The Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail

The Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail was completed in 2023. In the form of a loop, the six stage hiking trail crosses through valleys, follows stony ridges and tracks past wineries showcasing the beautiful Clare Valley. Each stage starts and ends at a winery. Keen hikers complete the 100km hiking trail in six days. Others walk one or more sections at a time.

A Combination of Walking, Wine and Food

My days of hauling a big pack on my back are over, but I still enjoy a multi-day hike. When I read that Life’s an Adventure three-day pack free walk combines the Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail with great food and wine, I sign up. Over the three days, I’ll walk a manageable 30 kilometres.

Driving to the Clare Valley

Tim, one of our two guides meets our small group of ten in Adelaide to drive us to the start of the walk. It’s a two-hour drive. The black bitumen glints in the sun, wet from a recent shower. We’re driving towards ominous looking dark grey clouds. Wheat fields glow yellow in the bright sunlight. The rich green crowns of a few trees complete the simplicity of a rural picture.

Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail
Morning in the Clare Valley

This is farming country. We pass sheep and black cattle, dots on gentle grassy slopes. Galahs peck at grass seeds and three wallabies watch as we drive past.

The sun disappears and Tim flicks on the windscreen wipers.

The people behind the Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail

Tim, a friend, and their partners (one, Katherine, is our other guide) were instrumental in developing and building the Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail.

Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail
Follow these signs

Together they devised the trail, obtained the necessary permits, liaised with local wineries, and provided hours of labour to complete the trail. They worked with the community, sought sponsorship, and liaised with the local men’s shed to build the many stiles which bridge property boundaries.

Clare Valley Wines

As we drive, Tim tells us a little about Clare Valley Wines. The “yo yo” effect of the alternating hot days and cool nights “slows the ripening of the grapes …[and] enhances the complex flavours,” he says. With a relatively small annual grape crush, the Clare Valley wines win a decent number of awards each year. 

The Start of our Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail

Our walk begins along old back dirt roads beside private farms. The rain has gone, leaving the air cool and refreshing. Tim Adam’s Winery is open for tasting, but we’re agreed that 10:30 is too early to begin tasting wine.

On the trail
Day one of the CVWWT
Stripping off

Green, knee-high grass swishes against our legs as we follow the trail through a grove of gnarled eucalypts. Following the fence line of Wendouree Winery, which Katherine tells us “…doesn’t have a cellar door.” Their website boasts that their “wines have such an incredible history and pedigree, they speak for themselves.”

At last, the sun emerges, having chased the clouds away.  We stop to strip off before climbing up to Dunn’s range, part of Hill River Station. Janet Angas, the station owner, was delighted to be involved and happy for Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness trail walkers to walk across her land.

Up on the Ridge

We trudge up a steep dirt road, surrounded by vineyards. Then stepping up and over a barbed wire fence using one of the many stiles built by the men’s shed, we cross into private property. Using my walking poles for stability, I pick my way through the treacherous rocks camouflaged by soft ankle high grass.

Climbing on day one of a three day pack free walk in the Clare Valley
Climbing
Dunn's Range in the Clare Valley
Watch your step

Katherine encourages us saying that the “steep rise to the hut is totally worth it.” The wind up here is strong. All I can hear is a rushing sound of the wind and the tap, tap, tapping of walking poles. We stop to admire a dark chocolate brown stumpy tailed lizard hiding in the grass. Further on a stock-still bearded dragon fails to remain invisible.

Walking in the Clare Valley
The Cairn is growing
Walking part of the CVWWT
Our lunch shelter

Sheltering from the howling wind, in a hut on the ridgetop, we lunch on a delicious salad roll and cup of tea. Back on the trail. A large brown snake slithers across Katherine’s path. Anxious to avoid confronting another, we stamp our way down the hill.

Bungaree Station: Our Home for the Night

As Katherine reminds us, we’re walking on the lands of the Ngadjuri people. Our home for the next two nights is Bungaree Station, named by the Hawker brothers who settled here in 1841. The name Bungaree is based on the Aboriginal word for the area meaning “place of deep water” or “my country.”  

