Last updated 8 August 2023
With jaw-droppingly stunning coastlines, National Parks, endless stretches of white sandy beaches, unique marine creatures not seen elsewhere in the world, and intriguing maritime history, South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula is the ideal place for nature enthusiasts with a penchant for the ocean. It’s also the place where my father spent his youth and that is the main reason why I’m finally making my first visit to his birthplace in South Australia, Port Lincoln.
My father was an avid storyteller who wrote a detailed memoir tracing his family history and sharing memories from his childhood growing up in the South Australian town of Port Lincoln. His ‘memoir’ is a compilation of many years of ancestral research and memories. The pages are typed. He used an old-fashioned typewriter (before computers were invented.) He would toil away for hours in his makeshift office downstairs, in what was the old family rumpus room. This went on for many years, finally resulting in the ‘book’ (folder) with over 200 typed foolscap pages, some sharing space with hand-drawn sketches, maps, tables, and family trees. These pages were bound together in a bright orange manila folder. Initially, we (my two brothers and I) were told it could not be read until his passing.
“Why?” we asked.
“Just in case someone disputes what I’ve said,” was his reply.
He held this notion some relatives might take exception to a few of the stories he shared (told from his perspective of course.) He might have been referring to his older brother and younger sister, as the memoir includes a few interesting stories involving them. Sadly, they succumbed to dementia in their later years and passed away before Dad. I’m not sure if this was why Dad changed his mind, but he decided to give us our copies before he left this mortal coil, but he did.
I was not close to my father in his later years. Somehow he managed to avoid dementia or Alzheimer’s, but poor health made him short-tempered and grumpy at times (most likely through frustration at not having a clear diagnosis for his many ailments).
Unfortunately, I let my busy life with my three young sons and my job keep me from reading his ‘memoir’ until he’d passed. So, I missed out on the opportunity to sit and talk about some of his memories and stories. And he was a colourful storyteller. Some of his stories received more embellishments as the years skipped along. And whenever he had an audience he was always happy to share a story (or three). During the Pandemic the lockdowns created ‘spare’ time and I began reading his book, also encouraged by my cousin Fiona, (her mother, Robin, was my father’s younger sister) who’d read my father’s family history a few years earlier.
This memoir, his passing five years earlier and the fact I’d never visited his birthplace inspired me to make a nostalgic trip to the Eyre Peninsula at the end of last year (2021.) The triangular-shaped land mass wedged between the Great Australian Bight and the Spencer Gulf revealed many unexpected surprises.
My father, William Rorke Johnston (aka Bill) was born on 12 July 1934 and died on 12 April 2017. Dad was born in South Australia in the Tumby Bay Hospital and spent his early childhood in Port Lincoln before his family moved to North Adelaide in 1944 after his father accepted a job in the city. Dad was at age 10 when they moved. For many of his teenage years, he returned to Port Lincoln for holidays, usually staying with relatives.
He was cheeky, quick-witted, with a wry, dry sense of humour. His recollections of his childhood and teenage years growing up in Port Lincoln and later Adelaide are phenomenal for the detail and they’re interesting for me, as his daughter, to read. They may also be interesting to others as they present a snapshot of a childhood spent roaming freely in Port Lincoln in the 1940s and 1950s.
Adelaide the starting point for my South Australia adventure
With its grand architecture, open green spaces, and tree-lined streets in a flat easy-to-follow grid pattern, Adelaide is the perfect base from where you can begin exploring the rest of the state.
I fly into Adelaide on a direct flight from Brisbane in the afternoon and make my way into the city, to number two Flinders Street, my overnight stay, the Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury.
Centrally located in Adelaide’s CBD, overlooking Victoria Square, this former Treasury building was built in stages from 1839 to 1907. Over the years various demolitions and rebuilds have left little of the original buildings. In 2002 further renovations converted many rooms to apartment style. You may read about my stay and review of the Adina Adelaide Treasury
Barossa and the Clare Valley
Two days later I was meeting my friend, Robyn, in the Barossa (an easy halfway point for her from her home of Laura in the southern Flinders Ranges). Driving the 75 kilometres from Adelaide to the Barossa Valley takes only 56 minutes via the M2 highway. Without a car, I figured what better way to get to the Barossa than on a wine tour? With the driving taken care of, I can sit back, sample wines and relax.
