Longing For South Australia's Beaches

15 June 2016

There’s an intensity to South Australia’s beaches, as though the waves stirring up the white sand are coming directly from the wilderness of Antarctica beyond. Here, at the edge of Australia, the rock walls of the Great Australian Bight fall abruptly into the Indian Ocean and sandy little spits jut out into deep, dark water.

It’s a brilliant cobalt expanse animated by the raw power of the roaring forties. Or as the locals like to say: ‘Looks pretty sharky out there’.

Yes, there are sharks in South Australia, and the locals you’ll meet at servos and cafes know how to spin a cracking great white yarn. But explore the state’s coastline and you’ll be rewarded with feasts of fresh oysters, cliff-top art trails and deserted beaches where the only fins you’ll spy are dolphins chasing tuna and kingfish.

Walking on September Beach in South Australia Find yourself alone with the coast on September Beach (Image: Matthew Fallon)

Start at September Beach in Lincoln National Park on the Eyre Peninsula. Eager campers can pitch a tent for next-to-nothing and wake up to a beach entirely devoid of footprints. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a curious Australian fur seal spying you from the shore.

Day trippers can walk the bush tracks studded with coastal wildflowers and scale Stamford Hill where members of the 19th-century Matthew Flinders voyage also climbed, looking for water to no avail. Keep an eye out for cheeky little lizards warming themselves under the dappled light of the eucalypts.

Follow the coast to Coffin Bay, where the weatherboard houses and modest cluster of shops may not feel connected to the glamorous high streets of Sydney and Melbourne, but the oysters harvested here are world class.

While the creamy, smooth morsels may set you back big dollars anywhere else, here in Coffin Bay you can saunter into one of the production sheds after a boat has arrived and buy a dozen, still dripping salt water, thrown directly into a plastic bag for a couple of dollars.

It’s surely the best ‘cellar door’ discount in all of Australia.

Shucking oysters in Coffin Bay Try your hand at shucking oysters in Coffin Bay (Image: Cayla Dengate)

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Head to one of the picnic grounds overlooking the rows of oyster farms and practise your shucking skills. Any local wandering by will be happy to give you a pointer on how to twist and pop the huge oysters.

The further west you go, sandy bays give way to immense limestone cliffs towering above the shore. In Elliston, a sculptural art trail brings out the inherently surreal white headlands, scrubby shrubs and aquamarine water.

You’ll see an enormous pair of thongs, an evocative sculpture of bones and Easter Island-inspired heads as you make your way along the Great Ocean Tourist Drive and peer down into the churning cauldrons of coastline below.

Thong sculptures overlooking the coast Don't miss the enormous thong sculptures on the Great Ocean Tourist Drive (Image: Matthew Fallon)

Keep going west and you’ll see fields of grain and quaint towns filled with antique shops and wood-fired bakeries. Then, it’s the start of the Nullarbor Plain, home to Australia’s longest, straightest tree-less road. As you may imagine, there’s little to see here.

Take the opportunity to turn down one of the access tracks to the cliffs and get the solitary sense of truly standing at the bottom of Australia with no buildings, no people, no nothing.

The plain takes you to the last beaches in South Australia at Border Town where undulating chalky dunes lead to the remains of an old telegraph station and jetty. The dilapidated, Heritage-listed jetty seems like a fitting end to the surreal coastal road trip of South Australia.

This is the end of the road for this state’s beaches, and the start for Western Australia. Because here in Australia, there’s always another beach to explore.

A decrepit jetty jutting out over the ocean The jetty at the end of South Australia (Image: Cayla Dengate)

Words: Cayla Denegate


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Cayla Dengate

The best kind of travel expands the mind, or at least stretches out the legs. Whether it's hopping on a bicycle in Sri Lanka or SCUBA diving in the Philippines, I'll always put my hand up to get out of the air con and do something adventurous. Because buffet breakfasts taste the same the world over but every local market place has something astounding to offer.