Introducing The Swagon, Australia’s New Take On Glamping

swagonWe’ve all seen the pimped-out safari tents and palace-style camping retreats used for glamping; however, Gawler Ranges Wildness Safaris has taken luxurious camping to the next level with the introduction of the Swagon. The 100-year-old, Aussie-style wagon is “part swag, part wagon.” And for those who don’t know, swag refers to a queen-sized double mattress, used for extra comfort when roughing it in the Outback of South Australia.

Also known as the “Galaxy Suite,” the Swagon features a private shower and toilet, as well as a bed canopied by canvas to pull back for stargazing. Glampers won’t even need to cook, as meals are served at the camp’s outdoor dining room with complimentary drinks.

“The Swagon was built to offer single travellers accommodation without a single supplement. The tents have two bedrooms, so a single person could displace four people,” explains Geoff Scholz, Director of Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris. “The wagon was in a dilapidated state parked in the bush, covered in rusty wire when I noticed it and saw the potential to achieve what I wanted. A Swag in a wagon? Yep, Swagon.”

Swagons can be found at Kangaluna Camp, a small wilderness campground on the Eyre Peninsula. Surrounded by salt lakes, volcanic rock and wildlife, the area makes for an excellent destination to get in touch with nature and sleep under the stars.

4 off-the-radar destinations in South Australia

harris smokehouse While many people who travel to South Australia visit the popular regions of Adelaide and the nearby Barossa Valley, there are many off-the-radar destinations that are also worth exploring. Whether you love wine tasting, unique restaurants, adventure travel, craft beer, architecture, art, or culture, there is something for everyone to experience through these lesser-traversed regions down south.

Hahndorf

Located about 30 minutes north of Adelaide, Hahndorf offers scenic hillside views as well as a strong German influence through the city’s timber-framed buildings, German restaurants, and German-inspired art galleries. The old-world charm brings you back in time while trendy boutiques and restaurants help to keep the city modern. For wine-enthusiasts, the wineries and cellars of Hahndorf give a great opportunity to sample the region’s cold-climate varieties, which are my personal favorite because of their intense flavors. Make sure to stop at Harris Smokehouse, a fourth-generation family-owned restaurant that serves high-quality smoked fish specialties, like smoked kingfish, hot smoked barramundi, and smoked oysters from Coffin Bay. I would also recommend visiting The White House, an 1858 cottage that features everything from rustic and ethical cuisine like coddled free-range eggs with spinach and pork fennel sausages with asparagus and mushrooms, an impressive wine cellar, live music, and a Secret Garden Cinema on Friday nights in the summer and fall. As a nature and outdoors lover, I also love the country-fresh treats of Beerenberg Farm like chutneys, jams, honeys, oils, and other sauces (try the molasses!), as well as getting to pick your own strawberries.south australia McLaren Vale

While you’ve probably heard of the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale is also a haven for oenophiles everywhere. Located on the Fleurieu Peninsula about 45 minutes south of Adelaide, McLaren Vale is a beautiful food and wine destination with opportunities for wine, cheese, and craft beer sampling, various tasting trails, farmer’s markets, and even art and coastal activities. The opportunities for oenophiles are endless, with more than 65 cellars and family-owned wineries. If you’re more of a beer person, McLaren Vale Beer gives in-house tastings, including their Vale Ale, which own a gold medal at the International Beer Challenge last summer, as well as serves gastro-pub type food like mushroom pizzas and shucked Coffing Bay oysters. I would also recommend trying one (or all) or the tasting trails to get a variety of experiences, like the Cadenzia Grenache Trail, Wine and Cheese Trails, McLaren Vale Scarce Earth Shiraz Trail, and the McMurtrie Trail. If you only have time to do one thing, my top pick would be a visit to Bella Cosa, as it’s not only a Bed & Breakfast but also a winery, tapas bar, and sculpture park where you can stroll around and enjoy outdoor art. On the weekends, visitors to the area can drive about 2 miles to nearby Willunga and enjoy the Saturday morning farmer’s market. You can also bike to Willunga, as the towns are connected by a cycle path. Once you feel like you’ve eaten and drank enough, enjoy the outdoors by treking through Onkaparinga Gorge, relax on the beach, or go fishing or surfing.

