Overnight stays: Discovery Parks – Streaky Bay Foreshore, Streaky Bay (2 nights); Coffin Bay Caravan Park, Coffin Bay; Mikkira Station Campground, Sleaford; Port Lincoln Tourist Park, Port Lincoln (3 nights); Discovery Parks – Port Augusta, Port Augusta West
Arriving in a small town late on a Sunday afternoon isn’t going to give you the best impression, as such was the case with Streaky Bay. We reluctantly decided to stay the night, agreeing we would do some of the nice local scenic drives the following day, Loz’s birthday, and continue south towards Coffin Bay.
But things began to change as soon as we checked in. There was one oceanfront site left, and you could have fires on the beach. Loz decided this would be the perfect place to spend her birthday, so we added another night to our booking, with our view of Streaky Bay rapidly rising.
It’s a funny little town… The tourist information centre, which consists of no staff and a wall full of brochures, is located in the back room of the Shell Service Station, where a replica of the biggest Great White Shark ever caught on a line fills a dimly lit room.
And so we settled in, overlooking the water with a nice campfire, dining on some fantastically fresh King George Whiting and chips for dinner. We discovered here that something like two-thirds of Australian seafood comes from the Eyre Peninsula. So seafood was what we were going to eat when in Rome.
The big 33
Loz has been looking forward to her 33rd birthday her entire life. Pressure much? Thankfully Liv and I had stocked up on party supplies in Kalgoorlie, so we were ready to give mum the best wake up ever with balloons, coffee and crossaints.
For the morning we rode into town for coffee and a touch of shopping while the rain came and went. By this point our opinion of Streaky Bay had changed entirely, and had we the option, we would’ve extended our stay a few more nights.
We spent the remainder of Loz’s special day lazing about around the caravan park, again devouring delicious King George Whiting for dinner around the campfire on the beach followed by Loz’s favourite cheesecake. Our oceanfront luck had run its’ course and we were asked to move on the following morning.
We didn’t know much about the Eyre Peninsula prior to visiting, so did most of our research upon arrival. According to the brochures there was stacks to do and see around Streaky Bay, so we started the next morning with one of their scenic drives up to the Baur Headland. I reckon this was the most uninteresting drive of the Wombatical – the ‘sights’ along the way were about as interesting as The Prison Boab Tree – had we known they were so ordinary we not only wouldn’t have gotten out of the car, we would’ve stuck to the highway and not taken the gravel ‘scenic’ drive in the first place.
Further south the sites didn’t get much better… The Woolshed Cave was an exception, but The Tub was completely empty, even at high tide, so it was pretty ordinary. Thankfully the fresh seafood in the area was keeping our spirits buoyant, with some smashing fresh prawns from Kenny devoured in a number of seconds for lunch.
From this point onward, we came to terms with the fact that we had probably seen the prettiest part of the SA coast on the Nullarbor – the Eyre Peninsula was more about the seafood than the views, with the exception of the amazing amount of emus everywhere.
We were pretty pumped for Coffin Bay without really knowing why. Turns out it’s a Mecca for oysters, of which we made our first priority on arrival. I wouldn’t call us oyster eaters, but with a bit of bacon, Worcestershire and Tobasco sauces, and lemon, they were on-point for an entree.
It became apparent that SA national parks must be booked for camping, as opposed to most other states where you can simply turn up. Our desired camp in Coffin Bay National Park was booked out so we had to settle in the town caravan park for the night.
Coffin Bay National Park
The following morning we hit the national park for a nice, albeit windy and cold drive, with the highlights being the abundance of emus on show, some with chics, and the views of Avoid Bay where Loz spotted a few of her spirit animals (dolphins) surfing the waves.
We dropped in for more mind-blowing oysters on the way out of town, freshly farmed that morning.
By this point we had booked a couple of tours out of Port Lincoln, so with a day or so up our sleeve we decided to hit Mikkira Station for the night. I called ahead to ensure there would be room for us, to the laughing response of a 160 year-old lady who reckoned she might just squeeze us in. When we arrived it became apparent why she had laughed at me – it was a massive farm with stacks of room and no one else in sight 😀.
I had read a little about this place as a good spot for wild koala encounters. Given we had only seen a handful in the wild on the trip, and the fact that they’re just awesome cuddly animals, this appealed to us greatly.
On our way in we spotted stacks of roos and emus, and we were the only people around, perfect. Oh, and there was enough firewood lying around to rebuild The Ghan route.
First order of business was koala spotting, and it took only a matter of seconds before we saw our mate on the tree next to our camp, Steve. From then on it was almost a koala per tree, and it was a forest. We couldn’t believe the amount of little grey legends stacked through this place, many within arms’ reach.
Spring time seems to be baby time in the animal kingdom, so, to accompany the bundles of baby emus and roos we had seen over the past few days, the cute baby koalas we spotted, black as bears, were an absolute highlight.
With more firewood on hand than sense we celebrated with a fire big enough to eliminate koala Chlamydia, fresh Coffin Bay Oyster Kilpatrick, and a tasting platter fit for a Dubbo-visiting Royal entourage.
After an unmemorable drive along The Whalers Way the following morning, we pulled into a sunny Port Lincoln, set with a beautiful esplanade on the water. We really liked this town – good coffee, excellent seafood, good playgrounds, and more vibe than our smoke alarm that goes off every single night.