I chose Taste the Barossa tour an Adelaide-based independently-owned business specialising in small group and private wine tours. The pickup for the tour was near my city hotel.
Our group hailed from Western Australia and Queensland (some states were still coming to terms with lockdowns.) The tour visits a handful of the more recognisable wineries like Peter Lehman (where we had lunch) as well as the lesser-known ones, like family-owned Lambert Estate and Chateau Yaldara.
I leave the tour at Wolf Blass winery I’d pre-booked accommodation at a guesthouse in Tanunda (in the Barossa). I farewelled our merry group and awesome driver/guide Baden, who was driving the by-now very happy group back to Adelaide. Shout out to Baden who shared interesting local information along the way and kept us on track with times – not always easy when you are enjoying so many wine tastings!
And a big thank you goes to the lovely Donna, a worker at Wolf Blass Wines. Once she heard I was attempting to call a taxi to Barossa House, she offered to drive me there after closing time. The staff laughed at me saying I’d never get a taxi out here.
Barossa House overlooks rows of grapevines. My effervescent host, Sophia, insisted I have afternoon tea on the front porch. It was after 5 pm, but with daylight savings, (the month was November) the days were long with plenty of sunlight. I sat there enjoying the view with ‘Google’ the friendly house cat for company. He insisted on sitting on my lap.
After all the wine tasting, eating, and hopping on and off a tour bus it was time for exercise. Sophia had shown me the bicycles at the house available for guests to use, so I grabbed one, adjusted the seat, and crossed the road to the cycle path. For the next 30 minutes I cycled past rows and rows of grapevines, eventually stopping at a small restaurant for a light dinner.
On my return to Barossa House, I had to stop and take a quick pic of the sun dropping below the rows of grapevines. It was the perfect end to a memorable day.
The following morning I meet Robyn in the centre of the nearby town of Tanunda (an easy cycle ride from Barossa House.) A few years have passed since we’ve seen each other, so there were hugs (and a few squeals) on Tanunda’s main street. She drives me to Barossa House, to collect my bags (and wine purchases) before we commence our road trip.
Another Barossa experience to consider: Visit Maggie Beer’s kitchen farm shop and eatery in Nuriootpa. Considered a national Australian treasure, Maggie Beer has been cooking and creating food for decades. Who doesn’t own a Maggie Beer cookbook? I do!
Southern Flinders Ranges – Hello
We drive for two hours on the Goyder Highway towards our destination, Laura, a rural town on the eastern slopes of the lower Flinders Ranges and where Robyn now calls home.
Robyn asks if I have heard about the Goyder Line. I hadn’t, so she explains what it is.
The Goyder Line is an imaginary boundary running roughly east to west across South Australia. The State’s surveyor general, George Goyder, drew the ‘line’ in 1865. South Australian maps have Goyder’s Line stretching from Ceduna in the west, across to the Spencer Gulf, north to Orroroo, then south and east across to the Victorian border at Pinnaroo.
The Southern Flinders Ranges extends north beyond the so-called ‘line’ which separates the arable land from the Outback. Farmers use the line to determine where productive land ends and marginal land starts – productive land is deemed suitable for crops, as distinct from land deemed for general grazing.
So, if you’re ever asked a question about the Goyder Line I hope you can provide an answer now!
Laura – the halfway point between Adelaide and the Southern Flinders Ranges
Nestled between the Barossa Valley and the Flinders Ranges, Laura is just over two hours from Adelaide (226 km.) Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 1840s, the district was home to the Kaurna Aboriginal people. A couple, Herbert Bristow Hughes and his wife, Laura leased a pastoralist holding in 1870, which was surveyed and later subdivided in 1872, forming the new town. Herbert named the new town after his wife.
