Eyre Peninsula Easter 2012

Monday, Jul 09, 2012 at 00:00

Member - Graham Watson (SA)

This year we decided that after living in Adelaide for seven years, it was about time to visit the Eyre Peninsula. We had crossed the top of the peninsula on our way to Ceduna a few years ago, but that doesn’t really capture the peninsula. This trip Robyn and I would be travelling on our own, without the kids or friends, which was a change from most trips.
If I had to find a phrase that summed up the trip it would be “being taunted by nature”, but more on that later.

The first day was to be a leisurely drive through largely familiar territory from Adelaide to Point Lowley just north of Whyalla. I don’t know if it just me, but I don’t find the terrain from Adelaide to Port Wakefield particularly inspiring, but it is terrain we regularly follow heading North to the Flinders and beyond. We had had recommendations from friends and neighbours that Point Lowley was a nice spot to camp and it certainly seemed a nice enough location, but on the Easter weekend it was packed with people. The Whyalla Bird watching society seemed to be having their annual get together there, and the space they weren’t occupying was filled with people gathered for a fishing competition. After a quick loop around the point we head north to see if there were better prospects at Fitzgerald Bay.
Following the dirt coastal road north we noticed several minor turn offs where people had set up camps and after a couple of kilometres found a turn off leading to a spot with just enough flat space for a single campsite. The nearest other campers were about half a kilometre away around a headland and we were only about 20 metres from the water’s edge. The only downside was we were only about 50m from the road, but with only half a dozen vehicles going past in the entire evening this was not a significant problem.
This was the first occasion we were taunted by nature. I normally carry my camera everywhere, but it was in the tent while we were having happy hour. Suddenly the quiet was disturbed by a snorting sound and we looked up to see a pod of dolphins only about 10 or 20m off the beach. By the time I got my camera and fitted the telephoto lens they were too far away to get a good shot.
The original plan had been to spend one night here, visit Whyalla and then spend a second night half way between Whyalla and Port Lincoln, but we liked the campsite so much we decided to camp here the second night as well. Some people would ask “Why visit Whyalla?”, but as an engineer who has worked in shipbuilding my entire career I find industrial sites interesting and I had always wanted to visit the place where so many ships had been built. With an interest in WWII history I also wanted to visit the HMAS Whyalla at the Whyalla Maritime Museum. So on the morning of the second day I got Robyn to drop me off at the maritime museum while she went and amused herself looking around Whyalla. I certainly got the better part of that deal. It is always good to be able to wander around a museum of things that interest you at your own pace without hurrying to keep up with others who are less interested. I thought the maritime museum and HMAS Whyalla were certainly worth the time I spent there. Robyn on the other hand was less impressed with wandering around Whyalla itself.
At lunch time we went up to Hummock Hill where there is a good all round view over Whyalla (especially the steelworks) and the Spencer Gulf. Not all the steelworks are now functioning as steelworks. That closest to Hummock Hill is now used as a transfer station where ore from trains is transferred to barges which shuttle it out to bulk carriers anchored offshore. I would have liked to do a tour of the steel works, unfortunately they were not running the day we were there. The overall impression I have of Whyalla is of a dusty rust stained city. This was only reinforced by the colour scheme of the facilities at Hummock Hill.
The third day began with nature taunting us again. Through the first and second day there had been threats of rain, but as the second day progressed the weather gave every sign of clearing. Then in the early hours of the third day it started raining. Not enough to cause real problems, but just enough to mean we had to pack wet a wet tent in the morning. I also learnt the importance of fitting the fly to the tent. We have a black wolf turbo tent where the fly basically only covers the very top of the tent and not the sides. The small amount of rain seeped in at the attachment points for the fly leading to a drip in the tent.
Once packed we headed to Port Lincoln for lunch, and then into Lincoln National Park. We had decided that one of the campsites on the Donnington Peninsula would suit us best and based on recommendations in our camping books headed to Fishermans Point first. The campsite was reasonably full although there were still several places left. We got a site right at the edge of the cliff looking North over the bay. This had been the sheltered side of the camping area when we set up but on the 4th night a gusty northerly sprang up which set the fly flapping madly and had me up resetting pegs several times during the night. Here nature taunted us again. The ground was too soft and sandy for normal pegs, but the soft ground cover was too shallow for sandpegs to get a purchase. Eventually I had to resort to tying off on the surrounding bushes.
Lincoln National Park has large numbers of birds, but almost none of the larger mammals such as kangaroos and possums etc. Large numbers of pelicans, cormorants, pacific gulls and terns roost on rocks just off the coast. The seagulls would taunt us by hovering in the updrafts from along the cliffs just meters away from us whenever you didn’t have a camera in your hand or would do circuits across the front of our campsite as regular as clockwork. But as soon as you had your camera they would disappear. The bay was also used as an anchorage by yachts which would moor there for a day or two.
