Outside Adelaide: From Hahndorf to Port Elliot

November 16, 2019
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ADELAIDE is a very charming city, as this photo of its town hall attests.

Even so, you feel like getting out of town after a while, without necessarily going as far as Raukkan. And there are plenty of attractions closer to Adelaide that let you do so. For one thing, there’s the famous Barossa Valley vineyards.

Barossa Valley

Even closer to town, there’s a range of hills called the Mount Lofty Range. Its highest mountain is called Mount Lofty (that’s easy to remember). The summit of Mount Lofty is only twelve kilometres from Rundle Mall. The Mount Lofty Range contains several several interesting places to visit, from the historic town of Hahndorf to wildlife sanctuaries.

There are thought to be 150,000 koalas in the Mount Lofty Range! Though Koalas are rare in other parts of Australia, they’re very common in South Australia.

The Mount Lofty Range continues south-westward until it becomes the Fleurieu Peninsula, which points in the direction of Kangaroo Island.

Adelaide and its environs to the south. Map data ©2019 Google. Some place names added for this post. North at top.

In this post, I roam through the hills from Hahndorf down to the Deep Creek conservation park, with a side-trip to Port Elliot on the south coast.


On my third day in Adelaide, I decided that I was going to visit the hill town of Hahndorf, a one hour bus ride away and close to the many eco-parks of the Mount Lofty Range. There are so many of these surrounding Adelaide, in addition to its beautiful central city parklands.

Hahndorf was established in 1839, just after Adelaide itself, by German settlers who helped with the development of vineyards of the nearby Barossa Valley.

St Paul's Lutheran Church, Hahndorf
Hahndorf's main street

The town’s logo alludes to its numerous trees, and also to the fact that some of the oldest buildings are in a style called fachwerk, the German equivalent of the half-timbered houses of Shakespearian England.

Fachwerk houses at Schiltach in the Black Forest (southern Germany). I wasn’t clued up enough on architecture, when I was in Hahndorf, to make a point of taking pictures of the the local examples of this style! Public domain image by Andreas Frick, 2006.

In 1917 the name of the town was changed to Ambleside, and then back to Hahndorf again in 1935. Some of the local Germans also ended up being interned in the First World War.

There was a free museum that showed the history of Hahndorf. Here’s something from a display that goes into these name changes, as well as the travails of a local family of partly German heritage.

This reminds me of a very similar but somewhat more bizarre story I heard just the other day about a town in New Zealand. There was an immigrant named Max Bollinger who’d come out in the 1870s, married an Irish woman named Margaret, and had a large family of which two sons, George and Herman, were killed in World War One. Both survived Gallipoli intact. George was sent back to New Zealand for officer training but was turned down on the grounds of being too German, so he went back to the Western Front and was killed in 1917. Herman was killed in 1918. Among their numerous cousins in the German army, no less than eight would be killed. Max, so they say, died of a broken heart. As if that wasn’t bad enough, just lately, some kids doing a project on World War One discovered that George and Herman’s names had been left off the local war memorial for the last hundred years. The omission has since been put right. But I think it tells you a lot about life as the odd ones out in a gossipy small town at the time.

I had dinner at the Hahndorf Inn, built in 1863, which billed itself as pokie-free: something that must be unusual in Australia.

The Hahndorf Inn

I was amazed at the food. I had a huge German sausage with beef; it was pricey but worth it.

They even sold kangaroo skins in Hahndorf. I felt the kangaroo skin. It was a heck of a lot tougher than lambskin. I’m surprised they could actually sell kangaroo skin and one or two other wild animal products.

But then again, most species of kangaroo aren’t protected in Australia; they’re regarded as being fairly numerous and in no need of it.

Here’s a video I made inside a store called Grass Roots Vintage, talking to its proprietor, Eleanor, about a famous old pair of boxing gloves.

Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary

Close to Hahndorf is the Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary. This was started by a man named Dr John Wamsley in 1969. He became famous — or notorious, if you were a cat fancier — for wearing a cat-skin hat during a campaign to legalise the shooting of feral cats in South Australia.

Cats are an issue in Australia and New Zealand, where they kill native wildlife, including many birds, lizards and (in Australia) small marsupials.

There’s some controversy about the degree of risk that cats pose to birds and lizards, as cats kill rats and mice which are also a threat to these species.

On the other hand, there’s no doubt that cats are a huge threat to Australia’s small marsupials, with no upside. These small marsupials have all been heading relentlessly for extinction ever since white settlers showed up, along with their cats.

Why was it OK to shoot kangaroos grazing on farmland, Wamsley asked, when it wasn’t OK to shoot feral cats exterminating Australian wildlife? Wamsley managed to get the law changed so that feral cats could be shot. Here’s a documentary that was made about him in 2001, cat-hat and all:

The Warrawong Wildlife Santcuary is located on Stock Road at Mylor in the Adelaide Hills. The local council had the road staked out to go straight which involved cutting down a lot of eucalyptus trees. So, John Wamsley went out and changed the pegs and saved the trees.

Here are a couple of videos I filmed at Warrawong:

Warrawong: Two wallabies nibbling tussock

Warrawong: Emus feeding

The Sanctuary website claims that it was the first place in the world to receive a predator or pest-proof fence. And that it is the only place where you can view platypus in mainland South Australia. The present owners are a couple named Narrelle MacPherson and David Cobbold. They also operate another wildlife sanctuary in Perth.

The Sanctuary used to be 34 hectares in extent, but some of the land was lost, and now it’s down to 20 hectares. It seems to have been run as a commercial venture and was chronically unprofitable, with the result that it closed in 2013. The present owners re-opened it in 2018 and seem to be running it more as a foundation, with support from donors.

