In the wild, wild south

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This shark tooth-shaped slice of land is billed as an adventure capital - and rightly so, writes Max Anderson.

Appropriately enough, Eyre Peninsula is shaped like a giant shark tooth, poking into South Australian seas. Why appropriate? Because these are wild, wild waters, where great white apex predators preside over some of the most biodiverse waters in the world - more biodiverse, in fact, than the Great Barrier Reef.

Eyre is really about coast. It's about empty beaches and spectacular cliffs, dramatic marine encounters and awesome fishing. Port Lincoln, at the very point of the tooth, is one of Australia's most interesting and surprising towns - a place of brine and brawn, it's home to big fleets, big views and big sea creatures. It's also home to multimillionaires who've made their fortunes off the broad backs of bluefin tuna.

Eyre is calling itself a premier destination for adventure, a claim that holds good. Here's where you can come face-to-face with creatures that inhabit both your dreams and your nightmares, or make sand tracks along infinite beaches with four-wheel-drive safari operators.

Of course, the peninsula also has a considerable amount of hinterland. It's good, rich country, much of it farmland, some of it with uplands and strange rock formations, a lot of it untrammelled. To the north of the region is the Gawler Ranges National Park, an ancient wilderness that's been long overlooked for the Flinders but which perhaps leaves the visitor feeling more like a pioneer for having discovered its attractions.

Accommodation continues to fight shy of five-star (although eco-retreats are beginning to offer some proper polish with their million-dollar views) but the seafood has never been less than fresh, authentic and fabulous - a hub of gourmet marine delicacies including oysters, lobsters, whiting, abalone and thick pink slabs of succulent tuna. Definitely a destination to get your teeth into.

Two animals have made Port Lincoln famous

The first is the valuable bluefin tuna. In the 1980s, Port Lincoln fishermen came up with the idea of circling them in giant nets and fattening them up like prized Angus cattle. Kerr-ching! Lately, visitors are keen to enter said nets with these large, fast and quite daunting fish but no small part of the ''swimming with tuna'' experience is hearing the full story of the town's tuna barons - it's a ripper.


If you don't want to swim, join Graham Daniels in his little electric boat as he whirrs around the Lincoln marina (home to the biggest fishing fleet in the southern hemisphere). As a former fisherman, he spins terrific yarns on his very engaging tour.

The second animal is a racehorse, which stands proudly in bronze on the sweeping Boston Bay foreshore. Chances are Maureen, Kylie, Belinda, Diane and Vanessa are still in town - the office girls whose names were conflated by horse owner (and tuna baron) Tony Santic to form the horse's name: Makybe Diva.


Berley blokes and big sharks

Most Australian coastal towns maintain a cautious silence on the subject of our finned friends but Eyre is loud and proud. The great whites around Neptune Islands, 60 kilometres off Lincoln, were not only made infamous by Jaws, they actually featured in the movie - Steven Spielberg got live-action footage from these islands in the 1970s. Now they're back in front of the cameras thanks to operators such as Calypso Star Charters, which berleys the waters then equips visitors with breathing apparatus and a steel cage so they can go eye-to-eye with five-metre locals like ''Big Mumma''. No diving licence is required and $495 gets you a day-long boat adventure plus 45 minutes in the cage. Spectators pay $100 less.

Not unrelated, western Eyre has some of the hairiest surfing in the world. Waxed-up psychopaths ride big boomers off beaches west of Streaky Bay.


Flipper and flippers

Baird Bay is one of South Australia's hero products, a sheltered bay of astonishing natural beauty where dolphins and sea lions will obligingly swim with visitors.

Alan and Trish Payne of Baird Bay Ocean Eco Adventures make it all happen, supplying boat, snorkelling gear and expertise. It's up to the animals how they want to interact but interact they do; a video on the website comes with the qualifier ''video sequences are not enhanced or performed in any way''.

The Paynes' bayside accommodation is sleek and special - a great base from which to explore this part of the coast (including a field of curious rock formations named Murphy's Haystacks).


Natural colour

 Between May and August, thousands of giant cuttlefish inhabit shallow waters off Whyalla to spawn. The world's largest species grows to half a metre and males can be seen to strobe with colours and patterns to dazzle the females.

Whyalla Diving Services can give you ringside seats to this remarkable natural display.


Sweet retreats

A 200-hectare property, Tanonga, has been given the eco treatment with 25,000 native trees and shrubs and two especially chic retreats - all just 25 minutes' drive from Port Lincoln.

