Circle of Life: Coorong and Fleurieu Peninsula

Sunday 15th March
The lady in the motel had told us to visit the marina and the headland before we left. As the tourist information centre hadn’t opened we walked to the marina and it was slightly disappointing and to be honest rather boring. Perhaps when the water sparkles in the sun it looks nicer but the way she had spoken I think we all expected more from the way it had been built up. The takeaway fish and chip place she had recommended looked like it would blow down at any minute and I was glad dad and I had opted for our Italian the night before.

After getting some ideas from tourist information on how best to spend our time in the Coorong National Park we decided to quickly drive to the headland. The headland was actually quite nice though the Commodore was quite modern and looked out of place and overall I was glad we hadn’t walked to see it. When we’d arrived in Robe the lady had asked why we were going to Meningie as there was “nothing to see there”. All I’ll say is people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

We left Robe and travelled along the Princes Highway towards Kingston S.E where it had been suggested we could do a short walk around the Butchers Gap Conservation Park. The first half of the walk was pleasant but rather uneventful as there weren’t even any birds around. Then after we passed the salt lake trees began to creep in to the mostly shrub and wild flower vegetation. This was obviously a more suitable environment for wildlife because we saw a number of different groups of kangaroos which included a joey. I still haven’t however seen one in the mothers pouch. These ‘roos were more timid than some I’ve seen and each time they realised we’d spotted them they hopped away quickly which to me is still an awesome sight.

We drove in to Kingston S.E and had our lunch where again as with Nelson the day before it was cold and windy though at least there was blue sky and nothing blew away. On our way out of the town I saw one of the town highlights was a ‘Giant Lobster’. A lot of Australian rural towns on the highways have big decorations of some sort but this, one of the more famous ones was actually the first I’d seen.

I was meant to have visited the Coorong on my way to Adelaide back in January but for reasons not entirely known we’d taken the inland road. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but it reminded me a bit of the Nulklarbor as the road was mostly straight and it looked like an arid landscape. Eventually we came to Salt Creek which was really just a roadhouse and a toilet. The toilet had a number of signs from the roadhouse owner asking for a small donation or at least a thank you. As I felt guilty I gave a small donation

Dad and I looked at the map and it appeared that we could do a short route that would go round in a loop allowing us to explore on foot which would give a much better perspective than the window of a car. By the time we reached the walk to Hailte Lake and Pipe Clay Lake (Lakes Nature Trail) we had already been walking nearly an hour. Whilst this was longer than expected it had been quite a spectacular walk in terms of scenery even if we hadn’t seen any wild life except for some pelicans, parrots and a few other birds.

We decided to carry on and whilst we continued to see old wombat droppings there was no evidence that they had come out early or indeed were still in the area. The walk was on flat terrain but by the time we got to the bridge to do a slightly longer path back to the car we’d already been out longer than planned. The lady at tourist information had suggested we should go to Parnka Point but as it was close to Meningie we decided we could go back the following morning.

We arrived in Meningie an hour later than planned and it seemed the person behind the desk was slightly disgruntled at this fact. He did however provide some useful information and told us to eat as soon as possible before places began to close as it was a Sunday. I booked a table at the Hotel and I got the impression we’d be the only guests. As it were we weren’t though originally we’d gone through the wrong doors to the bar which looked how I feared the restaurant would be. Empty, dark and three guys including the barman propping up the bar.

The restaurant was lovely and knowing we were outsiders now outside of the peak season the waiter gave exceptional service and was almost over the top in his friendly manner. The local guide book had told us to eat the mullet in Meningie so we all had ‘Maca Mullet’ which was served in a chilli, lemon style and fries. I was impressed and had the Banana cake with lemon myrtle ganache for dessert. I’ve not had many on the trip but had now had two in consecutive nights.

I got back to my room and watched Carlton vs Port Adelaide. Port have become my team because as previously mentioned I saw them in london and when I was in Adelaide I made a special journey to that part of the city. They were losing but one of the commentators was confident they’d win. He was right they turn it around and he was right. It was a great game and both sides

Monday 16th March
As we were getting ready to leave it was hard to tell if the guy working at the motel was still slightly irritated at us for being 1 hour late or if all had been forgiven. We told him of our plans and he suggested a scenic route around Lake Albert and to try the bakery at Tailem Bend.