Laura is the home of South Australia’s popular ice cream, Golden North. I purchased my first ‘homegrown’ ice cream at the local IGA in Laura’s main street. With ice cream in hand, I crossed the wide road to the median strip to check out the statue of CJ Dennis, the Australian poet who spent some of his childhood in Laura.
We then head to home, the Old Brewery building, an iconic Laura landmark. Built in 1874, it’s easy to see why it’s a landmark, the tower juts out like the proverbial in a street lined with single-level dwellings.
Robyn and her husband Stewart purchased the Laura landmark online, mid-way through 2021 from America, via a real estate agent. With plans on leaving America amidst the instability of COVID, they looked online and fell for the property’s character. The previous owners ran it as a guest house / B & B. But it needs work and the couple has been renovating whenever time and funds permit. Robyn’s husband is acclaimed Australian artist, Stewart MacFarlane Their vision: to turn the rundown cottage on the property into an Artist in Residency.
The following morning we stroll up the main street. One place Robyn knows I will love is Coco Laura where I meet David Medlow Smith. I wasn’t expecting to find a world-class chocolatier in the small town. You can read the story I wrote about David for the Flinders Magazine, by following this link.
Stone Hut Bakery – pecking good times
On the official start of our road trip, Robyn suggests we stop at the Stone Hut Bakery (halfway between Laura and the next town of Wirrabra). Why? Because of their famous home-baked pies.
The words, ‘Best pies in the universe‘ are splashed across the building as we pull into their car park!
The pies inside the warmer oven look like they’ve been made with love. I order a chunky steak and Robyn a lamb and rosemary pie. We take them outside to eat.
Adjacent to the outdoor eating area is a large bird aviary, filled with screeching excited birds – cockatoos, galahs, lorikeets, and cockatiels. After we’ve consumed our pies, we enter the aviary. A sulphur-crested cockatoo is on the ground. He (or she) sidles over to me, I bend down to get closer to the ground and say, “Hello Cocky” in one of those patronising voices I’m sure birds are sick of hearing.
Before I could focus on what was happening, the cockatoo took a liking to my shoelaces and started pulling at them with its beak. Then he/she decided my ankle looked good and gave that a good nip. Just as I yelled out in fright (and pain) a lorikeet landed in my hair. It felt like an orchestrated attack from above and below. While I was doing this weird dance, trying to get cocky away from my ankle, I heard Robyn laughing, really hard. She thought this was the funniest thing she’d seen in a long time, and continued filming me being ‘attacked.’
As I’m backtracking to leave the aviary, I reached for the banister to steady myself. As I’m trying to remove the lorikeet from my hair, I missed seeing the cockatiel perched on the handrail, waiting. It turned into a three-pronged attack as he/she sunk its beak into one of my fingers causing me to shriek again.
I felt like I was on the movie set of the Alfred Hitchcock horror movie, “The Birds.” With blood pouring down my finger, all Robyn could do was laugh and take photos. I got out of there before any more conniving birds could get to me. Slamming the outer door of the aviary, I noticed the large sign that said, “Enter at your own risk, these birds may bite.”
To anyone thinking of visiting the Stone Hut Bakery: you have been warned! Their pies are fabulous, but I suggest viewing the birds from the outside!
Robyn left the aviary unscathed and was kind enough to get a napkin to stem the flow of blood from my finger. The Stone Bakery also has a petting zoo, with some cute animals less inclined to bite (although the sign at the entrance warned about biting, kicking, and spitting.) Enter at your own risk!
Port Germain and a long wooden jetty
It’s worth stopping in the seaside town of Port Germain to see the famous jetty – the longest in South Australia. The jetty was built in 1881 for the grain export industry. But it had to be lengthened because low tides made it challenging for cargo boats to enter the gulf harbour.
I’d visited Port Germain a few days before with Robyn and Stewart. We didn’t make it to the end of the 1,676-meter-long jetty as a nasty storm was brewing. While the lightning over the water looked spectacular, it didn’t feel safe to be out in the open on a long jetty surrounded by water!
