Have you ever stayed in a town where everyone you encounter is friendly and helpful, from the caravan park to the supermarket, retail shops to wineries and everything in between? We encountered this at Penola in South Australia’s south east, around 390 kilometres from Adelaide. Maybe it’s something in the water or maybe it has something to do with Penola being the one time home of Mary MacKillop, Australia’s only saint. Either way this friendly little town is one to put on your visit list with interesting shops in the main street, galleries, historic buildings and over 20 wineries in the wine growing region of Coonawarra just 14 kilometres away.
Taking a walk through the town you’ll spot sculptures of some Australian poets from this area including William Ogilvie, Adam Lindsay Gordon and John Shaw Nielson, all who were inspired by the bush surroundings in the region. There are some really interesting shops that can keep you busy for a long time and galleries both indoors and out to discover.
In town you can also take a self guided tour of the Mary Mackillop Interpretive Centre which includes the original 1867 schoolhouse that she taught in and tells the story of her life and work here in Penola.
Then of course there are the divine wines of the Coonawarra, a wine region which is unique in Australia due to its Terra Rossa soil, the only one of its kind. The soil the grapevines grow in is a thin iron oxide based top soil over limestone and only exists in a one kilometre wide strip for 12 kilometres. This valuable stretch of land has produced world class wines, most notably red wines and in particular Cabernet. That doesn’t mean to say that their other varieties aren’t also worth trying and buying.
The cellar doors we visited were all memorable as much for their friendly service and stunning grounds that are very welcoming for picnics and family outings, as for the premium wines. And for something different from what we’ve come to expect at wineries, not one of them charged for tastings, hallelujah!
The standout wineries we visited were Balnaves of Coonawarra, Bellwether Wines, Patrick of Coonawarra, Leconfield Wines and Rymill Coonawarra. It goes without saying that all of these wineries had top class wines but a couple of them were attractions in themselves which I will expand on in future blog posts.
For caravan and campers there are a number of accommodation options available in the Penola and Coonawarra region. The Penola caravan park has spacious powered sites start from $34 per night, pets are permitted and you can have a small contained camp fire at your site (conditions permitting). There are also quite a few drive through sites. It’s a nice quiet park and within walking distance of the town.
A Freecamp option is available at Greenrise Recreational Reserve on the Riddoch Highway, 1 km south of Penola. The reserve has a dry lake which is surrounded by red gums and a walking trail. Motorhomes and caravans can have 2 night stays here for free but there are no amenities at all so you have to be fully self-contained.
In Coonawarra there is Bellwether bush camping at Bellwether wines, which has powered sites for $45 per night and unpowered for $30. There are only 6 sites available to give campers a spacious stay without others nearby, so booking is a must. There is a camp kitchen and amenities and campers are welcome to help themselves to the herb garden. A great option for the kids here is use of a trampoline, tree house and swing, as well as having farm animals and a friendly Maremma dog. This winery also has luxury glamping bell tents available to hire.
Penola and the Coonawarra region is truly devine.