Tours and Travels Eyre Peninsula South Australia

I AM not the best morning person, so a 5.30 am start to catch a flight from Adelaide to Port Lincoln was no easy feat. I presumed I must have nodded off unwittingly when all of half an hour after takeoff the plane landed in what could be mistaken for a field with a few small planes.

But, no, my book had kept me awake for the duration of this short but sweet flight and the small, hassle-free airport would prove the perfect introduction to the place many locals refer to as “the real Australia.”

The promising premise to see a place unaffected by the global pace of life is, on paper, pretty substantial but to find the reality better than the ideal is mind-blowing.

I am met at the airport by Jo Haslam, one half the team that heads up Nullarbor Traveller. Just a brief glance on the internet is proof enough that Jo and her hubby/business partner Hassie (Craig) are passionate about their surroundings.

However, before we head off for a night at Coodlie Park Farm, a YHA hostel they run in Port Kenny, it is decided that we will spend the day in the world-renowned fishing town of Port Lincoln. Located in Boston Bay, at the southern end of the Eyre Peninsula, Port Lincoln has a growing population who thrive on the area’s natural resources and the pull that they have on tourists seeking luxury in a secluded spot.

Though just a short drive from the minuscule airport, we take the long road to drop by at Coffin Bay. With the area rich in minerals that help oysters develop to perfection, it is little surprise to hear that every man and his dog is trying their hand at the trade. With only three large corporate oyster farms in the bays, it is pleasing to hear that there is still room for the upstart to get a leg in.

It is at Coffin Bay that I am introduced to Darian, who runs the Coffin Bay Explorer with his wife Susan. The three-hour boat tour takes you out to his own oyster farm. The tour takes in various points of interest along the way, all highlighted by Darian in a genuinely enthused manner.

If one thing is becoming clear, it is the sheer honest passion with which everyone approaches their work.  En route we cross a few dolphins, but rather than lose track, Darian promises that we will return to find more later.

I am not sure what I was expecting from an oyster farm, though there was clearly some picture in my mind as what I found didn’t quite match. From a distance, the wooden stumps are picture-perfect, arousing curiosity amongst all the passengers upon approach. It soon becomes clear that even a small farm is nearly as large as the aforementioned airport. Beaming with pride, Darian explains the growing process and passes it around tasters. Tempting as he makes them sound, I remain vegetarian and say no.

As the oyster farms drift into the distance, a buzz fills the boat and we realize this means only one thing.  Dolphins. I am not sure why seeing dolphins close-up proves such a thrill, but as a pack of five come close to the boat, I am so snap happy that I barely see them in reality.

Having worked up an appetite, Jo promises me a treat as we head to the award-winning Del Giorno. I had been worried that treading off the beaten track might cause dietary issues, but all worries were instantly put aside as my more than scrummy stuffed pepper is devoured in a matter of minutes. Those early morning issues were now clearly fully resolved.

Awake and exhilarated, we make our way to Adventure Bay Charters in the Port Lincoln Marina to meet with Matt Waller to partake in the unusual activity of tuna swimming. I must admit that when I first saw the rather obscure activity on my itinerary I had been a bit bewildered, but after a few moments’ thought, it was the one thing I really could not wait to experience.

Barely noticing the beautiful surroundings on the short boat ride to Waller’s tuna farm, I quickly change into my wet suit and jump in blissfully unaware of the stinging jellyfish that are also awaiting. Worry not, these red jellyfish are not poisonous and their sting is painful but brief.

The fish themselves are larger than you would imagine. But what is most fascinating is that unlike dolphins (or as I would later discover seals), tuna are completely uninterested in the new playmate. That might sound to some as if the experience is somewhat devoid of excitement.

But the thrill comes from feeding your newfound friends, their large, tooth-filled mouths accelerating towards your increasingly tightly clenched fist. Waller, who started in commercial fishing, fits the bill as a perfect host. He is not pushy but extremely encouraging, welcoming questions in equal measure to the frenzied fish feeding.

