On tour with the Clare Valley’s Mr Willson

Dave Willson is the quintessential Aussie bloke. He loves a chat, sharing a joke, and his smile is as wide as the brim on his hat.

Most people around the Clare Valley know him as Mr Willson – it started as a joke and more a tribute to his sense of humour than any desire from him for formalities.

A true character, the affable bloke has built up a tour company, Clare Valley Tours, selling the virtues of the Clare Valley and South Australia to domestic and international visitors.

It is an easy sell according to Mr Willson, who was born and bred in the Clare Valley, the son of veterinarians, he spent his early years exploring the area on ponies.

Travelling to every corner of the Clare Valley is a normal day in the office for Mr Willson.

“I’ve always had a wonderful affinity with the Clare Valley, it’s my home, and when I became involved in tourism I realised how much passion I have for our region,” he says.

“Being a local and transitioning into a tour operator makes you look at your home in a different light – you actually stop and smell the roses instead of driving past and you realise we really are sitting in one of the nicest, safest places to live in the world and it’s a real privilege.”

A former wool classer, excavation contractor (he was the local gravedigger), private wool buyer and machinery salesperson, a recreational pilot and former chairman of the Clare Aerodrome, Mr Willson knows a thing or two about the area.

So it’s no surprise that when he took on the tour business in 2012, his local knowledge and loveable nature helped him easily build a rapport with his guests.

With two small buses and a chauffeured car, Clare Valley Tours is gaining a reputation for quality, tailored tours of the Clare Valley, Mid North and through to the Flinders Ranges.

A quick read through Trip Advisor uncovers comments including “delightful, funny and very knowledgeable … a local treasure”.

Clare Valley Tours recently achieved Quality Tourism Accredited Business status, has current Trip Advisor Certificates of Excellence, and is part of the South Australian Tourism Commission emerging products program, a mentoring initiative which assists operators into new markets.

With departures from either Adelaide, Clare Valley or other areas, Mr Willson’s Clare Valley Tours offers guests either package or individualised tours.

He says SA has so much to offer and promises his tours are “no ordinary show”.

An avid reader, Mr Willson continually expands his local knowledge to ensure he can offer his passengers an insider’s view of a region, sometimes going off the beaten track to ensure they see the very best parts of SA.

In fact, don’t be surprised if you find yourself travelling down the bumpy Civilisation Lost Road, onto Dusty Creek Road and end up on World’s End Highway – real places, all with a story to tell.

“We actually live in Utopia here in SA,” he says.

Skilly Road, Clare Valley.

“So many people think the Clare Valley is about the wines, it’s not just wine though, it’s the whole Clare Valley experience – the wineries, the restaurants, the shop owners, agriculture, the vast history and stories from the past and present, the people, and good old-fashioned country hospitality.”

“Nearby there’s Burra which has such an important part in SA’s history and loaded with historical buildings, and Goyder’s Line – the 10-inch rainfall zone where the vineyards virtually meet the outback.

“Just north we’ve got the majestic Flinders Ranges and the Clare Valley is the gateway to them. I hear it so often, people wished they had more time, they didn’t know the Clare Valley and the area around here is so beautiful, that there is so much history, there’s so much to see, do and explore.

“I love being able to share it and if I can send my guests home happy, I’m very happy – I’ve created a lifestyle, not a job.”

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Coffin Bay sea to plate experience expanded with new Oyster HQ

The unique experience of wading into an oyster lease and shucking fresh oysters plucked straight from the sea has proved so popular that Coffin Bay Oyster Farm Tours has built a striking new visitor centre to accommodate surging visitor numbers.

The official opening of Oyster HQ on December 20 – a seafood tasting and tourism centre on the Coffin Bay foreshore that can accommodate up to 85 people – is the culmination of a frantic six months for Coffin Bay Oyster Farm Tours proprietors Ben and Kim Catterall.

Having won approval from the council for the new building, they have been racing to complete the expansive glass-walled tasting room and deck overlooking the bay before summer’s high visitation season – all while their business has boomed, attracting more than double the number of customers from the previous year.

The view from the deck overlooking the oyster lease.

“It’s an idea that has really delighted a lot of people – the experience of tasting famous Coffin Bay oysters direct from the water where they are harvested,” says Kim.

“It has the wow factor that has got a lot of people from around the world wanting to come and do it themselves.”

