We were particularly keen to camp for a few days out in the Lincoln National Park. Before doing so we had to get a few things out of the way, namely; drinking water top up, basic staples and this time, annoyingly we had to have the D4s new windscreen re-assessed and repaired in Port Lincoln after the mishap we had with it heading down to Norseman from Kalgoorlie 2 weeks earlier because of poor workmanship – click here see Eyre Peninsula Part 1 if you missed the reason behind this.
So we decide to stay in town for the first couple of days.
We chose a caravan park on a foreshore at the southern end of town overlooking Boston Bay – a lovely aspect on a large sloping hill with large vistas and it’s own jetty. Soon after first light on the first morning, it was an overcast day and we notice a pod of Dolphins about a 100M offshore busily schooling fish. Appeared to be 6 of them and was great to watch their strategy come together and see the methods they use to feed. After they presumably fed, some of the Dolphins celebrated by being, well Dolphins, doing random silly stuff such as jumps, the odd somersault and loud tale thwacks in circles, talking – all this in front of our campsite in the park.
Welcome to Port Lincoln …Indeed!
Not long after our impromptu Dolphin show, and whilst having the second coffee of the morning, we meet another Kimberley van user from the Sunshine Coast, (recently retired school teachers) that were camping nearby. Happy owners and lovely people, Geoff & Sandy. We have a casual chat about our travels – Geoff was curious about the ‘tech’ of our T3 as so many people we bump into in many places are. Aidan soon joined the discussion, and as Geoff was a Math teacher, the discussion quickly turned to ‘fractions’ as Aidan had recently moved onto the learning topic and wasn’t coming around to them as quickly as he (& us) would have liked. Geoff kindly offered a lesson, but we never got around to doing so.
Lochie by this time was eager to try the local fish as it had been at least 3 days since his last fish meal and was nearing some comatose-level of death – or something to this effect he mentioned in his “need fish” sales pitch. Piscatorial support was offered in the form of a fresh fillet of fish so we decide to head into town to find a fish shop/cafe/restaurant – should be easy in Australia’s fish capital you might think?
Nope… not really.
We soon find out the good fish places are actually almost out of town near the Port Lincoln racecourse area and there was not much in town and we end up at one of the pubs opposite the main beach. For a pub meal the fish was surprisingly very good with both Loch and Aidan suitably impressed with their fillets. Afterwards, we head over to the tourist information centre to see what Aquaculture tours we could do and to find out a little more information of intended stay in the Lincoln National Park.
It funny, because I have since an early age associated Port Lincoln with the 1984 Olympics weightlifting gold medal winner in the Super Heavyweight division, Dean Lukin, who is (was?) a Tuna fisherman. We had noticed a fishing boat in the marina baring the same name, not sure if its related? Port Lincoln is not only famous for Dean’s sporting achievements, but more so for its high quality Southern Bluefin Tuna for export markets in Japan. The Tuna fishermen go into the deep Southern Ocean for months at a time, use aircraft to find the schools, corral them, and slowly bring them back alive to Port Lincoln and feed them in huge holding pens on a special pilchard / sardine diet to fatten them up before expecting to Japan.
It is also home to a thriving aquaculture industry and it was this ocean farming (& ranching) industry that was of interest to us and wanted to see up close – so we were thrilled to see they had one operator in town conducting aquaculture tours and book one for the following day.
Our tour guide, Peter – a born and bred Port Lincolner, a naturally funny guy and a gifted (not always quite true) story teller, had worked in the fishing game most of his life. To our surprise, we learn Port Lincoln is home to the largest fishing fleet in Australia, even larger than Sydney. On Peter’s 8M boat, after all the safety and OH&S stuff out of the way, we head out of the marina to Boston Bay’s head waters to the edge of the Spencer Gulf to where many Kingfish and Bluefin Tuna farms are sitting in approximately 18-25M of tidal waters. There are farms scattered everywhere and its easy to understand why the fishing fleet of Port Lincoln is so large – just to service all these oceanic fish farms let alone the boats required to catch all other regions fish species.
As for the fish farms, there are boats required for: servicing and maintaining the farms, catching the fresh bait (fish-food) for the farmed fish, boats to carry out the bait to large bulk loader/carriers permanently anchored near the farms, boats for the scuba divers inspecting the health of fish inside the farms, boats for ranching the farmed fish for market and so on… Peter runs us through the different processes and often strays into humorous story’s of Port Lincoln ‘legends’ of fish farming and how all of these operators are so ruthless in their day-to-day business and like puppies outside of it.
