Every year we make an effort to get down the beach for a few days. It is to see the sea and to paddle in the water. It has become a sort of a ritual. And every year we choose a different destination. We normally go in February after the school year commences. February however can have variable weather conditions. It may be extremely hot or rather cold depending on what’s happening in the Southern Ocean. For 2011 we chose to drive to Smoky Bay and start our beachcombing down the Eyre Peninsula Coastline
It was a slow journey, cruising at 80kmh through Horrocks Pass, and down the hill to Port Augusta, where the inevitable shopping took place. Lunch was had at the Eyre Highway intersection and although not a very exciting place one can always waste time by reading all the graffiti on the old disused concrete water tanks close by. From there we took the Eyre Highway heading due west. As usual the going was slow over the undulating hills through the wheat fields but it was a pleasant day and we were able to keep the windows open to keep fresh air circulating through the cabin. Close to the town of Kimba we took a side road to Lake Gilles to have a look at that salt lake.
There were some puddles of water about. At Lake Gilles we learnt about the Dinosaur Ants whose nests burrow deep down through the desert sand to bring salt crystals to the top. Nothomyrmecia macrops, sometimes called the Dinosaur ant, is the only extant species of its genus. The primitive nature of the ant in behaviour and biology has resulted in the species often being considered a “living fossil. They are only found in old growth Mallee scrub and between Lake Gilles and Poochera, both places which are in South Australia.
Dinosaur Ant and Nest
On the way back to the highway I took a track running between the wheat fields by the name of Bungwalla. There is an old gate at the start of this track which was the original track to Lake Gilles. The track is lined with Mallee scrub. Numerous Ringneck Parrots, Currawongs, Happy Jacks and Crows lead the way as we trundled down this track trying not to get the caravan scratched. After a while we came to Aerodrome Road and thereafter the town of Kimba.
By the time 5 pm came around I was feeling weary and the day had warmed up a bit. We looked at a camp spot off the highway but there were two vans already parked up with generators running. It was too close to the road anyway, and so we pushed on. A short way past Koongawa Locality we took the Wuddinna East Road, which took us to Mount Wuddinna and Turtle Rock, both granite formations, and found a good campsite near the Microwave tower. This site was a scrape, a short distance off the road. We had a very quiet evening apart from three local vehicles passing. We seemed to have parked near an ants nest though as there were plenty of small black ants on the ground. They lead us on a merry dance but we got around that by devious methods.
ANT CAMP: Jeddah the dog wanted to go for a walk at 6am the following morning. Then I made long coffees and a tad later we had breakfast. It was a cooler morning with some cloud creeping in from the coastal regions. We drove to Mt Wudinna, which is the largest exposed monolith in South Australia, for a photo opportunity, and then on to Pygery Rocks.
The track off the main road into the viewing area for Pygery Rocks was interesting, as it was washed out and this took some careful wheel-placement with the little van following behind and then there was a very small turning circle right up against the rock at an angle. Once we started climbing the hilly road there was no turning back. I managed to turn the rig in a two point turn at the end of the track however. We went for a wander and to take some photos.
At Wudinna Judith had to buy a potato peeler as the regular one seemed lost. We also had a good look at the Australian Farmers Monument, which is very impressive.
The local wheat harvest was in and covered over, ready for transport to markets locally and overseas. Then we drove back on to the Eyre Highway past Minnipa, Poochera and Wirulla and shortly after Wirrula, we turned on to a gravel road again, which took us all the way to Smoky Bay. The bay was named by Matthew Flinders in 1802 because of the many native fires he saw on the mainland when he was sailing past. We had lunch there on the foreshore and then headed south. Smoky Bay is essentially a fishing village with holiday shacks and houses to rent for holiday makers. The day was very warm and we ran the old Nissan air-conditioning for short periods of time until the temperature gauge showed 90°. Then we would endure some warm air until the temp dropped to 75° and then on again with the cool air. We called in at Haslam Beach but it wasn’t very exciting. It is more of a fishing hamlet for those die-hard fishermen…which we are not. We had a look around Perlubie Hill Housing Estate. Farmers are subdividing their land and selling off to developers who in turn create rural living areas near the sea. The houses are mainly wooden or steel structures with modern exterior looks. What did strike me was the amount of rainwater tanks and solar panels adorning most roofs. This is so as there is little groundwater about and the cost to lay it on from Streaky Bay would be prohibitive. With solar panels you can either connect to the power grid or have a standalone battery system running all your household appliances on 12 volt. Then we saw a sign to the Wharf and following that road around we found Perlubie Beach, on Streaky Bay, where bush-camping is allowed. The parking area will only accommodate 4 or 5 camps however. But I walked down to the beach and decided that I would take the van there as the beach sand looked firm enough.
There are a number of grass topped shade areas and we drove on to the beach behind one and spent the afternoon lazing around in the shade. Perlubie Beach is a popular beach and it is only 15km from Streaky bay. An annual News Years Sports Carnival is held there and by all accounts the place gets packed out. We went for a swim in a very warm sea. In fact I would guess that the water temperature would have been close to 40° Celsius. Jeddah came in at first but didn’t like the small waves and stood on the beach barking at us. Afterwards we had a shower at the ablution block on the sand hill to wash the salt away. That water was hot as well. Other travellers came by and chatted with us and a young fella travelling on his own set his tent up under one of the shaded areas. He spent the evening walking through the shallow waters of the outgoing tide looking for Blue-swimmer Crabs with his torch. At the beach we saw Pacific and Silver Gulls, Eastern Reef Heron, Pied Oystercatchers and Black fronted Dotterels.