Increasingly exhausted, we return to the Port Lincoln Hotel for a sleep before an early start to do the three-hour drive to Jo’s home, Coodlie Farm.

As the sun rises, we are on the road. Now, I enjoy driving, but as a city boy, I am used to stop-start and twisting roads. To say that the road from Port Lincoln to Port Kenny could have easily been roman, would be an injustice as the ever disappearing road is straighter than straight. Yet along the way there are more than a few features to take your interest.

From the burnt-out red and black of the Elliston Swamp through to Colton, the dinkiest bakers you have ever seen, there are treats at every turn (if there were any turns).

Ahead of time, we take a slight detour to see Elliston’s very own Great Ocean Road complete with structures by local artists. The views are enough on their own to warrant the visit, but the mixture of classic and contemporary art to complete the picture is more than impressive. Perhaps it is the kid in me wanting to be let out, but Elliston’s own Bogan (by artist Romy) stole my heart.

The morning flies by and there’s a brief stop at Coodlie Park Farm (more of that later) to dump my bags before heading to meet a group just starting out on their Nullarbor Traveller adventure. Day two of their tour and they are relaxing on the beach at Venus Bay – not a bad deal I don’t think!

A couple of hours in the sun and a walk around the South Headland later, it is increasingly apparent why the Haslam’s refer to the Eyre Peninsula as ‘the place God threw rocks at.’ However, if that were the case, God did a pretty fine job.

With a brief stop to sandboard on the way home (I am sorry Kangaroo Island, but the dunes here beat your’s hands down!), it is time for showers and food before Hassie takes us on a night-time wildlife trail to find wombats and kangaroos on his immense farmland. But before all that, I look out the window and spot sunset. Camera in hand, I am in heaven. I know now why so many artists set up homes in the Eyre Peninsula!

While our night-time quest for wombats and kangaroos bears little fruit (ok, so we saw a couple of roos), Hassie has the whole busload eating out of his hands as he informs and educates about his wildlife and also his efforts to ensure that his business venture does its own to ensure the area’s survival. With so many miles done each year by his company members, he replaces each mile of carbon use with tree plantations.

A man with a conscience soon enough proves he also has a sense of humour as he talks us through to the stars so clear above our heads. With a few of the more famous constellations identified, Hassie throws his own into the mix. I challenge you to find Hassie’s duck next time you look up at the nighttime sky. A little bit of a help – it is not too far from Orion’s Belt.

With time drifting by uncontrollably, another night’s sleep brings around the chance to swim with both dolphins and seals – not in an enclosure but rather in the wild. Given that sharks frequent the surrounding waters, the thought is at first daunting. But as Alan Payne of Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience makes clear, the chance of an attack is unlikely given his deterrent signal. Though he does warn, that if a shark is really hungry, then even the deterrent signal won’t hold it back. Thankfully for us, no sharks came near as we
headed out. First goal; dolphins. Though several packs came past, upon entering the water, it became clear that they weren’t game for a play.

Worry not, the seals will want some fun, so we are told. And how right Alan is. While I had always thought seals were cute-looking, I believed they were not very people-friendly. So as I enter the water, I am surprised to enter immediately into a staring competition with a big boy seal. While he doesn’t come near, he clearly means no harm and is more interested in the foreigner in his territory.

As if to break the tension, a whole fleet of baby seals come bounding in. Their uncontrollable energy is completely captivating. From the moment they decide they want to play, they are swimming around like toddlers in a ball pool. I had not been looking forward to this moment, but here I was, loving every minute. Seals had somehow stolen my heart and even a later, brief swim with those powerful dolphins could not win me back.

As I said goodbye to my new friends, Hassie and Jo jumped with me in the car for the long drive back to the airport. Once again I was amazed to be dropped at what could have been the village hall. But with a $10 million revamp on the cards, perhaps Port Lincoln has realized that it really is the gateway to ‘the real Australia’.