We crossed back to the mainland by ferry again, and headed for Penola in the Coonawarra region. Quite unexpectedly we came on another small (free) ferry that we had to take to get across the Murray River. We then had an interesting hour or so when we started to run out of petrol. There were at least three towns to pass with petrol stations, but a mixture of closed permanently, closed temporarily and closed for New Year holiday meant we were still unable to refuel. By the time we found one open the situation was pretty serious, with only a few miles left in the tank.

Coonawarra is an Aboriginal word meaning "Honeysuckle". It is about 380 km southeast of Adelaide, close to the border with Victoria. Coonawarra is a wine region located within the Limestone Coast in South Australia, that is known for the Cabernet Sauvignon wines produced on its "terra rossa" soil. It is synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon, full of plum and blackcurrant fruit.

Coonawarra's terra rossa soil is one of the most famous terroirs in the New World, covering a narrow rectangle 15 km x 2 km north of Penola. It lies on a shallow limestone ridge, raising it above the swampy land either side - it is no coincidence that the Riddoch Highway follows this ridge as carters sought the firmest ground in times past. This special bright red soil is clearly visible on an aerial photo. To the west of the ridge lies black rendzina soil which is poorly drained, and so is much less favourable for vines. There is also a 'transitional', or brown rendzina, soil which grows vines quite successfully. This geological complexity led to many disputes during an eight-year period before Coonawarra was entered on the Register of Protected Names. At least one vineyard (belonging to Penola High School) has the boundary pass through the middle.

We stayed two nights in Penola in a studio apartment with a kitchen at Must @ Coonawarra. The apartment was modern and well fitted out. I thought that it was good value for money. The hosts were able to answer our questions, and to make us restaurant reservations. We were in accommodation that fronted the busy main road, but were not troubled by road noise. It is a bit of a hike in to town to eat, but is not more than 15 minutes. It is a bit dark returning at night - we chose to walk in order to enjoy the local wines with our meal. It was on the edge of the small town of Penola, so was a short walk in to get to the shops and restaurants.

We had dinner at Pipers Restaurant at Penola. The only problem we experienced was with one of the deserts, a rhubarb concoction. It claimed to have Pedro Ximinez, a particularly striking sweet Spanish sherry, but did not claim to have chocolate. When it arrived it was rich in chocolate, but not in Pedro Ximinez. When I mentioned this to the staff, they were less than pleased with my thoughts, one waitress ignored it, the other made me fell that I was being unreasonable. Anyway, we enjoyed the evening, it is a very civilised restaurant - but the evening did not end well. It is a pity that a customer cannot mention this sort of thing without being made to feel unreasonable.

Penola, like many Australian towns has a number of abandoned petrol stations, and there were three derelict petrol stations and one operating one in the town. They say that the increasing range and reliability of modern cars has reduced the demand for intermediate stations in small towns.

We went into a couple of the estates for tasting, difficult to smuggle purchases out without the management spotting me! After a tasting at Hollicks we continued and I particularly enjoyed the Zema Estate wines, but you cannot go far wrong with any of the Coonawarra Cabernets. Father Christmas was still around the area, the Boys hoped that he might spot them, but he didn't seem to have any presents left for them and they went away empty handed..

We spent a day driving down to see the 12 Apostles . This was a mammoth drive of some 5 hours down to the coast and along the Great Ocean Road till we reached the twelve Apostles.


The Great Ocean Road is an Australian National Heritage listed 243 kilometres stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford. Built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932 and dedicated to soldiers killed during World War I, the road is the world's largest war memorial. It winds through varying terrain along the coast and provides access to several prominent landmarks, including the Twelve Apostles limestone stack formations. We covered only about a quarter of the road at the western end, but it was a long drive to get to it.

We stopped for a quick bite at the Port Campbell Takeaway on the way to the Twelve Apostles. Being in a bit of a hurry we decided on just chips and a banana milk shake The chips were excellent, fresh, hot and crisp The shake was artificially insipid. It is the only time in living memory that I have been allowed chips.

The Twelve Apostles is a collection of limestone stacks off the shore of the Port Campbell National Park, by the Great Ocean Road. The apostles were formed by erosion: the harsh and extreme weather conditions from the Southern Ocean gradually eroded the soft limestone to form caves in the cliffs, which then became arches, which in turn collapsed; leaving rock stacks up to 45 metres high. The site was known as the Sow and Piglets until 1922, after which it was renamed to The Apostles for tourism purposes. The formation eventually became known as the Twelve Apostles, despite only ever having nine stacks. The stacks are susceptible to further erosion from the waves. In 2005, a 50 metre tall stack collapsed, leaving eight only remaining. The rate of erosion at the base of the limestone pillars is approximately 2 cm per year. Due to wave action eroding the cliff face existing headlands are expected to become new limestone stacks in the future.

There are many other striking off shore stacks along this stretch of the Great Ocean Road, but everyone goes to see the Apostles. When we stopped at other stacks and bays, there would be only one or two other cars, but at the Apostles there were several hundred cars, and one had to jostle with (mainly) Chinese tourists to get a photograph of them.

We then headed north to Clare, en route to the Flinders Ranges.

On to Clare

Australia 2013/2014