The self-contained one-bedroom structures score plaudits for their bold architecture, smooth interiors, stunning views (one looks to valley bushland, the other to Boston Bay), contemporary fixtures and Japanese-style baths. Eco credentials are impeccable and the breakfasts very good. Cost is $320 a night (minimum two nights). Local gourmet food can be supplied, likewise two extra single beds, on request.

If you prefer the bright lights, try the four-star Port Lincoln Hotel. It caused a fine flutter when it opened three years ago - one, because it's part-owned by Adelaide Crows AFL legend Mark Ricciuto and two, because it's part of a reinvention of the foreshore that's seen the fisho capital looking rather more shimmery-shiny.


Strange but true

It's the last place you'd expect to find internationally renowned master craftsmen but Port Lincoln is home to Constantia, a group of fine-furniture makers. The firm designed and built the central table at the House of Representatives in Canberra. Workshop tours are available.

Other surprises in the region include the Axel Stenross Museum (an evocative spot in original boat-building workshops), the eight-metre Australian Farmer sculpture near Wudinna and the private 2400-specimen fossil and mineral collection near Carappee Hill (you read that correctly).

Some mention should also be made of the local wine industry. Winter winds and summer water shortages put the kibosh on Port Lincoln becoming the capital for South Australia but it hasn't stopped two wineries making a good fist of drumming up a local vintage.

Check out Boston Bay Wines and recently opened Delacolline Estate, both enjoying some of the world's most scenic cellar doors.


Coastal action

Coffin Bay National Park is sublime salt-and-surf country with miles of white dunes, wild walking trails, limestone cliffs and secluded beaches. There are also amazing 4WD opportunities (with remote camping and five-star fishing as a reward) capably showcased by those with a bit of local knowledge - try operators such as Goin' Off Safaris or Wilderness Wanders.

The cultured oyster does its thing in more gentle waters near the charming town of Coffin Bay. You can sample both oysters and national park with Coffin Bay Explorer; the same group offers dolphin swims in the bay.

Lincoln-based Be & Be Active hires out windsurfers, stand-up paddle boards, snorkel gear, boats and fishing rods. If you want, owner Richard will give you a fitness workout to boot.


Pioneer trails

The Gawler Ranges are 1.5 billion years old. Which is old.

Attractions include the Organ Pipes (dramatic ochre-red volcanic columns), the ruins of Old Paney Homestead and wildlife including southern hairy-nosed wombats and yellow-footed rock wallabies. However, most people succumb to the sense of being somewhere new and undiscovered, exploring unmarked walking trails through little-seen landscapes.

Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris combines the best of peninsula outback and seashores on a four-day 4WD tour.

For some extra Gawler immersion, stay at the group's luxury four-tent safari camp, Kangaluna. If the terrestrial vistas aren't enough, the camp has a computer-controlled telescope that, when trained on the region's clarion night sky, can give you a glimpse of Saturn's rings.


You want chips with that?

It's hard to know where to begin with the region's seafood industries, which is why Eyre Peninsula has a self-drive Seafood and Aquaculture Trail, dotted with tastings and tours.

Trail stops include Whyalla (barramundi, Murray cod), Cowell (oysters), Arno Bay (tuna and kingfish breeding), Port Lincoln (swim with tuna, marina cruise, seafood lover's tour, sashimi tuna), Elliston (crayfish) and Streaky Bay (oysters, whiting, abalone, blue swimmer crabs).

Tours on the trail vary from $10 to $75. A Seafood & Beyond card costs $69 for more than $100 of value.


Hooked on Eyre

Eyre Peninsula fishing is up there with the nation's best. Whichever coastal town you're in, someone will be selling fishing gear and at least one operator will be offering boat charters to bag whatever pisceans happen to be abroad.

If you fancy dangling a casual line in the azure waters, head to the nearest jetty and see what the locals are chasing (usually squid, blue swimmers and ''Tommy ruff'' - they'll tell you all about it).

Offshore, the fabled King George whiting, snapper and trevally are prized favourites (beginners and pros might try Triple Bay Charters) and deeper waters can yield all sorts of exotic whoppers including kingfish, samson fish and, of course, bluefin tuna.

However, you'll need the sort of (expensive) charter equipment berthed in Port Lincoln.

Why Not Fishing Charters offers man-sized excursions out to deep seas off islands you've never heard of.



Getting there

Regional Express flies from Adelaide to Port Lincoln with fares from $92, one way. Flight time is about 50 minutes. Car hire is available in Port Lincoln.

The Sea SA vehicle ferry service from Wallaroo (Yorke Peninsula) to Cowell on the Eyre Peninsula is suspended at present but is expected to resume service early next year.