Heritage Bungaree Station
The Council Chambers
Heritage accommodation in the Clare Valley
Shadows at Bungaree Station

By the mid-1880s, the property had expanded into a small village housing and supporting more than fifty workers.  I sleep in a comfortable room in the old Council Chambers. Others stay in Manager’s House, the Groom’s Quarters, and the Stallion Box whose ensuite is a delightfully converted water tank.

Watervale Hotel and Penobscot Farm

After a quick freshen up, it’s back on the bus for a farm tour and dinner. Warrick Duthy likes to joke that he “came in for a steak and bought a pub.” He and his partner Nicola Palmer, own the Watervale Hotel and run the organic, biodynamic Penobscot Farm which supplies the hotel. 

Penobscot Farm supplies the award winning Watervale Hotel
Warrick Duthy
Penobscot Farm supplies the award winning Watervale Hotel
Explaining organic farm principles

It’s a fascinating story of a dream, a long-term plan, hard work, and perseverance. Warrick says he’s “learning every day.”

Years of sheep grazing on the native grasses destroyed the topsoil and led to erosion. As we stroll through Penobscot, Warrick explains how the challenge was to use “regenerative farming to get the soil back to what it was.”

After five long years, the change in the soil is obvious. What was mostly red clay five years ago, is now nutritious friable soil.  

A Degustation Meal at Watervale Hotel

The menu at Watervale Hotel depends very much on what is available on the day. It can change at any time. Chef Nicola aims to get as much fresh food on the plate as possible. Using the philosophy of “root to flower and nose to tail,” anything surplus gets fermented or used in other ways.

The award winning Watervale Hotel in the Clare Valley
Private Dining at the Watervale Hotel
Private dining in the Watervale Hotel in the Clare Valley
Another private room

The hotel was awarded “Best Hotel Restaurant in the World” only a week or so before our visit. We sit down to dinner in the old jail at the back of the hotel. Bare whitewashed stone walls and a black metal gate leaning against the wall hint at the earlier use of this private dining room.

Warrick regales us with stories about the hotel and his journey into farming while we delight in the dishes placed before us. Our degustation meal, paired with local wines, is fresh and flavoursome.

“I should go to jail more often.”

Citrus fruits add a light fresh flavour to dishes. We start with broad beans, served on a spoon with a citrus dressing. That’s followed by fresh crusty bread with smoke infused butter, a garden tart, kingfish crudo with finger lime and fresh haloumi garnished with pickled loquat and orange gremolata.

Degustation dinner at the Watervale Hotel
Kingfish crudo
Degustation dinner at the Watervale Hotel
Orange gremolata

The palate cleanser, limoncello with lemon sorbet is hard to beat. At risk of sounding like a pompous food critic, I make a note that “the subtle flavours blend in perfect harmony.”  Duck and then lamb three ways with roasted leeks follow. Blood orange granita with a yoghurt mousse rounds off the meal.

As someone quips “I should go to jail more often.”

The wines are equally interesting and delightful. Starting with a light sparkling Riesling, we work through (although this couldn’t be described as work), another Riesling, Grenache, often called the Clare Valley “Burgundy,” a white Assyrtiko, Rosé, Shiraz, and end with a late-picked dessert Riesling. Watervale fulfills its aim to promote the variety and diversity of wine in Clare Valley.

Sated and tired after a long day, I fall a deep sleep in my comfortable bed.

Day 2 on the Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail

Day two of the trail leads us through grassy areas alongside eucalyptus lined streams.  We haul ourselves over stiles and feel conflicted when we learn that the field of scented purple French Lavender is a pest in these parts.

Field of lavender in the Clare Valley
Lavender is a weed here
Guided walk in the Clare Valley
Katherine leads the way

The sun beats down. The occasional wallaby watches us ramble through the countryside on dirt roads, alongside wheat fields. “The flies have found us,” says Chris as one flies up my nose. At Elderidge Winery, we taste a sparkling Riesling to the tune of thousands of bees buzzing in nearby trees. The wine is fresh and dry with a hint of citrus.

