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Wine, wildlife, scenery and eateries - South Australia will beckon you back

For my annual month "Down Under," I started in Adelaide exploring the beautiful and spectacular coastline and did a wine appreciation course in the five wine regions. My favorite was the Barossa Valley and its Shiraz red wine.

There were lovely little villages, with German names and wineries with no glitz, just outstanding wines. With the dollar strong right now, everything is half price. This region is a bargain, compared with Sydney or Queensland.

The state has more than 1 million people, most of them living in Adelaide. It is the best laid out city I have ever been to. It is a grid of l2 broad streets down and six across with five lovely squares. All the restaurants - some 700 - are on three streets, making it easy to choose where to eat.

The city is surrounded by parks and a tram runs to the beach, 20 minutes away. The well organized city makes it a place were traffic seldom jams and everything is an easy walk.

I was delighted to be shown around the wonderful museum by its curator, who knew I was interested in the Aborginal collection. Its rose garden, zoo, new Wine Industry Center and great shopping offer something for all ages.

All the wine valleys are within an hour's drive, so Adelaide is a great place to have as a base for day trips. The region has a typical Mediterranean climate with dry summers and mild winters. The coast road between Adelaide and Melbourne is one of the most scenic in the world.

Go to Kangaroo Island, a 30-minute flight from Adelaide, or you can go over by ferry which is a lovely trip. This is possibly the most unique unspoiled wilderness in Australia. Most of the roads are unsealed, and you definitely need a guide.

I spent three days in a 4-wheel drive exploring the island. I counted 67 koalas on one lane, asleep in the gum trees. There are lots of wildlife. The island surf is rough, since the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans merge here.

However, there is wonderful scenery and small country inns with excellent fresh produce and seafood. It's a paradise for birdwatchers, with 251 different kinds, including the Glossy Black Cockatoo. The guide thought I should have been more impressed but I was tired after hiking over the island and spending nine hours in a four-wheel drive.

All I wanted to do was get my hiking boots off and have a gin and tonic. I loved seeing the fairy penguins marching in a column out of the ocean each night into the sand dunes.

There are three great train journeys which bring you to Adelaide in style. I went across the State to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory on the Ghan train where the track ends in the Red Center of Australia. Its name comes from the Afghans, who with their camels, met the tremendous challenge of opening a supply line through the center of Australia in the l860s. It was an interesting 24-hour journey, and I look forward to their building a track to Darwin, 2,000 miles north, into the Never Never Land, the top end of the country.

They call it the Never Never Land because if you went you never came back, you got lost, got eaten, or liked it and stayed.

Do the journey south, Alice Springs to Adelaide. This way, you don't miss going through the best scenery in the dark. You go through Coober Pedy, which produces 70 percent of the world's opals and everyone lives underground.

Book a sleeper, otherwise you don't get to use the buffet car. Once you have had a taste of South Australia, you will go back.

Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel, now located in downtown Los Altos. For more information, call 941-5810.

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