Whilst patiently waiting for the final stint of hot and windy weather of summer to pass before we start heading back into the central interior of the country again, we spend a few weeks skirting South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula – both the western-side (Ceduna to Coffin Bay) and along the Spencer gulf side (Port Lincoln to Port Augusta).
As this is a vast area with many things to see and do, we have split the Eyre Peninsula into two seperate posts with part 2 to follow this post: Eyre Peninsula: Part 2 – (Port Lincoln to Port Augusta).
Interestingly …and for the purpose of our personal record than anything else, we had no real purposeful plan for the peninsula (with exception of Port Lincoln and Whyalla which were to come later) and quickly lost momentum and found ourselves somewhat directionless for a good period of this stint.
As ones to not like sitting around doing not much, we didn’t really know for a good week or so what to do with ourselves which was not like us. For the first time on our whole trip we found ourselves in limbo, one might say. And compounding the situation …I found myself thinking too much about my sabbatical end, what I genuinely wanted to do after the trip had ended, the prospect of moving the family to Japan with Nokia, the boys schooling, Celia …all these types of important things. The situation passed with clearer and more rational thought returning and we found new and interesting things to see and do in the region.
Before we start on part 1, here’s a quick-dive into the rather interesting history of the early explorers of this region of South Australia. Englishman and Royal navy officer Mathew Flinders was said to have first mapped the majority of the peninsula’s coastline in 1801. Flinders’ early cartography work was then followed by the intrepid Frenchman Nicholas Baudin in what was a rare English / French pact. Presumably they enjoyed working together, as the Bay of Encounter was named from both sharing their exploration notes. Interestingly (and perhaps politically?) the region was ultimately named after Edward John Eyre (by George Gawler – 2nd governor of SA at the time) who explored the triangular region between 1839-1841, long after Flinders and Baudin’s pioneering work. Flinders, however, had the Flinders Ranges, Flinders Island and a couple of other notables named after his impressive work on the region as a whole.
For us, though, the Eyre Peninsula all started in the town of Ceduna after coming from the west, heading east, across the Nullarbor. We had not planned to stay in this town, however after a long day of driving, battling winds, we decide on the spur of the moment to pull up stumps earlier and stay one night, replenish essential staples, and set off for Streaky Bay the following morning.
Ceduna is one of many fisher-persons town(s) along the Eyre Peninsula coastline with the town having a long and proud history of wheat farming and sheep grazing. Enormous grain silos mark the town and can be seen from all directions many Km’s away and it’s not until you reach midway through the lovely landscaped main street of Ceduna do you first notice you are back on the coast. Free camping is limited in or near town and three caravan parks are the only options. With one main camp park in town on the foreshore which was full when we enquired, we tried the park on the outskirts where they had space to accomodate us for the night.
After a cool night and good rest by all, we quickly packed up the following morning (usually takes us no more than 25-30 mins), and head back into town by 9AM.
(As a side note, having a combined length (D4 and Kimberley) of 8+ metres sometimes makes it a little challenging to find adequate parking in some town(s) – especially close enough to shops, such as supermarkets, and this circumstance is simply part and parcel of travelling and towing a large caravan).
In town we find a suitable park a few blocks away from the main shopping area and hit the pavement looking for: Postoffice, Butcher and Bakery, and lastly, hopefully find a decent coffee before hitting the road again by 10AM. We successfully managed 3 of the 4 aims with the decent coffee find not so flattering. Ah well, can’t have everything!
Back on the road -the Flinders Hwy to be exact – it’s fairly lumpy heading in a southeasterly direction to begin with and the road is never any further than 8 kms from the coastline. The road dissects an inland sea of wheat fields with very large bulk grain silos dotting the landscape every 30-50kms. We observe the wheat in this part of Australia at harvest time is carefully grown a lot lower to the ground (i.e. much smaller stem between soil to grain height) and we hazard as a guess if this is purposely grown this way to better handle the windy conditions of the region – don’t know? We also notice driving along, several huge flocks of Starlings along the way – 1000’s 0f them in some cases which we found odd as you don’t see so many of these birds these days and we had not seen another Starling anywhere else on the whole trip. Not sure of the reason why – perhaps given the ubiquitous grain?