The caravan park kindly gave us a ripper site on the water, right next to the playground – the perfect base for our exciting activities planned over the next couple of days.
Swimming with Sea Lions
Before our trip I had only one bucket list item I had to tick this year: swimming with whale-sharks. Once I did that and Loz followed suit we got a bit of a taste for swimming with wild animals. So we did humpbacks, and obviously swam with stacks of turtles etc in Ningaloo Reef.
Little did we know that swimming with Sea Lions was a thing, until we arrived in the Eyre Peninsula. I read about doing it at Baird Bay, just south of Streaky Bay, but we had some rough weather then, and when we discovered it could be done out of Port Lincoln we couldn’t resist.
So the three of us set off with another dozen of so people, on a boat towards the cold waters of Hopkins Island, excited to see how this would compare. The company we were with were amazing so were more than happy to look after Liv onboard while we swam together.
The water was a nippy 14’C, and the 5mm wetsuit, although providing some respite, didn’t cover our freezing heads, so it was a big shock to the system when we first jumped in. We could see the sea lions on the beach nearby, and as soon as we entered the water a couple of them bumped along to the water and swam out to check us out.
Swimming with whale-sharks was incredible because the only way to see them is underwater, so we had never seen the, before. Swimming with humpbacks was incredible because of the unpredictability and pure size of them. Swimming was sea lions was insanely good because of the inquisitiveness and playful nature of them. We were blown away with how friendly they were, coming right up to almost touch us for the entire hour we were in the water.
If we weren’t scratching their playful itch they would sit there in the water, watching us until we barrel-rolled or duck-dived, provoking them to copy and play. It was a totally unbelievable experience, one imprinted in our brains for what we hope is forever.
On the return journey a pod of playful dolphins entertained us by riding the bow for ages, peeling off and on and jumping out of the water like a pro cycling/high-jumping team. With the cracking weather, beautiful coastline, and Adrenalin running through our veins, it was the perfect way to end another perfect Wombatical day. Days like these make us realise how lucky we are to not only live in this incredible country, but squeeze every inch out of it, as our friends Mitch and Soph would put it.
With some of the biggest and playful creatures in the ocean under our belt, it seemed only fair to try and swim with the apex predator of the sea, The Great White Shark. Doing this was on my bucket list, but there are only a couple of places in the world where you can do it, and Port Lincoln is one of them – so only an idiot would turn down the opportunity, right?
The bus picked me up at 6:15am for the beginning of a long and frustrating day. By 9:30am our boat had set anchor in The Neptune Islands, and the cage was dropped in. A quick briefing and the skipper asked for the first victim, as he joked. I raised my hand quicker than a tail-feather shaking emu on the run, geared up, and before I knew it, I was facing the back of the boat with 20-odd kilos on my back, lowering myself into an expose cage in the deep blue 14’C water, on my own.
This feeling was about as eerie as it gets. The gaps in the cage didn’t seem anywhere near close enough, and my hands were completely expose on the descend – but what if Jaws just wants a few fingers for entree? The easterly swell made the surface pretty rocky so as I hit the bottom of the cage I struggled for a minute or so to find my feet while the world rocked around me, surrounded by nothing by the deep blue.
And there I waited for another 15 minutes or so, just me and my thoughts, with the faint sound of Black Sabbath’s Ironman pumping through the underwater speakers, until I was finally joined by another punter. With a couple of us in the cage it was just as eerie. We were fully submerged so could only communicate with our eyes, for our hands were holding onto the rattling cage for dear life. And as others came and went I remained in the cage, determined, for an hour, until I finally gave up and climbed to the surface.
Once I warmed up I realised why these were such long days. This is the wild, and we have no idea if or when the sharks are going to turn up. The Neptune Islands hosts 50,000 Australian Fur Seals so is frequented by feeding Great Whites, many of who, had been spotted in these waters in the past couple of months by other adrenilin junkies, wanting a close-up with a 5 metre monster.
After most passengers had a turn in the cage the crew recommended we stay close, for a shark may grace us with its’ presence at any moment, which will mean we’ll want to get back in the cage. And so this waiting continued for the remainder of the day.
At 3:30pm, six hours after I first climbed into the cage, the frustrated skipper said we’d wait another hour, so I decided not to leave anything to chance, and geared back up to wait our the last hour in the freezing cage.
Sadly the sharks didn’t seem to be around that day so we didn’t get what we had come for. Even more unfortunately the crew informed us they hadn’t had an unsuccessful charter in over 6 weeks, so this was a rare ‘off’ day.
The long and sad trip home gave me time to digest the disappointment. And as soon as I shared my sombre mood back in the motorhome I was revived by my beautiful wife who reminded me that not swimming with a shark was the worst part of my Saturday – perspective is everything 😏. I’m confident my Great White itch will be scratched in the next five years or so.
Running out of Eyre
The drive from Lincoln to Augusta was pretty unmemorable, although it was windier than me after a few sausages and Great Northerns. The Eyre Peninsula, despite not being as spectacular as we expected, was an absolute banger of a place – the seafood, wildlife and experiences were as good as it gets. South Australia was delivering the goods.