Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 (87)

Summer on the Eyre Peninsula

A favourite aunt once told me that the boldest way to travel was to head to the furthest point and work your way back. Giant leaps of faith, she declared, were always rewarded, but my plan to reach the very end of the Eyre is hijacked just 40 kilometres off the highway by a sneaky little detour to False Bay.

This first arc of blue at the head of the Spencer Gulf is calm and shallow. I walk to the Point Lowly lighthouse and peer across False Bay where Australian giant cuttlefish gather each winter, flirting and flaunting their ever-changing colours in shimmering mating displays. The spectacle is said to be unforgettable and wild, but this bay’s tranquil summertime guise is equally appealing and the warmth of the sea is nothing short of divine.

On the other side of the headland in nearby Fitzgerald Bay, a unique, 7000-year-old shingle stone shoreline wraps itself around the shallowest of seas. Here, travellers set up shady camps and bob around in the shallows collecting blue swimmer crabs and buckets of razorfish and cockles.

Thriving and surviving on an enviable menu of just-caught salmon and snapper, tommy ruff and kingfish, these campers pay in pocket change for their slice of the good life, and remind me just how far from the bright lights I’ve already come.

Holidaying havens

Before reaching the end of the Eyre for a wilderness adventure in Lincoln National Park, I give in to a nostalgic urge. A trio of unhurried, east coast towns — Arno Bay, Cowell and Tumby Bay — are all perfect kinds of places for rekindling the happiest of childhood holiday memories.

In Tumby Bay I order a paper-wrapped parcel of fish and chips, and stroll barefoot along an old timber jetty, watching boys dive-bombing into the blue, and old men angling for garfish.

When I sit down to lunch, my dangling legs over the sea, sneaky seagulls gather to steal my chips, and I long for a snorkel to dive among the leafy sea dragons that local girls tell me hide out in the gently swaying seaweed beneath the jetty.

With old stone pubs and dolphins swimming in their bays, these three holiday villages are slightly different shades of perfect if all you need in a summer break is to sleep close to the sea and unwind. Swim, fish, paddle a kayak, eat on the street and stroll by the beach … however you organise your days, they all result in a rapid slide towards relaxation.

Not surprisingly on this little-developed coastline, there are all kinds of wild adventures to relish. Following bird calls to the southern edge of Arno Bay, I stroll the award-winning Mangrove Boardwalk through wetlands and samphire flats, vibrant with birdlife at dusk and dawn. Just down the road at Lipson Cove, I paddle my kayak to its namesake island and hover just offshore watching crested terns, cormorants and magnificent Pacific gulls shift restlessly on the sand.

With a hire boat you could reach the Sir Joseph Banks Group of Islands (known as “the Groups”) where Cape Barren geese find sanctuary, but instead I climb Tumby Bay’s Island Lookout for lofty, windswept views.


Into the wild

The wild seas that wrap around the windswept tip of the Eyre Peninsula ravage a rugged coastline of giant sandhills and steep limestone cliffs. Tucked out of the wind alongside arcing, white-sand beaches, national park campsites provide back-to-nature travellers with remarkable wilderness escapes.

I book a campsite in Lincoln National Park, which famously overlooks a bay three times the size of Sydney Harbour. Big, blue Boston Bay sure is startling, but it’s in the far smaller, more translucent cove at Taylors Landing that I park my camper. And it’s here, while lolling about in the shallows one easy afternoon, that I come face to face with a pair of sea lions who eyeball me patiently, ignoring my excitement while I am taking a thrilling duck dive, ticking off a bucket list encounter as they bob around in the swell.

With dozens of white-sand beaches, monstrous, tumble-down sand dunes and bays to paddle and fish, Lincoln National Park is a big deal on the Eyre and kind of a must-see. You can see a lot of the park in a long day trip out of Port Lincoln, but staying within the park boundary slows things down beautifully, and there’s nothing like waking up right at the water’s edge and throwing yourself in before breakfast.

With dozens of white-sand beaches, monstrous, tumble-down sand dunes and bays to paddle and fish, Lincoln National Park is a big deal on the Eyre and kind of a must-see. You can see a lot of the park in a long day trip out of Port Lincoln, but staying within the park boundary slows things down beautifully, and there’s nothing like waking up right at the water’s edge and throwing yourself in before breakfast.

For travellers with beds on board, the park’s 14 camping areas are a budget-friendly deal at $13.50 per night for everyone in your group. Sand-free sleeps in the national park’s 130-year-old Donnington Cottage make life easy, priced at $114 per night (minimum two nights).

For wild ocean vistas without leaving the bitumen, take a drive to Wanna Dunes, a monstrous, ever-shifting sand dune on the edge of old-growth mallee forests. Between the weathered cliffs and Wedding Cake Island just offshore, Australian sea lions and long-nosed fur seals routinely haul out, and a cacophony of seabirds circle overhead. From Wanna Dunes lookout, a sandy four-wheel-drive track leads on to Mary Ellis Wreck Beach where a wrecked wooden sailing ketch has lain since 1907. Skipping the sand, you can get to wreck beach by going the long way around and sticking to the bitumen too.

Lincoln National Park is an incredible place to hike, but long trails are a hard sell over the hot summer months. Swap bushwalks for the park’s baby-blue coves — irresistible if you bring a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) or kayak — and do your best exploring by boat, paddling around bay after bay and surprising all kinds of sea and birdlife. Before you push off, arm yourself with organic zero-waste snacks and supplies from Port Lincoln’s Bulk Food Shack on Marino Avenue.

Seafood foraging

Over the water on the more bustling side of Boston Bay, Port Lincoln magnetises travellers with more thrilling ways to get wet: great surf breaks, great white shark cage diving and the chance to reel in a catch of tuna, straight off the beach. Port Lincoln is home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in the Southern Hemisphere, a fact that has me foraging for food as soon as I come in from the wilds: fresh bluefin tuna, southern rock lobsters, Spencer Gulf prawns and Pacific oysters that are among Australia’s best.