australia Clare valley

While most people wanting to experience south Australia’s wine country opt to visit the Barossa Valley, another option that’s just as beautiful but a bit off the beaten path is Clare Valley. Located about 2 hours north of Adelaide, this is one of the more historical wine regions in South Australia and visitors can experience this through tastings at unique wine cellars. I love this region for its countryside ambiance and the way life here seems simple and organic. While there are many different vineyards and wine cellars in the area, there are a few that stand out from the rest. First there is Sevenhill Cellars, which is the oldest winery in the region and was built by Jesuits in 1851 for the purpose of making sacramental wine. Jesuits actually still work there, and along with tastings in the cellar you can also visit a historical crypt that resides underneath the on-site church. Another winery I really love is Knappstein Winery, mostly because I’m a big craft beer fan and there is a micro brewery in their wine cellar. Moreover, Annie’s Lane is a great stop when checking out the Clare Valley wineries, not only because they have delicious Shiraz but also because they have a free art gallery with works from local artists as well as a complimentary wine museum where you can learn more about vino production through the ages. To sample an array of wineries, I would suggest doing the Rieseling Trail, as Clare Valley is famous for its German Rieselings.

australia Flinders Ranges

While this Outback mountain range is a bit further from Adelaide (about 4-5 hours from the central area), it’s a great way to experience the rugged beauty of South Australia. The experience literally feels like going back in time or a trip to a different world as people live in the bush among wild kangaroos and emus with little signs of civilization and modernization. The landscape of the area is extremely unique, with glowing red rocks, vast desert, jagged mountains, and bright starry skies at night thanks to little light pollution. In the Flingers Ranges National Park you will still find a rich Aboriginal culture as these people have lived in the area for thousands of years. The Aboriginal rock art that you will find is impressive as well as the ancient ruins. Another unique outdoor experience is visiting the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary , where bird watching, off-roading, and hiking are popular activities. Explore precarious-looking mountain peaks, scenic lookout points, ancient seabeds, radioactive hot springs, and see the endangered Yellow-footed Rock-Wallaby in Bararranna Gorge.

Off-the-beaten path Australia: Kangaroo Island

kangaroo island When living in Sydney, Australia, I often took the weekends to explore other parts of the country. One place I vowed to visit was Kangaroo Island, an island in South Australia that I imagined to be full of wildlife and undisturbed nature. I’m glad I went, because my instincts were more than correct.

Know before you go:

Although there are a few luxury options for a visit to Kangaroo Island, such as the Southern Ocean Lodge and Lifetime Private Retreats, I definitely felt it was more of an eco-tourism/adventure destination. Conservation and National parks cover more than one third of the island, so you know you’ll be spending a lot of time exploring the outdoors, flora, and fauna. There are tons of activities in terms of active sports, wildlife interaction, hiking, and experiencing a more rural, laid-back way of life. If you’re the type of person who needs to be connected through technology all of the time, you may have a bit of a struggle here, as cell phone coverage is very limited (my Vodafone didn’t work at all, but I was told Telstra CDMA or 3G work pretty good). If you have friends or family who will worry if they don’t hear from you for a few days, I would definitely give them a heads up about this. One other thing worth mentioning is that there are no taxis on the island or real forms of public transport, so it is worth it to book a tour or rent a car.barossa valley Getting in:

If you have the time, I would recommend spending a couple days in Adelaide first and touring the Barossa Valley vineyards (shown right) and The Toy Factory, which is home to the world’s biggest rocking horse as well as a really fun wildlife park where you can play with birds, kangaroos, sheep, and other animals. From Adelaide, you can take a Regional Express (REX) flight, which will take a little more than 30 minutes. The other option is to catch a Sealink ferry from Cape Jervis to Penshaw on Kangaroo Island.

