Australia
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Of all the countries in the world, there is only one that is, without a doubt, on everyone's bucket list. Those lucky enough to visit this vast and beautiful country, return home with a sense of wonder, awe and culture.

Everyone has seen the tourism ads featuring beautiful friendly people, blue skies, vast open spaces and a unique abundance of flora and fauna. Usually accompanied by a theme song featuring at least one didgeridoo, most people would think these ads look just a little too good to be true. When it comes to Australia, I can honestly say, they are completely true.  Known for its uniqueness; a number of tag lines usually accompany conversation about this dry and vast country. Those tag lines go something like this: all of the world's most poisonous snakes are Australian, it is the only country that is also a continent, it is the least populous nation (per mile) in the world, there are more than 150 million sheep in Australia and only some 20 million people and last but not least, Australia is the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world.
As a young man I lived in Australia for four years, helping to build the railroad that now connects Sydney to Perth. Since then I have been lucky enough to visit numerous times. Despite all of the time that I have spent in this magical country, I have still not had my fill, and have certainly not seen all there is to see. Unless you are a backpacker with months to spare, Australia is much too vast to tackle all in one trip. On my most recent adventure I had the pleasure of visiting South Australia, exploring the Great Ocean Road, Melbourne and the wineries that are speckled in between.
Planning a trip to Australia can sometimes be overwhelming. Most people dream of exploring this fantastic destination, but are scared off by the flight or the sheer size of the country itself. The first decision that must be made is where to go. Once that has been decided the question becomes how do I get there? There are several ways to get to Australia. On this particular trip I took American Airlines from Toronto to New York then Qantas to Los Angeles. From there it is a direct flight to Sydney then on to Melbourne. This time I was lucky enough to be in business class. Although getting there can be relatively harrowing, in the end it is always worth the trip.
I arrived in Melbourne and checked in to Sofitel Melbourne. After such a long trip I took the rest of the day to catch up on some much needed sleep. The next morning I made my way to Federation Square for a walking tour of Melbourne. Known as one of the world's most liveable cities, Melbourne has a unique culture of fashion, food, sport and entertainment. With a deep history and heritage, the arts are celebrated through a plethora of museums and galleries.
If walking isn't your thing, Real Melbourne Bike Tours offers bike tours in and around the city. In a few hours you can see more than most see in days. From a bike you can soak up the atmosphere and explore the bohemian backstreets, lively markets cafes, hidden arcades, bike paths and bluestone laneways.
After a few days in Melbourne, we were off to start the second leg of our tour. Melbourne is the gateway to regional Victoria, which offers myriad of opportunities in a very compact and accessible area. Whether its deserts, alpine ski resorts, mighty rivers, great lakes, wildlife, or the unparalleled spectacle and beauty of the world renowned Great Ocean Road, Victoria is all about quality experiences.
Many of the state's regional attractions, including valleys of vineyards and international surf beaches, are less than a two-hour drive from Melbourne. But with more time to spare, the entire state offers a variety of scenic routes ideal for self-drive and personalized tours.
In the morning we packed up our gear and headed to the Mornington Peninsula for a horseback winery tour. What better way to enjoy the scenery than on horseback.  The day was spectacular. We rode through the beautiful vineyard region of Red Hill, stopping only to taste some of Australia's finest wines and enjoy a gourmet BBQ by the lake. The day was complete when we arrived at Peninsula Hot Springs for a well-deserved soak.
Our next stop was a walking tour of the Twelve Apostles. Much needed after hours in the saddle the day before. As one of Australia's most recognizable natural features, the Twelve Apostles were formed by harsh weather conditions from the Southern Ocean gradually eroding the soft limestone below and forming caves in the cliffs. Eventually these caves became arches which in turn collapsed; leaving rock stacks that measure up to 45 metres in height.  The site was known as the Sow and Piglets until 1922 and was renamed the Twelve Apostles for tourism purposes, even though there have only ever been nine stacks.
From the Twelve Apostles we boarded a helicopter for a tour over the Great Ocean Road. Listed as an Australian National Heritage site, the 243 kilometre stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia connects the Victorian cities of Torquay and Warrnambool.  The road was built by soldiers between 1919 and 1932, and is the world's largest war memorial; dedicated to casualties of the First World War. It is an important tourist attraction in the region, which winds through varying terrain alongside the coast, and provides access to
several prominent landmarks. The awe-inspiring flight over some of Australia's most beautiful scenery really provides a unique perspective and is highly recommended for anyone hoping to truly experience this vast landscape. After a few wonderful days of walking, biking, riding and flying, I was certainly ready for the next portion of the trip: wineries in the Adelaide Hills.
Driving from Melbourne to Adelaide, we stopped for lunch at the Royal Mail
Hotel in Dunkeld and I was not disappointed. The Royal Mail Hotel is a unique rural
destination set among native gardens and fruit orchards with stunning views of the Southern
