Riding high on SA’s mountain biking destinations

The South Australian landscape is internationally recognised for its unique and striking beauty. From the breathtaking vistas of the Flinders Ranges, to the wild and windswept beaches, or the steep wooded gullies of the Adelaide Hills, there’s something that lifts the spirits and inspires the imagination in just about everyone.

This is definitely the case for Nick Bowman, but with an extra added twist. Because where others see a pretty view, Nick sees trails.

Since he was young, Nick has been an avid mountain bike rider, hooked on the thrill of hurtling downhill, dodging trees, jumping logs and flying by the seat of his pants, powered only by his own legs and gravity.

Nick Bowman designs and constructs mountain bike trails across the state. Photo by Kane Naaraat.

“It’s not just about the excitement,“ Nick says. “It’s almost a kind of meditation for me. With mountain biking, you have to focus. You have to be right in the moment the whole time or you’ll just lose concentration and crash.”

The ongoing pursuit of this feeling naturally led Nick to his chosen profession – the design and construction of world class mountain bike courses, through his business, Destination Trails.

Trained in natural resource and biodiversity management, and with many years working as a landscaper, Nick applies a scientific approach to his work, producing trails that will still be in place generations from now.

“It’s not just about recreation,” he says. “A large proportion of quality trail design focusses on conservation. I believe that a good trail strategy is also a good conservation strategy, and I make sure I apply this in all the projects I’m involved with.”

The down hill mountain biking community in SA is big, with race events attracting overnight stayers. Photo by Kane Naaraat.

The Fox Creek trail network in the Adelaide Hills is a good example of this approach. What began in the mid-90s as a damaged, marginal parcel of forestry land, still struggling to recover a decade after the Ash Wednesday bushfires, is now a thriving mountain biking hub with over 80km of trails crisscrossing a series of gullies filled with native regrowth forest.

Nick, alongside members of his club, The Human Projectiles, has spent countless hours over the years on track construction, weed management and revegetation works. He’s also just in the process of finishing off a new beginners’ loop at the top of the network, funded by the Adelaide Hills Council.

“It’s a great little track,” he says. “Heaps of fun and just challenging enough to keep the kids on their toes, but still safe enough for people of any skill level to use.”

Apart from Fox Creek, Nick and the Destination Trails team have also completed projects at Melrose in the Mid North and Point Turton on the Yorke Peninsula, and they are about to commence work on a collaboration with Murraylands Multisports to expand a trail network in the Kinchina Reserve west of Murray Bridge.

The sun creeps through a forest as a rider makes their way through the rugged landscape. Photo by Kane Naaraat.

Header photo by Kane Naaraat.

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8 beer gardens you have to sit in this summer

The sun is out, the days are getting longer, and did someone say beer garden?

We went in search of the perfect South Australian outdoor oasis, and we found heaps! Here are eight of the best.

Cathedral Hotel – North Adelaide

Have you been searching for a beautiful heritage listed North Adelaide bar with a renovated rooftop? The search is over! The Cathedral took out SA’s Best Pub Burger in the 2016 SA Pub Burger Challenge, so you can be sure the classic pub fare won’t disappoint.

Here’s their menu, we recommend the beef burger and a glass of Jim Barry Watervale Riesling (Clare Valley).

The sun sets over Adelaide from the Cathedral rooftop garden. Image: Cathedral Hotel via Instagram.

The Cathedral Hotel knows burgers. Image: Cathedral Hotel via Instagram.

Hotel Elliot – Port Elliot

Heading to Middleton for a surf? Or perhaps a beachside getaway is calling your name. Either way, this well-frequented local pub located in picturesque Port Elliot has everything you want, with a sensational beer garden to boot.

A  five-minute stroll from Horseshoe Bay and a short walk to whale spotting favourite Freeman Lookout, you can also catch the Cockle Train or Steam Ranger with the Port Elliot Railway Station situated just outside the hotel.

