In luck! Alluring Horseshoe Bay and Port Elliot, SA

Glittering: Horseshoe Bay.

Credit: Jesse Ehlers

By the Places We Go team

As we drove into Port Elliot, just over an hour from Adelaide, we couldn’t help to 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 easy to be excited knowing that for the next few days, life will revolve around this pretty piece of the SA coastline. This is one of the most inviting beaches you could imagine.

This coastline is gorgeous.

Credit: Graham Scheer

Luckily for us, our accommodation is nestled right on the beachfront. 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 for more than 15 years. Looking at our surroundings, we could see why.

Holiday bliss: BIG4 Port Elliot Holiday Park.

Port Elliot is a charming, historical town on the eastern side of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula. With less than 2000 permanent residents, it has escaped overdevelopment. People are instead attracted to its heritage buildings, and of course natural assets including the beach and nearby wineries.

From the BIG4 park, it is an easy amble into town. Or you can follow 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 Harbor and Granite Island, and back to Horseshoe Bay that really wowed.

It's easy to soak up a wealth of glittering views.

Credit: Graham Scheer

On the beach, the Flying Fish Café is a wonderful place to grab coffee or lunch. 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.

Hooked at first sight: The Flying Fish Café.

Just out of town, we paid a visit to No.58 Cellar Door and Winery. Set on the historical Waverley Estate that is also home to Thunderbird Wines, No.58 is a cellar door, gallery, and winery in one, all housed in an old 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. 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.

No.1 choice: No.58 Cellar Door and Winery.

We had an early start in the morning and headed to Victor Harbor, a 10min 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, roughly a 15min journey.

We met Kim, a long-time volunteer and part of the original team of workers who resurrected the tram 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’ in 1867.

"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."

The heritage 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. Passengers jump off so that Clydesdale ‘Albert’ can take the tram back to Victor Harbor again.

Victor Harbor's horse-drawn tram is an icon of the region.

Credit: Ben Goode

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 Oceanic Victor – an in-sea aquarium about 300m off the coast of the island, where you can swim with southern blue fin tuna.

"The tuna is known as the ‘Ferraris of the sea’, and this is one of the most unique experiences around."

The tuna is known as the ‘Ferraris of the sea’, and this is one of the most unique experiences around. 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 75kmh to catch their dinner – and it is quite the exhilarating experience.

Swimming with the ‘Ferraris of the sea’ is an exhilarating experience.

Credit: SATC

Born out of owners Mick, Yasmin, and Tony’s passion for educating visitors on the diverse marine life in South Australia’s ocean, Oceanic Victor was full of visitors young and old.

We could see the experience of swimming with the tuna or holding a Port Jackson shark was definitely a highlight for everyone.

The interaction makes this a memorable experience.

For non-swimmers, you can descend into the enclosed viewing chamber under the water to watch the marine life up close – and humans trying to dodge them. 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 to Granite Island and enjoyed a wander up to the lookout for 360-degree views over the Southern Ocean and back to the peninsula.

There are superb views to soak up on Granite Island.

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. Today it takes passengers along a spectacularly scenic stretch of coastline from Goolwa to Victor Harbor, stopping at Port Elliot and Middleton along the way.

All aboard! The Cockle Train combines history with beautiful scenery.

Credit: Graham Scheer

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. More than 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.

The Cockle Train relies on a dedicated group of volunteers.

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.

As a bonus, the prized McLaren Vale wine region is within striking distance.

Credit: d'Arenberg Pty Ltd

Have you visited this pretty pocket of SA? If so, what are your memories of your stay? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Isn’t it time you enjoyed a Fleurieu escape? Book your BIG4 break now.

2 comments on “In luck! Alluring Horseshoe Bay and Port Elliot, SA”

  1. RUSSELL SOMERVILLE

    15 November 2018 at 10:43 am

    We have been going to this hidden gem for over 30 years. From visiting with our young family to now visiting with our grandchildren it is the most delightful place for kids and adults to visit. We are booked in for a 2 week stay in the BIG4 Port Elliot Park yet again in early February, this time with 2 other couples as well as the yearly friends we see at the park.
    The beach, the cafes, the pubs wow. Please keep this a hidden secret. Whoops!

  2. Ross Simshauser

    15 November 2018 at 11:32 am

    This is a lovely area and the BIG4 park at Port Elliot is just ideal. There is so much to do and see in that area. Goolwa and Hindmarsh bridge is close by and a view of the mouth of the Murray is worth a visit too.

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