Ready for the ultimate seafood-and-sea-creatures adventure? Departing Adelaide, this ten-day road trip will take you along the epic coastline of Eyre Peninsula, famous for its incredibly bountiful oceans.
By Max Anderson
Exquisite lobster, highly prized southern bluefin tuna and Australia’s most celebrated oysters are produced here, while the seas themselves offer some of the most unbelievable wildlife experiences in the world. Swim with the ‘puppies of the sea’, Australian sea lions, cage dive with great white sharks and watch a spectacle seen nowhere else on earth: the aggregation of 250,000 giant Australian cuttlefish. Full of awe-inspiring coastline and incredible underwater adventures, this trip will let you discover a different side of Australia.
What to expect
What’s the perfect accompaniment for seafood? A glass of Australian white wine. Departing Adelaide, you’re headed to the nearby Clare Valley, a wine region renowned for its premium rieslings. It’s an easy, two-hour drive northwest to the Clare Valley village of Mintaro. On the way, stop in the pretty village of Auburn for cafés, galleries and the popular Rising Sun pub. You can taste wines from two of the region’s most celebrated boutique winemakers, Grosset and Mount Horrocks (occupying the very cute heritage railway station). Just 15 minutes away is Sevenhill, home to the region's first established winery, Sevenhill Cellars. On arrival in Mintaro, check into any of the village’s B&Bs. You’ll find them housed in period stone cottages, with names like ‘The Olde Lolly Shop’ and ‘Mintaro Mews’. In the afternoon, explore the village attractions, including contemporary art galleries, then lose yourself in the hedge maze and take a stroll in the grounds of nearby Martindale Hall, a magnificent stately home in the grand English fashion, made famous by the classic Australian movie, Picnic at Hanging Rock. If you’re after a more laidback afternoon, while away a few hours at Reilly’s Cellar Door and Restaurant or the local pub, the Magpie and Stump Hotel. Both are great options for dinner.
Spend the morning on the two-hour drive to Melrose (along the B82), following the northern end of the Mount Lofty Ranges. You can’t miss Melrose thanks to Mount Remarkable, which rises steeply to 961 metres (3,100 feet) behind the beautiful country town. Explore the streets and the shady creek bed at the foot of the mountain before taking lunch at the Northstar Hotel, where quirky-cool styling is fused with local heritage.
It’s another hour on the road to the city of Port Augusta, sitting at the head of the Spencer Gulf. The ‘crossroads of Australia’ is an intersection of calm blue waters, red ranges and semi-arid deserts – pack your camera. It’s home to 14,000 people including a large Aboriginal population who will be delighted if you say hello with the word ‘palya’ (a form of greeting in local dialect).
Learn more about the desert regions, ancient Aboriginal cultures and outback life at the excellent Wadlata Outback Centre. If you want a glimpse of the future, check out the remarkable Sundrop, a farming complex that combines solar power, electricity generation, fresh water production and hydroponics. Though it isn’t open to the public, you can’t fail to notice the solar tower on the way into the city: standing at 115 metres high, and with 23,000 mirrors pointed at it, the top of the tower burns more fiercely than anything you’ve ever seen.
Choose to spend the night at one of the town's many hotels and motels. The Standpipe is a historic outback hotel offering motel accommodation. The dining room serves contemporary Australian dishes, but it’s better known for its excellent Northern Indian cuisine. Oasis Apartments offer four-star studio and one-bedroom apartments on the waterfront.
Today you'll be driving just under four hours to Port Lincoln in the Eyre Peninsula. The Eyre Peninsula is the same size as Ireland and populated with fewer than 60,000 people. It’s also blessed with three natural resources which you’ll see on your three-hour drive to Port Lincoln: the clean, nutrient-rich waters of the Spencer Gulf and Southern Ocean, the rich plains that sustain tremendous wheat and grain production and the red ranges that harbour huge quantities of iron ore.
You can learn more about iron and steel at the town of Whyalla, established to process and export these resources and build ships. Visit the first ship, HMAS Whyalla – it’s now part of the Maritime Museum, which houses three galleries and one of Australia’s largest model railways featuring 400 metres (1,312 feet) of track.
If you’re in town during the winter (June to August), don’t miss one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles, the gathering of some 250,000 giant Australian cuttlefish. They come to mate in the shallows just outside of town, with males changing colour and shape to lure a female. It’s seen nowhere else in the world. Wetsuits and snorkels can be hired in town.
Continue your drive to Port Lincoln, stopping at the handsome coastal town of Cowell. The Franklin Harbour Hotel is a good place to enjoy an al fresco lunch of locally grown oysters and any combination of whiting, snapper, squid, flathead, garfish and blue swimmer crabs, which populate the local waters.
By afternoon you’ll be in Port Lincoln, the Eyre Peninsula’s largest town (16,000 strong). After checking in to the Port Lincoln Hotel, take a stroll on the lawned foreshore to look over magnificent Boston Bay and get a sense why the locale was once considered an ideal place to site the South Australian capital (the idea was scotched owing to a lack of fresh water). There are plenty of pubs and restaurants to help you relax after the drive, though Del Giorno’s is a Lincoln institution, serving Eyre’s famous seafood. Don’t miss the highly prized southern bluefin tuna, farmed in these waters since 1990, and an innovation that has netted hundreds of millions of dollars for the town’s ‘tuna barons’.
After breakfast at the hotel, do the short drive to Lincoln National Park. This 200 square-kilometre (77 square-mile) coastal wilderness has towering dunes, empty beaches and soaring cliff tops.