We set off heading back approximately 20km back where we had driven the day before towards Parnka Point. We saw the sign though made a fatal error by not looking at the display board and map instead opting to just drive straight down the dirt track. We drove about 20 minutes at low speed though the car still shook. We reached a turn off to a campsite but continued straight on before the road just got to rough and we had to turn around. We continued back to the original car park and realised we had been on the right road but it was 4km and we’d only travelled half the required distance. It was a slightly disappointing end this section of our Coorong adventure.

We returned back Meningie before commencing the drive which on the map looked like it was a scenic drive around Lake Albert. I’ve got used to with roads seemingly being close to the coast or lakes when in fact whilst they are the view is blocked by sand dunes or trees. Disappointingly there wasn’t much of a view and we barely saw the lake at all. We had to cross the Murray River and as it was lunch carried on to Tailem Bend the name allegedly coming from a sheep farm where they used too cut the tails off the sheep and shouting “tail ’em”.

Tailem Bend had left an impact on me when I visited back in January though if I’m honest this had been because it epitomised all the lunch stops in townships in the middle of nowhere. Ordinarily it would have been forgotten but in a day of driving for 8 hours it had been the main stop of the day. I was however willing to give the township a second chance. Sadly yet again it was still closed except the bakery which dad and I went to in search of coffee. We were very much non locals and it was somewhat surreal when we were recognised and the guy from the motel started talking to us.

We left Tailem Bend and crossed the Murray River on a different ferry before taking the pleasant sounding ‘Fleurieu Way’ which would take us along the Fleurieu peninsula to Port Elliot. It looked on the map, and we had been led to believe this would be a scenic route with views of the Coorong. There weren’t, for most of the journey it was impossible to tell we were near a water source let alone a unique environment. We had intended to stop at one of the lookouts highlighted on the map but it wasn’t sign posted so we missed it.

We arrived at Currency Creek where we saw examples of ‘Canoe Trees’. These were trees where Canoes had been cut out of the bark by the Aboriginals, though the trees had not been chopped down and the bark had been allowed to regenerate leaving a canoe shape. We decided to stop at Lion’s Park where we did a short walk to perhaps the smallest waterfall I’ve ever seen. Still it was great that the local community had a volunteer group that had done work to conserve the area and had created a footpath. The walk was nice and took us past huge gum trees, under an old viaduct, an old mine shaft and a canoe tree.

We stopped off at Goolwa information centre to pick up some leaflets of walks in the area because apart from planning on doing the Cockle Train from Goolwa to Victor Habor we had no plans. The lady was very helpful and even helped us to identify some of the wildlife we’d seen. They had a book on Australian Mammals which I was tempted to buy as it would help me to work out what I’ve taken pictures of but I decided not to.

We carried on to Port Elliot where the couple running the hostel told us that it would be a full moon and to watch the Moonrise just after sunset. We went to the Port Elliot hotel for dinner because it was the only place that appeared to be open and they had a deal with the YHA. Dad and I also tried a beer from the local brewery which was nice but more expensive than we had expected. That evening I was in a 4 person dorm but yet again travelling slightly off the backpacker trail and out of season I had the room all to me.

Tuesday 18th March
We started the day by driving to Hindermarsh Island which was just off the coast from Goolwa. Initially we had hoped we’d be able to explore the Mouth of the Murray and to experience the Coorong by doing a cruise. The dates it ran didn’t suit our available days and this was actually a blessing because the lookout on Hinderarsh Island would provide us with a view of the Murray’s mouth to the sea.

We parked slightly earlier than we should have done but this meant as the tide was out we could have a walk along the beach towards the lookout. We passed lots of different birds before we came to the lookout overlooking the Murray mouth where the Younghusband sand dune and the Sir Richard Peninsula sand dune meet. It was initially difficult to establish whether there was s sea water connection however there must have been a water way because a small boat appeared to make it out in to the ocean.

We then drove to the end of another road where the leaflet suggested there was a short walk to Scab Creek. The name didn’t sound that glamorous and despite walking down two separate paths we were never that sure if we found the area we were looking for. I had expected a bit more from Hindmarash Island and apart from the mouth of the Murray the views were underwhelming. I did however spot a lizard I hadn’t seen before which looked rather ugly and I later found out it was called a sleepy lizard.

