Bruce Elder's inner foodie and history buff are tamed by a wild coastal stretch.
The Yorke Peninsula, less than 90 minutes by car from the Adelaide city centre, is a coastal Cinderella - a sparsely populated, 200-kilometre stretch that boasts some of the state's best eating and holiday attractions, rustic sophistication, a fascinating maritime and mining history, excellent museums and sublime surf beaches.
On the edge of the wild and untouched Innes National Park at the peninsula's southern tip, Marion Bay is more a fishing village with a jetty than a town. But its modest Marion Bay Tavern serves some of the finest fare in Australia, including perfectly cooked Singapore chilli southern rock lobster served with ever-so-thin slices of tart pineapple, mint and steamed jasmine rice.
A day after enjoying such a sublime meal, I'm driving through the unspoilt coastal wilderness of Innes National Park with a ranger when a ute roars past. "That's the chef who cooked for you last night," the ranger tells me. "The surf's up and he's off to catch a wave." Twenty minutes later, standing on a headland overlooking the dramatically beautiful Pondalowie Bay, I see surfers far below - one of whom really knows his lobster.
Wallaroo and Port Victoria
As recently as 1949, windjammers were sailing into the Spencer Gulf, mooring offshore and being loaded with 80-kilogram bags of wheat before heading south to the Roaring Forties, rounding Cape Horn and making their way to the markets of Europe.
Maritime history is remembered on peninsula jetties and in the photo collections and memorabilia housed in the Wallaroo Heritage and Nautical Museum (nationaltrustsa.org.au) and the Port Victoria Maritime Museum (community.history.sa.gov.au).
To get on the water in comfort, take the daily car ferry run by Sea SA (seasa.com.au). It crosses the Spencer Gulf between Wallaroo and Lucky Bay near Cowell on the Eyre Peninsula. The crossing takes two hours.
The Coffee Barn Gelateria on Maitland Road at Moonta (moonta progress.org.au) boasts some of the finest artisan-made gelato in the country. About 10 steps away, in a restored 1860s-built property, is Villa Martini (phone (08) 8825 2315), where the owner, Janette Martin, serves guests a delicious breakfast of banana pancakes and gelato.
The peninsula's history includes an influx of miners from Cornwall in Britain who sought work in the region's copper mines. The miners brought with them a preference for the humble meat-and-vegetable pastie. The Cornish Kitchen, on Ellen Street in Moonta, is said to serve the best pasties in the area. At Port Hughes, travellers and locals alike enjoy the ultimate Australian breakfast at the Port Hughes Store: bacon, sausage, eggs, hash browns, mushrooms, tomatoes, baked beans and toast, cooked on a cast-iron skillet, for $14.50. It's known simply as the Beach Brekky.
The northern part of the Yorke Peninsula is known as "Australia's Little Cornwall". Copper was discovered in the area in 1860-61 on land owned by pastoralist Walter Watson Hughes. To attract miners to the area, advertisements appeared in British newspapers declaring: "Free. Emigration to Port Adelaide, South Australia. Married agricultural laborers [sic], shepherds, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, employers, tailors, shoe-makers, brick-makers, builders and all persons engaged in useful occupations may obtain a free passage to South Australia where they are within the regulations of the Colonial Commissioners. Meeting to be held at Bodmin at 10 o'clock on October 15."
The Moonta Mines State Heritage Area (moontatourism.org.au) hosts an extensive collection of underground and above-ground attractions, including taking visitors on a narrow-gauge railway tour of landmarks and workings.
Nearby is Richman's Enginehouse and concentrating plant, a giant skimp heap known as the Himalayas, and the ruins of the huge Hughes Engine Pumping House. But Moonta is more than just industrial ruins. It offers a unique window into the daily lives of migrant Cornish miners and their families.
A cottage made of mud-and-grass bricks, as well as wattle and daub, has been preserved. Inside the Moonta Mines Museum is a remarkable collection of memorabilia about the Masonic lodges and friendly societies in the town. Most remarkable is the huge Moonta Mines Wesley Methodist Church (there were 16 Methodist churches in the town at its peak), where volunteer guides explain the role of the church in the community. The singularly impressive building, built in 1865, was later enhanced by a huge gallery and a beautiful pipe organ. It is said the mine captains sat at the back on Sundays and took note of who was not present.
The perfect time to visit is Moonta is for the biannual Kernewek Lowender Copper Coast Cornish Festival (kernewek.org), promoted as "the world's largest Cornish Festival". It's on from May 21-26, and features dances, craft, folk singers, and pastie-making competitions.
Bruce Elder travelled courtesy of South Australian Tourism and Yorke Peninsula Tourism.