HOT WATER CAMP: The weather cooled down rapidly during the night and we had a few showers of rain. The sand was quite hard packed the following morning but when I tried to reverse the van off the beach it turned sideways and bogged. I didn’t feel like airing the tyres down for better traction as we only needed to cross about 50 metres of sand and so I selected Low Range second gear and kicked the loud pedal hard to drag the van over the soft sand and seaweed to get off the beach.
We had a look at some more housing developments along the way to Streaky Bay. The well-appointed Information Centre gave out good local info. The young lady behind the counter was wearing a rather revealing garment and I did not know where to look! Later we visited some old friends from long ago for a chat and a cuppa and afterwards we went to the RV Dump point for obvious reasons and to replenish our water supply. There is a new Pay As You Go clean drinking water dispenser. Water costs 10cents for 40 litres and we thought that that was a really good idea. It is something that all towns should make available for travellers. We refuelled and bought a fridge magnet, shuck knife for oysters (left ours at home, didn’t we) and dim-sims for munchies. None of the Oyster Sheds were open for business near the boat ramp and we were a tad disappointed in that.
Next we travelled along a well maintained gravel road along the Cape Bauer Loop. We visited the Blow Holes and Whistling Holes along the seashore. A long boardwalk took us to these places Then we had lunch at Cape Bauer in the small car park. There I had to do a four point turn to get the rig turned around. The seaboard is very rugged and the rocks are of a brittle nature so that walking too close to the edge of the escarpment is fraught with danger.
Once back at Streaky Bay we found an Oyster supplier and Jude bought 4 dozen. After that we did a leisurely trip to Tractor Beach, Point Westall and Smooth Pool. On the way back to the Sceale Bay road we encountered a very heavy rainstorm and plowed through a lot of water for about a kilometre. Then we had a look at Sceale Bay. Lots of new houses there too. At the top end of Baird Bay we stopped and found out that putting the top of the van up was extremely difficult. The answer was that we had tried to pop the top with the door closed as the wind was blowing a gale and so we beat a hasty retreat and made our way down to Baird Bay where there is a small camping area. A nominal charge of $10 per vehicle per night gives clean undercover BBQ facilities, fireplace and toilets. It works on the Honesty Box system. Just as well we paid as at dusk the Camp Keeper came to count the vehicles and collect the money! We met up with other travellers we had met at Perlubie Beach. They had been out fishing and had caught some Whiting. More travellers came in including some young Swedes, a bus and a 4by with a camper trailer. The wind was blowing a gale. Jeddah and I went to the beach for a walk. I reorganised the van and back of 4by so that our space is better utilised even with the gale in full pelt while Jude found something to munch. We had a dozen oysters between us and a good tea after. We were both tired and after listening to the radio for a short while, we dropped off into a deep sleep. The raindrops woke me at around 2.15am and then continued on for the rest of the night with squally gusts of rain being driven by the wind from time to time.
WINDY CAMP: It was wet and muddy outside but we were dry. We had a lie in and only broke camp at 9am. The road was not too wet though as we made our way to Murphys Haystacks. These are granite rocks called Inselbergs.
We three went for a walk in the drizzle and took lots of photos. Back on the sealed road the next port of call was Venus Bay. There are plenty of NO signs. We had a look around and decided that the place was going upmarket. After that we made for Talia Caves and Beach. These caves were impressive. First the Woolshed Cave is accessed via a long series of wooden steps and then The Tub Cave is a sinkhole with a cave at the bottom of it.
The beach was also great and there is vehicle access to the beach through a gate for fishermen or campers even though the access is in to a Conservation Reserve. The usual warning signs about dog baits greeted us at the gate. However, dogs are allowed to the park a leash. This time however we did not go on to the beach. We had lunch at Woolshed car park.
Then on to Elliston where there is The Great Ocean Drive with cliff-top sculptures.
The number of NO signs increased around Elliston precinct.
Heading south along the bitumen we bought freshly baked bread in a wood-fire oven at a farm stall at Colton locality.
After that we drove further along the Flinders Highway taking in the scenery. We stopped at the Dry-stone Wall rest stop and took photos.
We turned off the highway at Mount Hope and found a sealed road to Cummins where we topped up with some diesel and then drove to Tumby Bay. Tumby Bay has expanded like mad but we did not drive in this time. Instead we drove on to Lipson Cove where we managed to secure a good site. There were ten other camps. Not like the old days!! Went for a walk on the beach and had a feed of oysters early. We chatted to other travellers about nothing in particular. I had heard on the radio weather forecast that the wind would drop at midnight and told another traveller that. This person was complaining about the wind. The following morning the wind was still blowing.
SEAVIEW CAMP: The little van was rocked to and fro by wind gusts all night. Jeddah and I went for a paddle in the sea before sunrise and then we went back to the van and I made the early morning cuppa as Sleepy had only one eye open! We were on the road at our usual time of 8.30am. Had a drive around Port Neill and then bought some Quandong Jam from a dear old lady at Cowell. Added some diesel to the tank and then climbed our way steadily to Whyalla past the giant iron ore mine workings of Iron Duke. Did some shopping at Whyalla and topped up the fuel tank again. Heading the north the fuel price was dropping! Lunch was had at the Bird Hide Parking area at Port August and then we climbed the long climb up Horrocks Pass. The old oiler does not like those long climbs and I was down to second gear about one kilometre from the top of the range. By that time the engine had actually cooled down due to the high revs. Impatient drivers behind me overtook on solid double lines making a mockery of road rules. We were home by 4pm. We had had more rain in our absence and when I unhitched the van my swing-a-way jockey wheel dislodged itself as the van shifted it’s weight with the jockey wheel slipping in the soft soil, and the van came down on its drawbar. Lots of jacking with my trolley-jack saw the ‘accident’ remedied in no time.
Our five day excursion was a short but worthwhile sojourn along the west coast of South Australia and we visited places we had missed the last time we were that way.