Trudging up Hills

After morning tea, a refreshing wind tickles the tops of knee-high grass. Leaves rustle overhead as wind passes through the treetops. I find the going heavier than yesterday with more than a few hills. Lunch at Skillogallee, offers a brief respite from the walking. It’s pleasant to sit outside under an olive tree looking across to fields of bright green vines.

Walking the CVWWT
Elderidge Winery
Warming up on the Clare Valley Wine and wilderness trail
On the road again

Loose gravel crunches beneath my feet on the homeward stretch. Birds twitter in the trees. The lovely scenery more than makes up for what I found to be a harder walk today.

Our Third Day on the Trail

Before breakfast on our third and last day, I explore Bungaree Station. The Stone buildings glow in the early morning sunlight. My feet echo as I walk on the wooden floors of the old shearing shed, now a function venue. The strong smell of lanolin and sheep droppings lingers.

Function centre at Bungaree Station
Once a shearing shed
Bungaree Station
Golden Light

Sevenhill Winery

Today our route takes us past wineries with quirky names. There’s “Mad Bastard” and “Shut the Gate.” Sevenhill Winery, run by Jesuits, is named after the Seven Hills of Rome. We pass the Stations of the Cross on our way to the Cellar door. I wonder at the dry-stone construction of a tiny chapel. How does the roof stay up?

Guides on the Life's an Adventure walk in the Clare Valley
Katherine and Tim, our guides
Sevenhills Winery in the Clare Valley
Sevenhill Cellar

The crypt of the Sevenhill Parish Church is the only church in Australia that is not a cathedral which has a crypt. Brother John May SJ is buried there. He was a Jesuit and the seventh winemaker at the vineyard from 1972 to 2003.

After the crypt, we visit another underground structure which our guide quips “stores wine not bodies.” A strong wine aroma fills the cellar, which started life as a stone quarry. Initially the winery made sacramental wine. Their range has grown considerably.

Walking the Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail
Grassland
CVWWT
Into the valley

The Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Walk is a perfect combination of walking, food, and wine. After a steady climb to a ridgetop, Katherine passes around homemade lemon amaretti biscuits for morning tea. Sitting on the edge of a concrete block helpfully by the local farmer, we look across the Polish River Valley.

Learning about Wine

Katherine explains how wines from this valley differ from those grown in the Clare Valley. Grapes grown in the harsh dry slate environment of the Polish Valley, produce wines with a flinty taste. Those from the Clare Valley hint of apple blossom or citrus. I knew nothing about wine before this walk. Now I know a little.

Lunch at Skillogallee
Lunch under an Olive Tree
The Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness trail
Trudging up the hill

A Sumptuous End

We set off on the last section of our walk. A cool light breeze blows across grassy fields. The ascent to Pauletts is a steep one. Taking it slow and steady, plodding up one step at a time, I’m rewarded with a broad view across the valley.

Life's an adventure Clare Valley walk
Our transport each day to the start of the walk

Like every meal on this three-day sample of the Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail, lunch at Pauletts is sumptuous. Tired and satisfied, most of us nod off on the drive back to Adelaide.

NOTE: I travelled at my own expense.

Useful Information

  • Read more about Life’s and Adventure Three day walk in the Clare Valley here
  • Read more about the whole Clare Valley Wine and Wilderness Trail here
  • Discover other guided and self guided walks in the Clare Valley here
  • Interested in my post about a road trip from Sydney to Adelaide? Read more here

Comments

  1. What a well put together story of our very enjoyable trip, thanks to everyone.
    Thank you very much for that Joanne.
    We are Still enjoying the wines from there.
    Hope the bread and butter got to the places they needed to go.
    Also couldn’t fault our farm cooked breakfast, and rolls from the local bakery for our first lunch, as well as all the other amazing food and wine.
    Cheers Chris

  2. Awesome write-up of the trip (as a fellow author I could not have summarised it so well)! I loved your summary and the way you have enhanced such keeper memories for me. And put into words the important experiences I was thinking but had not crystalised. Thank you.

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