We returned back across the bridge to Goolwa and had lunch by the beach. Much to dads dismay the coffee shop was closed and as we had become accustomed to it became windy just as we sat down. After lunch we walked up a short boardwalk to a lookout facing towards Hindermarsh Island, the Coorong and over looking the town. We didn’t spend long as it wasn’t that much of a scenic a view.

We started walking to the Barrage but it was along a pedestrian road and after just under one km we realised it was still another 3km to go. We therefore decided to walk back to the car and to drive down. We arrived at the Barrage which separated the salt water of the sea from the fresh water of the Coorong. We walked along the Barrage and saw two sea lions bathing before one of them dived in to the water.

After returning to the car we drove down to the Old Wharf where we had a nice cup of coffee on the bank of the Murray looking towards the bridge over to Hindermarsh Island. At the coffee shop I saw what I thought was a great sign which said: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, Martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO HOO what a ride!” After leaving we quickly had a look around the local micro brewery and brought a bottle each for that night.

It was still early afternoon so we decided to drive to Victor Harbor. That is not a spelling error by me but named by Captain Richard Crozier after his ship HMS Victor in 1837. Lonely Planet claimed it was a spelling error in 1837 and hadn’t been that complimentary perhaps because they visited in the peak busy summer season where as we were visiting outside of the main season. The town seemed really pretty and it reminded me of some of the English seaside towns that have retained their old architecture.

One of the main attractions of Victor Harbor is Granite island which can be accessed by a Horse Drawn Tram or on foot across a causeway. The island has a small colony of the Little Blue Penguins I’d seen in Tasmania and on Philip Island however the walk to see these at night was guided. The island was closed two hours after sunset however we had plenty of time to undertake the walk of the island which was estimated to take one hour.

The walk was lovely and much more like what I had expected Hindermarsh Island to be like. We had just finished crossing the causeway when the horse drawn tram began crossing in the opposite direction. The service had originally ceased in the 1950s but in 1986 the local government celebrated the 150th anniversary of settlement by restoring the tram as part of a project to mark the occasion following a public vote.

We saw numerous impressive granite formations which reminded me of Kangaroo island though they were perhaps less spectacular than the Remarkable Rocks. There was also a lovely view of Encounter Bay named after the meeting between Matthew Flinders and the French explorer Nicolas Baudin. We looked out for seals and sea lions but couldn’t see any though we did see plenty of birds a number of which dad and Jenny hadn’t seen and could tick off in their book bringing the total to over 100.

After completing a circuit of the island we returned to Port Elliot where we had an Indian meal at ‘Mr India’. The waitress seemed particularly interested to speak to us because we were from near London and it was a really lovely meal. I haven’t had much indian food over here and my taste buds are out of practice because even though it was mild by my usual standard it still seemed quite hot. I’m looking forward to going back to Diwana in Euston, the curry garden in Berkhamsted and the various delights of Southall when I get home.

Wednesday 19th March
Dad had read about a tourist train that ran between Goolwa and Victor Harbor known as the Cockle Train which only ran on selected dates. Whilst we had already seen both towns we thought it was going to be a steam train and that it would be a nostalgic way to view the beautiful coastline. The steam train wasn’t working but as the road didn’t really pass along the coast we still thought it would be a nice journey.

We parked at Goolwa because it was nearer to Adelaide and meant we could catch the first train of the morning and therefore leave sooner. Unfortunately we sat on the wrong side of the carriage as the nice views were on the other side. We also thought we’d be able to stand on the balcony at the back but it appears strict health and safety regulations extends beyond the European Union. UKIP might want to be aware of that if they want to blame ‘Brussels’ for everything. It was however a nice journey and the volunteer staff appeared friendly.

After arriving in Victor Harbor we waited on the platform so we could get seats on the side with the ocean views. It was surprisingly busy on the return journey as a tour group of 42 turned up so had a carriage to themselves. On the way back we saw some of the beaches that are popular with surfers and saw a number of small groups trying to master the waves. After returning to Goolwa we had a quick coffee stop at the cafe we had been to the day before and then began the drive to Adelaide.


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