Locale: South-Eastern Australia
Distance: Approximately 3500 km
Date: February 2017
Style: Road Trip including four wheel driving (4WD), boating, hiking
Day 1: Melbourne to Grampians
Bags packed. Car full. Ready to leave our cares behind.
Ten minutes later we are stuck in traffic on the West Gate. Here we come.
We had planned our route around having nine days to make it to Port Lincoln but also – in typical NAQAG fashion – to allow time for wandering along the way. We wanted a route that would not be the same on the way over as it was on the way back.
For this reason, we planned our first stop to be in the Grampians and we caught the traffic. Although the traffic eased up fairly quickly, we knew the Grampians would be fairly popular for a Saturday night.
Between Melbourne and Port Lincoln there are many places to stop and many well-known beautiful places to visit. However, they are all fairly close to each other or, simply not on the way to Port Lincoln. For the most part our intention was to try and find some hidden gems. For the first night, however, we decided to go with a classic.
The classic was meant to be easy. It was meant to be something we didn’t have to think about too much or stress about getting lost. Ironically, this was the second-most lost we were on this trip.
We were headed to the Boreang Campsite. The GPS took us down a fairly rugged (we’d say probably 4WD only) track, only for us to find that about half way down a few trees and fallen over and completely block the route. This was a problem as we were quite fair from phone reception, it was getting dark and we wanted to get camp started.
It is always our policy to buy hard copies of maps to the places we visit and this time they saved us. With the GPS out the window (not literally, those things ain’t cheap), we followed the good old paper map to our campsite.
There are plenty of great hiking trails around the Grampians, not to mention world-class rock climbing. See our page on the Grampians for more.
It was a calm night and cold, despite the fire we had to keep us warm. We rose early the next morning and set out towards Port Lincoln.
Day 2: Grampians to Port Pirie
(via Nhil, Bordertown and the outskirts of Adelaide)
Day 2 was primarily a travel day. We stopped every now and then and explored some back-roads when the feeling took us but ultimately to no great revelation.
One of the impressive things to stop at are the salt flats that are along the way between Melbourne and Adelaide. Stop for the surreal views and prepare to get salty.
On this day we crossed through the appropriately named Nhil (just kidding, we love you Nhil), Bordertown and through the outskirts of Adelaide.
After a quick stop to eat all of the fruit we had almost forgotten we had in the car, we crossed the border into South Australia.
We didn’t have a campsite planned for that night and so while one of us drove, the other researched. Instead of driving two hours out of our way to camp on a plantation, we settled on a small town neither of us had been to before: Port Pirie.
We had heard good things about Pirie, and so the very reasonably priced Port Pirie caravan park sounded like a solid pit-stop.
When you arrive into Port Pirie you are immediately struck by one thing: Vitterra – a name you notice all around South Australia. It is the name of a Canadian-originated (now owned by a Swiss company) grain handling business. Viterra owns 95% of the grain handling and storage facilities in South Australia. The only astounding thing about that statistic, from what you see in South Australia, is that it isn’t 100%.
From the city centre, you can see the reflections of the grain silos and industrial plant shimmering in the waters of the bay. It is actually quite beautiful in an industrial sort of way. Look further past the bay, to the hills in the background and you are reminded that this would have been a very naturally beautiful area.
Just past 8:30pm, we looked for food and many of the places – even pubs – in the city centre were closed. We finally found a pizza joint that did an alright slice and found a pub to pour us a pint. After dinner we retired to the Port Pirie Caravan Park to set up camp.
The Port Pirie Caravan Park is what you make of it. It is first and foremost a caravan park, that does offer a few spots for tents, although it may feel like you are camping in someone’s backyard. The people there were nice and the facilities (showers, toilets) are clean, modern and numerous. Don’t expect too much in the way of stunning vistas and you may find it fits the bill. Bring insect repellent to Port Pirie.
Day 3: Port Pirie to Port Lincoln
The last travel day, the day of our arrival. We started the day by exploring the local area a bit more. Which turned out to be an extra good idea, due to some disobedient roof-straps but that is another story.
Close to Port Pirie is, Port Germein, a town of about 250 people and home to Australia’s longest jetty. At over 1500m, it is actually quite long and an interesting thing to see. But it really is just a jetty. After this, it was straight on to Port Lincoln.
We arrived in Port Lincoln early afternoon. With a beautiful bay of clear blue water (and the ubiquitous Viterra grain handling facility), Port Lincoln is a literal oasis in the desert.