Gramians Ranges. Accommodation, an award winning restaurant and wine cellar, café, public bar, meeting and conference facilities and the
historic Mt. Sturgeon Estate and homestead are all available to explore and enjoy.
That night we checked into the Baroka Downs, in Halls Gap, located approximately halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. The Boroka Downs offers truly five star self-contained accommodations. There are just five architecturally designed luxurious and
exclusive residences with sweeping views of the
surrounding nature. In the morning I opened the curtains and was greeted by a troop of
kangaroos. You can't get much more Australian than that.
After a few more days in the Adelaide Hills we made our way into the city. Checking in to the Adelaide Hilton, I spent the afternoon
exploring the Adelaide Central Market. Buzzing with sounds, colours and wondrous smells the Central Market is truly a destination for food lovers. It is no secret that I love outdoor markets and having visited some of the world's best, Adelaide did not disappoint. Offering not only fresh fruit and vegetables, the market also offers one of the largest ranges of meat and fish along with the gourmet specialties.
Our stay in Adelaide was short-lived. The next day we were back on the road-headed for Kingsford Homestead, a stunning 1856
two-storey sandstone Georgian homestead that has been superbly renovated and is now home to seven luxury suites. We woke early and headed to the Barossa. With quality food and wine, an abundance of wildlife and spectacular postcard scenery around every bend, the Barossa is the heart of Australia's wine industry, the home to gourmet delights and an area blessed with a rich cultural heritage. At just over an hour's drive north of Adelaide, the Barossa thrives on a living heritage, food markets, quality wines, old preserved buildings, and a wealth of culinary pleasures. There is a strong sense of cultural identity and community spirit, which adds to the appeal of the region.
While working in the outback as a young man, we drank a lot of wine. I vividly
remember the mornings when we would wake up in the heat and regret all the cheap wine we had
consumed the night before. The smell alone would kill any flies that landed on us. Needless to say I did not have the chance, in my younger days, to visit the Barossa or any of the wineries it is now famous for; luckily that all changed on this trip.
Once in the Barossa, we were lucky enough to be accompanied by John Baldwin, a wine
specialist tour guide and owner of Barossa
Daimler Tours. John's extensive local knowledge, uncanny ability to recognize individual tastes, and restored 1957 Bentley made for a fantastic
experience that I will not soon forget.
We spent the morning visiting Yalumba Wines for a tour and wine tasting. Samuel Smith founded Yalumba in 1849 after purchasing a 30-acre parcel of land.  Six generations and more than 150 years later Yalumba, Australia's oldest family-owned winery, remains one of the most popular wineries with tourists because of its beautiful landscaped gardens and the winery's Clock Tower (circa 1906).
In the afternoon, we made our way to Penfolds for a Make Your Own Blend Experience. Acting as winemaker for an hour we tried our hands at the craft. A fascinating and satisfying experience, blending to suit your own personal taste, and even more fulfilling to take the wine home.
After a fantastic day in the wineries we were off again, this time to Kangaroo Island. On arrival we were met by a representative from Exceptional Kangaroo Island Tours who then accompanied us on a full day of touring. Kangaroo Island is one of Australia's great natural wonders, as well as one of its best, and most surprising, tourism destinations. It's a wildlife sanctuary without fences, where visitors can see Australian animals in their natural habitat.  Around 30 per cent of the island is protected as parks, and its 541-kilometre coastline includes excellent swimming and surfing beaches, a spot where visitors can walk among sea lions, spectacular cliffs and amazing rock formations such as Remarkable Rocks. The island also has a growing reputation as a food and wine region, renowned especially for its honey, eucalyptus oil and sheep dairy farms.
While on Kangaroo Island, we stayed at the Southern Ocean Lodge. Designed to float amongst the dramatic coastal beauty of the island's south west coast, the world-class lodge offers unrivalled luxury in a uniquely Australian setting. Organic-luxe suites feature lavish sleeping areas, sunken lounge, glass walled en-suite and breathtaking ocean vistas.
Planning a trip to Australia can at first be overwhelming and somewhat ominous. The travel time and sheer size of this great nation is often all it takes to dissuade perspective visitors. If I have any advice it is to identify what you want to do, research where to do it and then focus on one region or location. This will allow you to fully experience the people, culture and feel of a place, without ever being overwhelmed or stressed. It is impossible to experience the whole country in one trip, but if you plan properly there will always be a reason to return!
Bart Card is a Travel, Wine & Food Editor – bartcard@rogers.com

For more information about South Australia visit: www.southaustralia.com

Other websites of interest:       

Sofitel Hotel Melbourne 
www.sofitelmelbourne.com.au

Real Melbourne Bike Tours   
www.rentabike.net.au/biketours/

Horseback Winery Tours   
www.horsebackwinerytours.com.au

Peninsula Hot Springs
www.peninsulahotsprings.com

Bothfeet Walking Lodge –
Great Ocean Road
www.bothfeet.com.au

12 Apostles Helicopters
www.12ah.com
Royal Mail Hotel
www.royalmail.com.au
Boroka Downs
www.borokadowns.com.au
Hilton Adelaide
www.adelaide.hilton.com
Kingsford Homestead
www.kingsfordhomestead.com.au
Barossa Daimler Tours
www.barossadaimlertours.com.au

Penfolds Winery
www.penfolds.com.au
Yalumba Wines
www.yalumba.com
Exceptional Kangaroo Island
www.exceptionalkangarooisland.com
Southern Ocean Lodge
www.southernoceanlodge.com.au



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