Adventure starts when we leave our comfort zone — whether that be when traversing an unfamiliar track, taking on an ultra-remote escapade, or choosing to proceed with plans despite unnerving weather. When we dare to affront unforgiving, unknown, or uncertain conditions, we open ourselves to the best twists of fate.
When you travel to the Eyre Peninsula, you’re guaranteed to return with more than a tale or two, a bank of rich memories, and the sweet aftertaste of a faraway coast. Effortless wildlife encounters on land and sea, endless backroad touring, rewarding fishing adventures, and boundless untapped wilderness all await the willing traveller.
THE BIG SMOKE
The eastern side of this wide triangular peninsula is a tame introduction to the more unruly southern and western areas. Port Gibbon, Port Neill, Arno Bay and Tumby Bay are mostly sleepy coastal service towns, with jetties, clean facilities, and scatterings of shack properties. If relaxation is your cup of tea, you could do worse than throwing a picnic rug over the grassy foreshore, listening to the cavorting of seagulls, and inhaling the heady scents of salt and seaweed.
At Arno Bay and Tumby Bay, you can wander on boardwalks exploring the mangroves and mudflats, in search of honeyeaters, plovers and cormorants — just beware of the territorial butcherbirds. Tumby Bay also features a range of large-scale murals painted throughout quaint avenues as part of the annual Colour Tumby Street Art Festival held in April. This includes one of Australia’s most congratulated paintings on the Australian Silo Art Trail, a vibrant depiction of two local boys backflipping off a jetty.
Aside from Whyalla in the peninsula’s north-east, Port Lincoln, near the southern tip, is the region’s largest town (with a population of over 16,000). Back in the 19th century, Port Lincoln was put forward as a potential state capital, but ultimately lost to Adelaide. Instead, it has developed into an industrial hub of agriculture and commercial fishing, a little out of place in a setting so beautiful — the oceanside Viterra plant vibrates and hums within spitting distance of the crystalline waters.
With work comes people, and with people comes creativity, as has become increasingly apparent on the foreshore and Liverpool Street in recent years. Among more pragmatic supermarkets and department stores, many boutique retailers and gentrified cafes have sprouted. The Boston Bean Co is my pick, for their speciality caffeinated brews — they make them extraordinarily strong, consider yourself warned. If you’d rather pure adrenaline, you could instead spend the day on a market-leading shark diving tour (sharkcagediving.com.au).
TWIN NATIONAL PARKS
If you’re anything like me, the sound of crashing waves is the perfect lullaby, so you’ll sleep easy at all of the campgrounds in Lincoln National Park. At Wisemans Shack, the first you meet entering the park, you can unhitch just metres from the gently lapping waters of Boston Bay. Across the water into the distance, the lights of Port Lincoln twinkle on the edge of visibility, granting a sense of isolation and separation from the town.
The emus in this park are super skittish and must have a running joke amongst themselves about who can most brazenly disregard road safety. It’s much easier to get on talking terms with the resident wallabies. Even the shags resting on the granite headland of Fisherman Point are more settled. Whether you decide to lay low in the unspoilt coves or get the boots dirty hiking part of the multi-day Investigator Trail, you’re bound to have animated interactions with some of the fluffy, furry and feathered residents.
Hiking Stamford Hill in Port Lincoln National Park helps you imagine the hard time European explorers would have had staying alive as their resources ran out. Captain Matthew Flinders anchored in the shadow of this hill in the hope of finding fresh water. Eight of his crew had already been lost, and supplies were unnervingly low. Luckily, they were able to dig a well and collect water from underground basins. When we hiked to the peak of Stamford Hill, it was clear times have changed. Through morning fog, we could see early risers departing from boat ramps, seafood farms floating in the bay, and factories beginning to puff smoke in distant Port Lincoln. The dense wilderness has been preserved, but there are signs of inhabitation.
Within the park, there are plenty of 4WD tracks, including the rocky traverse to Carcase Rock and the rutted mudbath labelled Spalding Cove Track, for which you’d better unhitch. Of them all, the Sleaford-Wanna dune system will be the most likely to get your blood pumping. We were a little edgy when the Mitsi lost its oomph mid-way up a steep sandhill, the tail-end swerving sideways down the slant in the shifting surface. As damp black clouds gathered overhead, Sam — cursing the day he entrusted gearing to the auto transmission — got to work with the shovel and soon we were free. The track runs for 20km, featuring bowl after bowl of wind-sculpted dunes, and some firmer limestone sections.