Whyalla – the north-eastern gateway to the Eyre Peninsula
With my finger bandaged (and still throbbing), we drive north to Port Augusta then head south down the east coast on Highway B100, arriving at Whyalla, a seaport, on the shores of the upper Spencer Gulf. Whyalla is a Barngarla Aboriginal term meaning “place with deep water.” Hummock Hill provides the best 360-degree water views overlooking the Spencer Gulf. Down at the foreshore, before taking a stroll around the unique circular jetty, which opened in September 2020. We pose for a photo sitting on the mosaic cuttlefish sculpture at the jetty’s entrance. The jetty span is 135 meters, and it’s very cool to walk around a jetty rather than along it! Should you be passing Whyalla or staying overnight – the jetty lights up with LED lights. I wonder what it looks like from space.
Between May and August, at nearby Point Lowly – between Fitzgerald Bay and False Bay – the annual migration of the giant cuttlefish occurs. They’re the largest cuttlefish in the world, the males measuring up to 50cm long and weighing around 10kg. Provided you have a wetsuit and don’t mind chilly waters, you can enter the ocean to observe or ‘swim’ with these giant chameleons of the sea, as they make their way to the ‘Cuttlefish Coast’, about 30 kilometres northeast of Whyalla, where they mate and lay eggs.
At other times of the year, along the Point Lowly shoreline, a friendly pod of dolphins regularly appears. And there are walking trails at the Jim Pollock Wetlands
You may cycle or drive the 12-kilometre Freycinet trail between the Point Lowly Lighthouse and the Fitzgerald Bay Camping area. Interesting geological formations in the form of shingle deposits dating to around 7,000 years ago line the walk around Fitzgerald Bay.
Cowell – where colour and the coast collide
We follow the Lincoln Highway for 106 kilometres to the coastal town of Cowell and pull over in front of Franklin Harbour. The 48 square kilometre land-locked natural harbour with sheltered waters is supposedly one of the best fishing spots in South Australia. Keen anglers catch King George whiting, snook, Tommy Ruff (Australian herring) flathead and squid. Blue swimmer crabs appear in summer.
Without fishing rods on board (I rarely enjoy seafood, although I did enjoy King George Whiting in Tumby Bay – read on for that story) we seek out the silo mural at 33 North Terrace. The craggy face of local character Lionel Deer is beautifully captured with his camel Diamantina, and a Port Lincoln parrot. The artwork celebrates the 30-plus years Lionel brought his camels to the local Christmas pageant.
Beyond the bounty of the ocean, Cowell is also famous for yielding something rare and valuable in the nearby Minbrie Range. Nephrite jade was discovered in 1965 when a local farmer prospecting in the area, excavated a four-kilogram boulder of dense, hard rock near an outcrop of white, dolomitic marble. This boulder was sent to Adelaide University for identification. Geologists from the South Australian Museum classified the rock as nephrite Jade.
A New South Wales Regional Government paper places the formation of these metamorphic rocks as between 1,840 and 1,780 million years ago, during the first and second deformational events of the Kimban orogeny. (Those with an avid interest in geology can read this paper for more information.
(I had to look up Wikipedia for an explanation of Kimban orogeny: Affected the Gawler Craton in what is now Australia between 1.73 and 1.69 billion years ago.) I’m still not clear on what that actually means, but it was some time ago!
Interestingly, Cowell has the only commercial jade mine in Australia, with exports of nephrite jade almost entirely supplied from Cowell. Other significant producers are New Zealand, Canada, and Taiwan. Nephrite jade is popular for its toughness. It’s used to make axe heads, knife blades, and durable carvings as well as jewellery. In skilled hands, the fine-grained premium black jade can be polished into eye-catching jewellery, as we were to discover.
Robyn and I were fascinated by the fact that the sleepy seaside town of Cowell is the world’s largest supplier of high-grade nephrite. We had to see some for ourselves, so we pulled into the only place in town selling Nephrite jade: the Cowell Jade Motel Cowell an insignificant pale blue building on the Lincoln Highway.
Inside is a large showroom with glass cabinets containing an assortment of jewellery. This is where we meet owner, Angus Dewson. When he is not out oyster farming, Angus works in the family business (Cowell Jade Motel and Cowell Jade Gemstones). Angus explains his grandfather showed him how to use simple lapidary techniques to transform Cowell black jade into jewellery.