Day 4: Port Lincoln (Boat Trip around Bay)
If you are in Port Lincoln, one of the best things you can do is get on a boat and get out on the water. The best testament to this is the sheer number of boats moored in and around Port Lincoln.
Fishing is a big deal in Port Lincoln and commercial fishing boats can often be found in the harbours. The bay is large protects the water quite well, making it still as a reflecting pond. Fish can be found swimming around everywhere, just walk out on the jetty and look down.
We got out on a decent sized boat for some fishing around the bay. There are many small islands that play host to all sorts of marine and bird life. Even if fishing is not for you, we’d highly recommend getting out just to see the flora and fauna.
The bay provides a lot of protection and so the water is often mirror-flat. Even those who don’t do so well on the water should be okay within the confines of the bay.
Day 5: Port Lincoln (Coffin Bay, Lincoln National Park, Sleaford)
Go ahead and get some Coffin Bay oysters. Yeah, it’s cliche but, yeah, they are good. We found a small food joint by the side of the road but we’d say you could probably get them from anywhere and they’d be delicious.
Coffin Bay as a national park is quite nice offers some pretty good hiking along the coastline but for us was quite a quick stop. While beautiful, there is other much more stunning scenery along the Eyre Peninsula.
Sleaford is one such place. A rugged coastline and rocky outcrops make for some stunning views out across the ocean. There are rock formations here similar to the famed Twelve Apostles, but they seem older – as if the harsh environment has been wearing them away for longer.
Heading along the coast is a must to capture these views. Soon, significant hiking trails will be opened up along the Eyre Peninsula – more on this in a future post.
In addition to this, just a little behind the coastline, the scenery opens up to some magnifiicent sand dunes. Amongst these are some fantastic four wheel drive routes.
We took two cars (you wouldn’t want to take any less) and headed through the dunes in the afternoon sun. It was a beautiful scene to have the sun setting over the dunes behind the moody ocean skies, however, we’d strongly advise entering the routes with plenty of daylight ahead of you (unlike we did).
Being unfamiliar with the routes, we got separated from the lead car – and no less we got separated at a fork in the road! As hinted at earlier, this is the most lost we got on this trip. We really didn’t want to be solo four-wheel-driving through dunes we were unfamiliar with after dark so as the sun began to set we began to look for a safe spot off the path where we could set up our tents.
After noting a few areas we decided to try just around the next bend. Off in the distance was our lead car! We signalled and avoided having to camp in the dunes for the night. This was definitely for the best for, as an interesting aside, we were later told the park is actually full of bear traps once you venture off the tracks. We’re not sure if this is true but pretty happy to not have found out.
The dunes were so stunning, we came back the next day to explore the tracks more and get more photos. Then time dictated we must move on from Port Lincoln.
Day 6: Port Lincoln to Robe
(via Cowell, Whyalla, Port Augusta, Snowtown, Adelaide, Meningie)
Heading back to Melbourne we passed the small towns of Cowell, Whyalla, Port Augusta, Snowtown, Meningie.
We decided to stop at the unfortunately infamous Snowtown, where we got served a nice lunch by some nice folks. We looked at their wind farm blade which was gifted by the energy company that set up all the wind farms nearby.
This night we arrived in Robe. Robe was a standout gem of a small town. We stopped at a local bottle shop as we arrived, got a six pack of Robe beer and headed out to our campsite – Little Dip Conservation Park. This is a great little campsite (Old Man Lake Campground) next to a Lake (but without the bugs and stench that can often come with camping near a lake). No fires allowed but a spectacular moon provided all the light we needed. After setting up camp we wandered down to the lake for some night shots and astrophotography.
Camping in amongst the trees made it one of the spookiest camps we had on this trip but I think at this point we both greatly appreciated the feeling of solitude.
Day 7: Robe to Melbourne
(via Mt Gambier)
In the morning we began the final leg, driving back to Melbourne by way of Mt Gambier. We were racing the clock a little at this point and so didn’t stop to see any of the typical touristy things on offer around Mt. Gambier. Instead we stopped at a local servo for fuel and some pretty ordinary food.
If we had a bit more time, we would have taken the Great Ocean Road back to Melbourne. Driving from Robe, this would have added about two extra hours of travel time. Ordinarily we’d say quite worth it but at this point we were both spent.
After approximately 3500km of driving we were just ready to be home. Ironically despite this decision, I think this trip taught us not to neglect the beauty that is close to home. Thinking about it, while we might tell ourselves that the Twelve Apostles will always be there and we can see them any time, the truth is that isn’t the case. They are already well underway, eroding into the ocean.