The tourism authorities market the small, historic South Australian town of Penola as ‘a place to pause’ but they may well be doing the settlement a disservice.
With a fascinating history, streets filled with heritage buildings, and a range of varied attractions including the Mary MacKillop Centre and the unique Father Woods tree sculpture park, this may well be better described as ‘a place to hang around for quite a while and explore properly’.
And, as a significant bonus, the fabled Coonawarra wine district is on the doorstep. The secret to its success is apparently the magical marriage of rich red terra rossa soil, porous limestone, pure underground water and a long cool ripening season. And what that means is a plethora of Cellar Doors for grey nomads to visit and sample some of the best wines in Australia.
Located about 390 kilometres southeast of Adelaide, Penola has a population of 1,300 or so and is wells serviced with art galleries, specialty shops, cafes, and restaurants. It was founded in 1850 as a private township by Scottish born Alexander Cameron, who promptly invited Mary MacKillop to Penola as governess to his children. She then went on to co-found The Sisters of St Joseph religious order with priest, Julian Tenison Woods, and, in 2010, she became Australia’s first Saint.
Visitors can learn about Mary MacKillop’s life and her legacy at the The Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, and the Woods-MacKillop Schoolhouse, which was built in 1867, is well worth a look. The town is filled with historic buildings, and a stroll through Petticoat Lane, the oldest residential part of Penola, is a highlight for many grey nomads. Many of the old timber and stone cottages now house tourism enterprises and retail outlets.
One of the most prominent buildings is the Royal Oak Hotel, which was built in 1850 and did a roaring trade catering to the needs of thirsty travellers on their way to the Victorian goldfields. A Heritage walk, marked by posts with Heritage badges and green arrows, guides visitors past the major places of historic interest in the township.
The fascinating Father Woods Park contains a series of tree sculptures carved by sculptor Kevin Gilders in tribute to pioneering Father Woods, who served in the region from 1857-67.
About eight kilometres out of town on the Millicent Road is the magnificent two-storey Yallum Park, which is reputed to be the best-preserved Victorian House in Australia in its original condition.
With a friendly caravan park, as well as free two-night camping for self-contained vehicles at Greenrise Lake Reserve just out of town on the Riddoch Highway, many grey nomads whose to use Penola as a base. Within day-trip striking distance are attractions like Blue Lake, Piccaninnie Ponds, and Bool Lagoon.
It’s no wonder that so many grey nomads want to pause here a little longer than they had originally planned.