According to their website, Cowell Jade exhibits a variety of colours and textures, but consists predominantly of medium to fine-grained material showing greenish yellow to green hues, grading to black. At the store, they sell three varieties: green nephrite, black nephrite, and premium black nephrite.
I have many questions for Angus. And he seems happy to answer them. He shares the story about the mine owners looking to sell many years ago. It almost sold for a small sum of money, but the sale never went through. Several years later, along came a Chinese consortium with an offer the owners could not turn down. Angus tells us the figure and we are amazed. I’m unsure of its accuracy, (and I don’t know how to confirm its accuracy) so I won’t publish the amount y here, but let’s just say it was SIZEABLE and the previous owners did themselves a massive favour holding out for a few years on the sale!
The new Chinese owners halted mining operations. Why? The first subject I studied in my economics degree answered that: the principle of supply and demand. With less nephrite jade on the market, the price goes up. When they’re ready and believe the price is right, they will begin mining operations again, releasing the coveted jade to the world .
Angus says the Chinese love black jade, and from the jewellery in his store, I can understand why. As Angus selects and shows us pieces he’s worked on, I ask where his supply of jade is coming from, if the mine is owned by a new owner. Apparently, from deposits his grandfather secured years ago.
We keep Angus for a while, asking more questions and trying on jewellery. He seems happy to have interested customers. We eventually leave Cowell with a few nephrite jade pieces, happy to own something unique and locally made.
Tumby Bay – the perfect place to slow down and chill out
My father was born in a small hospital in Tumby Bay. The story he told was his mother (Nandi) who lived in Port Lincoln, didn’t like the local doctor, so she told her husband (Gramps) she was having her first baby in Tumby Bay (46 kilometres up the coastal road.) That same line of thinking continued with her next two babies born at the Tumby Bay hospital (my father was the middle child.) So, it was quite nostalgic to pass by the hospital building which still stands on the pine tree-lined foreshore.
We’d booked to stay at the Tumby Bay Hotel (the red roof one overlooking the harbour and the jetty.) We dined at their downstairs restaurant – feasting on superbly cooked King George whiting (my first taste and I liked it). After eating way too much (typical pub meal with large servings), we thought an evening stroll would do us good. We wandered along the old wooden Tumby Bay jetty. It was easy to imagine my father, in his youth, leaping off this jetty.
Tumby Bay has a wheelchair-friendly 4.5km walking trail following the foreshore past the wooden jetty. The jetty’s pylons and ocean weed beds are home to a whimsical sea creature: the elusive leafy sea dragon. On this occasion, the only one we saw was on a mural. We did however have a close encounter with marine wildlife, unexpectedly coming across a baby sea lion on the jetty. He (or she) was happy to pose for photos until Robyn came a little close and it looked ready to attack. Still getting over my bird encounter at the Stone Hut aviary, I gave this young sea lion a wide berth.
As we leave Tumby Bay, we view the painted grain silo mural by Argentinian artist Martin Ron. It’s a magical reflection of the seaside town. Martin was given a brief in 2018 to ‘create an art piece that reflected his impression of what was unique to Tumby Bay.’ He watched locals swimming and jumping off the jetty and this became his iconic memory forever captured on the grain silos. He’s cleverly overcome the curves of the silos, there is a viewing location where this becomes obvious.
Port Lincoln – the seafood capital of Australia and my father’s childhood home
We stop at the Limani Hotel (50 Lincoln Highway) the site where my father’s family home once stood. Looking out over the calm waters of Boston Bay – the largest natural harbour in Australia – I’m absorbed by what my father would have looked at daily.
Port Lincoln has the biggest commercial fishing fleet in the Southern Hemisphere. Sculptures along the foreshore include “The Tuna Poler,” a nod to the viable tuna fishing industry. Further on is a life-sized bronze statue of Melbourne Cup Winner Makybe Diva (owned by a Port Lincoln tuna fisherman.)
