We had planned to visit the MollyDooker winery — home of our favorite wines — from nearly the moment we knew we were coming to Australia. We were first introduced to the brand in 2006, when Him’s mom bought a bottle of the 2005 Shiraz, The Boxer. Since that time, we’ve celebrated family birthdays and holidays by gifting various MollyDooker wines.

The logistics of actually getting to MollyDooker, however, were a bit of a challenge. We knew the winery offered its most in-depth (4 hours!) tour on Mondays, so we planned our visit to Adelaide around that day. After picking up our rental car on Sunday, we killed some time visiting Barossa Valley, touring the Lyndoch Lavender Farm and sampling wine at both Penfolds and Jacob’s Creek. By then, it was late afternoon and time to head south to McLaren Vale in search of lodging. We followed the B19 back toward Adelaide and then switched over to A13, which eventually becomes a frustrating obstacle course around construction for a future highway overpass. Overwhelmed, Him was soon seething and vowing revenge against the asphalt.

I’ve never learned to drive a manual, so Him had to pilot this particular rental solo, and his frustration with South Australian motorways had been mounting all day. The roads in this state have a peculiar habit of indicating a turn just after one passes said turn. To add to the confusion, street sign arrows seem to suggest a compromise between available routes — especially if there’s a roundabout involved. My ineptitude as a navigator didn’t help matters, and we were soon lost in a suburban maze known as Morphett Vale. We extricated ourselves from the neighborhood only to drive right past the subtly marked detour to McLaren Vale.

We were unable to turn around until Willunga, and by then it was 7:30 p.m. The reception desks of the McLaren Vale Lakeside Caravan Park, the Bellevue B&B and the Southern Vales B&B were dark. Some subsequent investigation revealed that the Hotel McLaren — despite the name — is not a hotel but a bar, and the McLaren Cottage is not exactly open to the general public.

“That’s odd,” I thought, stepping across the cottage threshold and glancing through the open bedroom door on my left. A teenage girl sat up in bed and yanked the covers as if to hide herself.  “This looks like a private house.”

I averted my eyes from the girl and addressed the family seated at a kitchen table. “We’re looking for a room. Where’s reception?”

Three stunned faces turned toward Him and I. Alerted, a pack of small dogs sprang from their feet and gathered around our ankles.

“Oh!’ said the man, jumping up from the table and ushering us back toward the door, five or six dogs trailing behind. “This isn’t a hotel. We rent this from the owners.”

I couldn’t stop laughing. Him, hungry and fatigued from driving, wasn’t so amused.

Although the McLaren Vale Motel & Apartments was slightly out of our price range, the kind lady at reception took pity and directed us toward the Moana Tourist Park, located on the the coast about 7 km away. We searched and found the proprietor there, but he indicated council rules mandated we stay for at least two nights — in a cabin well outside our price range.

Him had had enough. He decided we would drive south, 45 minutes past McLaren Vale, to stay at the Port Elliot YHA — which closed for the night in 45 minutes. I suggested B23, a route that ultimately sent us much farther west than I anticipated. Now distrustful of my directions, Him personally the map every street sign we passed. He was deep in perturbed thought when a family of kangaroos hopped in front of the car.

“WHOA!” Him shouted, stomping the breaks. In unison, we lurched toward the dashboard and then slammed back into our seats. Two of the kangaroos stood in the center of the road, feet from the Honda i20. A third — apparently the brains of the outfit — was paused at the edge of the road. We watched in silence as the three turned their heads to regard us then turned them back toward their destination and hopped away. I was too stunned to grab the videocamera until it was too late.

I kept the videocamera in my lap the remainder of the drive to Port Elliot, occasionally urging additional kangaroo families to appear just as Him urged them to remain hidden. But the remainder of the drive was kangaroo-free, and we arrived in Port Eliot without further incident.

Upon learning the YHA had closed for the night, we stumbled into the Royal Family Hotel, located directly above the Royal Family Bar. Although it seemed a fair number of guests had recently departed, the old building was completely empty when we checked in. In terms of pub accommodations, the hotel was clean and comfortable, but it incorporated just enough features from our mental encyclopedia of haunted house staples to keep us on edge: doors with extremely low knobs, doors with extremely high knobs, small square bedrooms with 15-foot ceilings and dark hallways leading to even darker bathrooms with cavernous claw-foot tubs. Flipping through the “Ghosts Caught on Film” coffee table book left in the shared parlor only made matters worse. When the popsicle sticks keeping our room’s window from rattling fell, I nearly shot out of bed.

So, in summary, be sure to book your McLaren Vale accommodation before 8 p.m. or you may find yourself playing mind games with popsicle sticks in Port Elliot.