On tour with the Clare Valley’s Mr Willson

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By Gabrielle Hall

Dave Willson is the quintessential Aussie bloke. He loves a chat, sharing a joke, and his smile is as wide as the brim on his hat.

Most people around the Clare Valley know him as Mr Willson – it started as a joke and more a tribute to his sense of humour than any desire from him for formalities.

A true character, the affable bloke has built up a tour company, Clare Valley Tours, selling the virtues of the Clare Valley and South Australia to domestic and international visitors.

It is an easy sell according to Mr Willson, who was born and bred in the Clare Valley, the son of veterinarians, he spent his early years exploring the area on ponies.

Travelling to every corner of the Clare Valley is a normal day in the office for Mr Willson.

“I’ve always had a wonderful affinity with the Clare Valley, it’s my home, and when I became involved in tourism I realised how much passion I have for our region,” he says.

“Being a local and transitioning into a tour operator makes you look at your home in a different light – you actually stop and smell the roses instead of driving past and you realise we really are sitting in one of the nicest, safest places to live in the world and it’s a real privilege.”

A former wool classer, excavation contractor (he was the local gravedigger), private wool buyer and machinery salesperson, a recreational pilot and former chairman of the Clare Aerodrome, Mr Willson knows a thing or two about the area.

So it’s no surprise that when he took on the tour business in 2012, his local knowledge and loveable nature helped him easily build a rapport with his guests.

With two small buses and a chauffeured car, Clare Valley Tours is gaining a reputation for quality, tailored tours of the Clare Valley, Mid North and through to the Flinders Ranges.

A quick read through Trip Advisor uncovers comments including “delightful, funny and very knowledgeable … a local treasure”.

Clare Valley Tours recently achieved Quality Tourism Accredited Business status, has current Trip Advisor Certificates of Excellence, and is part of the South Australian Tourism Commission emerging products program, a mentoring initiative which assists operators into new markets.

With departures from either Adelaide, Clare Valley or other areas, Mr Willson’s Clare Valley Tours offers guests either package or individualised tours.

He says SA has so much to offer and promises his tours are “no ordinary show”.

An avid reader, Mr Willson continually expands his local knowledge to ensure he can offer his passengers an insider’s view of a region, sometimes going off the beaten track to ensure they see the very best parts of SA.

In fact, don’t be surprised if you find yourself travelling down the bumpy Civilisation Lost Road, onto Dusty Creek Road and end up on World’s End Highway – real places, all with a story to tell.

“We actually live in Utopia here in SA,” he says.

Skilly Road, Clare Valley.

“So many people think the Clare Valley is about the wines, it’s not just wine though, it’s the whole Clare Valley experience – the wineries, the restaurants, the shop owners, agriculture, the vast history and stories from the past and present, the people, and good old-fashioned country hospitality.”

“Nearby there’s Burra which has such an important part in SA’s history and loaded with historical buildings, and Goyder’s Line – the 10-inch rainfall zone where the vineyards virtually meet the outback.

“Just north we’ve got the majestic Flinders Ranges and the Clare Valley is the gateway to them. I hear it so often, people wished they had more time, they didn’t know the Clare Valley and the area around here is so beautiful, that there is so much history, there’s so much to see, do and explore.

“I love being able to share it and if I can send my guests home happy, I’m very happy – I’ve created a lifestyle, not a job.”

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