The unique appeal of their offering is the Salt Water Pavilion, a partly submerged deck with fixed seating and bench tables that allow up to 24 tour participants to sit in industrial-strength rubber waders to learn about oyster production, the knack of how to open them (without jabbing their fingers), and then taste both Pacific and native Angasi oysters in the company of a chilled beverage.

After this, guests can linger a while longer back on dry land, on the deck of Oyster HQ overlooking the oyster lease, with the option to graze on fresh Eyre Peninsula seafood tasting plates that feature more Coffin Bay oysters with a range of dressings, smoked tuna and tuna sashimi, mussels from Boston Bay, Spencer Gulf prawns and local abalone.

The building will also serve as a hire facility for kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, while the Catteralls can provide up to four tours to the Salt Water Pavilion each day.

Ben Catterall and his visitors enjoy the famous Coffin Bay oysters sourced direct from the water where they are harvested.

This looks set to be pushed to the limit over summer, as Kim has been receiving significant early bookings for the first time, from people wanting to ensure places on specific tours.

This enterprise represents the next significant step in Ben’s aim of developing outstanding regional tourism experiences. A builder by trade, he came to Coffin Bay about 15 years ago and built the 1802 Oyster Bar and Bistro, named after the year in which explorer Matthew Flinders charted the area.

Ben later bought the oyster lease out the front of the restaurant, then built the Salt Water Pavilion and developed the aquatic tours to satisfy growing tourist curiosity in tasting local oysters at their source.

Ben and Kim then bought the shorefront Beachcomber Bakery and Café to also serve as an operations hub for tour groups, but demand has called for bigger premises, prompting Ben to build the new Oyster HQ.

It will be open daily from December 22, and serviced by hotel pickup and return transport options from Port Lincoln to Coffin Bay.

Ben Catterall pulls an oyster basket from the sea.

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From sheep station to outback luxury

The diversification of Rawnsley Park Station in the Flinders Ranges from an outback sheep grazing property to a tourist hotspot is still paying off for its owners Julie and Tony Smith.

The pair are this year celebrating 50 years of tourism at the station and tipping their hats to half-a-century of showcasing the South Australian outback to thousands of visitors.

The award-winning eco-tourism site in the Far North town of Hawker overlooks the southern side of Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheatre of mountain ranges.

Settled as part of Arkaba Station in 1851, the property was used for grazing until 1968 when the first shearer’s quarters come tourist accommodation cabin was built.

The eco villas are located in secluded spots overlooking stunning scenery.

Rawnsley’s current owner Tony Smith was 10 years old when his father and mother, Clem and Alison Smith, made the move to branch out into tourism as a sideline to their farm operations.

They also introduced sheep shearing demonstrations enjoyed by tourists staying at the nearby Wilpena Pound Resort.

Rawnsley Park Station today attracts about 25,000 visitors a year who stay in a range of accommodation offerings including luxury eco-villas, a 1950s homestead, holiday units and a caravan park.

Tony says tourism makes up about 90% of his business, and sheep grazing 10% as about 1200 Merino-Dohne sheep are still run on the station.

He says while autumn and spring are still peak periods, visitor numbers are starting to flatten out more evenly throughout the year.

“If you look back 30-40 years ago we had these really defined peaks of autumn and spring whereas now it’s starting to flatten out a bit and we are getting amore year-round visitation,” Tony says.

“It’s great for the business, it’s what we’ve been trying to do for the last 30 years.”

Over the past 15 years Tony and Julie have invested in Rawnsley Park Station by increasing accommodation offerings to cater for more kinds of tourists.

“If you go back to the ‘70s and ‘80s most of the visitors (to the Flinders Ranges) would have been campers and nature lovers who pretty much roughed it,” Tony says.

“It was probably the Prairie Hotel that changed it, they were the ones who started to provide really good quality dining experience that got people’s attention.”

Four eco villas were built in 2006, with another four added in 2009. The energy-neutral villas are located in secluded spots offering views of Wilpena Pound and surrounding ranges.

In 2010 the Smiths opened up the 1950s-built homestead to visitors, who enjoy stunning views of the Chace Range and Wilpena Pound.

The Rawnsley Park Station homestead.

At the foot of the Rawnsley Buff are self-contained units, of which the Smiths have recently added six more, built by Yorke Peninsula-based Country Living Homes.

