This beautiful little town with its pretty, tree-lined streets is the oldest non-British settlement in South Australia. Its history is heavily soaked in German spirit, which is evident in the old buildings, old street lamps and the businesses that start or end in HAUS. The main street is filled with cafes, restaurants, and ice creameries, as well as other quirky places like a German Bread and Cake shop with its restaurant walls covered with cuckoo clocks and painted plates, a traditional German toy shop with magnificently carved bric-a-brac, and a pub that offers a great range of imported beer.
Hahndorf was established in 1839 by Lutheran refugees who were escaping religious persecution for refusing to join King Freidrich Wilheim III’s Calvinistic state church. The refugees arrived on the Zebra, the third ship of Lutheran immigrants to arrive in South Australia in 1838. The vessel’s captain, Dirk Hahn, negotiated for some land near Mount Barker for his passengers to settle and managed to score a piece of land about 35km southeast of Adelaide. The people walked to the hills from Port Adelaide and settled in the area that was originally inhabited by Aboriginal people, who called it Bukatilla, which means ‘deep pool’ or ‘wash place’. They named their town Hahndorf, in honour of their kind and dutiful captain.
As Hahndorf grew, tents were replaced with cottages and Germanic houses and the population expanded to include British families who established an Anglican church. Hans Heysen, the famous painter, would often come to Hahndorf for artistic inspiration and ended up making it his home in 1908, where he lived until he died in 1968. There is a museum in town that exhibits his beautiful work that depicts the beauty of the Australian landscape.
As we walked the main street and drove around town, we got a feeling that Hahndorf was past its prime. We reckon that about 10 years ago, its charm and Bavarian tradition wouldn’t have been tainted by the flashy, modern restaurants and commercialism.
Points of Interest
Reputedly the best coffee in town, we had to go and try it for ourselves. It was in fact the best coffee we’ve had since entering South Australia, and they use Mahalia beans. We sipped our creamy lattes and thanked the chick who made them for us before we left.
Pioneer Women’s Trail
This is a walking trail that is about 22km long and follows the trail of the early settlers who walked from Hahndorf to Adelaide every week to sell their fresh produce. The women and daughters of the settlement would carry baskets of vegetables and dairy and walk for 35km to Adelaide. They would leave at midnight and rest along the way, washing their weary feet by streams and camping by the river. Their return trip would include goods from Adelaide, like sugar, tea, tobacco, and perhaps a brick or two so they could finish building their church. They did this until the late 1850s.
A small café at the edge of town, they offer cheese tasting and have a wide variety of gourmet and local cheeses. We got to taste six cheeses and each one was unique and wonderful:
- Goats Curd – low in saturated fat and cholesterol, the cheese was tart but still sweet and creamy.
- Camembert – pale due to the goat’s milk, nutty and smooth without any chalky bits at all.
- Chebris – sheep and goats milk used to make a soft, melt in your mouth cheese with a harder rind.
- Goats Brie – soft mould cheese that is buttery and salty with a mould aftertaste.
- Tarago River Shadows of Blue – soft and creamy without the overpowering blue, but there was a mild touch of pepper and spice.
- Divine Dairy Blue – wow – salty cheese with a kick similar to vintage cheddar that had a blue tang through it and a sweet finish.
Hahndorf Hill Winery
Located a short drive northwest of town, this winery has a spectacular cellar door and a variety of wines to suit all occasions and climates. It was rated as one of the top 10 cellar doors in Australia and has been inducted into the Tourism Hall of Fame. They offer wine matching with chocolate called Chocovino – the menu is huge with a variety of set ‘menus’ that allow you to choose the chocolate variety you want.
We sampled a small selection of their wines, two of which stood out the most:
- 2012 Rosé – a beautiful pink colour with hints of amber, it has a floral smell with citrus and spice. The entry was smooth and juicy before twisting towards a tart cherry finish. Perfect for a spicy meal.
- 2012 Chardonnay – a light straw colour with a floral and honey scent that was also tropical with mango and coconut. It was subtly oaky with a rounded, buttery finish.
Just around the corner from Hahndorf Hill Winery is Nepenthe, a winery that began in 1994 and has grown in popularity over the years, hitting the international market and featuring in James Halliday’s Top 100, The UK Times Top 100, and The Advertiser Top 100.
As we drove along the driveway, Juz was getting the impression of mythical allure and temptation, as if there was an ancient or biblical presence about the winery. While we tasted the wine, we mentioned this to our host and she said that Nepenthe is an Egyptian herbal drink that comes from Greek mythology and was mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. It was a drug for forgetfulness, an anti-depressant elixir that “chases away sorrow”.
Of the tastings, there were three wines that were worth a mention:
- 2011 Ithaca Chardonnay – peaches, white nectarine and cream on the nose with a slight oak tinge before a creamy, buttery finish.
- 2012 Zinfandel Rosé – floral tones with rose and honey but fresh and crisp with a sherbet edge and sweet but spicy finish.
- 2010 Late Harvest Riesling – a light wine that smells and tastes of ripe mandarin, it is light and clean without any sickly sweetness.