Where to stay:

My friends and I stayed at the Ozone Seafront Hotel, which had a really great location right on the water in the town of Kingscote, which is the biggest city on the island and has the best selection of restaurants, pubs, and stores while still giving you direct access to nature. This hotel also has a seafront restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating as well as various bars and wine tasting options. While it depends when you go, it is sometimes possible to get rooms here for a little over $100 a night. For backpackers on a budget, there is the Kangaroo Island Central Backpackers Hostel in Kingscote and the Kangaroo Island YHA Hostel in Penneshaw, which overlooks the beautiful Hog Bay.

Do and visit:

Again, I would definitely recommend booking an organized tour or renting a car to do these activities. It isn’t hard to find tours that encompass all or most of these suggestions. Click here to browse the different options. Here were some of the activities that I experienced and would recommend to others visiting Kangaroo Island:

Seal Bay Seal Bay Conservation Park

Seal Bay Conservation Park
is definitely a sight to behold. Visitors get the chance to see hundreds of sea-lions, bulls, females, and pups, in their natural habitat on the beach. You are mandated to take a guided tour, which is actually good because you learn a lot about the seals and their habitat. You will get really close to them, but just be warned, although they are extremely cute they also smell really bad. The cost of the tour is $18 for a child and $30 for an adult.

Scuba diving

Kangaroo Island is well-known for its ideal scuba diving location with an array of unique fish, beautiful Gorgonia coral, and historical shipwrecks. When underwater, you will be enveloped in a rainbow of colors, from red, white, and orange sponges to the florescent Blue Devil fish, neon Harlequin fish, and shiny silver and brown striped truncate coral fish. It is also likely to spot a very strange looking fish called the Leafy Sea Dragon, which literally looks like a bright yellow sea horse morphed with a leaf. Some tour operators that offer dives in the area are Kangaroo Island Dive and Adventures and Adventureland Diving & Sports Service, which you can e-mail at advhost@activ8.net.au or call at (+61) (08) 8553 1072.

kangaroo island Admiral’s Arch and the Remarkable Rocks

Located in Flinders Chase National Park, Admiral’s Arch and the Remarkable Rocks are an impressive sight as well as a vision that defies all laws of nature. Oddly shaped volcanic rock is fun to explore, and you can take loads of interesting illusion photos (who knew you could lift an entire boulder over your head?). Stand before the stalactite-adorned Admiral’s Arch for an unique view of the ocean and Remarkable Rocks, as well as the myriad New Zealand fur seals that live on the rocks below the cliff face. When I was there there were actually so many seals in the colony I had to squint to see them, as they all blended together with the rocks. There are also many hiking trails in the park itself, so it’s a great way to experience the outdoors. To enter the park, you can expect to pay $24.50 per family, $5.50 for a child, $7 for a student, and $9 for an adult.

clifford's honey farm Clifford’s Honey Farm

Coming from Sydney, Clifford’s Honey Farm felt like going back in time to when life was really simple. The farm started as a hobby for Dave Clifford in 1973 but soon became a business in 1993 when the family opened a successful honey shop, which you can still peruse today (and should!). Today, there are more than 300 honey producing hives on the farm, and you will get to see some of them upclose for yourself. With help from the family, Dave can produce up to 20 tons of honey each year, which is probably why there is such an array of products in the shop, from candles to cosmetics to candy to ice cream toppings and salad dressings. The honey flavors come from all different flowers, such as Sugar Gum, Bottle Brush, Mallee, Canola, and more. Make sure to sample the Chocolate Covered Honeycomb before you go, as it is one of the best things I have ever tasted.

Island Pure Sheep Dairy

This was one of my favorite experiences, not only because I got to see first hand what a day in the life of a sheep farmer is and how the sheep milk products are actually made, but because I got to take part in an extensive tasting session. Island Pure makes an array of cheeses that visitors can try, including Kefaltori, a creamy, smooth, semi-matured cheese, Manchego, a cheese with a mellow but rounded flavor, Haloumi (my personal favorite), a “twice cooked” cheese that originates from Cyprus, and Feta, a creamy textured, tangy cheese. You will also get the chance to sample fresh sheep’s milk yogurt. Entry costs are $20 for a family, $4.50 for a student, $4.50 for a child (children under 5 are free), and $5.50 for an adult.

