Sultry with a Fringe on top

"You've got to see the Garden of Unearthly Delights," our taxi driver gushed without prompting as he swept us away from Adelaide Airport towards the steamy city centre several Fringes ago. "It just goes off down there."

It was my first Adelaide Fringe; I wasn't entirely sure what he was talking about. After checking into my hotel off Rundle Mall, I went straight to a late-night cabaret chat show at the Tuxedo Cat, which was a pop-up club that transformed vacant city buildings into much-needed venues to accommodate the ridiculously ambitious festival.

The next day, it was all aboard a bus for a tour around op shops in far-flung suburbs I'd never heard of, complete with songs and patter from the comedian hostess.

It wasn't until the second evening rolled around, a full 24 hours after our driver spruiked it, that I entered the Garden of Unearthly Delights - and promptly wondered what took me so long.

At other times of the year, this is plain old Rundle Park, squatting at the end of Rundle Street, a hop and a skip from that iconic sculpture known as the Mall's Balls. During the Fringe, however, the park that helps form a green ring around the city centre becomes something else altogether: a wonderland strung with fairy lights; filled with quirky pop-up theatres, mirrored tents and other eccentricities; and peopled with random costumed characters as well as festivalgoers who are just happy they managed to nab a ticket to one of the shows.

Within the garden walls, we see a touching mime act with a gaffer-taped gob, a so-so acrobatic troupe and a jaw-dropping pair of New York-based sisters who twirl around a trapeze naked before talking a pair of middle-aged bearded blokes out of their clothes and into some frilly things in full view of everyone. It was entirely unearthly and incredibly delightful.

Having been won over so thoroughly, it's with extra interest that I peruse the program for this year's Fringe, which kicks off on February 15. It seems the southern hemisphere's largest arts festival plans to outdo itself, packing in 930 events and about 4000 artists doing their thing in 350 permanent and impermanent venues during a record 31 days - a week longer than 2012. It's enough to make anyone's head spin (and prompt a few imaginary cartwheels).

Among the usual comedy, cabaret, film, theatre, circus and burlesque shows are intrigues such as voyeuristic peep shows in the windows of the State Library of South Australia, a dance performance in a caravan for an audience of just five, and an Icelandic play translated into a Scots dialect.

The festival ambassador, Paul McDermott, will unveil his first exhibition, The Dark Garden. "It's a more private aspect of my existence that I haven't shown people for a long time," he says of his paintings of "mega-cute megafauna" populating a post-apocalyptic future. "I find it a bit awkward talking about it." He treads more familiar territory performing satirical songs in his other Fringe show, Paul Sings.