On the 4th day we set off to do the Fishermans Point Loop walk. This 11 km walk takes you through a variety of habitats and takes you to Yachties Beach and Carcase Rock. A quarter of the way around the loop we came to an area that had been burnt off during a controlled burn. The burn had been fairly recent because some stumps were still warm and smoking. Not long after that we came to a sign that the loop walk was closed between certain points. As I couldn’t reconcile the map on the closure notice with either the map in the park brochure, or with the lay of the land we continued along the trail to the coast. After departing the coast we came to an area that had been cleared for farming in the past. For the main part this area was open space but with clumps of 6ft high bushes growing in patches of 10 to 20m diameter. Here we were taunted by an emu which other than occasionally showing his face would walk around the bushes to keep them between himself and us. When Robyn and I eventually split to circle around the bushes in opposite directions he scarpered for the surrounding woodlands before we got to take a photo.
That afternoon we took a stroll along the beach at Fishermans Point. Here we were taunted by a flock of Bugger Birds. Bugger Birds are no single species of bird but are typically characterised as flocks of small green parrots (in this case Rock Parrots) which are a bugger to take a photo off. You can hear them clearly and you can generally see them, but they always position themselves with a twig or a leaf between themselves and you so you can never get a clear shot at them. If you are focussing on one which looks like it is about to come into clear view another will duck out from cover and then into another piece of cover just before you get them in focus.
Halfway along the beach we came upon a pair of Pied Oyster Catchers at the edge of the waves. As we approached they casually sauntered off at about the same pace we were walking, every now and then casting nonchalant glances over their shoulders to see if we were still following them. As we approached the end of the beach they became a bit more agitated, with one ducking one way and the other ducking in the other direction. I guess we got our own chance to taunt nature. Fortunately for their peace of mind we turned off the beach before they ran out of beach. Most Campers had left that day so the campsite while not deserted was a lot quieter than it had been before.
The next day we drove to Wanna Cove. The first of many coastal cliffs we would be visiting this trip. The scenery here is quite impressive, spoilt only by a dumped car at the bottom of a cliff. (It seems a hell of a long way from anywhere to go dump a car though). There is also a track here through the Wanna Dunes to Sleaford Mere. Travelling alone, not being an experienced sand driver and having heard a friends story of being bogged for 6 hours we decided to give this a miss. We heard a tale later about a hapless tourist who the Port Lincoln Tourist information had suggested the track to. This person had tried it with no experience and had been bogged for a full day before getting someone to recover him. It sounded like his wife was never going to let him go four wheel driving again.
Having visited Wanna Cove we drove to Sleaford Bay and Mary Ellis Beach at the other end of the dunes, being down at the southern end of the Eyre Peninsula this area was more exposed to the surf than the other beaches we had been to. From here we headed further south towards the Whalers Way. The road out to the southern point of the Eyre Peninsula is on private property and has an access fee. On this occasion we did not take this track.
The following day (our 6th) we walked from Fishermans Point to Cape Donnington and back along the Fishermans Point to Cape Donnington Track (5km), the Cape Donnington to September Beach Track (1km), the September Beach to Carcase Rock Track (3km) and the final leg of the Fishermans Loop Track. These tracks also take you through a range of habitats and past a variety of coastal scenery. This walk also took us past a couple of other campgrounds (Engine Point and another new one who’s name eludes me). While these campsites had their merits I would say Fishermans Point was a better choice. Just past the Cape Donnington Lighthouse we saw a couple of Dolphins travelling along the coast. The local dolphins are a much darker colour than those commonly seen elsewhere.
There had been further burning off conducted near the park entrance that day so the resultant sunsets were spectacular and from the opposite side of the campground to our tent you could watch the sun set over Port Lincoln. That night a campervan with 2 French backpackers arrived and though the bulk of the campground was deserted they chose to set up in the site adjacent to ours. I suppose in places like Europe they have a different concept of campground etiquette and personal space. They were a nice enough couple and didn’t make much noise so we didn’t mind.
The next morning we packed up camp to head into Port Lincoln for a couple of nights of pampering at the Marina Hotel. This is certainly the way to travel spending periods in the great outdoors interspersed with a few nights of mod cons.
Before leaving the National Park we went out to Stamford Hill for a view over the park, Port Lincoln and Boston Island. At the top of Stamford Hill is a monument to Matthew Flinders. This monument was erected in 1841 and is one of the first in Australia. You can walk to the top of Stamford Hill via a 1 km (return) track or via a 5 km loop that returns via woodcutters beach. We took the loop walk, but were a bit disappointed with the return leg of the loop. We also drove out to the Surfleet Cove Campground. This is a large well-appointed campground well set up for caravans, but a bit open for tent based camping.