A caravan park is also on site, featuring cabins, a bunkhouse, powered camping sites, camp facilities, and a souvenir and supplies shop.

Rawnsley visitors can dine in the authentic Woolshed Restaurant dishing up meals cooked from local produce, including the station’s own lamb.

Visitors can also embark on guided walks through the Flinders Ranges, 4WD tours, helicopter and scenic flights and mountain biking adventures.

Is there a better way to appreciate the South Australian outback than with a glass of bubbles at sunset?

While the 4WD tours and some of the bushwalking are led by Tony, separate tourism operators run the other experiences, ensuring a shared approach to success. Sheep shearing demonstrations are also run during the school holidays.

As Rawnsley Park Station continues its 50th year of tourism, a special anniversary book has been published.

Pastoralism to Tourism: A History of Rawnsley Park Station, authored by former senior journalist at The Advertiser, Kym Tilbrook, who is friend of the Smiths and runs the station’s multi-day walks.

Tony remembers the days of growing up on the station, his childhood playground one of SA’s greatest natural beauties.

“Growing up here was carefree, but like a lot of country kids we didn’t really get to the city too often,” he says.

“We had a party line for telephones with four subscribers on the one set of wires, we had a dirt road to Hawker where we went maybe once a week for sport on a Saturday.

“The rest of the time we spent on the farm and made the most of it.”

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Community group revitalises famous opal town

A Coober Pedy community group is on a mission to boost tourism in the famous outback opal town by overhauling its marketing materials and revitalising one of the town’s major events.

The Coober Pedy Retail, Business and Tourism Association (CPRBTA) has updated and revised the town’s main tourism website with a new look, logo and slogan ‘Get Outback, Get Underground!’

The volunteer group also pushed for a revitalisation of the town’s major event, the Coober Pedy Opal Festival, which was a “resounding success” with dates shifted from the usual Easter weekend to June.

The festival’s duration was also extended to three days and coincided with other events in the town.

This year’s Coober Pedy Opal Festival attracted about 2000 people, up from its usual 1000. A street parade was a highlight of the event.

Coober Pedy, which mines 70% of the world’s opals, also recently welcomed its own version of the Hollywood sign, made from 3m-high corrugated iron letters crafted by Wayne Borrett.

The improvements to the town’s existing branding came about through a Strategic Marketing Plan funded by a $46,000 grant from the Federal Government’s Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF).

Motel owner Deb Clee, who is also CPRBTA treasurer, says the new website, which has also been adopted by the district council as the premier tourism site, is receiving up to 3500 page views a week.

She says website hits were not recorded previously with the old site but she estimated they only reached 1000 per week.

The new logo and slogan reflect’s Coober Pedy’s famous sunsets and opals.

By the end of 2018, Coober Pedy is expected to be celebrating an addition to the Big Winch Scenic Lookout precinct – a 360-degree drop down cinema screening the town’s history and opal mining.

The CPRBTA was more recently awarded $21,500 from round two of the BBRF towards costs of upgrading and installing ‘Welcome to Coober Pedy’ signage at the town entrances.

The rebranding of the town comes as underground Comfort Inn Coober Pedy Experience Motel reports its most successful July in almost a decade.

Deb says the last time business was this good was in 2010, when Lake Eyre was flooded.

“Everybody in town is saying the same thing … it could have something to do with the luring closure of Uluru to climbers in 2020,” she says.

Inside the Soft Rock Café at the Comfort Inn Coober Pedy Experience Motel.

Coober Pedy has a population of more than 1700 people.

In four years to 2016, about 103,000 international and domestic overnight visitors came to Coober Pedy, according to Tourism Research Australia’s latest Local Government Area profile.

Together, the two groups poured about $31m into the local economy.

While Coober Pedy is mainly fuelled on the tourism industry and opal mining, Deb says the town is sometimes seen as a stopover destination.

However, things are changing, she says.

Photo by Kezia Manning.

“It used to be a stopover town, but we are changing that,” says Deb, whose family has lived in Coober Pedy since 1985.

“We’re seeing the (overnight) stays are getting longer and all these advantages that we’re creating in the town are giving people a reason to stay longer.”

Deb says business confidence in Coober Pedy is at a high but the CPRBTA still wants visitors to extend their stay and “experience everything we have to offer”.