For lunch, stop in at the Fresh Fish Place. A tour of the factory behind the shop and cafe is a great way to find out what the local fishermen are bringing in, but it’s all fresh, and most people find it hard to go past the cafe’s legendary fish and chips.
For a cruisy afternoon, join Captain Fred on his little electric boat in Lincoln Cove Marina. The Marina hosts the largest fishing fleet in the Southern Hemisphere, including vessels specially engineered to harvest the likes of tuna, prawns and crayfish. As he whirs you among the huge fleet, Captain Fred will give you the low-down on the extraordinary story of ‘tuna ranching’. After the tour, disembark at the Marina Hotel – a lively waterside dining space and a chance to watch fishing boats returning to unload their catch. Don’t overdo it – you have a day of jaw-dropping adventure tomorrow.
Wake early for a 6am arrival at the Lincoln Cove Marina, on time to board one of three shark diving boats: Adventure Bay Charters, Calypso Star Charters or Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions (be sure to pre-book online). Your day-long adventure involves a two-hour cruise out to the remote Neptune Islands before being submerged in a cage attached to an air line. You’re on the lookout for the ultimate stealth predator - the great white shark. Known to frequent these remote islands, and drawn by the thriving populations of New Zealand fur seals, they can be up to five metres (16 feet) long. You’ll be home after dark, in time to dine at Sarins restaurant in the hotel and reflect on the day’s adventure – a true bucket list item.
After a lazy breakfast at the hotel, drive half an hour to Coffin Bay, where Australia’s most celebrated oysters are grown, sheltered in calm bay waters and fattened by two nutrient-rich tides each day. You can see what all the fuss is about on an Oyster Farm Tour. Oyster farmer Ben will provide you with a pair of waders and walk you out to his racks just across from the town’s main street. Standing in the famous waters, you’ll get an overview of the oyster business and an opportunity to taste shellfish straight off the racks. Afterwards, the Beachcomber Cafe is a nice place for lunch.
Check into your accommodation (Coffin Bay has a wide variety of self-catering accommodation, most of it on, or close to, the water). Spend the afternoon lazing or hire a bike and explore beautiful Coffin Bay National Park adjacent to the town.
If you’re keen to bring in a catch of your own, join the friendly guides of Australian Coastal Safaris on a themed or tailor-made coastal tour. Hunt and gather your own seafood feast, snorkel for scallops and cockles, collect oysters from the racks of Coffin Bay and cast lines off a deserted beach for wild salmon. You can also arrange a heli-fishing adventure, a high-adrenaline hunt for the big salmon schools along an empty 25-kilometre (15-mile) long beach. Cook up your catch at the accommodation, or pull up a chair at 1802 Oyster Bar and Bistro, a relaxed retreat for dinner.
It’s a 3.5-hour drive up the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula triangle to Baird Bay, so break up the journey in Elliston. Something of a mecca for salmon fishing, the town is located on Waterloo Bay and close to stunning cliffs with lookouts served by sealed driving loops. Elliston Bakery makes great coffee, and the Elliston Hotel serves lunch. Baird Bay is not only beautiful, but also offers a chance to swim with dolphins and sea lions in the same body of water – one of Australia’s most enchanting wildlife experiences. Baird Bay Eco Ocean Adventure has been operating since 1992, taking people out in a small boat to snorkel with the local pod of bottlenose dolphins before swimming along with the underwater ‘puppies of the sea’, the resident Australian sea lions. Don’t forget the underwater camera.
Drive just over an hour more to Streaky Bay; if you have the time, stop to visit South Australia’s naturally-occurring version of Stonehenge: Murphy’s Haystacks. At Streaky Bay, check into the waterfront Streaky Bay Hotel-Motel, a charming two-storey edifice built in 1866. Local seafood is served in the restaurant, including treasured local fish, King George whiting.
Get ready for a day of relaxing before the drive back to Adelaide. After a long breakfast, divide your time between the town, the beaches and the sheltered waters of the turquoise bay. Check out the two local museums – The Powerhouse (featuring more than 400 working engines) and the National Trust Museum, revealing what life was like in this far-flung community for early settlers. At lunchtime, look for the Streaky Bay Fish Fix, a pop-up food van selling fish and chips between May and October, or try the Bayfunktion coffee shop, a cool little hangout with art and music. In the afternoon, you can stick with the theme of easy living, or opt to explore the surrounding coast on one of the local driving trails. The Westall Way is a 31-kilometre (19-mile) looping trail that takes in powerful surf breaks, quiet lagoons, rock pools and white dunes steep enough to sand-board down. Head back to the hotel for dinner on The Deck, a chance to toast the conclusion of your Eyre adventure as the sun dips into the sea.
Your final day brings the choice between a leisurely two-day drive back to Adelaide, or completing the 7.5-hour journey in one day. Those who choose to split the trip into two days should spend one more night in Port Augusta, exploring the lesser-known attractions you may have missed. Stop for lunch (and a stroll) in the beautiful Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden, or venture to the town's best lookouts, including McLennan Lookout and Water Tower Lookout. On day ten, drive the last 3.5 hours south to Adelaide.
If you have a few days to spare, set your sights north after arriving in Port Augusta. Make the 2.5-hour journey to the Flinders Ranges, a rugged outback destination that boasts off-road adventure, ancient (and incredible) rock formations and luxury accommodation set within a private wildlife conservation park.