Near the foreshore, we visit the Port Lincoln Information Centre We’re after their outdoor recommendations. And there’s plenty: Lincoln Cove, Thorny Passage Marine Park, Whalers Way and Mikkira Station.
In the afternoon we drive to the 17,226-hectare Lincoln National Park and hike the short but steep 1.6 kilometres up Stamford Hill with fabulous views over Boston Bay, Port Lincoln, and Lincoln National Park.
We’re the only souls on September Beach and the orange lichen-covered rocks remind me of the Bay of Fires on Tasmania’s east coast.
We’re staying at the Port Lincoln Hotel centrally located in the heart of town. Our room has views out over Boston Bay. We have a drink in the downstairs Sharkys Bar before heading across the road to restaurant Fumo 28 for dinner. Robyn loves oysters and seafood – and Fumo 28 serves the freshest and best! From inside the restaurant, overlooking Boston Bay, we notice there’s a pretty sunset and check with our waiter if it’s okay to make a dash outside for photos. The pale pink-hued sky splashed with cotton wool clouds is picture-perfect.
There’s no better accompaniment to your seafood, than a local wine! We brought a bottle from the Barossa, a Whistler Wines Shock Value, an easy-drinking red wine that went perfectly with my beef curry and with Robyn’s sashimi plate.
The Eyre Peninsula has some great local wineries including Peter Teakle wines with their renowned Line & Label Restaurant, and Boston Bay Wines here you will find award-winning red and white wines. (Boston Bay’s ‘Adelaide Hills’ Sauvignon Blanc was the perfect accompaniment with my King George whiting in Tumby Bay.) Or there’s Gardner’s Vineyard in the hills north of Port Lincoln. Husband and wife Rob and Chris Gardner have over many years of trial and error, planted 40 acres of grape varieties producing Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
Other Port Lincoln experiences: Calypso Star Charters offer cage diving with the great white sharks (not my thing). If we had time I would have chosen their interactive Swim with Sea Lions adventure, where you cruise out to Grindal Island and swim with these friendly sea creatures (without the need for a cage!)
If we had another night in Port Lincoln, we would have tried Sarin’s Restaurant downstairs in the Port Lincoln Hotel.
An excerpt – my father’s Port Lincoln childhood memories
There was plenty for a 10 -15 old boy to do in Port Lincoln. Swimming, fishing, diving from the town jetty with the rest of the kids, seeing who could swim the furthest underwater, and throwing stones at bits of wood tossed out in the bay. Looking for stuff washed up on the beach, playing with little boats, and walking down to either of the three jetties to see what the overseas ships looked like. Or watching the wharfies working, loading wheat into the boats, using huge draught horses to pull the rail wagons of wheat bags along to the cranes, their hooves shooting off sparks when the horseshoes, endeavouring to make traction, struck the steel railway lines.
Watching the slings of bagged wheat being lowered into the ship holds, golden dust floating into the air. Or watching the fishermen unloading their catch, crayfish dark red and still alive walking along the bottom of the boat’s well, trying to make it out through the narrow gaps that let the ocean into the well. The slats lit up by the sunlight glistening off the white sand on the seabed below. Watching the live crays being placed in wooden crates, their long antenna waving about, then lifted on the jetty to be carted off on a trolly to a waiting Ute at the end of the pier, for transport to either the fishing co-op or local fish shops, where they’d be displayed in the doorway, their antennae continuing to wave, beckoning the passing shopper or tourist as if to say, “I am fresh come and try me.”
Or head landward to play cowboys and Indians with your friends, Tarzan, or ping a few tins with an air rifle.
Whaler’s Way Sanctuary – where the landscape will blow you away (literally)
The following day we make a quick stop at L’Anse French Cafe for some takeaway croissants (chef Marvin Lattrez makes the best pastries – if you have time consider booking in for breakfast or brunch). We drive (32 kilometres) to the southernmost tip of South Australia, Whalers Way Sanctuary. The 1000-hectare wilderness sanctuary has been owned by the Theakstone Family since 1887 and was declared a private reserve by Robert Theakstone in 1969.