Here’s their menu, we recommend the Coopers Ale battered garfish fillets, served with the Elliot salad, chips and house aioli. Pair with a Coopers Pale Ale of course!

The Hotel Elliot beer garden is waiting for you! Image: Hotel Elliot via Instagram.

Fish and chips on the Fleurieu at Hotel Elliot. Image: Hotel Elliot via Instagram.

The Republic – Norwood

Built in 1880, the Republic Hotel has undergone extensive renovations with sleek results. This beer garden is perfect for a Saturday arvo with the girls after shopping your new summer look on The Parade.

Here’s their bar menu, we recommend the charcuterie board with cured meats, SA olives, cornichons and ciabatta, and pair with an Espresso Martini (or three).

The only thing better than an espresso martini is three espresso martinis. Image: Republic Norwood via Instagram.

Some of the local produce on offer at Republic Norwood. Image: Republic Hotel via Instagram.

Bridgewater Inn – Bridgewater

Only a 20-minute drive from Adelaide, the Bridgewater Inn is the perfect Adelaide Hills escape. Nestled among lush greenery, relax in the garden with unrivalled views of Cox’s Creek.

Here’s their menu, we recommend the Cox chicken breast schnitzel (500g) with one of their signature toppings such as parmigiana (napolitana sauce, cheese and ham),  Mexican (smashed avocado, bacon, jalapeno, sour cream),  Kilpatrick (bacon, Worcestershire sauce and cheese) or garlic prawns in a cream sauce. Match with a Rockford Alicante Bouchet rosé (Barossa Valley), you know it’s a good idea.

Just in case you didn’t know you were in the Adelaide Hills. Image: Bridgewater Inn via Facebook.

These mega schnitzels will make a return visitor out of you, that’s a promise. Image: Bridgewater Inn via Facebook.

The Edinburgh Hotel – Mitcham

Ask anyone in the foothills of Southern Adelaide if they know The Ed, and not only will they know it, they’re probably sitting in its garden as you speak.

The famed Ed garden (renowned colloquially as one of Adelaide’s best) is bordered by pergolas, vines and lush gardens. The fellas love it here (and so do the kids).

Here’s their menu, we recommend The Ed signature flatbreads with heirloom and semi-dried tomato salsa with buffalo mozzarella, basil and pine nut pesto and smoked salmon with capers, feta, avocado, rocket and fresh lemon. Pair with a refreshing local gin and tonic served with citrus.

A family friendly atmosphere that will have you settling in from day to night. Image: The Edinburgh Hotel website.

What’s more refreshing in summer than a gin and tonic? It’s ok, we’ll wait. Image: The Ed via Instagram.

The Feathers Hotel – Burnside 

They won Best Beer Garden in Australia in 2017. Enough said.

Here’s their Terrace menu, we recommend any of the sociable plates, especially where cheese is involved. Match with a Howard Vineyard “Clover” sparkling wine (Adelaide Hills) and welcome, you’ve arrived in paradise.

Weekend goals. Image: supplied.

You had us at sociable plates. Image: supplied.

Parkside Hotel – Parkside

It’s impossible not to salute the Parkside Hotel at how different it is from it’s former state. The recently renovated venue is turning heads as one of the main hangs for South Aussies this coming summer.

And not only is there current beer garden greatness, there is also future beer garden greatness to come! A family friendly outdoor area (separate from main beer garden) on its way with completion due in the next couple of days. There is also another outdoor area which is in the construction phase, due for opening in the coming months.

So make sure you check it out.

Here’s their menu, we recommend the prawn and heirloom tomato pizza with SA king prawns, chilli, rocket and basil paired with an Aperol Spritz.

Your summer hideaway in bustling Parkside. Image: supplied.

What’s a pizza between friends? Image: Parkside Hotel via Facebook.

Port Admiral Hotel – Port Adelaide

This Port Adelaide pub, with its nautical vibes and bustling atmosphere, is quickly gaining a reputation as a bucket list must-see.