“We have history tours, noodling areas, underground churches, underground mine museum, The Breakaways, and the Dingo fence – the world’s longest fence,” she says.

“There is so much to do.”

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Fleurieu alpaca farm a hit with overseas visitors

One of the last sounds you’d probably expect to hear as you wander down a quiet road in the reaches of Hindmarsh Valley is a chorus of excited voices speaking loudly in Mandarin.

But thanks to one of the Fleurieu Peninsula’s newest tourism ventures, there’s a good chance that that’s exactly what you will hear down one particular road.

Softfoot Alpacas, run by the Retallick family, is an innovative, multifaceted enterprise that’s attracting attention in China for its wool, the alpacas themselves, and its range of boutique farm tour experiences.

Softfoot Alpacas owners Gary and Sandy Retallick.

If you spend any time with the Retallicks, you’ll soon discover that they don’t do things by halves. Once they develop an interest in something, they have a tendency to dive headlong into it (quite literally in some cases).

“If you’re going to do something, you may as well do it properly,” says Clancy Retallick.

Unlike sheep or cattle, alpacas have soft feet (hence the farm name), meaning they have a minimal impact on their habitat.

For this reason, soon after buying the property Sandy and daughter Clancy decided to buy an alpaca off their neighbour.

The purchase sparked an interest and almost before they knew it, they found themselves in the Peruvian Andes, assisting local villagers in a traditional muster of prospective breeding stock.

Softfoot Alpacas is popular with overseas visitors wanting to experience authentic farm life and premium alpaca wool and products.

Today Softfoot is recognised as a producer of some of the world’s finest alpaca fibre and breeding lines.

A visit to the farm’s trophy room is overwhelming for the sheer number of prizes and awards that the Retallicks’ animals have won.

“I think of it in terms of wine,” Clancy says. “When people think of premium wine, they think of Penfolds. We like to think of Softfoot wool as the Grange Hermitage of alpaca wool.”

But while they are justifiably proud of this achievement, it is only part of their story.

After a number of visits to the farm by Chinese business partners, the Retallicks realised that they had more to offer than just their fibre; they were able to give their visitors a unique, authentic Australian experience, which has proved immensely popular.

Softfoot Alpacas tourism manager Sophie Xie.

A chance meeting in Victor Harbor led Clancy to Sophie Xie, a Shanghai native who had recently moved to Australia.

Clancy quickly recognised that the combination of Sophie’s cultural background and expertise in marketing represented a valuable opportunity, and Sophie is now a key member of the Softfoot team, in the role of tourism manager.

“We’re so lucky to have found Sophie,” says Clancy.

“She’s uniquely qualified for the role and she’s been such a valuable addition to our team.”

Their ongoing success has also enabled the family to explore, with typical Retallick energy, their shared passion for conservation.

The farm is home to the Softfoot Sanctuary, a sophisticated, self-funded operation designed to safeguard and ensure the genetic diversity of a number of threatened marsupial species, and contribute to re-wilding areas where populations have been decimated by non-native predators like foxes and cats.

Header photo is Softfoot Alpacas tourism manager Sophie Xie.

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New wi-fi hotspots connects travellers with our tourism gems

Some of South Australia’s top natural beauties and remote locations have been switched on to a free public wi-fi service encouraging travellers to share their experiences online.

Internet connectivity will be made available in some of the state’s best tourism locations including Wilpena Pound in the Far North, Coffin Bay on the Eyre Peninsula, and Kangaroo Island.

The rollout is an initiative between Telstra and the South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC) and has already been launched in nine of the 60 hotspots including Hahndorf, Moana, Moonta Bay, Angaston, Beachport, Port MacDonnell, Victor Harbor, Tailem Bend and Kingscote.

The connectivity occurs through Telstra Air, Australia’s largest wi-fi network, allowing any mobile phone or device user to access free, unlimited data for up to one hour a day.

The hotspots have a range up to 100m and can be identified by signage which includes instructions on how to connect to the service.

SATC is encouraging visitors and locals using the new wi-fi service to share their travels using #SeeSouthAustralia on social media.


SATC chief executive Rodney Harrex says he wants visitors to be “mini-ambassadors” for the state by sharing their trips online.

“A picture is worth a thousand words and #SeeSouthAustralia is quickly becoming a global resource where people plan their holidays, recreate images or share their experiences with their friends,” he says.

Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister David Ridgway says the connectivity will enhance visitor experiences.

“We know people want to be able to locate our restaurants, use maps and share their experiences and happy snaps online, in real time,” he says.

“Technology is transforming tourism and we want to use it to produce social and economic benefits for SA.”

Another 51 spots are set to be rolled out in the coming months and include towns across the Riverland, Fleurieu, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Limestone Coast, Yorke and Eyre peninsulas and Outback.

New face at the helm of Adelaide’s historic Popeye

Adelaide’s renowned Popeye river cruise business is taking a new lease on life.

The Popeye, which has entertained thousands of locals, tourists and even royalty over the past 83 years, is being handed to the next generation.

Owner Tony Shuman has owned The Popeye since 2011 and is now handing operations to his daughter Bianca, 23, who is injecting “refreshed energy” into the business as its new managing director.

The Popeye managing director Bianca Shuman unveils the brand’s new logo.

“Bianca is the new generation, she has new and hip ideas, a fresh feel and I can’t compete with that,” says Tony.

“It’s her turn, she’s got the smarts.”

The Popeye fleet includes three boats that take passengers along the River Torrens between Elder Park and Adelaide Zoo, and has long been considered a treasured family outing for many South Australians.

The boats also host functions, parties and high teas put on by fellow SA business, Lady Green’s High Tea.

Bianca says she hopes to introduce new stops along the river, including near the weir and Adelaide Oval to make the most of crowds attending AFL games and major concerts.

A stop is also in the works at The Popeye shed and Lounders Boatshed Café near Victoria Drive.

Approval is being sought for a permanent liquor licence while an online booking system has also been introduced.

Tony Shuman, left, has owned the small business since 2011 but plans to head into retirement.

A new logo and branding concept was inspired by the “art deco” style of the 1930s, when The Popeye was launched in Adelaide.

“The whole feeling with the new logo was keeping it modern but also going back to the start in the 1930s,” Bianca says.

“We would like to have that reflected in the style of our staff uniforms as well. To dress up a bit would be nice.”

Bianca says that while The Popeye has become an Adelaide icon, she wants to see more people on board.

“The Popeye, it’s very Adelaide and people almost don’t notice it because they’re so used to it going past every day. It would be great to get more people on,” she says.

“It’s about half tourists, half locals on board at the moment. During school holidays there’s a lot of kids and young families, and grandparents taking grandkids to the zoo.”

Zoos SA CEO and I Choose SA ambassador Elaine Bensted, left, with Bianca Shuman and her mother Lidija.

Tony Shuman and his wife Lidija have also run the paddle boats (small watercraft propelled by foot pedals) along the river since 1991.

He says past customers have included Madonna, Michael Bublé, English comedian Russell Brand and international tennis champions.

Over the years Tony says he has faced many business challenges as new infrastructure around the riverbank precinct takes shape.

However, he says the CBD’s growing population means more people are out and about.

“There are more people living in the city, the city itself has had real population growth over the last 20 years,” Tony says.

“It’s more of a university city as well – younger people out there doing things.”

The Popeye cruises along the river in March 1954. PHOTO: State Library of SA, B 74433/78.

Popeye 1 was launched on the River Torrens in 1935 by Gordon Watts.

Popeye 2 came along in 1948 and three new jarrah hulled boats were introduced some time later, taking the fleet to a total of five.

Keith Altman took over the business in 1962 and also introduced the paddle boats to the river.

Popeye 5 hosted Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip during their visit to Adelaide in 1977. PHOTO: thepopeye.com.au

In March 1977, The Popeye had a brush with royalty when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip took a trip during a visit to Adelaide.

In 1982 the wooden boats were replaced with three new fibreglass models and officially launched by then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

The Popeye, which was officially declared an official State Heritage Icon in 2011, employs 14 people.

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Barossa produce on show to 60,000 visitors

A selection of produce from the Barossa Valley’s finest makers will be showcased to more than 60,000 visitors who walk through the doors of the Barossa Visitor Centre (BVC) in an average year.

Industry body Barossa Food and the BVC have established a new produce display at the Tanunda main street centre to provide greater exposure for local food producers.

Products include Barossa Bark lavosh-style crispbread, Trevallie Orchard dried fruit, Seppeltsfield wine and Hutton Vale Farm preserves.

