THE Eyre Peninsula sits at the bottom of South Australia on the Great Australian Bight, just a 45-minute flight west of Adelaide. Despite its spectacular landscapes and abundant wildlife, it is free of crowds and allows you the space and time to feel at one with nature. Stretching from Port Lincoln in the south to Ceduna in the west and Port Augusta in the east, it was originally an export point for the vast amounts of grain grown in the area. Today, its bluefin tuna fish farming industry is booming, meaning there are more millionaires in Port Lincoln per capita than anywhere else in Australia. The region is also famous for its seafood, especially oysters.
My journey starts inland, deep in the deserted outback landscape of the Gawler Ranges, 600km northwest of Adelaide at Kangaluna Camp, a luxury safari-tented camp. Geoff Scholz, owner of Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris, takes adventurous travellers 230 kilometres from Port Lincoln to experience his hand-built camp a stone’s throw from the jaw-droppingly beautiful Gawler Ranges National Park and its 300,000 acres of desert land, salt lakes and ancient river beds.
En route we stop at Mikirra Station, an old sheep farm turned camping site and a sanctuary for koalas. One of the few places in South Australia where you can see the creatures up close and in a natural environment, there are more than 100 soft-coated, eucalyptus-scented koalas dwelling in gum trees growing on the station. Camouflaged by their thick grey-brown fur, they’re hard to spot and I searched high in the branches, only to discover one within touching distance above my head.
Next stop is Kangaluna Camp, an African-style safari camp constructed on a mallee dryland forest, rich in nature, and with an abundance of birds and animals. This ancient and sandy environment shows footprint evidence made by transiting locals; goannas, goulds, lace monitors, bearded dragons, blue tongue lizards and shingle back skinks all live nearby. Surrounded by the eucalyptus and black-trunked casuarina trees, the latter making a moaning sound in the breeze, the camp comprises five-by-seven-metre tents. Zipped canvas dividers create two en-suite rooms, with plenty of solar powered water for hot showers. Geoff has also restored and customised an old wagon that was once pulled by shire horses, and added a customised “swag” or bed roll and renamed it a “swagon”.
The following morning, I’m prised from my cosy bed by giggles and fast-moving footsteps outside my tent. A female emu with eight scraggly looking chicks swiftly passes my tent, followed by a few kangaroos with bouncing babies, and in hot pursuit my tent neighbour’s gleeful children, ever hopeful of catching a fast-moving marsupial. The camp is great for kids, and Geoff goes out of his way to teach young adventurers about outback life.
At night we dine at a long table under an open-sided tent, with views of a star-studded sky that we examine through Geoff’s Nasa-sized telescope. Geoff’s wife, Irene, turns our focus to delicious steak, fresh salad and apple pie. It’s October and the nights are cool and peaceful, apart from a few animal noises and the rustling of a light breeze as it catches brittle bushes.
Next day we drive two hours to Lake Gardier, a 160km-long salt lake in the north of the Gawler Ranges. In contrast to the earthy brown and red tones of the surrounding terrain, from a distance it looks frozen, and when we walk on the pure white sodium chloride salt layers, they crunch loudly underfoot. Windblown salt particles land on my face, wicking away the moisture from my skin. On our drive back to camp, Geoff stops suddenly, raises his binoculars and in the distance on top of a small mound sits a rare and rather round hairy-nosed wombat. We tread slowly towards it until he picks up our scent and goes straight to ground.
The following day we drive to the coast, where we swim with dolphins at Baird Bay, then sail across the bay to a protected lagoon off Jones Island, where a colony of rare Australian sea lions lives. The October water is chilly, but a heavy wetsuit makes the experience more comfortable for the adults and children joining the agile and friendly sea lions and dolphins, as they swim around our legs, then rise out of the water to look us in the eye.
I bid farewell to Geoff, and continue back to Port Lincoln with Craig “Hassie” Haslam, who offers personal tours of the Eyre Peninsula (www.XploreEyre.com.au). We follow the coast, or “The Chain of Bays” that include Ceduna, Streaky Bay, Venus Bay, Elliston, and Coffin Bay, all dotted along the rugged Australian Great Bight coastline.
Our route takes us past laid-back surf communities and beautiful landscapes, with steep windblown cliffs dropping onto wild beaches that stretch for miles. We observe a migrating humpback whale surfacing close to shore, while ospreys and white-bellied sea eagles hover above their cliff top nests.
This strip of coast is surfing territory, but you need to be experienced to catch the powerful waves and visitors should get advice from locals before entering potentially dangerous waters. A good place to start is Surfers at Sceale Bay.
Coffin Bay and its national park is a 30-minute drive from Port Lincoln and produces some of Australia’s best oysters. Darian and Carol Gale own a working oyster farm and take groups on their boat, the Coffin Bay Explorer, across the shallow bay to visit the long rows of posts with wire support clusters of oysters, like underwater vineyards. As Darian steers around sand bars that peek out of the shallow water, seals and dolphins flank us and play in the boat’s wake. Then after a thorough lesson in oyster farms, he leans into the water and plucks a fresh oyster directly from the sea for us to eat. Like the Eyre Peninsula, it did not disappoint.
Qantas flies Glasgow to Melbourne return (via Dubai), with stops in Adelaide and Port Lincoln. Fares from £1,470.60 from 11 August to 30 November, subject to availability. The Glasgow-Dubai flight is operated by Emirates codeshare (www.qantas.com)
WEXAS Travel (www.wexas.com) offer a seven-night itinerary from £2,796pp (two sharing), with three nights on the Gawler range safari (www.gawlerrangessafaris.com)
Tourism Australia (www.australia.com).Tourism South Australia (www.southaustralia.com)