When the early colonists began building Adelaide they built with stone, constructing a solid, dignified city that is civilised and calm in a way that no other Australian state capital can match. The solidity goes further than architecture, for Adelaide was once regarded as a city of wowsers and was renowned chiefly for its disproportionately large number of churches. These days, the churches are outnumbered by pubs and nightclubs, and there is no denying that the city has a superb setting - the centre is surrounded by green parkland, and the metropolitan area is bound by the hills of the Mt Lofty Ranges and the waters of the Gulf St Vincent.
Adelaide sits on the eastern shore of Gulf St Vincent, in the far south of South Australia. The streets of Adelaide's central business district follow a grid pattern, which makes it very easy for visitors to find their way around. Victoria Square sits in the centre of the grid, and the main street, King William, runs through it. Although not the geographical centre of town, Rundle Mall is the shopping centre of the city, with the big department stores - Rundle St's eastern end has some of the city centre's best dining and boutique shopping. North Terrace, running parallel to Rundle St, is the city's cultural centre, a grand boulevard lined with a gallery, museum, state library and university. The River Torrens separates the city centre from North Adelaide, and a green belt of parkland surrounds both areas.
The Adelaide airport is about 6km (3.7mi) west of the city centre, the interstate train terminal is just south-west of the city centre in the suburb of Keswick, and interstate buses arrive at Central, almost smack in the middle of town. Most hostels are in the south-eastern corner of the city centre; Hindley St in the city has mid-range options, North Terrace has the top-end hotels. Rundle St, Hindley St and North Terrace are the main food centres.
When to Go
Adelaide can be pretty damn hot in summer (December to February), and if you don't have access to a pool or airconditioner you'll find it unpleasant. If you're a festival buff, though, you really shouldn't miss the three-week Adelaide Festival of the Arts, held in late February or early March. Spring and Autumn are probably the most pleasant times, with winter (June to August) getting a bit cold and soggy.
The Adelaide Arts Festival takes place at the beginning of March in even-numbered years. The festival attracts culture vultures from all over Australia to see live drama, dance and music. It also includes a writers' week, art exhibitions and poetry readings. Guest speakers and performers from all over the world attend. The Fringe Festival, which takes place at the same time, features alternative contemporary music and performance art. Womadelaide is an outdoor festival of world music and dance which takes place every February in odd-numbered years.
Off the Beaten Track
The oldest surviving German settlement in Australia, Hahndorf, 29km (18mi) south-east of Adelaide, is a popular day trip. Settled in 1839 by Lutherans who left Prussia to escape religious persecution, Hahndorf still has an honorary burgermeister (mayor). These days it's a major tourist attraction, with more stuffed koalas than you can shake a eucalyptus leaf at.
There are many old German-style buildings in town. The German Arms Hotel dates from 1839 and is one of the best pubs in the Adelaide hills. The Hahndorf Academy was established in 1857 and houses an art gallery, craft shop and museum, with several paintings by Sir Hans Heysen, the famous landscape artist who lived in the town for many years. If you're keen to indulge in a stein or seven, visit the town on Founders Day, held over a weekend in March. Buses run to Hahndorf from Adelaide several times a day.
At the time of European settlement, the area that is now Adelaide was occupied by the Kaurna people, a peaceful group numbering around 300. Their territory extended south towards Cape Jervis and north towards Port Wakefield, and they had close ties with the Narungga of Yorke Peninsula. Modern historians know little about Kaurna social life, but we do know that they were skilled at working with skins and fibres. Even before the arrival of white settlers in South Australia, the Kaurna people had suffered epidemics of smallpox and other diseases which had swept down the Murray from NSW.
The site for Adelaide was chosen in December 1836 by the colony's far-sighted Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light, who created its remarkable design. The site was well-drained, had fertile soil and straddled the Torrens River, which guaranteed a ready water supply. The site was named after Queen Adelaide, wife of the British King William IV.
Adelaide was unusual in that it was settled by free people - the city has no convict history. It was also unusal in that the British Government gave the colony no financial backing, so when things finally took off in Adelaide, most of the money stayed in the state. The colony promised settlers civil and religious liberty and by 1839, Lutherans fleeing religious persecution were arriving from Prussia. In 1840, 6557 Europeans lived in Adelaide; by 1851 the European population was 14,577. By the early 1840s the town had about 30 satellite villages, including the German settlements of Hahndorf, Klemzig and Lobethal, where the state's wine industry was founded.
The capital's growth has reflected the state's cycle of boom and bust. A wheat boom in the 1870s and 80s set off a building boom, and a lot of the beautiful buildings which still line the city's streets were built during these decades. Rapid expansion also took place during WWI, the 1920s and the busy post-WWII years. After WWII, new migrants arrived from Europe (especially Italy) bringing with them the café culture which lends Adelaide its relaxed ambience.
During the late 60s and 70s, South Australia made several ground-breaking political reforms, prohibiting sexual discrimination, racial discrimination and capital punishment, and recognising Aboriginal land rights (interestingly, South Australia's original settlers had been the first to recognise Aboriginal ownership of land, although it didn't stop them from stealing it). As the suburbs race towards Maslins Beach in the south and Gawler in the north, Adelaide has become a linear city squeezed between the Mt Lofty Ranges and the sea. Nearby towns are becoming dormitories for city workers, although planning restrictions stop the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills and Southern Vales from being gobbled up by houses.