Do I begin towards the end, the surreal sublime experience of watching the sun set in to the ocean? Or at the beginning and the crab linguine at elegant ‘Assaggio’ restaurant in Adelaide’s Unley, whose taste and texture are with me still?
‘Why on earth go to South Australia?’ my lip-curling mother, who has never been, had exclaimed. It wasn’t a question either, although I mumbled some excuse; only much later did I realise that I should have replied: Why go anywhere?
Both I and the man I love had never been either: we arrived devoid of expectations, with a buttercup-yellow Hyundai to pick up at the airport, which would go on to bear us nearly 1500 kilometres away. That first night was in Adelaide itself, a logically laid-out city whose architecture made us gasp, at whose magnificent art gallery we were entranced by ‘The Feast of Trimalchio’, an extraordinary digital video installation made by four Russian artists. Our cute and quirky hotel the Majestic Minima was a modern check- yourself-in concept let down by Fawlty Towers administration – but at the lifts the woman about to join us asked me if I was Victoria Cosford before proceeding to tell us she was from Mullumbimby. One of those ludicrous coincidences – she had seen us on the plane – but how many hotels are there in Adelaide?
We were gone by the following morning (although not before I had run into both her and her husband again at one of the wonderful Cibo cafe outlets: great coffee and even better fig and walnut cake) – hurtling southward in Buttercup, out through the dreary suburbs then up through endlessly climbing hills past fat bunches of purple grapes until we were at Victor Harbour. We were booked into one of a series of Beach Huts at nearby Middleton, a faithfully reproduced wooden dwelling in whose gracious grounds – abundant in lavender and rosemary – we grilled sausages on the barbecue and ate our simple feast under the stars, watching bunnies hop across the lawns.
Near Port Elliot we stayed two nights in a vast house looking out across the ocean, dining on locally caught blue eye we washed down with a Coriole White. Coriole had been part of a roam through the wineries, back the way we had come to the McLaren Vale and Willunga, countryside reminding me so much of Italy with its vineyards and olive groves. The wineries! Some like Primo Estate and Wirra Wirra, state-of-the-art and glamorous, bald men tipping out tastes of wine into bulbous stemware, and stylish cheese platters – and others, like Wehl’s Mount Benson, humble family-run operations with dogs rushing up to welcome us and only four varieties of wines to try.
And then on to remotest Robe, a three- or-more-hours flat flat flat straight line heading east toward Victoria, with inland lakes and sudden V-formations of pelicans and the cafe at Salt Creek mid-point where they advertised Mullet Burgers and Shark Burgers. Robe, famous for dramatic cliff-top walks, wildness, rock lobster, simmered one night into too much tomato sauce and ribbon pasta so that the beautiful specimen we had purchased, caught that morning, I somehow spoiled. Blame the trip to Coonawarra previously.
Then, nearly our last night, Port Willunga and the ‘Star of Greece’ restaurant about which I had been reading forever. Perched dizzyingly above the ocean, the location is mind-blowing. We nearly had the place to ourselves this Friday night; we settled on to high chairs outside, our fingers dipping into bowls of white bait and calamari, exquisitely cooked. We watched, far below, an old man toiling slowly through the small waves, the setting sun reddening our eastern skins, the setting sun being swallowed up by the ocean, at the end of our southerly holiday.