Kangaroo island Emu Ridge Distillery

The Emu Ridge Distillery is more than just wildlife viewing, as it is actually known for its eucalyptus products and wine and cheese tastings. Eucalyptus oil was actually the first true overseas export for Australia, however, Emu Ridge is now the only eucalyptus oil distillery in South Australia and one of the only ones left in the country altogether. The farm itself sits on 650 acres, 250 of which is natural bush. There is a tiny, old post office which is really interesting to see, as well as a craft shop made from recycled materials that sells local handicrafts and eucalytus products. As for wildlife, you will see enormous emus, wallabies, kangaroos on the property as well as baby joeys inside the shop. Emu Ridge Distillery is free to enter, although if you want a guided tour a fee of $15 per child and $30 per adult will apply.

kangaroo island Pelican Feeding

This is a really interesting, slightly disturbing look at how pelicans eat. When “The Pelican Man” feeds fish to the pelicans the birds swallow the meal whole and you can see the fish go down their throats. While you may flinch a bit, the experience is actually pretty educational as The Pelican Man will tell you more about the birds themselves. The feeding takes place daily at 5PM at the Kingscote Wharf behind the Kangaroo Island Marine Center.

For more information on traveling to Kangaroo Island, please visit the Kangaroo Island Tourism Board website.

“First stop” in the 2012 world cycling events: The Santos Tour Down Under




The annual Santos Tour Down Under, the same race where Lance Armstrong made his comeback, will take place January 15-22, 2012, in Adelaide, Australia. The bike race, which is more than just your average cycling event, is actually the “first stop” on the UCI World Tour, which brings together the world’s most challenging road races.

There are about 500 miles total and 6 stages in the race, each offering a unique landscape for riders. During Stage 1, riders will cycle through the vineyards of the Barossa and into Clare Valley, while Stage 2 journeys through the winding hillside of Adelaide. Stage 3 brings participants to the Fleurieu Peninsula and through the seaside town of Victoria Harbor, with stage 4 traversing through the heart of wine country. This year, Stage 5 brings a new element, as riders will ascend Old Willunga Hill, the most challenging obstacle of the race. And finally, Stage 6 ends the event with a circuit race around Elder Park on the banks of the River Torrens.

Not a professional rider but still want to experience the fun? Participate in The Bupa Challenge Tour, which allows attendees to ride shorter versions of the main race a few hours before the WorldTour professionals as well Ride for a Reason and support Cancer Council SA. You can also experience the race as a bystander with a unique point of view, from a helicopter.

For a taste of what to expect, check out the Santos Tour Down Under promotional video above.

Gadling gear review: Outdoor Research women’s Frescoe Hoody activewear

women's activewearI love hoodies, and ever since I was old enough to waddle around in my brother’s hand-me-downs (which unfortunately included his tighty-whiteys, until I was old enough to realize that, while my mom’s thriftiness was admirable, clothing your daughter in boy’s underwear was not), I’ve worn them. The versatility, quirky style, and marsupial-like comfort a great hoody can provide make it an unbeatable wardrobe staple for travel or at home.

When I started running a decade ago, zip-up sweatshirt hoodies were my favorite layering accessory. Unfortunately, they’re bulky, and one of the reasons I took up running was so I could exercise while traveling. Thus, like most active women, I require workout gear that fulfills my various needs.

That’s why I love Outdoor Research’s Frescoe Hoody. This lightweight pullover debuted last spring in the Seattle-based company’s women’s apparel line, just in time for me to give it a test-run on a monthlong backpacking trip through Australia.

