As Adelaideans, we have the luxury of so many inviting South Australian destinations close at hand. We’ve all teed up a carload of crew on a Sunday and passed by the concrete pine trees, old Toll Gate, and through the tunnels to hit one of the closest of these, the Adelaide Hills. From here you are knocking on the door of two of our favourite race courses, however it is worth getting lost on the surrounding winding roads and making a weekend or two out of the experience - and here we'll show you how it's done.
Your parents might’ve taken you here when you were a youngster. Earlier, their parents perhaps spent much time here. Maybe more recently you’ve had all the generations together for the experience – of a camp stove sizzling up a well-done steak, eskies overflowing with tinnies and sav blanc, and a round of totem tennis being fought out on a nearby patch of grass. Since 1876, the Oakbank Easter Racing Carnival has endured as the only picnic race meet of its kind – an endearing South Australian institution, and the envy of neighbouring states. Carry on the tradition by gathering the family, finding a favourite spot trackside, and getting ready to share in the excitement that this state treasure offers up each Easter weekend.
Attending this iconic race meet is about arriving picnic-prepared and every picnic basket relies on quality produce. Through the Adelaide Hills is where you are sure to find some of the best, so pick a batch of strawberries and sauces from Beerenberg, a crusty bread from Lobethal Bakery, and a tub of Goats Curd from Udder Delights. As far as vinos go, you’re spoilt for choice through these parts, with Barrister’s Block, Artwine and Bird in Hand just up the road. However, on your doorstep in Oakbank sits O’Leary Walker’s Adelaide Hills Cellar Door, a former stables house with exposed beams and country charm. When in Rome, a case of the Great Eastern Sparkling Shiraz should suffice.
Those who would like the challenge of swinging a club for their wine can attempt to land a hole-in-one at Sidewood Estate. Golfing is hungry work so you’ll be booking a table for lunch at Maximilian’s, allowing opportunity to unpack with friends just how close you came to the pin.
Feeling like a beer instead? Balhannah’s Left Barrel Brewing, with their old style sour and barrel aged beers, will more than satisfy. With a Sauer Puss, Bob’s Ya Dunkel and Hazy Dayz on offer, their beer titles rival some of the best racehorse names. As far as taste goes, these ales cater for the whole spectrum of beer connoisseurs.
For brunch over beer, travel the other side of Oakbank to another of its friendly neighbours in Lobethal, a town that is more than just lit Santas and sparkling nativity scenes. You can’t do better right now than stopping by Emma and Ivy, a café-cum-florist that will serve up a sumptuous smoothie bowl, alongside a comforting cup of tea. You’ll no doubt be tempted to stay a little longer in this cosy setting for a hearty homemade soup too!
If the long weekend weather is a little wintry, then your ‘on the way home’ watering hole should be the Stanley Bridge Tavern. It’s your excuse to smash some bangers and mash in this unassuming Hills pub, the sort that lets its food, service and setting do the talking. And, for a dessert on the go, you can’t drive out of Verdun without first collecting one of the best apple pies from your preferred roadside stop.
With the sun setting, a stay at a self-contained Adelaide Hills Country Cottage should be top of your accommodation options for putting the feet up. Secluded and peaceful is what we crave, and most of these dwellings overlook the water, roaming cattle and sprawling orchards. Therapeutic and replenishing, they are just the tonic for a recharge prior to taking the scenic route home the next day.
This quaint town, just a stone’s throw from the city, serves as the perfect excuse to go all Gatsby and step back in time for a weekend of characterful extravagance. Formed in 1922, Strathalbyn’s provincial race club best reflects this theme, a reminder of ‘jazz age’ indulgence – the type of high living that typified much of the roaring 20s. Feature race meetings can be enjoyed here in November, January, April and May of each year, and you can expect the most picturesque of settings that includes beautiful rose gardens hugged by meticulously kept lawns.
A highlight on the calendar in February is the Strathalbyn Cup, offering childrens activities, good food, good wine and of course, the Fashion at The Races competition.
Having picked a winner in your vintage fedora, focus your attention to the other Strath gems close by. Soak up the nostalgia as you wander through and around High Street, exploring the antique shops and admiring the stone cottages that you fantasise of one day retiring to.
Amongst the Memorial Gardens and on the banks of the Angus River is the idyllic position to set down the picnic blanket and sample that stunning Fleurieu produce. Wash it down of course with a famous drop from the region, with our favourite finisher being the Bremerton fortified Verdelho. If you’re still close to High Street when the sun goes down, head to the Olfactory Inn Restaurant and sign up for the tasting menu that we trust will include the highly regarded tea smoked duck.
Afford yourselves a late checkout from your bed and breaky, and meander home via the Appleseed Café. If a little seedy is what you are, then the pork belly burger here is your ‘go to’ guilty pleasure. And, assuming popular demand has seen this one back on the menu, you may find room for a chocolate mint muffin to well and truly head for home on a full tank.