my bags and take a couple carrots to go meet some animals on site.

On my first day I only notice the caged koalas. I find out the next day that most of the koalas on site are able to roam free and the caged are baby koalas that don’t have the intelligence to not wander off and get hurt; they are enclosed for their protection. The adults stick around because they are fed regularly.

Fenced in area.

Creepy deer that follows me everywhere. I am getting stalked for my carrots.

I have a stalker

After handing out some carrots I go back to my cabin to settle in before I head out to see glow worms tonight.

Melba Gully Glow Worms

There is a short drive from the retreat to the Melba Gully Day Visitor Area (Great Otway National Park). Tonight I want to see glow worms since there is only a few places in the world you can view them. Glow worms (Arachnocampa otwayensis) are the bioluminescent larvae of small flies seen at night only along the stream banks and walking tracks.

I am a terrible judge of when nightfall is. I arrive to the Melba Gully trail and I am the only car there. It is still light outside but the sun is setting. I am starting to question that this solo visit is a good idea. I gather my headlamp and head down the path anyway.

I arrive at a clearing where I get a nice view of dusk.

I take the walking track toward the glowworm viewing.

One of the walkway paths

I am walking on a path through a rainforest. It is damp and I see a stream of water and listen to its meditative flow. Darkness unfolds. It is almost pitch back except for a slight bit of sunsetting light. I can’t see what is around me but I hear water flowing below and the sound of something moving around in the dark maybe; or maybe I just the hear water hitting rocks, or maybe it is an animal. Almost an hour has passed and I am still out here alone. This seems to be turning out to be another one of those “this isn’t the best idea and I could get murdered” situations; I have had a few of these traveling solo but have been lucky thus far. I walk back and forth along the boardwalk and start spotting a glow worm or two as it finally darkens. They are hard to see but I start picking them out.

I don’t have the right camera for taking pictures of glow worms but I do capture a couple.

Can you see it?
How about these guys????

They are really cool to see but I just can’t stick around. I have already been here over an hour all alone. I am scared and feel like I am pressing my luck as far as safety is concerned. As I take the return journey I walk by a couple arriving, and then a family, and then another. I have already made it so far back on the trail and feel committed to leaving. I return to my car even though it most likely it would have been safe to stay at this point. At least I see SOME glow worms….and luckily I’ll get another chance in New Zealand.

I drive back to the retreat. It is getting chilly so looking forward to cuddling under blankets tonight. I do spot this nocturnal guy on my walk back.

Sorry for flashing light in your eyes lil buddy

The next morning I wake up early as I always do. They have a set checkout time and I have a while to wait so I walk around the grounds greeting some more animals and handing out the rest of my carrots.

creepy flying foxes giving me the eye

The Kangaroos

On my way out I get to meet some of the retreat staff members and have a meet and greet with the three naughty baby koalas. I learn many things about koalas.

I like how they don’t encourage guests to handle the animals. They seem to do a good job with rehabilitation.

Below is a little video of all the animals I see….

This lodging is a unique experience. I am so glad I found it.

Great Ocean Road Australia

I have my rental car ready and I am heading out along the coast for a road trip. In my research I found that a drive down Great Ocean road is a must. A road trip along great ocean road is the plan. I am starting from Melbourne (or Lancefield – guesthouse location) and will ultimately end up in Adelaide where I will return my rental car.

I drove near Hanging Rock yesterday so I am not a total novice to driving on “the wrong side of the road” but I admit I am a little nervous on driving on curvy cliff-side roads in traffic. I will drive slowly and cautiously. Hopefully locals won’t want to kill me for backing up traffic.

My little car seems to do well. Things do get a little curvy at some points but I make it through ok.

As soon as I reach the coast I am rewarded with beautiful views. My first stop is in Torquay for some lunch. I originally planned for lunch at another restaurant in another town but I discovered the restaurant I originally wanted to dine at is closed for the day. I instead stop at Fishos for some fish and chips.


It takes me longer than usual to order because I have never had any of the types of fish on the menu. I ask the cashier lots of questions to get an idea of the different fish types and how to compare them to fish I know. I settle on one finally and of course order it fried – because fried. I like the nice little outdoor area. The weather is perfect.

Weirdo birds that just lay in the grass like this. Must be nesting.

I am parked across the street at a park that overlooks the water. I walk along the trail, taking in the views. I notice many birds along the way.

I drive on but stop on my way to Lorne to get some spectacular views of the coast.


I stop at Lorne to take some pictures. I enjoy the shale-like flat rocks and watching surfers at the beach. It looks like a nice area. I would have liked to spend a night here and explore a little more.

Lorne Beach

Again I am on my way and stop at another lookout.

I slowly move away from the coast as I head to my final destination for the day north of the Great Otway National Park. Oh how I wish I scheduled more days on this drive. There are so many areas I would have loved to explore more….

