January 25-29, 2009 – Port Elliot on the Fleurieu Peninsula
I keep thinking I’ve seen the most glorious scenery the Australian coast has to offer. Then we visit another port, another bay, another stretch of coastline, and I figure the most recent tops all the others. Now that we’re spending a couple of weeks in David’s and Jeannette’s beach flat, I think maybe I really have found the best. If you don’t want to read about Port Elliot, scroll on down to the end of this entry. The photos will show you what I mean.
It would be hard to match the sheltered cove of Port Elliot’s Horseshoe Bay, an hour south of Adelaide. There are longer beaches elsewhere, better waves for surfers, and waters with more fish. But this one faces east so misses the westerlies. There are no shark sightings nor jellyfish or stingrays. In winter the southern right whales show up around the point, to court or calve. Surfers have plenty of waves to the east and to the west (sometimes shared with sharks). This time of year the waters warm to 25 degrees Celsius. Even in a heat wave, by afternoon a sea breeze generally brings relief. It’s too far from a major city (Adelaide, an hour north) to be overcrowded, other than during school holidays.
Of course, we haven’t been along the Great Ocean Road yet, so maybe some stretch of that coastline tops this, but for right now, Horseshoe Bay is at the head of my list.
We’re in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave. Today winds are sweeping out of deserts to the north, bringing extreme fire danger, power outages, and excessive demands for precious water to all of South Australia and the neighbouring state of Victoria. Yesterday the temperature in Victor Harbor, just west of Port Elliot, reached a high of 46 degrees Celsius. In Adelaide, where a sea change usually brings temperatures down by evening, nighttime temperatures never fell below 37.
When we make a rare foray out, as we did today to buy a newspaper and, for me, a beach shirt, the intense heat sucks the moisture right out of us. We drink copious amounts of water and are constantly drenched in sweat. There’s no air conditioning in the beach flat so we stay within reach of the fans and don’t move much. Thank goodness the humidity is low.
Aussies are proud of their ability to cope with heat and miffed by the British press’s recent suggestions that major sports events should not be held here because it’s too hot. Some of the tennis champions we’ve been watching during the Australian Open might agree with the Brits, but the Aussie press dismisses the whole flap as nothing more than “whinging Poms”.
This is a history-rich region. Mathew Flinders, the English navigator, and Nicolas Baudin, the French explorer met in 1802, near the mouth of the River Murray. Encounter Bay continues to mark the area where they met in friendly conversation at a time their countries were at war.
Even before that encounter, American whalers were hunting Southern Right Whales from a base named after their ship, the Victor. Even today the name of the town that has grown up at that site is spelled American style: Victor Harbor.
In 1851 Port Elliot was designated as a major shipping port. Work on Australia’s first public railway began, to carry wool, wheat, and other farm products from the surrounding region to waiting ships. One of the new facility’s chief attractions was water piped right to the port so that ships could refill their water casks. Unfortunately, the harbour proved too shallow as ships increased in size, and the bustling port had only a ten-year run before settling down into a quiet village and, now, a summer destination. Heritage trail signs warn visitors the remains of wrecked ships lie beneath the waves.
We celebrated Australia Day here, January 26th. Indigenous leader Professor Mick Dodson was honoured as Australian of the Year. He thought long and hard before accepting the title. Then in his speech he suggested Australia Day should be changed to a day all inhabitants of the land could celebrate rather than the day some Aborigines call “invasion day”, others “survival day”. This is not a new idea, and politicians rushed to dismiss it.
We’ve been waiting until evening to go for our walks. On this stretch of coastline, the walking options are enticing. From Cape Jervis, west of Victor Harbor, the Heysen Trail winds north along sandy beaches, high cliffs, and rolling hills into the high country of the Mount Lofty Ranges and on into the rugged Flinders Ranges. If we walked the other direction from Victor Harbor, we could stroll along sandy beaches, skirt headlands along gravel and asphalt trails, and keep the sea to our right for nearly a hundred kilometres.
Words can’t capture the beauty we see around every bend, and even the handful of photographs I’ll drop in here will show only a fraction of the sand, wave-smoothed granite, and aqua sea. But at least they’ll give you a taste of what we’re experiencing along this South Australian stretch of coast. Wish you were here.