Exploring the remote wilderness hideaways of the southern Eyre Peninsula
In the realm of remote seaside delights, few places tick all the boxes like the Lincoln and Coffin Bay National Parks.
The sandy peninsula of the Coffin Bay National Park is a perfect example, pounded by the ocean along its rugged southern coastline while idyllic protected bays and campsites dot its northern shores. With sensational fishing, a foot-traffic-only wilderness area, sublime beaches, towering sand dunes, historic sites, and 4WD-only access, it confidently pitches for the top vote.
Then there’s the Lincoln National Park, which has similar offerings, as well as 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 five campsites and fifteen vehicles per day, assuring a peaceful stay, yet it still provides easy access to the Sleaford-Wanna dunes if you want to up the ante in your 4WD.
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.
Port Lincoln is the seafood capital of Australia – home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in the Southern Hemisphere. There’s plenty of seafood on tap from any number of fish wholesalers or fine dining establishments, with everything from succulent oysters, abalone, prawns, tuna, rock lobster, to a variety of fish. And it’s all super fresh. The prawn industry is the 3rd most valuable in Australia giving you an indication of the quality.
Like other national parks, it’s easiest to book online, although you’ll still need to visit the Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre to grab the key to the Memory Cove gated wilderness area if that’s your destination. The wilderness area attracts a $8 premium per day over the other national park camping areas, confirming that peace and tranquility come at a cost. Grab a copy of the Memory Cove self-guided drive map which describes the history and points of interest, ranging from the vegetation, walking tracks, viewing areas and surrounding islands, although it’s also available online. Like other wilderness areas, generators, pets and fires are not permitted.
Access to Memory Cove is via the Lincoln National Park. Take the right fork towards Wanna and before long you’ll find yourself meandering towards the Southern Ocean along the single-lane access track.
The landscape offers a little bit of everything, from tall coastal scrub to sparsely populated plains, with a few rolls in the horizon thrown in for good measure. For the most part, the track is reasonably smooth and doesn’t require 4WD, but there are a few slower sections and steep descents which could get slippery in inclement weather, thus a 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, Investigator, back in 1802. A landing party had been sent ashore further south in search of water, but a search party was deployed when they failed to return. Pieces of the boat were found on the shore the next day, 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 other exploration options nearby including the Sleaford-Wanna Dunes 4WD track. The dunes open up to an expansive area, offering elevated views of the wind-sculpted dunes and rugged coastline. Markers guide your passage, although when we went through, many were missing or knocked over and with wheel tracks running in virtually every direction, navigation was a bit challenging at times. But in the absence of markers, just follow your nose without venturing up into the dunes (where all the tyre tracks seem to go) and you’ll eventually stumble back on track.
Beyond the dunes, the cliff-top track is laden with limestone outcrops, 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 of the national park. Originally established as a flora and fauna reserve, the park 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 are many unique landmarks around the 14km self-drive circuit, although you might find it a bit familiar if you’ve already done the dunes drive.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied around town from the Oyster Walk that meanders along the foreshore and past palatial holiday homes to the Oyster Tour.
The Oyster Tour blends education with local seafood and a beverage for those so inclined. To keep it interesting, it’s all conducted on the edge of an oyster lease. Pull on your waders and out you go, wandering through the shallows.
The camping areas in the Coffin Bay National Park are isolated from the township, so make sure you’re fully stocked before entering the park. Good fishing is available at Gunyah Beach, not far from the entry point. Access is 4WD-only, negotiating around some tall dunes and following the now familiar route markers to the beach.
The bitumen peters out around Yangie Bay, a protected waterway on the northern side. The camping area has recently been re-developed to provide better access for bigger rigs. Make the effort to drop your tyre pressures here because 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 at times runs perilously close to the water’s edge — check the tide times before travelling because there is evidence 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 if you have a camper trailer or tinnie 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.
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 plenty of wildlife around, in particular dolphins and mobs of ’roos and the emus that graze on the open plains and wander down to the beach.
Sensation Beach is another popular fishing / surf beach and provides spectacular views up the coastline to the Almonta Dunes. The adjacent Whidbey Wilderness Area is only accessible on foot and allows you to enjoy the riches of an unspoilt coastline. Matthew Flinders also once surveyed this section of coast, naming Point Sir Isaac after Sir Isaac Coffin, which also hints to the naming origins of the national park.
Until recently, Coffin Bay National Park claimed the mantle as our favourite beachside destination in South Australia. That in itself is quite a big a call because the Limestone Coast in the state’s south-east is another of our favourite playgrounds, affording challenging sandy tracks with a relatively close proximity to Adelaide.
Memory Cove arguably provides easier access, but still has plenty of adventure, whereas Coffin Bay National Park is a little more challenging to get to, ploughing through the soft sand and managing the tidal influences.
But, at the end of the day, they both provide the ultimate remote beachside wilderness haven and will delight all who venture there.
• Entry into Lincoln or Coffin Bay National Parks is $11 per vehicle. Camping is $12 per night, except for Memory Cove which is $20 per night. Maximum stay is five nights .
• Call the Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre on 1300 788 378 or visit http://www.visitportlincoln.net for more information on touring the Eyre Peninsula.
• Call Parks SA on (08) 8204 1910 or visit https://www.parks.sa.gov.au for information on camping information, including visitor guides and a Memory Cove self-guided drive map.
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