Adelaide’s oldest building (established in 1849 on Black Diamond Corner), the Port Admiral is a tip-of-the-hat to SA history and it’s really, really cool.

Here’s their menu, we recommend the Port Admiral fried chicken wings (500g or 1kg) with buffalo, Thai, sweet and sour or barbecue dressing. Pair with an Applewood Distillery whiskey or a Port Local house brew – a collaboration between the Port Admiral and Pirate Life.

The Port Admiral Hotel, Adelaide’s oldest building. Image: Port Admiral Hotel website.

Warning: these wings are addictive. Image: Port Admiral Hotel via Instagram.

Header image features The Feathers Hotel.

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Life reinstated to much-loved Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary

When wildlife lovers David Cobbold and Narelle MacPherson heard that Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary in the Adelaide Hills was for sale, they saw an opportunity to “reinvigorate a national treasure”.

The couple, who own Peel Zoo in Western Australia, packed up their lives and relocated to Mylor in the Adelaide Hills, home of the closed but not forgotten sanctuary once famous for its Australian wildlife conservation efforts.

In September Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary reopened for the first time in more than five years and has since attracted thousands of visitors who come to learn about native wildlife and the environment.

“We’re only into our fifth week and it (visitation) seems to be building quite nicely,” David says.

“Just over the last week we’ve had a couple of hundred people through.”

Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary owners Narelle MacPherson and David Cobbold with four-legged friend, Bear. Photo courtesy of Weekender Herald.

Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary was closed in 2013 after a long history in wildlife conservation and efforts by its founder Dr John Wamsley to eradicate feral pests and restore habitat.

Dr Wamsley purchased the property in 1969, eradicating feral plants and animals and putting up a 2.1m feral-proof fence to keep out roaming cats and foxes.

Warrawong soon became a thriving eco-system with native Australian wildlife, including koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots, potoroos, bettongs and birds.

In 1993, Dr Wamsley made news headlines when he wore a hat made from feral cat skins to make a point about the destruction feral cats have on native wildlife.

The stunt brought about fierce debate between cat lovers and those who believed feral cats were wreaking havoc on native species.

An aerial view of Warrawong, located on Stock Road, Mylor, in the Adelaide Hills.

Eventually Dr Wamsley’s campaign led to a change in feral cat laws, allowing him to legally shoot them in his sanctuary.

Warrawong expanded into Earth Sanctuaries and was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, but later fell into financial difficulty, with Dr Wamsley and wife Proo Geddes leaving in 2005.

The sanctuary has since fallen under ownership of Zoos SA and the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority before it closed to the public in 2013.

It remained that way for the next five years, until David and Narelle heard the property was on the market.

“We heard that Warrawong was coming up, and we thought it wasn’t only interesting from a business point of view, where you think wow, great location, lots of infrastructure, huge potential … but you also realise it’s the cat hat guy, who I saw on TV as a young boy,” David says.

“When you realise that you’re not only hopefully creating a future for your family, but also reinvigorating a national treasure, the birthplace of the feral proof fence … it turns into a little personal crusade.”

Warrawong Wildlife Keeper Erin introduces some of the sanctuary’s friendly locals to visitors.

Now Warrawong is well on its way to being reinstated as a popular tourism destination, with opportunities for animal research and education.

One of the centrepieces is the platypus pond, and David says he envisages plans for platypus research and breeding facilities.

However, he admits there is still much work to be done including ensuring the property is once again free from pests, including a sneaky fox which has made its way onto the property.

“As we speak we have a fox on the property,” David says. “Dr Wamsley finished the (feral proof) fence in 1982 so the youngest part of the fence is 36 years old.”

He says birdwatching has been a popular activity at Warrawong since the reopening, with 110 species spotted so far.

Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary employs about half-a-dozen casual staff, and is about to put on a full-timer.

Warrawong is open to visitors seven days a week.