It was fascinating and a worthy insight you just don’t an appreciation in any other way as to where/how a lot of the quality table-fish we eat comes from. No longer can we simply sweep clean the oceans floors and expect a balanced and sustainable industry – these types of farms have to succeed if we are to reverse the effects of commercial over-fishing.
Not too far from the fish farms was a small rocky island shaped like an upturned saucer where a permanent colony of about 50 sea-lions lived. Peter visits them most days he does his tour and he could get his boat up reasonably close to the rocks without them paying too much concern – even with a couple of young males fighting (perhaps over the female next to them) without looking at us once with concern. Twice in two weeks now, albiet in different locations, we had seen wild seals – but unlike in Streaky Bay, these particular sea-lions were rather fragrant smelling – even from a distance and a stiff cleansing breeze. 🙂
The following day we hitch up from the van park and make the small journey out into the Lincoln National Park to a campground named “Surfleet”. It’s about a 55km trip. It’s a spot reasonably remote, mainly wind protected, and the campsites are large, flat and with a good view. What more do you need! We drove into Surfleet mid-morning and straight away recognise someone we met a few weeks back whilst in Kalgoorlie. This was a family of 6 from a town north of Raymond Terrace in NSW – the father who is a bridge builder …and like myself, taking a year off work to spend some quality time with the family and have a good look around in our own wonderful backyard. There was a vacant camp site spot 40M from their site and we reverse the T3 into which was to become our lovely camp for the next 4 days and 3 nights.
Over the next few days we had great weather, cool at times, and not much wind for a welcome change. We did lots of exploring around the parks boundaries, numerous walks, beachcombing, some squid fishing, bird watching (smaller ones such as Blue Wrens, Medium sized birds such as ring-neck Parrots and the large with Emu’s) …and a little socialising with fellow campers at the campsite. A great spot and we all enjoyed its beautiful surroundings immensely …easily our most favoured stay on the Eyre Peninsula so far. Sadly, it was time to move on…
Arno Bay and Cowell
We pull out of Lincoln National Park with the aim to get to Arno Bay – some 150kms further down the gulf. Before we leave town, we seek out a fresh fruit and vegetable stall we had heard that operates in a small park opposite the visitors centre. We find it soon enough and arrive there to find a bevy of wondrous fruit and veg and buy up a storm. It was gratifying not having to buy “fresh” food from any of the big supermarkets for a change, and get our hands on genuine fresh fruit & veg that were hand-picked from the field less than 48 hours before – and the prices were great too.
Later in the day we arrive in Arno bay.
Free camp spots were none we could find on our various maps so it was to the only caravan park in town – a small place that backs onto the beach and we pull in here looking for a spot.
As with all caravan parks we visit, we first inform them before they issue us a site how long and high our van is so they understand which site are more appropriate for our size. You’d be surprised in some of the spots they want you to squeeze your van into. At Arno bay caravan park, the site they allocate us was just only suitable for a camper or small/low van and required a hefty sized Hasqvarna to get our van in and it was the only site they had available. We politely decline the site and point the D4 towards a town called Cowell – a further 50kms down the Hwy and arrive about 2pm.
The first campground we come to was very busy and everyone was packed in every which way like sardines with campers, caravans, 4WD and boats scattered everywhere and the unmistaken smell of crab cooking in the air. We couldn’t get in here as well and were kindly informed of another park on the other side of the main bay in Cowell so we casually drive over and they find a spot for us – their last one. Like the other park in town, this park was full of keen anglers, boats and lots of crab cooking going on as well. A quick top up of water, and then a couple loads of clothes washing ….to mix things up a little, that evening, we decide to go against the seasonal flow and cook on our grill Angus rump steaks we got from Port Lincoln.
There was not much to see and do in Cowell unless you were into squid or crab so we get back on the road early the next morning and head for a 120+ year old Sheep Station farm stay between Port Augusta and Iron Knob called “Pandurra”.