Visitor information centres across SA are go-to spots for tourists seeking advice, brochures or maps, with the BVC attracting more than 60,000 visitors annually.

The Barossa Council’s manager of tourism services, Jo Seabrook, says there has been strong visitor demand for a one-stop-shop for Barossa produce, allowing visitors to taste, learn and buy a range of local products in one location.

“There has been a recognised gap for a Barossa Food retail experience,” she says.

“Visitors coming to the region are looking for the farmer’s market experience seven days a week, and we’re thrilled to be able to offer an outlet for our food producers and visitors.”

The Barossa produce display features a variety of local produce allowing visitors to purchase a snapshot of the region’s produce in one location.

Barossa Food treasurer Paul Amos says the branded retail experience would appeal to both food aficionados and visitors wanting a taste of the region.

“The Barossa is a leading food producer and food destination, and now visitors can experience our food culture and commitment to sustainable food production in one central location,” he says.

“We believe this initiative will penetrate new markets and give our Barossa Food members a unique and unified retail presence that many couldn’t achieve on their own.”

The Barossa produce display is funded by Primary Industries and Regions SA.

In other Barossa news, one of the region’s biggest holiday parks is set to join the BIG4 Holiday Parks network this month.

The move by the Nuriootpa Centennial Park Authority (NCPA) for the town’s tourist park to join the national chain is expected to attract more visitors to the region, deliver an improved visitor experience and contribute to better sporting and recreational facilities for local residents.

The facility will now be known as the BIG4 Barossa Tourist Park and joins more than 180 BIG4 holiday parks around the country.

The rebranding complements a $2m upgrade by the Barossa Council and the NCPA to the park featuring new cabins, a meeting/games room, swimming pool and other improvements.

With more than three million nights of accommodation booked online through the national BIG4 network every year, Barossa Mayor Bob Sloane says the rebranding is a shot in the arm for regional tourism.

“This has capacity to not only attract more visitors but increase their length of stay and spend, which has a multiplier effect for our local businesses, wineries and tourism operators,” he adds.

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Regional SA tourism operators shine at national awards

Two regional South Australian tourism operators have walked away with gold medals at last Friday night’s Qantas Australian Tourism Awards.

For the second year running, luxury accommodation provider The Frames in the Riverland was crowned Australia’s best Self Contained Accommodation, while Hahndorf’s Adelaide Hills Convention Centre was named best Business Event Venue.

The Qantas-sponsored awards, announced on Friday February 23 in Perth, recognised the best in the business from around the country.

Built in 2014 in Paringa by husband and wife duo Rick and Cathy Edmonds, The Frames offers three private retreats perched on cliffs overlooking magnificent views of the Murray River.

Luxury accommodation exists not only in big cities, but in SA’s regions too.

The couple aims to raise awareness of the Murray River and the emerging boutique wine and craft product culture in the Riverland, SA’s food bowl region.

“To be recognised among the best tourism offerings in Australia is wonderful and we are proud of the opportunity to showcase the Riverland to international and domestic guests,” Cathy says.

“We wish to thank everyone for their continued support, especially our guests who are seeking secluded space to relax and reconnect.”

The Adelaide Hills Convention centre is a popular spot for business events and functions, weddings, birthdays and other celebrations.

Hahndorf family the Schirripa’s and the team at the Adelaide Hills Convention Centre also celebrated a gold medal win for Business Event Venue.

The convention centre was recognised for its “world-class business event facilities and services” and for its scenic views overlooking the Hills.

Aside from the function centre, the Mt Barker Road location is also home to the Three Gums Bistro and Hahndorf Resort Tourist Park, featuring a caravan park and a range of other accommodation options.

The convention centre overlooks stunning views of the Adelaide Hills.

Eight other SA tourism operators from across the state walked away with silver and bronze medals.

SA Tourism Industry Council CEO Shaun de Bruyn says South Australians should be “extremely proud” of the world-class experiences we have on offer.

“The Qantas Australian Tourism Awards recognise the best of the best in tourism within Australia and set the benchmarks for the best business practice which all tourism business(es) should aspire to achieve,” he says.

“For SA to be awarded ten medals is a fantastic result and will further ensure our brilliant visitor experiences and magnificent regions remain on the tourism map.”