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Port Augusta’s desert botanic garden flourishes with volunteer spirit

The Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden attracted more than 100,000 visitors last financial year and is helping to reinvent Port Augusta as the “arid garden city”.

The desert botanic garden, which opened in 1996, is regarded as Port Augusta’s top tourism destination and earlier this year was ranked the country’s best regional botanic garden by Australian Geographic magazine.

The 250ha space is owned by the Port Augusta Council, which recorded almost 107,000 visitors to the garden in 2017/18.

The council says the garden’s success is down to the efforts the Friends of the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden, a volunteer group which helps maintain the plants, assists in the running of the onsite nursery, lead guided tours and raise funds.

The volunteer group has raised more than $1m for the garden, while voluntary labour over the past four years is valued at more than $4m.

The group says visitors to the garden contribute $18m to the Port Augusta community, a figure based on research carried out by Tourism Research Australia.

Friends of the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden president John Zwar OAM says the garden is a place for research, serenity and exploration. Photo: ABC Port Pirie.

Friends president John Zwar OAM came up with the concept for an arid botanic garden for Port Augusta in 1981, forming the Friends group in 1994 before the garden was finally opened in 1996.

Located on the shores of the Upper Spencer Gulf and offering stunning views of the Flinders Ranges, the garden features significant areas of natural arid zone vegetation as well as coastal vegetation.

Many of the plant collections feature rare plant species in sections dedicated to particular regions of Australia including the Flinders Ranges, Eyre Peninsula, Central Ranges, Gawler region, and Great Victoria Desert.

John says the garden’s popularity has helped raise the image of Port Augusta, which has faced recent struggles with the closure of the Alinta power plant.

Volunteers put in hours every day to maintain the garden and many of its operations, including the nursery.

“It’s really helped raise the image of the town and people are calling Port Augusta the arid garden city now, whereas it didn’t have this image before,” John says.

“The place, which has gone from being flat for a year or so, has really started to pick up again and I’m hopeful that the garden is safe.

“We now have the world’s largest solar thermal power station going in north of Port Augusta and I think there are another five wind, solar and pumped hydro (projects) going in.

“Port Augusta is a great place to live and there are a lot of positive things about it; it’s a great location near the Flinders, near the sea, and right on the doorstep of the outback.

“Loads of tourists and travellers are passing through and the garden has a captive audience because a national highway – the Stuart Highway – passes right through.

“It’s a really great place to showcase arid zone vegetation and I think tourists really appreciate it.”

Friends of AALBG plant the first tree in 1989. Friends president Dr Gordon Paine, left, Dr Reg Sprigg of Arkaroola, Ian Gilfillan MP, and Brian Powell AM (standing). Photo courtesy of John Zwar.

John says the Friends group has about 400 members including locals and people from around the country and overseas.

About 30 people regularly volunteer on site, he says.

“Without the support of the volunteers, I’m sure the garden wouldn’t have eventuated in the first place and it wouldn’t keep running like it is at present,” John says.

About 160 species of birds, including rare species, can be spotted in the garden and two birdhides provide the perfect place for birdwatchers to observe quietly.

The garden is also home to an award-winning AridSmart section which shows visitors how to use water wise gardening techniques at home.

The Arid Explorers Garden offers a children’s nature play area with a shelter shed, logs, rocks, a dry creek bed and red sand pit.

The Blue Bush Café overlooks stunning scenery. Photo courtesy of AALBG.

Travel and restaurant company TripAdvisor rates the garden’s Blue Bush Café as the second-best restaurant in Port Augusta. Dishes use native produce including lemon myrtle and quandongs.

The garden is also an important place for research with students and researchers conducting studies into the heat tolerance of various arid zone plants.

The Port Augusta Council’s director of corporate and community services, Anne O’Reilly, says the garden is a significant benefit for the regional centre.

She says the Friends group members are valued and passionate ambassadors in the community.

“The garden would not be the success that it is today without the support of the Friends,” Anne says.

The Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden is at 144 Stuart Highway, Port Augusta, and is open daily from 7.30am to sunset.

