What's hot in South Australia

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From posh river shacks, quirky pubs and exclusive animals, Katrina Lobley looks at what's new in South Australia.

Giant pandas

Expect panda-monium when two giant pandas show their faces at Adelaide Zoo in December. The two beasties, a boy named Wang Wang and a girl named Funi, touched down from China earlier this month and are currently in quarantine. They're set to make their debut at the zoo on December 13. Throughout November, the zoo will get everyone in the giant panda mood with China-flavoured activities such as calligraphy, origami, tai chi and wing chun (a type of martial arts). These giant pandas will be the only ones on display in the southern hemisphere (outside of China, giant pandas can be seen only at three US zoos and the Vienna, Tokyo and Chiang Mai zoos). The last time a pair of giant pandas ventured onto Australian soil was 1988, when a pair visited for three months each at Taronga Zoo and Melbourne Zoo. In case anyone is wondering how the pandas will cope with Adelaide's notoriously hot summers, their purpose-built enclosure will include chilled rocks. The zoo is also nurturing an eight-hectare bamboo plantation as each panda will munch through about 20kg of bamboo daily. It's hoped Wang Wang (which means 'net' or 'web' as in bringing together), and Funi ('lucky girl') might also make a few baby giant pandas during their 10-year stay in Adelaide to help boost numbers of the endangered species. There are 200-plus giant pandas in captivity and only 1600 left in the wild.

Appellation expands

It's now a little easier to secure a table at the Barossa's highly regarded Appellation restaurant after it expanded over winter from 28 seats to 48. The improved capacity has been achieved through adding a dining room, as well as doubling the cellar, home to South Australia's most top-notch wine list, according to Australian Gourmet Traveller. The lounge, where patrons can enjoy drinks before and after dinner, has been tripled in size. While the restaurant features an a la carte menu, it's renowned for its themed "wine flight" tasting menus, which match extraordinary wines to a procession of exquisite dishes. Look out for the December wine flight menu, which features artisan-crafted micro-scale wines. Appellation is located within The Louise luxury vineyard retreat in the north-western Barossa.

Rent-a-river shack

The Murraylands is an area about an hour's drive east of Adelaide where the Murray River carves its way through stark countryside known as the Mallee. The homes that line the Murray's banks in this region range from homely shacks to plush five-star piles. Visitors can easily track down a riverside home to relax in - life around these parts is all about barbecues and beers, intense sunsets, waterskiing, floating in inflatable tyres and throwing a line in the river for cod. Rivershackrentals.com.au lists rentals in 13 communities strung out along the river. Most of the properties are located in Mannum, known as the birthplace of the river's paddlesteamers.

Outback opening

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A bit of "wild bush luxury" opens next month south of Flinders Ranges National Park. The centrepiece of Arkaba Station, a 24,000-hectare working sheep station, is its 1851 stone homestead. Guests can stay in one of four bedrooms or in the Coachman's Cottage. It's the sort of place where there's no TV, telephones or minibar, but there is plenty of nature in the form of galahs chattering down by the river red gums every morning, red and grey kangaroos, wallaroos and emus. The luxury is in touches such as the open bar, the wet-edge pool, a resident chef and dining outside at night on the terrace. The luxury retreat is the brainchild of Charlie Carlow, whose portfolio already boasts Bamurru Plains near Kakadu and Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Arkaba Station is 75 minutes' drive from Port Augusta and 4.5 hours' drive from Adelaide, or you can charter a plane from Adelaide. There's a minimum two-night stay. Rates start from $790 a night per person twin share.

Quirky or what

Goolwa, nestled at the mouth of the Murray on the Fleurieu Peninsula, is fast becoming a destination in its own right. It's not hard to see why, with lovable joints like The Australasian Circa 1858 as drawcards. The 1858 boutique hotel and restaurant boasts five eclectic rooms, including "The Quirky Room", which uses odd angles and mirrors to make the most of a tight space, and "The Juliet Room" featuring a tiny balcony. Juliet is also the name of the talented chef downstairs. Juliet Michell puts an Asian spin on her mod Oz cuisine to come up with winners such as a pear and roasted parsnip soup with Japanese-spiced crisp bread wafers. Yum. Tariffs start from $275 a night. 1 Porter Street, Goolwa.

For information on these and other great holiday ideas see southaustralia.com or phone 1300 671 082.

South Australia Experiences is published by Fairfax Media in conjunction with South Australia Tourism Commission. Details are correct at the time of publication and may be subject to change. All writers travelled courtesy of SATC.

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