State Tourism Minister Leon Bignell says SA’s visitor economy has increased by 29% in the past four years to a record $6.3 billion, reflective of tourism operators’ dedication and passion for the industry.

Nominations for the 2018 SA Tourism Awards are open until June 25. For more information click here.

Silver award winners:

  • Calypso Star Charters (Port Lincoln) – Tourist Attractions
  • Murray River Walk (Renmark) – Ecotourism
  • Yondah Beach House (Foul Bay) – Deluxe Accommodation

Bronze award winners:

  • Santos Tour Down Under – Major Festivals and Events
  • Calypso Star Charters (Port Lincoln) – Adventure Tourism
  • Mulberry Lodge Country Retreat (Willunga) – Hosted Accommodation
  • Marree Hotel (Marree) – Standard Accommodation
  • Barossa Valley Cheese Company (Angaston) – Excellence in Food Tourism

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Bird’s-eye view is a day in the office for SA’s only female chief pilot

From barely-trodden tracks to hidden beaches and rugged coastlines,  South Australia’s only female chief pilot Felicity Brown experiences breathtaking views every day.

But ask the co-owner of Ceduna travel agency and air charter business Chinta Air about her favourite place in SA and there is only one.

“My favourite spot is in the pilot seat,” Felicity says.

“I’m not a good passenger, I don’t have a favourite aircraft to fly, I don’t have a favourite job to do, I just like to be in the left-hand seat and flying.”

Chinta Air chief pilot Felicity Brown.

Felicity and her husband Noel Schwarz run Chinta Air from Ceduna on the west coast of SA.

They launched the business with one aircraft in 2003 after discovering a love for flying.

Now the business is licensed to operate seven aircraft from three full-time bases and two part-time bases across the state, and has recently expanded onto Kangaroo Island.

The establishment of a base on KI marked the first time in a decade that scenic flights have been available on the island.

Aside from its headquarters in Ceduna, Chinta Air has a base at Rawnsley Park Station in the Flinders Ranges, at the Parafield Airport in Adelaide and, during the winter months, the Nullabor Roadhouse on the state’s far west coast.


Chinta Air’s scenic flights allow passengers to ‘sightsee’ from the air, whereas charter flights take passengers from A to B.

“During the winter our base at Nullabor operates scenic flights over the Great Australian Bight Marine Park, where the southern right whales gather to give birth, socialise and breed,” Felicity says.

“In 2017 there were 182 whales including 81 calves there – it’s the most significant nursery for southern right whales in the world.”

Felicity describes the charter flight service as the “Uber of the air”.

It allows passengers to access remote communities and regions that are otherwise only accessible by vehicle.

Chinta Air also undertakes survey work, aerial photography and tailored air safaris, which include trips than can span across days or weeks into different states and locations.

Felicity is originally from country Western Australia and met Noel, a wheat and sheep farmer from the Eyre Peninsula, in the ’90s.

She was still working and living in WA at the time, and first thought about flying when hearing about the Outback Air Race, a GPS-based navigational time trial across the Australian outback.

She had no knowledge of aviation and knew no one with a plane, but was stubborn and refused to live up to a suggestion that she couldn’t do it.

Thunderstorms over #laketorrens #flindersranges #outbacksa @southaustralia

A post shared by Chinta Air (@chintaair) on


As a single mother working part-time, she gained her pilot license and convinced two friends to fly with her in the race.

The trio decided to inject some fun into the flight by dressing in belly dancing costumes and naming themselves, The Delilah’s of the Desert.

“I can fly a plane but I can’t sew so my costume was superglued and stapled together,” Felicity says.

“We turned up at Alice Springs for the start of the air race and we walked into the room and looked around.

“Some of the guys had team names on their polo shirts and the really adventurous ones had it across their backs.

“And there we were in belly dancing costumes … I now know what a stunned silence is.

“We ended up finishing not quite last, but learnt a heap and fell in love with flying along the way.”


In 1999, Noel too learnt how to fly.

Chinta Air was born in Ceduna in 2003 and after a few years Felicity would gain qualifications to become SA’s only female chief pilot and one of five across Australia.

Every day in the air is different, she says.

“You can fly over the same piece of scenery every day for a week and every day there will be something different,” Felicity says.

“There’s always an opportunity to learn something new – learning to fly at night, upside down, low at 100ft above ground level, in cloud, and in different types of aircraft.

“It’s brilliant.”

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