Reasons to visit Hahndorf, Australia’s oldest-surviving German settlement
Let’s be clear. South Australia is an absolute treasure. It’s overflowing with beauty, history, world-class food and wine, and the most welcoming locals you could wish to meet. I could reel off several places you ‘must’ visit.
But I have to admit, until recently, I had never heard of Hahndorf. I knew of its neighbour, the Barossa, but this charming little German town had somehow slipped under my radar. Now that I have been, I urge you not to let it slip under yours!
The oldest-surviving German settlement in Australia, the town is a tourism icon in its state. Just a 30-minute drive from Adelaide, it attracts more South Australian day-trippers than anywhere else. But a quick survey among my friends who are not from South Australia revealed that most had either never heard of it (glad I wasn’t the only one) or had not got around to visiting. Whereas everyone knew the Barossa and most had been or were planning to go.
So in case you need any encouragement, I’ve broken it all down for you. Here are my top reasons why you need to visit Hahndorf:
I love going to a town that has a story, and this one is not only rich in history but is still living through its locals today.
Hahndorf was settled by Lutheran migrants in 1839 after they escaped religious persecution in Prussia (formerly north eastern Germany and now part of Poland). Thirty-eight families came aboard the ship Zebra and made a home here. They were granted land and were soon yielding enough fresh produce for not only themselves but also the people of Adelaide.
If you ask around town, you’ll find direct descendants of those founding families who are passionate about keeping the history of their ancestors alive today. They have fought hard over generations to maintain the history and heritage of the buildings, and as you walk the main street you can feel how proud the community is.
Pretty much every building has a story; like the Hahndorf Academy, which was originally a school that opened in 1857. Today, it houses a local information centre, the German migration museum, and an art gallery that has a permanent exhibition of works from the late renowned landscape artist Sir Hans Heysen.
The museum tells the story of the pioneering families whose lives revolved around their Lutheran faith and a focus on education, and there was no better person to take me around than its director Kate, who is a direct descendant of those founding families. She shared the spirit of her ancestors by telling me the story of how the women used to walk bare feet carrying 20kg of fresh produce on their shoulders all the way to the city of Adelaide.
As soon as you drive into town it’s like you have plonked yourself in a little village in the hills of Germany. Hundred-year-old elm and plane trees line the streets, and the beautifully maintained original ‘Fachwerk’ buildings are a constant reminder of the town’s rich heritage. Then there's the sound of the accordion player outside the Hahndorf Inn, adding that little bit extra to the ‘German’ experience.
Built to last, these buildings have seen many chapters, like the original Australian Arms Hotel, which is now home to the local leather shop. When you walk inside, you’re offered a drop of port, paying homage to its original occupants.
Somehow the town has managed to blend these historical buildings with modern shop fronts and cafes, resulting in a bustling tourist town that’s alive with an energy that’s ideal for a weekend away. Just enough history and charm, mixed with that perfect balance of great coffee and ice cream shops.
There are several restaurants and cafes along the main street, all standing up to South Australia’s reputation for fine food and wine. And being in the Adelaide Hills and next to the food and wine bowl of the Barossa, it has no excuse not to really.
But there are two pubs that offer authentic German fare. And I have to admit, as soon as I stepped inside the packed Hahndorf Inn, I was a little intimidated by the 1m-long pork sausage that lay on the table before me!
But with steins of beer being cheerfully poured to the sound of the accordion, I joined an overflowing roomful of holidaymakers all tucking into our giant hot dogs. It was absolutely scrumptious. Made from fresh South Australian pork, these stunning sausages have to be tasted to be believed.
Just five minutes up the road, we stayed at BIG4 Hahndorf Resort, which is situated on 37 acres of undulating country. I woke every morning in my cabin to the tranquility of the rolling Adelaide Hills outside my window.
New owners Lynn and Brian are a story in themselves. After a lifetime working in the markets they sold their mushroom business about eighteen months ago, and rather than sit back and enjoy retirement they threw themselves into completely rebuilding and renovating a holiday resort. The outcome is a welcoming, shiny holiday park. Alongside its cabins, caravan, and camping spots, it has a fantastic function centre (where we enjoyed a special Christmas in July dinner with a crackling fire and a cracking band!), a conference centre, and one of the most well-appointed camp kitchens we’ve seen.
Lynn and Brian put on a special cooked breakfast for us all while we were there filming our TV series. The barbie was not only overflowing with colourful fresh veggies and the smell of bacon and eggs, but the warmth and generosity of these two passionate locals was not lost on anyone.
It was an absolute pleasure spending time at the holiday park. If you go, make sure you take a walk in the morning along the little pier by the lake. The geese and ducks will waddle past and greet you for the day. Oh, and say hi to Brian and Lynn.
Isn’t it time you discovered a slice of Germany in your backyard? Book your South Australian break now.
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