Children explore the Arid Explorers Garden. Photo courtesy of AALBG.

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Top three spots to ‘glamp’ in SA … and how to do it in style!

We are spoilt for choice when it comes to local holiday destinations in South Australia – be it resorts, holiday homes or caravan parks.

But have you ever thought of glamping?

For the uninitiated, ‘glamping’ is shorthand for glamorous camping, and involves accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those usually associated with traditional camping.

So, pack the car – leave the sleeping bag at home – and set off for one of these top three SA glamping destinations.

A six-course feast with matched wines? Yes please!

1. For the wine lover

Located in the Coonawarra wine region, 7km north of the township, is Bellwether Wines – a boutique winery, community kitchen, cellar door, produce garden and campground.

It’s every wine lover’s dream – stay at a winery and see/experience the wine being made during vintage.

The foodies of the family are also looked after, as you can cook your own meals using fresh herbs and produce from the garden including fresh eggs.

Bellwether Wines also offers you the chance to dine at the ‘Table for Twelve’.

Imagine sitting in an 1868 shearing shed, around a former wool sorting bench turned dining table, ready to enjoy a six-course degustation cooked by your own personal chef, while wines are selected by the winemaker.

The campground features 10 sites, including four with beautiful Bell tents, surrounded by magnificent 500-year-old red gums and a central communal campfire.

Prices start from $200 per night.

You don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to go on safari.

2. For the safari seeker

The Wilpena Pound Resort is an amazing way to escape the ordinary and enjoy outback hospitality and the extraordinary beauty of one of the earth’s oldest landscapes.

While much of the region’s accommodation are located on the outskirts of the Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park, the Ikara Safari Camp is the only accommodation located within the park.

The glamping site features 15 high quality spacious and powered safari tents.

Each tent has an ensuite bathroom, king sized bed, mini bar, reverse cycle air-conditioning and ceiling fan, private deck and fire pit. Accommodation options are available for couples and families.

Breakfast is served daily in the main tent while a lounge area allows guests to relax and socialise.

Prices start from $320 per night.

Get amongst nature in all its glory.

3. For the wilderness warrior

The Gawler Ranges is located 600km north west of Adelaide on the Eyre Peninsula and is home to Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris.

The small family owned and operated business specialises in the wildlife and nature the region has to offer.

Kangaluna Camp – the glamping site – has been developed by owners, Geoff and Irene Scholz, from a lifetime’s experience of trekking and camping.

The luxury safari tents feature two bedrooms, as well as their own bathrooms which use rainwater collected from the site.

The camp also has a central dining room which is a great place to relax, socialise and enjoy nature at its harmonious best.

Top five tips for glamping in style

1. Pack a capsule wardrobe of basics in neutral colours that mix and match. We’re talking t-shirts, tank tops, shorts and a light jacket for cool evenings.

2. Bring footwear that’s functional and fashionable. Good quality hiking boots and sneakers for daytime adventures and the old faithful flip-flops for when you need to throw something on in a hurry are your best bet.

3. Hats are stylish but also sun smart. We all remember the ‘no hat, no play’ policy at school and it goes without saying it’s a philosophy we should still be following as adults. Pack a hat or two to wear on your glamping getaway such as a wide-brimmed straw hat, fedora, baseball cap or a floppy felt hat.

4. Bring photoshoot props you can use, eat and drink. For those that like to ‘gram their getaways, pack props that can perform double duty. Think: wine, cheese, books, playing cards, board games. Once you’ve captured that perfect photo, you can put the phone down and finally enjoy all the activities!

5. Pack a first aid kit. Not cute, but essential. OK so this isn’t a fashion tip as such, but no one looks good or feels great when they’re covered in mosquito bites or – worse – sunburn.

Sonia Bavistock is a fashion and lifestyle blogger and also has her own social media management and copywriting business. Sonia is passionate about all things South Australia and can often be seen dining out with a glass of wine in hand.