If you’ve never heard of Goolwa, take note. The historic river port is the end of the line for the mighty Murray River – and a beautiful place to start a holiday.
Just over an hour’s drive south of Adelaide, Goolwa is in the happy position of being both a seaside and riverside town. The high street runs perpendicular to the Goolwa Channel, part of the Murray Mouth system, while the southern suburbs overlook the surf beach. It makes a great combination for holidaymakers: there’s boating, kayaking, river cruising, beachcombing and surfing. But Goolwa offers more than just water and watersports; this historic port town has a strong regional arts scene and, in 2007, gained acclaim as the first Cittaslow, or slow town, accredited outside Europe. An extension of the Italian ideals of “slow food”, Cittaslow towns place culture, heritage, sustainability, community and lifestyle at the fore. Goolwa’s Cittaslow movement holds a local farmers market, maintains a community garden and hosts an array of events including an annual Smoke Off and, once a month in summer, a free evening mini-festival called At The Wharf. Here, people gather on the deck of Signal Point to kick back in the waning sun, listening to the tunes of a live band. Kids roll down the grassy knoll, couples sip wine and sample fare from local food trucks (in particular the garlicky cockles from the Bombora cockle cart). For a town with little more than one short main street, Goolwa punches above its weight, offering history, culture, food, sand and surf all in one quaint package.
The Australasian Circa 1858 is a graceful heritage-listed building that has modern flair, thanks to smart architectural additions of steel, timber and, in the lobby, vast panes of glass. Each of the five cleverly designed rooms is unique and has its own sleek en-suite.
When owners Juliet Michell and Deborah Smalley opened this boutique stay in 2009, they kept the historical name, The Australasian, and used it to inspire the décor: Asian antiques can be found in all the rooms, and accents such as Japanese prints and kimonos hang throughout as artwork. It’s subtle, but it ties the property together.
As hosts, Smalley and Michell are cordial, considerate and discreet. Smalley, who takes care of front-of-house, points out communal spaces, like the cosy reading room and two terraces, as well as highlights of the town, such as new gallery spaces. Michell, the resident chef, is most often found in the kitchen. The central location is well positioned for exploring Goolwa’s environs, and a stay here feels serene, adult and composed. Perhaps the tagline on the brochure says it all: “A very private hotel… for grown-ups”.
1 Porter Street, Goolwa; (08) 8555 1088
Name your preferred time for breakfast and that’s when your doorbell will ring – at the Australasian, the morning meal is taken in the seclusion of your suite. Steaming coffee, fresh juice, hot toast, plus whatever you ordered the night before: maybe buttermilk pancakes, scrambled eggs or, in a nod to the Asian theme, a breakfast bento. It’s all served in chic style under sliver cloches sitting on a chrome bar trolley.
The best coffee in town – and arguably the tastiest casual food – is at Motherduck on Cadell Street. This bustling café is a favourite with locals; even early on a Sunday morning many of the tables are reserved. The breakfast menu is served until 3pm – perfect for when you feel like bacon, spinach and haloumi waffles for lunch.
The Dining Room
Saturday night dinner is an elegant three-course affair in The Australasian’s Dining Room, but there’s no awkward chit-chat over a communal table here. Smalley and Michell prioritise privacy; and because Saturday night is when The Dining Room is open to the public, this is run as a refined restaurant. Menus change monthly but you can be certain it will include some distinctly Asian flavours.
Pedal the day away
Book The Australasian’s two bikes in advance to enjoy a day of exploration on the Encounter Bikeway, a 30-kilometre trail from Goolwa’s Laffin Point to Rosetta Head (or The Bluff) in Encounter Bay.
Take to the water
Get on the water with The Big Duck Boat Tours. With daily speedboat cruises departing from the Causeway at Victor Harbour, you’ll take in views of striking coastline, as well as get close to dolphins, seals, sea-lions and, in season, whales.
Go on a self-guided wine tour
Sample the local wines of Currency Creek, the small wine region right on the doorstep of Goolwa. There are three notables: One Paddock Wines, about 20 minutes out of Goolwa, worth a visit for the array of refreshing whites and casual Sunday lunches; Shaw Family Vintners cellar door Signal Point in Goolwa; and No. 58 Cellar Door & Gallery in nearby Port Elliot, serving Thunderbird and Mount Billy wines alongside platter-style lunches in a pretty vineyard setting.
Image: No. 58 Cellar Door & Gallery
Image: One Paddock Currency Creek Winery
Image: Shaw Family Vintners