A Breath of Fresh Eyre

Trip Start Jan 13, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
McKechnie Springs Farmstay

Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Thursday, August 16, 2012

At this time of year (winter) when heading west from The Riverland of South Australia the temptation to head straight to the sunnier warmer shores of Western Australia is strong but something was calling us to the Eyre Peninsula. We had no idea what but we bundled our winter coats into the van and headed to the blustery coast for our final road-trip within SA.

Unlike our previous trips that started full of energy and brimming with excitement, this one started with a rattling exhaust manifold and an impromptu stop off in Port Augusta for some quick repairs.

Once we were all tuned up we headed on and hit the coast at Whyalla, flung off our shoes and sunk our toes into the freezing cold, wet sand. Although Whyalla is a lovely seaside town it appears to be inhabited mainly by elderly women who park their cars overlooking the ocean and wait to die at the steering wheel. We moved on rapidly before we suffered the same fate.

As our van is only 2 wheel drive we took a chance on Lipson Cove, a free camp area down a dirt road of unspecified length. It turns out that the road is in great condition and the reward at the end is truly a hidden gem. A secluded cove with pristine white sand dunes and sapphire water with a backdrop of lush green rolling farmland. Just offshore an island plays breeding ground for a colony of hooded plovers. I'd parked us quite close to the beach and as we fell asleep Vicky nervously asked "Will we be ok if the tide comes in?" Sure of myself and my choice of parking spot I reassured her “Yeah we’ll be absolutely fine, trust me…anyway, if the tide did come in this far we’d hear it in plenty of time.” At 3am I was woken by the van shaking side-to-side awkwardly and a rushing whooshing sound under the chassis. Shit. The tide had come in. We both sat bolt upright and peered out of the fogged up windscreen. By the light of the moon we could see…we could see the sea…miles away. Billy Van was just battling gale force winds. I definitely need to focus more on the aspect of shelter when choosing our sleep spots down the coast.

After a morning frolic over the sand dunes in high winds we reluctantly left Lipson Cove and headed further South to Port Lincoln. Port Lincoln is almost at the lowest point of the peninsula and is the main town. From here you can swim with tuna or sea lions or be submerged in a cage and have great white sharks try eating you for dinner. Unfortunately our budget permitted none of the above, plus we’d paddled in the sea on a couple of occasions on this trip and agreed that any more than a toe dipped in would be begging for hypothermia. We opted for a self-driven tour of The Whalers’ Way instead.

Whalers’ Way is named so after the men who used to hunt Whales there for their blubber and bone. Whales can still be seen from the cliffs today so we headed to the Tourist Information Centre to pick up a key as it’s a permit only road. (The permit cost us $30 plus a $10 cash deposit for the key.) A pair of binoculars was put on the last minute shopping list and off we went. We only saw three other vehicles on Whalers’ Way that day making it feel like even more of a unique experience. We were reassured that the road was suitable for 2wd vehicles but in parts the track was very rugged and our campervan struggled with corrugated road and shifting sand. To be honest, the slightly unnerving drive added an aspect of fun to it all. The signage on Whalers’ Way left a lot to be desired as we spent a lot of time wondering not only what exactly we were heading to look at once we’d left the van for the walking tracks, but also which track through the bushland down the unstable edge of a cliff was safe to take. However, when we did get the right track we were rewarded with some of the most spectacular rugged coastline I have ever seen. Sheer 100metre cliffs drop straight into the rough artic-blue Southern Ocean. Waves crash against rocks, blowholes and crevasse’s spurt water high up into the strong wind. Standing as close as I dared to the edge of the cliffs I truly felt like I was at the precipice of the earth about to fall off. I was stood on the edge of Australia at least and wow was it exhilarating!

The day took about 5 hours all in all, including a stop off for lunch. (Please note: BBQ facilities are very poor, make sure you take a ready-to-eat lunch or your own cooking equipment.) We didn’t see any whales that day and the ospreys nest was unoccupied also but that didn’t take away too much from the day, after all we were feeling very privileged to have driven the very tip of the Eyre Peninsula.

During our stay in Port Lincoln we were over the moon to call McKechnie Springs Farmstay home. We were greeted by Arnd who runs the farm and his 4 border-collie kelpie cross dogs balanced on the back of his quad bike.  He chatted away, happy to answer questions about his farm and life here in Port Lincoln. At $20 a night for a powered site we were expecting a patch of grass and a power-point but we were surprised with so much more. As the only camping guests that night we had sole use of a purpose built indoor kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen houses all crockery, cutlery pots and pans, fridge/freezer, oven and hobs and a table for four…absolute luxury! The bathroom with shower is also home to laundry facilities. Vicky and I sat and enjoyed a beer in the last warmth of the afternoon sun and were fascinated by the abundance of birdlife on this farm. Ring neck parrots, wagtails, swallows, galahs and kookaburras all putting on a show over the grassy hills. Arnd let us know that we were free to wander the farmland as we wished. Before leaving we took the opportunity to purchase some meat from the farm, all grass fed and chemical free. I can highly recommend the succulent lamb loin chops…my mouth is watering just thinking about how good they tasted!  Other accommodation on offer at McKechnie Springs Farmstay includes a cabin and a farm cottage.

Heading North on the West coast of the Eyre Peninsula gave us the opportunity to stop off at several bays and coves, each with their own unique charm. Coffin Bay is home to the kinds of houses you see on Grand Designs, each complete with a boat in the front yard. Venus Bay sits at the end of a detour from the main highway. We were soon lulled into relaxation by the turquoise waters that lapped at the sand and sat listening to the blues music playing loudly from one of the painted wooden houses that backs onto the strip of beach. Local fisherman went about their daily business, heading out to catch Oysters, while pelicans used the bay as their landing strip. One after the other they were gliding in, inches above the water, each one executing a graceful landing, surprising of such a large bird. Sceale Bay boasts a toilet with a view…a beautiful brick building housing a composting toilet with a window looking out over the waves.

One night we chose a rather unusual site to camp at. Murphy’s’ Haystacks are huge granite rock formations that were previously completely buried until the soil eroded leaving them standing out like dog balls at a dinner party, a rather striking contrast to the rich green fields surrounding.  We wandered through this natural playground, under trees and around large red boulders, laying under grand waves and arches of orange stone. That night was so black and the stars were bursting out in numerous explosions across the sky as we fell sound asleep in the back of our van, the only campers there that night.

The following day we headed to Point Labatt with our binoculars to view the permanent sea lion colony that lives there. We weren’t disappointed! We counted around 50 sea lions, including their pups and watched them from up on the cliff as they swam and sunbathed and rolled around playing in the shallows. I could have watched for hours. Such an incredible natural sight to see these playful creatures in the wild, especially with their pups that must only have been a couple of months old.

Our final stop on the Eyre Peninsula was Haslam. We’d only chosen to stop here because of the $5 camping offered but ended up throwing a line in off the jetty. To my surprise I caught a Yellow fin Whiting! You can also catch King George Whiting, Squid and Salmon but we weren’t that lucky. The sun started to set and we packed up the fishing gear ready for our final nights’ sleep on the Peninsula. Reflecting on our trip I can’t believe we almost considered skipping this spectacular part of the South Australian coast. What a wonderful mix of vast farmland and rugged stunning coastline. A true breath of fresh Eyre.
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