Port Wakefield

Port Wakefield
Historic port at the head of Gulf St Vincent
Port Wakefield is a sleepy, but historically important, little town which is semi-bypassed by the main road to Port Pirie. It is located 99 km north west of Adelaide and was once a major port for the entire region.

A monument in town recalls the area's first contact with Europeans. "Captain Flinders, Commander of H.M. sloop Investigator, discovered, and on 30 March, 1802 at the head of the Gulf, named it Gulf of St. Vincent after Admiral Lord St Vincent (John Jervis). The same day he named Yorke Peninsula, after the Rt. Hon. Charles Philip Yorke of the Admiralty. Flinders landed at the head of the Gulf and walked towards Hummock Mount." It is located beside the lagoon at Port Wakefield and is a reminder that this was once an area where sailing ships regularly visited. Mind you it is worth noting that Flinders found that the water here was so shallow that he had to row about 12 km and walk another kilometre through the mudflats and mangroves before he reached the true shoreline.

Port Wakefield can claim to be the first town to be established north of Adelaide in the infant colony of South Australia. It was named after the River Wakefield which was located in 1838 by William Hill who named it after Edward Wakefield, the person whose vision of colonisation had been largely responsible for the establishment of South Australia.

By 1849 reports were filtering through of the excellence of the location as a port. In the Register, a local newspaper, appeared the following report: 'An important discovery has been made at the head of Gulf St Vincent by Mr Buck, lighterman, being nothing less than the existence in that quarter of an available harbour for coasters of some burthen, with good natural accommodation for the purpose of loading and discharge. The harbour is the embouchure of the River Wakefield, and, though anything but obvious to a mariner uninitiated in the mysteries of the locality, is nevertheless easy to approach and secure.' The result of this was that Mr Buck managed to persuade the copper manufacturers at both Burra and Kooringa to send their copper to Port Wakefield thus reducing the trip from the mines to the sea by some 50 miles. Given that bullock teams travelled 9 miles a day this reduced the land journey by nearly six days.

Between 1850 and 1877, when the mine at Burra stopped sending copper to the coast, Port Wakefield was a prosperous and important seaport.

At the port itself there is a memorial with an anchor on top of it. The notice on the memorial reads: 'In memory of sailing ketches trading from 1850-1930. Port Wakefield from 1849-1857, a large number of bullock and mule teams travelled the gulf road between Burra and Port Wakefield, carting copper ore from the Burra copper works to the port, returning with coal and other requirements.

'In 1849 the copper company established a shipping place for ore at the mouth of the river Wakefield, and called it Port Henry. When the township was surveyed by the government the name was changed to Wakefield. Small sailing barges landed cargoes of coal on the shore, and carried copper ore to Port Adelaide, or to large sailing ships anchored off shore.'

The port had to be dredged but such was the production of copper at Burra that within six months an estimated 7000 tonnes of copper had passed through the port.

But Port Wakefield was never a wonderful port. Today, if you arrive at low tide, you'll wonder how any vessel managed to get into the port. Consequently with the decline in copper the port declined although it did remain as a port for wool and wheat well into this century. In 1909 300,000 bags of wheat were exported through the port.


The wheat was taken to the port by a tramway which was built over a length of 45 km. Horses were used to pull the carriages up to a higher point where the wheat was loaded on the tram. Then, with the horses loaded on the back, the tram used gravity to take itself back to the port.

Today it is a small centre (don't be fooled by the roadhouses and service stations on the main road - drive into the town and be amazed) which is primarily driven by the traffic which passes on its way north. With mangroves growing on the far side of the narrow channel it is now obvious that the port can only be used for small fishing boats.

Things to see:

Port Wakefield Historic Walk
There are a number of particularly impressive buildings and monuments in the town. There is an attractive Methodist Church and the Old Court House is well worth inspecting. The Port Wakefield Historic Walk points the visitor in the direction of over 30 different buildings.

Police Station
Built in 1858 the old police station is a symbol of the importance of the town at that time. Don't be fooled. The police station may have been built in 1858 but the current police station is very modern. The original police station is located next to the current police station.

Shell Roadhouse
2 Snowtown Rd
Port Wakefield SA 5550
Telephone: (08) 8867 1008

Port Wakefield Motel
2 North St
Port Wakefield SA 5550
Telephone: (08) 8867 1271
Rating: **

Port Wakefield Hotel
23 Burra St
Port Wakefield SA 5550
Telephone: (08) 8867 1016

Rising Sun Hotel
30 Edward St
Port Wakefield SA 5550
Telephone: (08) 8867 1023

Port Wakefield Caravan Park
Wakefield St
Port Wakefield SA 5550
Telephone: (08) 8867 1151
Rating: ***

Rising Sun Hotel
30 Edward St
Port Wakefield SA 5550
Telephone: (08) 8867 1023

Tucker Time Port Wakefield
Catherine St
Port Wakefield SA 5550
Telephone: (08) 8867 1026

Weiner Schnitzel Restaurant
22 Snowtown Place
Port Wakefield SA 5550
Telephone: (08) 8867 1104