Coffin Bay National Park, a 30-minute drive west of Lincoln, offers similar topography, with densely vegetated headlands, bleached sandy shores, spirited wildlife, see-through shallows, and vacant dunes. Much of the park is 4WD-exclusive — to get to the Black Springs, Morgans Landing and Sensation Beach campgrounds, you’ll have to drive on the beach and factor in the tides, meaning it’s best travelling in convoy. However, you can still reach several scenic views on the bitumen. At Yangie Bay, you can camp next to saltmarsh, while at Almonta Beach, you can stroll along an unbelievably pure white shoreline, and bag out on Australian salmon. Take it slow on the road to Golden Island Lookout and Point Avoid — the view will make your jaw drop.
LET’S KEEP THIS ONE A SECRET
Memory Cove Wilderness Protection Area is an exclusive and little-known subsection of Lincoln National Park. The secluded cove and campground are only accessible via an unrelenting 19km 4WD track (or by boat, if you’re a little bit fancy, and can stomach the fact the cove is named in honour of six of Matthew Flinders’ crew, who went to land in search of fresh water, only for their cutter to be smashed to bits against the rocks). Given it’s so rough-going, caravans are not permitted, and you should allow an hour or more each way.
Wildlife thrives here. Towards the latter half of the track in, we passed a flat grassy plain where hundreds of kangaroos and emus were soaking up the afternoon glow. Eating dinner at the beachside campground, a rare brush-tailed bettong darted around and underneath our camp chairs. Then, in the morning, we awoke to chirping seabirds and the gentle splash of a seal playing in the bay, probably visiting from the nearby colony on Hopkins Island.
Next, we followed a rugged hiking trail from our camp to the headland and stood a moment in silent shock when we spotted two southern right whales, a mother and calf, breaching dramatically a few hundred metres out to sea. Poised mid-air, the barnacles and tubercules on their skin glistened in the sun, before they flopped down with a thunderous splash, the sound reaching us seconds later. It’s a breathtaking experience for a nature lover — down south, you’re most likely to witness these gentle giants June to August.
For the duration of our stay, the only other human we saw in the park was the local ranger, who told us that while we were lucky to have had the expanse to ourselves, you’ll never be overcrowded with a limit of 15 vehicles per day. To secure your spot at one of the five campsites (with drop toilets and a few wooden tables), you’ll need to arrange a permit and source a gate key from the Port Lincoln Visitor Centre.
ANYTHING GOES HERE
Coffin Bay is a great spot to fuel up and pump some charge into the batteries or water into the tanks. Plus, it would be untoward not to fill your stomach with local oysters (there’s a few tours if you have the dosh, see coffinbayoysters.com.au).
It’s also a sensible base for visiting one of the Eyre’s most photographed natural icons — the Greenly Beach rockpools. The calm, turquoise water in the pools is largely sheltered from the crashing sea by a tall wall of rocks, but the sound of roaring waves is still intimidating if you take a dip. In fact, the surf here is deafening — not the ‘lullaby’ of Lincoln National Park, should you decide to camp here or at nearby Coles Point. As with many remote free camp spots, it’s unclear if it’s a legal campsite, but many use it as one, nevertheless. There’s no shelter to speak of from on- or offshore winds, so hard-body vans will have a better time than tent trailers, if it’s a blowin’.
Further north, on the Elliston Cliff Top Drive, you’ll see multiple artistic sculptures that have been stationed on the edges of the cliffs, themselves whittled away into all shapes and forms by the relentless ocean (for a sense of the beauty of the Elliston area, follow @sa_rips on Instagram).
Amidst all the celebration of European history (somewhat inevitable when the peninsula is named after Edward John Eyre), it’s important to note that prior to European arrival, Indigenous Australians populated the area for thousands of years, living off it a hell of a lot more competently than the early white circus hands. All over Australia, Indigenous Australians were subject to horrible treatment by the new settlers, and Elliston is no exception. In 1849, white colonists herded traditional owners off the tall cliffs of Waterloo Bay, sending them plummeting to their death. Today, a memorial sits atop the limestone cliffs, recognising the tragedy that befell the Wirangu, Barngarla, Nauo, Mirning and Kokatha communities. The sheer terror and grief of the incident, and the ongoing trauma it has resulted in, are all but unfathomable to your run-of-the-mill white tourist, but we all ought to try.