For this particular trip, I needed a piece of activewear that could perform well in a variety of climates (it was winter in the Southern Hemisphere). It also needed to serve as sleepwear in a Sydney backpacker’s, and at a friend’s Arctic-like, 120-year-old stone cottage in the rainy Barossa Valley. Most important: I would have little opportunity to do laundry, so the hoody needed to, as advertised, deliver moisture-wicking, “quick-dry performance,” and remain stink-proof.women's activewearThe Frescoe Hoody is made of Dri-Release® E.C.O. fabric: 83% recycled polyester, 15% organic cotton, and 2% Spandex. New for 2011 is Built-in FreshGuard® odor neutralization. I have no idea what that last part means from a manufacturing standpoint, but it’s a huge selling point for someone (that would be me) who has been known to travel for weeks at a time in climatic extremes ranging from tropical jungle to high-altitude blizzard, sans access to laundry services. My test hoody didn’t have FreshGuard, and still miraculously kept stench at bay.

Pros

I confess that when I first received my Frescoe in the mail and unpacked it, I was dismayed by both the color (see Cons) and size. Although I’d ordered an XS (sizes go up to L), the “relaxed fit” was still generous. I’m 5’2″, and wear a 32A bra, so the V-neck (which is double-layered, to help prevent gaping, I presume) was a bit too low for me, but I’m used to that. How the flat-chested do suffer.

  • From the first time I wore it, however, I decided I loved the Frescoe’s slouchy design, in part because the bottom hem has a wide, flattering, slightly stretchy band. It’s slimming, but also retains body heat. The fabric is soft, light, and unbelievably comfortable, and the hood stays put but doesn’t constrict (there are no drawstrings). When I got too warm on a run, the hoody was easy to whip off while maintaining my pace, due to its loose fit. Once tied around my waist, it didn’t hinder my movement with weight or bulk.
  • women's activewear
  • What really made me fall in love with the Frescoe, however, are two fantastic features: a tiny, hidden zippered pocket ideal for holding keys, a Chapstick, and a couple of bucks, and cuff fold flaps. For cold-handed types like me, these are ideal when it’s too warm for gloves.
  • I’ve worn my Frescoe in Seattle drizzle, hiking and camping in Shenandoah National Park, and on the windy beaches of Kangaroo Island in South Australia. On that trip, I was only able to do laundry once, 10 days into my trip. Yet the top survived daily runs for two weeks, before being crammed in my backpack for four days while I was in the blistering heat of the Ningaloo Reef region in Western Australia. On day 20, the Frescoe emerged, still smelling reasonably fresh, to accompany me on a long run around Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. I even slept in it that night because it passed the “sniff test.” What? Like you haven’t done the same thing.
  • The $55 price tag may seem a bit steep for what is essentially a glorified long-sleeve T-shirt. But when you take into consideration the bells and whistles, performance ability, durability, and responsible manufacturing materials, it’s a steal.

Cons

  • At 11.8 ounces, the Frescoe isn’t as lightweight and compressible as some activewear, but it’s not bad and it kept me warm. Given how well it performs, I don’t mind a little extra bulk in my baggage.
  • women's activewearMy only other nitpick are the colors. I admittedly have a pet peeve about women’s gear that only comes in impractical, pastelly or bright hues. I do, however, like the little flower graphic on the Frescoe’s right hip. New 2011 shades (available starting in February) include Mist (light blue), Fuschia, Mandarin, and Mushroom (brown-grey).

My own hoody is Fossil, a not-terribly flattering greyish-green that makes me look somewhat cadaverous. It’s practical, however, and never shows dirt. If OR could make this baby in charcoal, burgundy, forest green, or black, I’d buy another one in a heartbeat to wear on the street, or while tossing back an apres-ski cocktail or four.

In summary, I was really impressed with the Frescoe Hoody. It delivered on its promises to stay dry and not get stinky, and the hidden zip and cuff fold features totally rock for practicality, cleverness, and cuteness. I highly recommend this top as a multi-use travel wardrobe staple. P.S. It’s also great to wear for lounging or while typing up Gadling posts.