In luck! Alluring Horseshoe Bay and Port Elliot, SA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.