Knowledge about Whaler’s Way is usually via word of mouth (thank you Fiona) but a handy map and some useful tips can be acquired at the Port Lincoln Tourist Information centre. You purchase a pass prior to entering. Access to the sanctuary is via a locked gate (combination lock details are provided once you’ve paid for your pass.)
Overlooking the Great Australian Bight, the craggy coastline harbours limestone cliffs, caves, blowholes, and long sandy beaches. Some of the caves found in the sanctuary are the oldest known rocky formations in South Australia.
You could easily spend a day driving around exploring Whalers Way, but note, the roads are unsealed and in some places are rough (I’ll add a little tricky). On the eastern side, some sections are 4WD only (Red Banks and Harpoon Bay.)
My tip: take a sturdy 4WD, or at the minimum, a passenger vehicle that is ROBUST! Robyn’s Jeep is robust, but there were parts of our journey where we took our time and were very cautious.
There were places where the wind was blowing at gale force, so strong it was impossible to hold the camera still as we walked to these viewing points! That made for some wild hair moments. Warning signs are placed around the cliff edges, advising visitors to proceed with caution. These signs should not be ignored. In April 2019, in an ABC News Article, Glenn Theakstone, co-owner of Whalers Way Sanctuary said he was seriously considering closing the site after the accidental drowning of a father and daughter in the sanctuary. They were tragically swept off rocks at Cape Carnot (the southwestern corner of Whalers Way.)
“What we’ve found is people just walk around the ends of the enclosed areas,” Mr. Theakstone said in the ABC article. “What it comes back down to, is how do we educate the people of Australia about the ocean?”
We were sensible when it came to approaching the cliffs. With those gusty winds, I didn’t feel like getting close to the edge.
Whalers Way is a unique reserve and somewhere I’d love to return to and explore further, with a robust 4WD and at least an entire day up my sleeve. I’d take my big camera too – the scenery is breathtaking.
Those who wish to see more of and take their time exploring this natural wilderness can choose to camp with 14 campsites to choose from.
You can visit for a day or a half day. Because we had to be at Coffin Bay by mid-afternoon, we allowed three hours of exploring at a relaxing pace through the first section of Whaler’s Way. This windswept, wild, rugged place is somewhere you could easily spend a full day (three hours was NOT enough time!)
Another Tip: Pack food, snacks, and water, there are no shops in the sanctuary and no phone reception either!
Another excerpt about Dad’s canoe adventures at Port Lincoln
Overlooking Boston Bay, the Port Lincoln jetty is where at certain times of the year you can jump off and into the water looking for those elusive sea dragons. My dad spoke about how in his youth, they would retrieve oysters from the sandy harbour floor. Here’s another excerpt from dad’s memoir. Under the house, there was a rusted galvanized iron canoe. One year, I managed to patch it with pitch, plugging the holes with pieces of torn-up old sheets. It took ages to clean the tar off my skin. It was great fun using a double-bladed paddle. I would manage to go about 100 yards, before settling below the waves. After more pitch was added, I could go twice the distance: going from one spot to another before sinking.
A ’spit’ is a triangular-shaped collection of two to six-inch pebbles, the sea would collect by wave and tidal action, just out from the shore. They were usually just covered at high tide, but for most of the day would provide ideal toy islands with which to play. They were 200 – 300 yards apart along the shore and surrounded by clear white sand below the water line.
One bright sunny morning as I was paddling the canoe was slowly filling with water. Between two spits, I was joined by a school of five or six stingrays going the same way between me and the shore. They undulated along the surface, keeping me company. In a bit of a panic, I paddled furiously for the next spit, whilst the canoe slowly settled below me, sinking in the shallows a few yards from the spit, into which I quickly scrambled. The stingrays milled around for a bit before they took their dark shapes to the open sea.
Eerie things like that kept happening in Port Lincoln.