We decide to stay a couple of days at Pandurra Station commonly referred to Nutbush retreat due to all the Nutbushes growing on the homestead and through the campground. The station is situated on the Eyre Highway and our van was literally 80M from the main gate and in some bizarre way, was rather nice listening to the symphony of road-trains throughout the night coming and going across the Nullarbor. The station was so quiet in-between the passing of trucks and the odd Baa from a sheep with surrounding landscape being dead-flat, you could hear the road trains several kms away approaching – gradually getting louder and louder until they pass the main gate at 100kms P/H and then listened to them slowly disappear our of ear-shot up to a minute later.
The boys of an evening enjoyed watching the road-trains out the window of our van approaching from afar and fascinated of all those large trucks all lit up like a Xmas tree. This nice little distraction was merely a feature of our stay and not why we came. We wanted the boys to see a working sheep station with Pundurra having approx 25,000head with the vast majority for wool export. We also used Pandurra as a “base” to conduct day-trips to the old iron ore mining town of Iron Knob, and head east to take a look around Port Augusta and take a wander around the arid botanical garden in town.
Whyalla is famous for 3 primary things.
The steel works, a large ship building industry the government eventually “off-shored” …and is home to some of Australia’s best Snapper fishing grounds.
With the boys increasing love of fishing, and we enjoy eating Snapper, it was only natural we all wanted to try our hands fishing for Snapper with a local guide who knows what he is doing and would (in reason) put us on the fish …so we arrange a fishing charter.
There were 3 charters we could see in and around Whyalla and we chose to go with Steve Storic from Whyalla Fishing Charters, for no other reason than I seemed to remember the name from somewhere in the past – you can ask Steve how this came about if you end up meeting him. Steve is a great guy, knows his Snapper stuff, he is patient with kids, has a great vessel for the task out on the choppy gulf and although we on the day did not bag our limit, we still caught 4 Snapper, 2 keepers with Celia catching an 8Kg fish – an average size Snapper for this part of the world were told. We all had a great day, the boys loved it, albeit both were close at times to becoming sea sick and managed to hang on without a trip over the side. Lochie caught the other keeper and it pulled so hard he needed some extra muscle to help bring it in. Aidan did a great job and will remember the one that got away. As an added bonus to the trip, as we were coming back into the Whyalla marina we were accompanied by a pod of Dolphins that came up to Steve’s boat talking and looking all the way into the jetty – what an awesome experience. In an unexpected twist, on the jetty was a film crew waiting for Steve to return and they both interview Aidan and myself for the ABC program, 24.
Our attraction to Port Augusta was two-fold. The desire to purchase a big enough roof-rack lockable and weather proof box to get more accumulated items out of the van – especially things like swimming, snorkelling gear, shoes etc – and secondly, to visit the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens.
The Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens has been around for close to four decades now and I remember seeing these unique gardens some years back on ABC Gardening Australia when the wonderful Peter Cundall used to host the show.
The arid gardens are home to hundreds of different flora species that are specially adapted to thrive in an environment where temperatures are extreme and drought can last for decades which are found nowhere else on earth. We couldn’t have visited the gardens at a worse time of the year towards the end of summer and the temp was nudging 40Deg and little shade. There were literally 4 wildflowers in bloom during our visit …however we were fortunate enough to witness a couple of Sturt Desert Peas in (almost) full bloom. What a stunning wild flower the SDP is and we had seen a hand full growing beside the road on our trip but nothing like the examples in the gardens. Still, you can easily see by looking around the arid gardens just how stunning it would look in the Spring-time, a must visit garden if ever in or near Port Augusta.
Well …that’s the end of Part 2 and the end of our Eyre Peninsula leg of our trip. It’s a wonderful area of South Australia where there are so many things to do – even if you are not into fishing. The weather is quite temperate, albeit a little windy at times, but there are some wonderful places to experience and to enjoy the fabulous (& often) wild landscapes.
We developed a concern for towns like Whyalla whose future prosperity is up in the air due to large business (particularly Mining & Gas) currently in a very large downturn, and for the near foreseeable future. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was in town on the day we were leaving Whyalla and hopefully he had some of his “Big Ideas Boom” with Whyalla in mind – especially considering the current plight of the local steelworks inability to compete with China’s steel prices. Notwithstanding the uncertain future, the area desperately needs tourism more than ever to help support growth and create some added stability from what we had experienced. The Eyre Peninsula is a great region to spend a few days or a few weeks – you won’t get bored thats for sure.
Geoff & Celia