They have a lake and sanctuary area from a neighbouring developer, so that they can increase the population of platypus. The Sanctuary can currently support about six to eight. They have got koalas, emus, kangaroos and wallabies. Some of these are a pretty wild because the taken over by Australian state government for a whole and managed minimalistically, before reverting back to the enthusiasts who run it now.

They’ve bought back the lake area and will restore its underwater viewing platform.

They were also treating the lake and hoping to bring it back to the way it was in pre-European times. The Sanctuary is also involved in combatting Murray River pollution as well.

The Fleurieu Peninsula and the dying Eucalypts

Further south, on the Fleurieu Peninsula, I found a campground in a coastal area near the tip of the peninsula, known as Deep Creek Conservation Park. This area faced due south and was pretty wild and windswept and cold, by Australian standards.

I saw eucalyptus trees dying there. I drove along a section of rough road that was only intended for four-wheel drives, and discovered an entire area just dying off.

They were suffering from a disease called eucalyptus dieback, which looked a lot like the kauri dieback disease in New Zealand. There were signs up telling people not to spread it, just like in the areas where we have kauri dieback.

Signs warning of Dieback contagion at Deep Creek

It’s even caused by related organisms, phytopthora cinnamomi and phytopthora multivora, cousins of the phytopthora agathidicida that kills kauri. The problem’s actually worse in Australia in some ways, as p. cinnamomi and p. multivora kill other Australian native plants as well as eucalpyts.

In this country, it looks like p. agathadicida only kills kauri (so far).

The Deep Creek website has a brochure on the issue and contains these words, which would sound familiar to many New Zealanders:

Phytophthora (fy-TOFF-thora), otherwise known as root-rot fungus, is killing our native plants and threatens the survival of animals depending on plants for food and shelter.

This introduced fungus can be found in plant roots, soil and water. Help stop the spread by using hygiene stations, staying on tracks and trails and by complying with all Phytophthora management signs.

Yep, that sounds familiar alright.

Though New Zealand scientists share notes with their Australian counterparts and vice versa, it’s funny that the New Zealand media hasn’t picked up on the existence of a practically identical problem on the other side of the ditch. We can be a bit inward-looking sometimes.

Costly Kangaroo Island (which I didn’t get to)

I‘d really wanted to go to Kangaroo Island, which is the size of Bali and famous for its unspoilt Australian ecology (whence the ‘kangaroo’ bit).

On Kangaroo Island, the kangaroos have reached 65,000 in number. The koalas also number 50,000, which means they are actually now a pest. They’re eating the bush and denying food for other populations.

There are plans to cull both, which environmentalists aren’t happy about. Narrelle McPherson also told me that people wanted to bring some of the koalas over from Kangaroo Island to repopulate parts of the mainland where koalas have declined because the koalas in those districts have Chlamydia, a factor in their decline, whereas the koalas on Kangaroo Island don’t have any diseases.

Unfortunately, it turned out that to get the boat over to Kangaroo Island would have cost A$200, even though it’s not far offshore. Accommodation would have been A$200 a night. All up, A$600 for two nights.

So, I thought, “no, I’m not going.’’ Instead, I decided to have a look at the coastal towns to the east of the Fleurieu Peninsula.

The Seaside Towns

A little way to the east lie several coastal towns including Victor Harbour, Port Elliot and Goolwa.

These are quite touristy. Victor Harbour has a horsedrawn tram and is the terminus for a heritage train known as the Cockle Train, which runs from Victor Harbour through Port Elliot to Goolwa on a fairly regular basis.

The railway station at Port Elliot, nowadays used only for excursion trains
Victor Harbour: The horsedrawn tram trundles along this pier to the island in the background, called Granite Island

Victor Harbour and Port Elliot are on the coast; Goolwa is slightly inland and actually on the Murray River. One of the sights of Goolwa is the Hindmarsh Island Bridge, which opened in 2001. In 1994, some indigenous Ngarrindjeri objected to it, saying that its course desecrated old sacred sites that were, however, secret and not known to the general public or even to other Ngarrindjeri. A government inquiry concluded that the sites didn’t really exist, and the federal government passed empowering legislation in 1997. However, after the bridge was built, the courts decided that maybe the secret sacred sites did exist after all.

The Hindmarsh Island Bridge across the Murray River at Goolwa

The Cockle Train, so-called because people used it to take shellfish to market in the days when it was a proper railway, was the first railway to be established in South Australia.

The Cockle Train didn’t just carry cockles. It also connected Murray River traffic to the coast.

In fact there are at least eight excursion train routes in this area, all of them apparently operated by the SteamRanger Heritage Railway.

The place seemed to be a railway buff’s paradise, complete with old posters.

The Murray River is the Mississippi of Australia. Its most important tributary, the Darling, is navigable as far as 970 kilometres inland. But the last little bit, the actual mouth of the Murray, is very sandy and unsuitable for ships. And so South Australia’s first railway was built from Goolwa to Port Elliot in the 1850s, and eventually to Victor Harbour.

I stayed in a huge house with eight rooms in Port Elliot. The son of the household was renting out one room on Airbnb. The father had just recently lost his wife. It was a nice place, as was the port itself. I also visited a boutique brewery at Goolwa.

I didn’t go for a ride on the Cockle Train to Goolwa, as Goolwa was on the way to Raukkan and I was driving there anyway. I thought I’d catch a ride on one of the heritage riverboats.

But the weather was stormy, and there was no way I was going on an ancient riverboat with hailstones falling!

Some More Photos from my trip to Raukkan

Finally, here are some more rather atmospheric photos from my trip to Raukkan. The first one’s an old mill at Strathalbyn, on the way.

And here are some watery scenes on the lagoons.

An interesting monument to one of the founders of the mission.

And finally, a romantic sunset over the lonesome road.


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