Port Lincoln is a much more pleasant town than Whyalla. It has more millionaires per head of population than anywhere else in Australia thanks to the Tuna industry. It is also the home to the largest Fishing Fleet in the Southern Hemisphere. The Marina Hotel as its name suggests is right at the marina where you can see both sides of Port Lincoln life, the working boats of the fishing fleet, and the luxury boats of the cities millionaires. For Robyn being able to eat out each evening was a very welcome change from camp cooking, and long hot showers were much appreciated after a week of “wet one” washes.
While in Port Lincoln I had to try one of the staples of the region and have a fresh tuna steak. To be perfectly honest I was a bit disappointed as to my uneducated palate it didn’t taste all that different to what came from a tin.
After a couple of days respite we hit the road again to spend some nights at Coffin Bay. In the Coffin Bay National Park we stayed at Yangie Bay campground. This is the main campground in the park and the only one accessible by 2wd. The campground is split into two sections, a large open area for caravans and a warren of smaller sheltered sites for tents and camper trailers. There were more animals here than in Lincoln Park with a goanna roaming the campground and kangaroos nearby. After setting up camp we drove out to Point Avoid to check out more coastal cliffs. The coast here is more exposed and hence sees more waves than Lincoln National Park.
On our second day at Coffin Bay we drove out to Point Sir Isaac. The initial part of the drive takes you over sandy tracks and past several smaller campsites before coming to Seven Mile Beach. The only way out to the western half of the park is driving along the beach which was fairly soft sand when we were there. This was the only part of the trip which concerned me. The prado handled it easily enough though there were a few points where we lost momentum and came close to bogging down. Robyn was definitely on edge and was glad when we got back to our campsite that night.
The big bonus of getting back to the campsite was that the seasonal fireban had ended that day and we were able to have our first campfire of the trip. It would have nice to have undertaken the entire trip outside the fireban season, however when you are married to a teacher you don’t get much choice in when you take holidays.
The next day for a change of pace we took a cruise on Coffin Bay with Coffin Bay Explorer (www.coffinbayexplorer.com). This 3 hour cruise was well worth money with only 6 adult passengers and 3 children. The cruise goes out to “The Brothers”, a pair of islands made of petrified tree roots in the middle of Port Douglas (part of Coffin Bay). The Brothers are home to a pair of New Zealand fur seals and Jeff a lone Sealion as well as a host of seabirds. Of course nature kept up its taunting and neither Jeff or the fur seals were present. The cruise then continued out to an oyster lease where we were able to learn about the oyster industry and taste oysters fresh from the sea. We then cruised the bay looking in vain for a pod of dolphins. In 500 cruises there had only been 2 occasions where they had not encountered dolphins and we looked like being the third. We went back to The Brothers where fortunately Jeff and the fur seals had returned. As we then returned to Coffin Bay we finally found a pod of Dolphins. I would have to describe this cruise as the highlight of the trip.
The next morning we set off for Streaky Bay, where we had 2 nights booked at the Streaky Bay Hotel. We took a circuitous route up the coast visiting various scenic points on the way. The first stop was Gallipoli Beach near Farm Beach. This was where the landing scenes from the movie Gallipoli were filmed. Next stop was Drummond Point for more cliffs before going to Cummings Lookout for yet more cliffs (which I thought were the most impressive). By this time it was becoming an ABC (Another Bloody Clifftop) tour. The final stop was the Tahlia Caves north of Elliston, a worthwhile detour.
The Streaky Bay Hotel is a traditional Australian hotel with verandas all around. The cost of a room on the balcony is not much more than the cost of a motel room, and gives a good view over the bay. While we were there the Adventure section of the Ulysses club were gathering in town for their annual ride. This provided plenty of opportunities for interesting conversations over dinner.
The following day we went and visited Murphy’s Haystacks. These were spread over a much greater area and were larger than I expected. While I knew they were visible from a distance, all the pictures I had seen made them appear relatively small. We also visited the Cape Labatt Sealion colony.
This was quite entertaining. The viewing platform is on the clifftop overlooking the colony and provides a good overview of the antics of the sealions. Other attractions to visit are the granites near Cape Westall and the whistling rocks at Cape Bauer. Unfortunately this was the last real day of the Holiday with the next day being the drive home. The stretch of road between Adelaide and Port Wakefield is uninspiring when leaving on holidays. It is even less inspiring when heading home.

For more photos see here
Graham Watson
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