We make Streaky Bay in good time. The bay has only one available option in the area to camp that had access to good drinking water – the local Streaky Bay caravan park, so we settle here for a couple of days and use this camp as our base.
Like a lot of the little coastal towns along the west side of the Eyre Peninsula, Streaky Bay is famous for it’s fishing – especially crabs this time of year (Summer Months), namely Blue Swimmer. Keen fisherman from all over the country, especially Queenslanders at this time of the year we noticed, head to the small coastal hamlet of Streaky Bay to fish, with some staying months at a time in the caravan park in town. It was obvious we were now in “true fisherman territory” with almost every 4WD having a “tinny tosser” on their roof and an array of crab nets outside their caravans with the odd fishing rod too. Numerous crab cooking pots and similar paraphernalia adorn the campground camp kitchens with the smell of crab cooking ever-present. For us though, our eyes were set on catching a King George Whiting – especially Loch, and he was just itching for the chance. Our constant nemesis, the wind, was still happily blowing. Even in the known protected shallow waters and bays it was windy & choppy and showing little sign of abating and looked as though it was here to stay until late-March the forecasters were predicting for the remainder of the season. As it turned out, other anglers we spoke with in the camp were highly frustrated with the wind as well.
One of our neighbours had driven from north of Gladstone in QLD to stay 7 weeks and they do so every year just to fish in Streaky Bay for Whiting and bluey crabs. He mentioned he and his wife had only managed 3 days in 3 weeks of fishing with rods. It had been so windy they had given up on staying any longer and decided to drive back to Qld much earlier this year. Others we spoke had similar grumbles describing the season a particularly bad one for windy weather. Don’t we know it – we’ve been moaning about it for a few months now and appears to be following us no matter where we go. When speaking to various travellers and respectfully, the Grey Nomad crowd about this, it usually brings up the question of man-made climate change …and so the debate rages on and seemingly very little being done to understand its implications any better. While the crab people were happy reaching their bag limits, the whiting anglers were not and we decide to look further afield around the area’s various conservation parks to obtain a better feel for the region and leave the Lochie’s Whiting for another day, soon we hope.
We read with interest of a Sea Lion colony at Point Labatt further to the east so we make the 105km round journey in the hope they are there on the day. The trip is made up of sealed and non-sealed roads and some 4WD tracks depending on what roads and direction you come in from. On arrival, there is a fancy boardwalk out to a large timber viewing deck perched up high on a badly eroded cliff edge that overlooks the wild Southern Ocean and smooth rock platforms. Below this cliff the seals seek refuge from the large swells, fraternise and sunbake. There were some 10-15 of them we could see however they were so far away (500M or more) that it was difficult to see them well – but at least we saw them. (On a trivial note, Celia and I had seen seals in the USA and New Zealand on trips, however these were the first wild seals any of us had seen in Australia).
In the afternoon, we zig zag a different way back to Streaky Bay on various back roads via Cape Blanche and Sceale Bay and a few other interesting inlets. Most of the sheltered inlets are shallow and feature wide-spread healthy weed beds home to the sort after blue swimmers and the highly prized squid and King George Whiting.
After a couple of days in Streaky Bay and with the wind still keeping us on our toes, we decide to head further down the Peninsula to the protected inlets of Coffin Bay and do some fishing and spend some time exploring in the local National Park. Coffin Bay is world famous for it’s quality Oysters (In a interesting twist of irony, we were informed by a local fishmonger that the original oysters used to start off Coffin Bay Oyster leases, were a species of Pacific Oysters from Japan. The bulk of what Oysters are farmed in Coffin bay today are now sold back to Japan and I used to see them regularly on menus in Oyster bars and Restaurants when I was commuting to Tokyo frequently for work) however, we were not interested in Oysters so much, it was the local Whiting on offer that was more our fare.
