DESTINATION: COFFIN BAY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Bush camping at Coffin Bay or Lincoln National Park? The pleasures of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula await our intrepid travellers, but the Paveys are torn.
In the realm of remote seaside delights, few places tick all the boxes quite like the southern national parks of the Eyre Peninsula. The sandy peninsula of the Coffin Bay National Park is a case in point, pounded by the ocean along its rugged southern coastline, while idyllic protected bays and campsites dot the northern shores. With a foot-traffic-only wilderness area, sublime beaches, towering sand dunes, historic sites, sensational fishing and 4WD-only access, it confidently pitches for the top vote. Then there's Lincoln National Park, with similar offerings plus a few interesting variations. Beyond the easily accessible campgrounds in the national park, Memory Cove has an alternative camping experience, hidden in a gated Wilderness Protection Area at the southern end of the park. Access is limited to 15 vehicles per day and five campsites, assuring a peaceful stay. Yet it still provides easy access to the Sleaford-Wanna dunes if you want to up the ante. Both locations are winners in their own right, so rather than split hairs, we'll give you the good oil on both, leaving you to make the final call.
As you pass through Port Lincoln, stop off at the Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre to grab the key and pay any camping fees. The wilderness area attracts a $10 premium per day over the other national park camping areas, confirming that peace and tranquillity come at a cost. Grab a copy of the Memory Cove self-guided drive which describes the history and major points of interest ranging from the vegetation, walking tracks, viewing areas and surrounding islands. Like all wilderness areas, generators, pets, and fires are not permitted.
Take the right fork towards Wanna in the Lincoln National Park and before long, you'll find yourself meandering along the single lane access track towards the Southern Ocean. The landscape offers a little bit of everything from tall coastal scrub to sparsely populated plains and few rolls in the landscape for good measure. For the most part, the track is reasonably smooth without requiring 4WD, but there are a few slower sections and steep descents that could get slippery in inclement weather, hence the 4WD recommendation.
The campground is tucked into the tree cover and flows onto a wide beach overlooking a number of small islands. A plaque can be found on the foreshore commemorating the loss of eight crewmen from Matthew Flinders' ship, the Investigator, back in 1802. A landing party had been sent ashore further south in search of water. When the crew did not return, a search party was deployed. Pieces of the boat were found the next day on the shore but no bodies were ever recovered. Flinders named the area Cape Catastrophe and eight of the surrounding islands after his fallen crew.
There are plenty of options to explore nearby. The Sleaford-Wanna Dunes 4WD track is the highlight and is readily accessible beyond the locked gate. The dunes open up to an expansive area offering elevated views of the wind sculpted dunes and rugged coastline. Markers guide your passage, although many were missing or knocked over. With wheel tracks running in virtually every direction, navigation was a little challenging at times. In the absence of markers, use your common sense and you'll eventually stumble back on line. Beyond the dunes, the cliff top track is laden with limestone outcropping, which makes it bumpy and slow. Still, the rewards are the amazing coastline vistas.
The other worthy day activity is Whalers Way, located further west and outside the national park. Established as a flora and fauna reserve, it extracts another $30 entrance fee and a $10 key deposit from the tourist office. As the name implies, the area was once a popular whaling area. There is a number of unique landmarks around the 14km self-drive circuit, although you might find it more of the same if you have already done the dunes drive.
COFFIN BAY NATIONAL PARK
The camping areas in Coffin Bay are isolated from the township like those in Lincoln National Park, so ensure you are fully stocked before entering the park. Good surf fishing is available at Gunyah Beach, not far from the self-registration station and entry point. Access is 4WD only, negotiating around some tall dunes, following the now familiar route markers to the beach.
The black top peters out around Yangie Bay, a protected waterway on the northern side, boasting two camping areas. Make the effort to drop your tyre pressures here as the track quickly regresses to a single lane of deep, soft sand with limited areas to pull off the track. It's an entertaining drive, carving through the soft sand that runs perilously close to the water's edge at times - check the tide times before travelling as there is evidence that the tide can affect access. Forward vision is limited in some sections as the track dives through pockets of vegetation, so take it easy, particularly with your camper trailer in tow.
Remote camping is available at Black Springs on Port Douglas Bay, Morgans Landing at the end of Seven Mile Beach, The Pool near Point Sir Isaac and Sensation Beach. We propped the Tvan at Black Springs, which is about midway along the peninsula on a lovely sheltered site opposite the beach.
Facilities are limited to a long drop toilet; there is no water, fireplaces or access to launch a boat, so it's self-sufficient campers only. At least you can use a generator if needed. A walking track meanders along an elevated headland with views below into the clear water, showcasing plenty of marine life.
The other campgrounds involve traversing Seven Mile Beach which can only be passed at low tide due to the close proximity of the dunes to the water. You will see an abundance of wildlife around, in particular dolphins and mobs of roos and emus that graze on the open plains and wander down to the beach.
Sensation Beach is another popular surf fishing beach and provides spectacular views up the coastline to the Almonta Dunes. The adjacent Whidbey Wilderness Area is accessible on foot only to preserve the riches of an unspoilt coastline. Matthew Flinders surveyed this section of coastline too, naming Point Sir Isaac after Sir Isaac Coffin, which also hints to the naming origins of the national park.
Up until recently, Coffin Bay NP claimed the mantle as our favourite beachside destination in South Australia. That in itself is quite a big a call, as the Limestone Coast is another of our favourite playgrounds, affording challenging sandy tracks with relatively close proximity to Melbourne. We only recently discovered the Lincoln National Park and in particular, Memory Cove. Arguably, Memory Cove provides easier access, but still plenty of adventure, whereas Coffin Bay NP is a little more challenging to get to, ploughing through the soft sand and managing the tidal influences. At the end of the day, they each provide the ultimate remote beachside wilderness haven and will delight all who venture there.
> Entry into Lincoln NP is $11 per vehicle. Camping costs $8 per night except for Memory Cove which costs $18 per night. Maximum stay at Memory Cove is three days.
> Entry into Coffin Bay NP is $10 per vehicle. Camping costs $8 per night.
> Phone the Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre on 1300 788 378 or www.visitportlincoln.net for more information on touring the Eyre Peninsula. Campsite keys are available at 3 Adelaide Place, Port Lincoln, SA.
> Phone the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on (08) 8688 3111 or visit www.environment.sa.gov.au for information on camping in the Eyre Peninsula including NP visitor guides and Memory Cove Self-Guided Drive map.
Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia magazine #63, April 2013.