Down on the waterfront, locals and travellers are snapping up good-sized catches of snapper, King George whiting or kingfish. But a stint of afternoon grazing at Boston Bay Wines sounds the easier way to get my seafood fix, teaming a wine paddle with a platter of fresh locally produced Eyre Peninsula seafood.

Oysters might be the thing that divides seafood lovers, but 50km to the west Coffin Bay produces some of the best, so I take my Eyre Peninsula foraging to the clear, tranquil channels of Kellidie Bay. How you sample your oysters here depends on just how deep your passion runs. There are boat tours around the oyster beds and an oyster menu to work through at Coffin Bay’s 1802 Oyster Bar.

Or you could gather a bunch of pals and spend an afternoon shucking your way through a sack of fresh oysters which, at $60 for five dozen, is a steal that’s best teamed with ice-cold brews.


Adrift on Kellidie Bay

After lunch I decide to take my belly full of seafood on a glide around Kellidie Bay’s barely rippling labyrinth of waterways. It’s clear and calm, and bristling with waterbirds that I manage to silently encounter for sneaky, up-close views before they spook and drift away.

Looking back to shore, I’m amazed at how little Coffin Bay seems to have changed over the years. Lined with lots of snug holiday shacks, passed down through South Australian families for generations, Coffin Bay is a salty, sunny getaway town where happy summertime memories hover like a haze.

It proudly boasts its very own national park, protecting dichotomous landscapes of tannin-hued waterways on one side, bounded by a rugged coastline of sea-ravaged limestone. On this wilder side — blustery and beautiful — a clifftop lookout gazes out over arcing white-sand shore and the rock shelf that links Golden Island and the mainland, snagging the surf.

Beneath the lookout, follow the foot trail onto Almonta Beach and the drifting Coffin Bay Dunes, created by ancestral tribesmen — so says the legend — to thwart a great fire from the ocean that threatened to spread across the land.

Coffin Bay National Park is a beguiling sanctuary that provides plenty of exploring, by 4WD, SUP, kayak or on foot. However you wander, the further west you go towards 4WD-only Point Sir Isaac, the more idyllic and remote the landscape seems, and if you love to surf, shoot for the white sands of Mullalong Beach, spotting emus and western grey kangaroos as you go.

Sea caves to Streaky Bay

Beyond Coffin Bay, a sparsely populated scenic coastal route continues 250km west to Streaky Bay. Wilder, more windswept and studded with long, white-sand beaches and plenty of places to fish, camp and surf, it calls loudly to self-sufficient travellers with plenty of time to unwind.

I drive beyond Elliston to the sea-ravaged Talia Caves, to stand inside the cavernous mouth of The Woolshed, watching the unrelenting waves rush towards me. Next door at The Tub, sea views are a little harder to win. Once inside this collapsed 50 metre-wide cavern, I have to push through a narrow rock tunnel to gaze again over Anxious Bay, but the adventurous thrill puts a smile on my face and I have this wild moment all to myself.

Just around the corner, where the Eyre Peninsula meets the Nullarbor, I end my exploring at Streaky Bay. It’s a busy ending for such an immensely soothing destination. I set off the day, armed with a list of must-sees that has me ogling Australian sea lions from the lofty Point Labatt lookout (the mainland’s only breeding colony no less), then swimming with them at Baird Bay; strolling around Murphy’s golden hilltop Haystacks and watching the sun set west from my waterfront camp at Tractor Beach.

You can pack a lot into a summer on the Eyre, or choose one beachside haunt and explore it completely. As a classic summer holiday destination, the Eyre is perfectly shabby chic: its beaches are pristine and endless, there’s plenty to do in and out of the sea, and the food is fantastic and fresh, and served without an ounce of pretension. For me, that stacks up to Aussie summer holiday bliss.


Escape routes

  • Go It’s an eight hour-drive from Adelaide to Port Lincoln at the end of the Eyre Peninsula (680km). En route, plan stops at Arno Bay, Tumby Bay and Lipson Cove.
  • Visit With its mild, Mediterranean climate, the Eyre Peninsula is  a year-round destination but summer is perfect for beach play with temperatures averaging 25–32˚C.
  • Stay Solar-powered Tanonga Luxury Eco Lodges near Port Lincoln offer exclusive stays without the guilt (there’s even an organic worm farm to treat waste water). Stays are priced from $410/night (minimum 2-night stay, tanonga.com.au). Secluded, 4WD-accessible campsites in the remote Memory Cove Wilderness Protection Area cost $22.50/group/night (book in advance at parks.sa.gov.au).
  • Don’t miss Standing on the sea cliffs at Gallipoli Beach Drive, 14km north of Coffin Bay and sampling Coffin Bay’s iconic oyster pie (from Coffin Bay Pizza, next door to 1802 Oyster Bar).
  • Plan Plan your South Australia trip at eyrepeninsula.com, coffinbay.net and portlincoln.com.au.

Catherine Lawson

Catherine Lawson

Journalist, editor, author and adventurer Catherine Lawson travels full-time with photographer-partner David Bristow and their 5-year-old daughter Maya. Captivated by wild places and passionate about their preservation, these storytellers advocate a simple life and document their outdoor adventures to inspire all travellers, but especially families, into the world’s best wild places.

You May Also Like

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 2024 04 03t110114.626

Unleash your sense of adventure in Shoalhaven

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 2024 02 21t105949.886

Gunbim Galleries in Kakadu

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 (89)

The road to adventure in Christchurch

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 2023 11 01t120915.911

The grand escape to Western Australia