On the 2nd day, we find a reasonably sheltered section of an estuary not far from the main boat ramp in town and were fishing a rather stiff incoming tide. We set boys boys up on their own rods with a typical paternoster rig and use fresh cockles for bait that we collected on a local shallow sand flat the previous evening. Initially not much was happening or perhaps the fish were that small we simply could not feel them biting. Once the tide changed and really got going it generated a strong rip and the biting started to come on and ended up hooking 9 fish, landed 7 within an hour. Loch was on fire and caught 6 and Aidan managed to catch the smallest Flathead I have ever seen. He was a very cute little guy, still managed to spike me trying to get him off the hook, and after a quick snap of the trophy fish by Mum, he was safely released back to the estuary. Lochie caught 4 King George Whiting, and 1 Flathead – unfortunately, some were borderline and others were below legal limit(s) and all were released. Despite the disappointment of not taking any fish home for dinner, we all had a great time. The boys were very patient through the quiet non-action period and I thoroughly enjoyed being the bait/snag master for the day. Celia also played a vitally important roll in removing the cockle flesh from their shells …and a little birdie told me, quietly fed the odd lucky seagull as well.
The following day the weather took a turn with a little rain, heavy cloud cover and the wind had dropped for a pleasant change. After the boys school work in the morning, some 3 loads of clothes washing done and the odd maintenance job on the van, we keenly head out to the close-by Coffin Bay National Park after lunch to check out a potential campsite and then, we head across the other side of the park to take a look at Cape Catastrophe and Point Avoid – both highly welcoming places you’re probably thinking.
There is a lot of roaming wildlife in this park – namely Emus, Kangaroos and Euros (small wallaby) and the roads are mostly up & down, twisty and quite narrow. The speed limit is a blanket 40kms per hour across the entire park so it takes a lot longer getting anywhere as a result. Not far from the national parks entrance, we come across an unfortunate baby Emu lying dead on the road – clearly the result of someone speeding and not being able to stop in time (we would see the rest of the young family (alive) the next day). Further into the park we would see numerous vehicles not sticking to the speed limit which was disappointing to see.
We first venture across to Point Avoid which adjoins Almonta Beach on one side.
We had read that this time of year small flocks of Cape Barren Geese maybe seen at times on various beaches in the park for mating season. These are bulky geese, almost uniformly grey plumage and bear rounded black spots. Their tail and flight feathers are dark grey and their legs pink with jet black feet. They can drink salt or fresh water and it is unusual for them to swim. Thought to be a sub species of the Swan, today are one of the rarest of the worlds geese and mainly live off shore on remote southern islands.
The weather on this day was not the best for photography of birds with low light and spitting with rain but we go looking for them anyway and with the the high seas of late, we may even find some interesting stuff beachcombing. We reach Point Avoid, park, and walk towards a weathered sign saying “beach access”. We look down about 25M to the beach below and right there is a pair of geese in close to a sand dune – so we venture down to take a closer look. After getting up close to them and a couple of snaps later we leave them in peace and walk around Point Avoid proper along the beach and find a large flock of Fairy Terns, numerous Pacific Guls and a cute pair of Sooty Oystercatchers trying to catch a wink. Frolicking around on the shallows, we find many starfish (some vibrant orange & blue in colour) and the odd roundish yellow crab, but nothing much else. It’s a rugged spot and the naming of this point is fairly obvious if you’re a mariner. The rock formations in this area of the park are limestone featuring unusual sculptured rocky points all over them which we’d not seen anywhere else.
The following day, the weather was almost the same as the day before only this time with heavier cloud and some showers. We decide to head back out into the national park and back to Point Avoid once again and we didn’t see another person in the whole trip in – perhaps the weather had scared everyone away. When we arrive, we were amazed to find down one end of Almonta Beach a flock of about 25-30 Geese. We slowly venture down to see how they would react to our presence and quickly find they were not too interested in us and we could get reasonably close, about 30-35M without frightening them.
We watched them for about an hour or so and the boys also combed the beach to find more treasures whilst I rattled off a few frames of exquisite birds. A would-be male geese pestered several females …and watching them long enough soon made it straightforward to match which pairs were which. A couple of the alpha males split the flock and I took some more frames of a smaller group whilst they were wading in the whitewash of the surf and picking out little things to eat – we couldn’t quite work out what these were. A great experience and memory. The rest of the day was spent doing little jobs, washing, water replenishment, and trying to fix a new blockage we found in the van’s plumbing.
The following morning we leave Coffin Bay for the 50km trip down the coast to the most southern town on the Eyre Peninsula we have all been looking forward to visiting, Australia’s fishing industry capital – Port Lincoln. We’ll feature Port Lincoln to Port Augusta in part 2 of the Eyre Peninsula. Till then …
Geoff & Celia