Hanging Rock

Hanging Rock, Woodend, Victoria, Australia

Today I fly into Melbourne to start my journey of Victoria and South Australia. I am arriving in the early evening so I decide to book a hotel near the airport for the evening and pick up my rental car in the morning. When I walk outside to meet my hotel shuttle I am very happy to be greeted with temperatures of 680F (200C). I am in heaven. I spent the last couple months sweating non-stop but now I am finally in my favorite temperatures. I love Melbourne already and I haven’t even left the airport.

I have a dinner in the hotel restaurant and then leave early in the morning to pick up my rental car. A new adventure is starting, I have never driven on left side of the road nor the right side of the car. I am nervous but I am up for the challenge.

I take a little while to make sure I am familiar with the car and all the gadgets. I have also sprung for the GPS like I did in Spain; I make sure to have all my coordinates inputted.

Soon I am off on the road. I am nervous but I drive slower and stay in the slow lanes. Traffic gets thick in some places but luckily it is not too bad. My drive is less than an hour. I can do it!

It is almost mid day when I arrive at Hanging Rock, my main destination for the day. I could have visited this site on my way to other travels but I don’t like to rush my travel – especially when I am traveling alone. I plan to visit Hanging Rock and then stay the night in the area.

Why do I choose to visit Hanging Rock do you ask? Besides it being a very interesting looking rock structure, I also have a family connection of sorts. I recently have lost my aunt who died a horrible slow death at a relatively young age. In the 1970’s she went to see the mystery movie Picnic at Hanging Rock in the movie theater with my grandmother and they both loved the film. My aunt had communicated that to me in the past so I watched the movie on my own and was drawn to the film as well. Viewing the movie made me want to visit the sight where it is filmed. I spent some time helping my aunt convalesce in Las Vegas in the year prior to this trip. Unfortunately she died a couple months later but during my time with her the new series Picnic at Hanging Rock came out. I was able to watch the series with my aunt not knowing that is the last time I would get to spend any kind of quality time with her before she died. So you can say I have an emotional connection to this place and the visit is a pilgrimage of sort.

I walk up a concrete path where the view of the rocks gets clearer the closer I get. In the movie the girls walk through brush and cross streams. I have a nice paved path that takes me straight there.

Once at the top I enjoy the views below.

I notices the crevices between the rocks so I do some exploring.

I also do a slight bit of rock scrambling but really it is just me sliding down some rocks on my butt.

I come to an area where I am alone and only hear bees buzzing, it is very ominous. This is where I feel like I could have been part of a movie scene.

bees buzzing

More crevices….

Some rocks to sit on to enjoy the view. I see farms and maybe alpacas or llamas in the distance.

I start my descent back down where I actually see hanging rocks. I chose the smooth flat uphill path on the way up and taking the stairs on the way down. I am glad I chose that method.

There is a short trail around the rock formation. I take the trail around the loop. I seem to be the only one taking the trail. I hear nature and get other views of the hanging rock.

As I drive away I stop to take photos from another angle.

It is a nice visit. I wish I would have brought a picnic and bottle of wine to truly live out a picnic at hanging rock. If you haven’t see the original movie it is an interesting watch.

I check into my guesthouse twenty minutes away at Lancefield Guest House. I do a self check-in and don’t see another soul there until the next morning. I feel like I have the whole place to myself for the night.

At the guesthouse I see a list of the activities in the area and I spot a couple wineries close by that are still open for the day. I rush out to visit some cellar doors (cellar doors are what tasting rooms are called in Australia).

Here is my little note about what I know about Australian wines: In my opinion the majority wines we import in the United States from Australia are the most horrible wines ever. I am coming into my wine journey of Australia with low expectations.

WOW am I surprised!

I start my tasting at Cleveland Winery.

I am pleasantly surprised with my tastings. The first two are sparkling wines which I generally avoid due to headaches but they are quite good. I even like the chardonnay I sample and it is hard for me to find a chardonnay I like. Even though I didn’t think I am a fan of the style, the shiraz wine is pleasant to me. I pick up a bottle or two of wine to take back with me. I wouldn’t normally buy bottles while I am traveling but I will be traveling by car for about a week so no worries about carrying bottles on my back.

The hostess at Cleveland recommends a couple more wineries in the area. I only have time (and alcohol tolerance) for one more so I visit Curly Flat.

It is a terrific recommendation. The wines are more expensive but pretty good. I also pick up two bottles here – one I mean to take to my cousin when I visit him in Sydney. Sadly (for him) the wine never made it to Sydney. I couldn’t resist opening it a week later.

I head back to my hotel and walk to get dinner.

my hotel in the distance

I walk to Lancefield Hotel to get dinner. They are all booked for the night at their nicer sit down dining (reservations only) but I am able to order food at the bar. I order the not so healthy prawn and chicken in garlic cream sauce. It seems like it might be the Australian version of comfort food. I sleep well after that meal.

Garlic Prawn Chicken

I am staying in a sleepy area so there is not much to do after dinner. I head back to my room and get some rest.

Tomorrow I start my road trip!