A golden harvest

Caroline Gladstone savours a flavour-packed food tour that delivers a feast for the senses.

The store is packed and so are the shelves. Bottles and jars of goodies bedazzle and beg to be bought. Customers oblige, queuing for delicacies and mini-hampers to eat outside by the lake. This is Maggie Beer's Farm Shop, and although the acclaimed foodie first lady of the Barossa is not around, she lives just 10 minutes away and is likely to drop in at any time.

Maggie's wares, like the changing tastes of chefs and home cooks, are on a constant merry-go-round. Her signature pheasant pate, launched in the 1970s, is too rich for today's palates and waistlines, but new ice-cream flavours are always being dreamt up, and Maggie's Orchard is the latest label to grace the shelves in a range that includes dried mustard apricots and apple and pear cider.

The verjuice she introduced decades ago is still as popular as ever (I bought several bottles), helped by the free verjuice cooking demonstrations every day.

South Australia was the original foodie state, and it hasn't lost its charm. It still produces more wine - including the famous Penfolds Grange - than any other, and its innovation is legendary. It was the first state to allow kangaroo to be sold for consumption (in 1980) and continues to develop delicacies for the gourmet palate.

The locavore craze - those who eat only food grown within a 100-mile (160-kilometre) radius - is an old tradition in the capital, thanks to Adelaide Central Market, which has provided fresh produce to city folk since 1870.

Many of these culinary experiences are on offer on a new AAT Kings five-day coach tour of South Australia, aptly called Harvest. The tour, which begins in October and runs over summer, also includes wildlife encounters on Kangaroo Island and sightseeing in the very German town of Hahndorf.

The five-day, four-night South Australian Harvest is part of a new collection of short tours called 52 Brilliant Breaks, launched by AAT Kings earlier this year. Grouped under themes such as food and wine, nature and wildlife, and active adventures, they are aimed at a younger crowd who may have never taken a coach tour.

Taking in all Australian states and New Zealand, they encompass trips from two to nine days.

Other food and wine Brilliant Breaks include trips in Melbourne, Sydney and parts of Tasmania.

We begin with a city tour of Adelaide, perfectly planned by Colonel William Light in 1835 to be one mile square and bordered by the north, south, east and west terraces, and surrounded by parkland. Our tastebuds are soon activated with a stop at the central market in the middle of town.

While the market's 70 stalls are owned by providores who have been there for many years, some as many as 50, we meet two of the newcomers and have a brush with fame. In a spick-and-span demonstration kitchen above the market complex, we meet Barossa born-and-bred Callum Hann, who was runner-up in the second series of MasterChef and became one of the show's sentimental favourites. With friend and dietician Themis Chryssidis, Callum runs Sprout, an interactive cooking school.

Before we don our aprons and get cooking, the boys take us on a quick tour of the market to meet a few of the identities and pick up supplies. We stop for cheeses and meet the owners of Lucia's Fine Foods, who set up shop in the 1950s and have recently opened a funky charcuterie to cater to modern tastes.

Back in the test kitchen, we pair up with a partner as Callum and Themis show us how to prepare each of our three courses. Standing over our modern induction stove and with helpers to wash the dishes, it's almost a breeze to recreate the entree of pork and green apple salad, the main of Cajun salmon with peach salad and dill yoghurt, and the deconstructed cheesecake dessert. It's a lot harder eating it all, and tour participants should be warned not to eat too much leading up to this evening's cooking class.

The next day we travel to the Barossa Valley by coach, with Tom Bartusz at the wheel and director Dave Overton on the microphone. The pair have worked for AAT Kings for 23 and five years, respectively, and love their jobs.

Participant numbers are limited to about 25, to allow everyone plenty of room to move and the opportunity to mix and mingle.

After coffee at Maggie's Farm Shop and a hearty lunch at the South Australian Company Store at Angaston, a restaurant and gourmet food shop housed in a former army barracks, we begin our wine tastings at two distinctly different cellar doors. At relative newcomer Torbreck, we learn that a wine called The Laird is the most expensive in Australia, with its 2005 vintage selling for $700 a bottle. Although none is on offer for tasting, we do sample the highly awarded RunRig, a shiraz made from 100-year-old grapevines.

Our next stop is mass-producer Jacob's Creek. The winery is huge, tastings are generous and there are beanbags on the lawn to have a lie-down as you soak in the surrounding country views.

After two days of feasting and drinking, I am happy to have a sausage-sizzle lunch at the Saturday church market in Hahndorf, settled in 1838 by a small group of Prussian immigrants.

We learn about the history of Australia's oldest German town on a walking tour led by a woman in 19th-century garb.

Our next stop, on Kangaroo Island is far too brief but the spectacular views and animal antics make up for it.

On arrival at the little capital, Kingscote, we head to the jetty to catch the 5pm pelican feeding conducted by local character John Ayliffe. He is passionate about the island wildlife, but does put a dampener on things when he tells us the once-strong penguin colony has been decimated over time by the ravenous seals.

The next day we see the culprits - New Zealand fur seals basking on rocks in Flinders Chase National Park, and Australian sea lions lolling on the beach at Seal Bay.

There is so much to learn about KI, as they call it, and so little time. Luckily, our tour director, Dave, fills in the gaps for us with an informative commentary that encompasses the island's history and unique terrain.

Our last foodie experience is a veritable feast at the island's Andermel Marron Farm and Cafe, one of the signature You're Invited special events AAT Kings includes on each itinerary. We tuck into the freshwater crayfish and taste Two Wheeler Creek wines. Then it's back on the ferry and off to Adelaide to finish the trip with farewell drinks at our hotel.

The writer travelled courtesy of AAT Kings.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Virgin Australia operates regular daily flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Adelaide, from where the AAT Kings Harvest Tour of South Australia starts. See virginaustralia.com

TOURING THERE

The five-day, four-night Harvest Tour begins on October 28, 2014, departing from Adelaide. The last tour is in late March 2015. It includes four nights' accommodation, coach travel, daily breakfasts, three dinners and two lunches, sightseeing and wine-tasting. Fares are $1795 a person twin share (airfares are extra). See aatkings.com.

MORE INFORMATION

aatkings.com; southaustralia.com.

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