Coffin Bay – an oyster lover’s paradise
The town with the unique stretch of water wasn’t named for macabre reasons but after naval officer Sir Isaac Coffin, a friend of explorer Matthew Flinders who explored the area in 1802. Following the speediest check-in to Coffin Bay Caravan Park Robyn, my oyster-loving friend dashes through the campgrounds, and across the road to Oyster HQ. Robyn had her eye on the time, it was 30 minutes before Oyster HQ’s closing time! I wasn’t in such a rush as oysters have never been my thing!
1802 OysterBar is another option for oyster lovers, serving up oysters 11 ways. But because they close Mondays and Tuesdays and we were visiting on a Tuesday, there wasn’t the chance for Robyn to try their oysters, Rockefeller style.
By the time I arrive at Oyster HQ Robyn’s already downed a dozen Coffin Bay oysters. And she’s feeling very happy! She suggests I try one. I confess to her I don’t find oysters appetising, after trying one in my early teens and not enjoying it. But I figured you can’t get much fresher shucked oysters – they’ve been lifted from the pristine waters in front of us, a few hours earlier. My arm is twisted, and I try not one, but three: Japanese (pickled ginger, soy, wasabi; and toasted sesame); Italia Gremolata (grilled, garlic, and chilli butter and panko and parmesan cheese crust); and Asian Fusion Jelly (blend of coriander, chili and ginger). You can see my theme here – with other intense flavours maybe I won’t notice the oyster so much!
But I do. Although they are fresh, I’m not converted! I leave the remaining oysters for Robyn to happily scoff!
From Oyster HQ with the sun still high in the sky, we decide to follow part of the 15-kilometre Oyster Walk. We pass curious pelicans and holiday homes perfect for weekend escapes. On the way back to the campgrounds an emu, strolling on the grassy footpath, pauses to look at us.
I say to Robyn, “That’s not something you see every day.” It appears the wildlife have, like us, slipped comfortably into Coffin Bay’s laid-back vibe.
Stay: Accommodation range from camping to beach houses. For something different try The Greenly Carriage a historic train carriage reimagined into a boutique, off-grid cabin, at Greenly Beach, just 25km north of Coffin Bay.
Coffin Bay National Park – the grand finale
On the last day of our road trip, we drive from the town to Coffin Bay National Park. (Remember you need a permit – a Parks Pass – to enter the National Park). Sealed bitumen roads mean the southern end of the park (near the entrance) is accessible for all vehicles, but from Yangie Bay it switches to high clearance 4WDs only. In our Jeep, we visit Golden Island lookout. An emu and five chicks cross the road in front of us, disappearing into the scrub on the left.
On Almonta Beach, the blustery breeze doesn’t stop us from taking one final walk. Long stretches of white sands hemmed by cerulean waters are perfect for strolling and the best part is, we had it all to ourselves! Despite the overcast day and the blustery winds, battering body and soul it was incredibly exhilarating.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or the right vehicle to explore the northern parts of Coffin Bay National Park, but word is the Black Springs Hike and Black Rocks Hike is epic. There’s also an abundance of flora and fauna in the park that go beyond emus. There are goannas, sea birds, kangaroos, seals, and snakes! And given the wildlife has free reign in the park, you may occasionally need to slow down to give way to passing feathered traffic.
I’ve read other travelers’ stories of the spectacular scenery en route to the park’s tip: Point Sir Isaac. That’s a six-hour return journey, but it’s definitely added to my “must-do” list – when I have more time and the right vehicle.
On the way home, we make a return pit stop at Oyster HQ, so Robyn can indulge in her last fresh dozen oysters. And I enjoy the best Haloumi fries this side of Australia. As we’re snacking one of the waiters suggests as visitors, we might be interested in the bespoke gin place in Coffin Bay, Coffin Bay Spirits. Owners, locals Ben and Caro Deslande forage for coastal botanicals which are used in their small batch gins. Oh, for more time!
With tummies satiated, we say farewell to the Eyre Peninsula’s rugged wild coastline, embarking on the long drive home to Laura.
Until next time Eyre Peninsula.
Disclaimer: I travelled without media support on this trip. All opinions expressed are my own.
Full disclosure: I have included a couple of affiliate links in the post to accommodation provider booking.com should you choose to book through them using one of my links, I will make a small commission which allows me to keep writing.