As we drove into Port Elliot, just over an hour from Adelaide, we couldn’t help but be dazzled by its centrepiece; Horseshoe Bay. The seaside town curves around it, and everywhere you look, you have at least a piece of the expansive aqua water in your view. It’s hard not to get excited that for the next few days, life will revolve around this piece of the SA coastline – it’s one of the most inviting beaches you could imagine.
And luckily for us, our accommodation is nestled right on the beachfront. The BIG4 Port Elliot Holiday Park is all about location. Cabins and sites are surrounded in lush green foliage, each sharing that magical sound of the ocean waves crashing just metres away.
We immediately found a group of holidaymakers who were obviously enjoying themselves, and after a quick chat (and a generous glass of wine they put in our hands) we found out that a few of them had been coming to this park in Port Elliot for over 15 years. Looking around at our surroundings, we could see why.
Port Elliot is a charming and historic town on the eastern side of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula. With less than two thousand permanent residents, it has escaped overdevelopment and people are instead attracted to its heritage buildings, and of course natural assets including the beach and nearby wineries.
From the holiday park, it is an easy amble into town, you can also jump on the Encounter Coast Bike Path, or the Heritage Walking Trail. We took the walking path and found ourselves deep in the history of the area, including its shipwrecks, but it was the views out to sea, across to Victor Harbour and Granite Island, and back to Horseshoe Bay that really wow.
On the beach, there is a wonderful place to grab coffee or lunch at the Flying Fish Café. With prime beach real estate you can sit here and enjoy one of the best views in town. Along the main street, there are restaurants, galleries, boutiques and a fantastic bakery.
Just out of town, we paid a visit to No.58 Cellar Door and Winery. Set on the historic Waverley Estate that is also home to Thunderbird Wines, No.58 is a cellar door, gallery and winery in one, all housed in an historic homestead. You can spend a perfect afternoon here on the deck, tasting the local drop and enjoying a 100% locally sourced platter in beautiful surroundings. That’s our kind of afternoon.
Campbell, the owner of No.58, had also recently opened Thunderbird restaurant on the main street of Port Elliot and as we passed it later in the day, we could see it was popular already, with diners and drinkers enjoying the al fresco setting with views of the beach.
We got an early start in the morning and headed over to Victor Harbour, a 10-minute drive from Port Elliot. We were jumping on board Australia’s only Horse Drawn Tram, a Clydesdale-powered tram that takes passengers over the causeway and onto Granite Island – a roughly 15 minute journey.
We met Kim, a long-time volunteer on the tram and part of the original team of workers who resurrected the tram back in 1986. His passion for it is clearly evident as we begin the journey across the water, as he tells us this is one of only two horse-powered trams in the world and was actually part of Australia’s first public ‘railway’ back in 1867. The heritage of the tram is evident in the tram we see today, with great care taken to emulate the original character.
It is a peaceful and pleasant way to get across to Granite Island, but ends all too soon and passengers jump off so Clydesdale “Albert” can take the tram back to Victor Harbour again.
Granite Island has no permanent residents (apart from the little penguin population) and is a beautiful little island characterised by its granite boulders. It is also the jumping off point for the Oceanic Victor – an in-sea aquarium about 300m off the coast of the island, where you can swim with Southern blue fin tuna. Known as the ‘ferraris of the sea’, this is one of the most unique experiences around and after a short catamaran transfer to the pontoon, we jumped in wetsuits and into the water with them. When their favourite food (fish) is thrown in, these giant tuna are capable of darting past you at speeds of up to 76kmh to catch their dinner – and it is quite the exhilarating experience!
Born out of owners Mick, Yasmin and Tony’s passion for educating visitors on the diverse marine life in South Australia’s ocean, the Oceanic Victor was full of visitors young and old, and we could see the experience of swimming with the tuna or holding a Port Jackson shark was definitely a highlight for everyone.
For non-swimmers, you can descend into the enclosed viewing chamber under the water to watch the marine life (and humans trying to dodge them!) up close. And in true Aussie fashion, there is a sausage sizzle up on deck so humans get a feed as well.
After the pure adrenalin rush of swimming with the fastest fish in the ocean, we returned back to Granite Island and enjoyed a wander up to the lookout for 360 degree views over the Southern Ocean and back to the peninsula.
Our final day on the Fleurieu was spent soaking up a little more history. We drove to nearby Goolwa where we were to jump on board the ‘Cockle Train’. Operated by the Steamranger Heritage Railway, it is one of the oldest steel railways in Australia and today takes passengers along a spectacularly scenic stretch of coastline from Goolwa to Victor Harbour, stopping at Port Elliot and Middleton along the way.
The heritage of the train surrounds you when you climb on board and it is clear this service is close to the hearts of many locals. Over 180 people volunteer their time to operate the train, from selling tickets to maintaining the tracks, driving the train, and more. On the half-hour journey we travel along the beautiful coastline, climb hills for magnificent views, and feel like we could have been transported back in time to when the original passengers would use the train to travel to Goolwa to collect cockles on the beach that they would later sell.
There are many other highlights on the Fleurieu Peninsula, from the wineries of McLaren Vale to the beaches along the eastern coastline, but Port Elliot certainly captured a piece of our hearts and like many of the holidaymakers we met during our time here, we will return.
Have you spent any time in Port Elliot or the Fleurieu Peninsula? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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