At Venus Bay, you can hike the South Head Walking Trail (more or less a goat’s track with one sign at the starting point) and teeter on the edge of the rock face. No barriers. No fences. Just limestone overhangs and a spine-chilling sea breeze that you wouldn’t want to get any stronger. It’s a similar free-for-all around the Talia Caves area, where you can liberally wander around The Tub, a fragile open-topped cave, intermittently filled by huge waves. The nearby Woolshed Cave was fenced off when we went, after a landslide destroyed the staircase. From near these attractions, you can link up with the dunes of Lake Newland Conservation Park, where you can hunt down your own uninhabited bit of the beach and camp for free.
A little off the beaten track at Locks Well Beach, keen fishermen lug their surf rods down a steep, long staircase to catch salmon from a narrow strip of sand. When we passed by recently, the carpark was full of burly utes, and interestingly, plenty of the fisherman left their boot or canopy wide open while they fished far out of sight. How’s that for country trust!
DON’T FORGET THE INTERIOR
While the Eyre is applauded for its impressive coastline, the inner expanses of this sizeable wedge of land also warrant attention. Salt marshes, lakes and humble hills define much of the terrain, which is sprinkled with some picturesque ruins and historical leftovers dotted between sprawling outcrops and working farmlands.
On the Flinders Highway near Kiana, you will pass an antiquated white cottage referred to as the Lake Hamilton Eating House. Constructed in the 1850s, it served as a stopping place for coaches and travellers on their way to the far west. It’s a little smaller, but far more charming, than a modern-day truckie lounge.
Further north, a five-minute detour from the highway will present the wonder of Murphy’s Haystacks, a group of weather-stained inselbergs formed by the uneven weathering of crystalline rock over time. Considering their present form required 100,000 years of geological effort, it’s good manners to take a gander.
We free camped one night at the base of Tcharkuldu Rock near Minnipa and watched the daybreak glisten over the stacked boulders in the morning. Without wanting to tear down a popular attraction, my honest opinion is that Tcharkuldu Hill exceeds the beauty of Murphy’s Haystacks. There are far more boulders to explore and you gain elevation over the surrounding plain — perhaps I’m biased though, since we had the entire park, and a showy sunrise, all to ourselves.
At Wattle Grove Rock, a recently opened campground on a private property 13km north of Wudinna, you can get up close and personal with similar natural rock formations. Here, beyond rusting machinery and automobile ruins, waterholes and inselberg caves, you can see the turtle shell of Mount Wudinna, Australia’s second largest granite monolith.
IT’S WORTH THE TRIP
The Eyre might not be in the most convenient location — the southern tip is some eight hours from Adelaide, and at least 15 hours from Australia’s East Coast — but its detached and distant positioning is what has allowed the scenery to remain so untouched. While it makes sense to use the coastline as a refreshing detour after or before a Nullarbor run, it also warrants a holiday of its own.
Although coastal regions are naturally summer hotspots, the Eyre is ready and waiting across all four seasons. In mid-winter, we were fortunate to see whales migrating, catch a few salmon, and experience the thrilling ferocity of a peninsula storm. Having been to the Eyre on several occasions, I always depart asking myself the same questions. Why didn’t I allow for this trip to be longer, and when can I go back?
Entry to Lincoln National Park and Coffin Bay National Park Bush costs $11 per day, per vehicle, and must be booked and paid for online at parks.sa.gov.au. Bush camping is available in both parks from $12.50 per night.
Free, unallocated camping is available at Coles Point/Greenly Beach and Tcharkuldu Hill, and operates on a ‘first in, first served’ basis. Wattle Grove Rock Campground provides self-registered bush camping sites, for a donation.
Full-facility caravan parks can be found at most coastal towns, including but not limited to a Discovery Holiday Park at Streaky Bay with powered sites from $34 per night, a Top Park at Port Lincoln with powered sites from $38 per night, and a few independents at Elliston and Coffin Bay. Book online at discoveryholidayparks.com.au, topparks.com.au, ellistoncaravanpark.com.au, or coffinbaycaravanpark.com.au.