The Yorke Peninsula, South Australia's best-kept holiday secret

"Please don't think this is a tour," says Steve Bowley, co-owner of Pacific Estate Oysters. "As volunteer crew you've signed up to work a shift and you'll do whatever needs doing." For now, what needs doing involves a hammer and some running repairs to an oyster line.

Four-kilometres offshore the rows look like a drowned vineyard in a swathe of blue. Decked in neoprene waders we descend the steps of Salty, slipping into the pristine waters of Oyster Bay in Gulf St Vincent on South Australia's Yorke Peninsula.

I'm on a "Deckie for a Day" experience with Pacific Estate Oysters, where participants (maximum of four deckies) not only get their hands wet and dirty, but also learn about the farming methods behind the company's artisanal "farm to plate" product.

Just as viticulturists are concerned about terroir, in the gourmet oyster world it's all about merroir (marine environment). "Our oysters are grown over natural sea grass meadows on a limestone base," explains Bowley. "This gives our Pacific oysters a complex and creamy flavour you won't find anywhere else."

Thigh-deep in water we wade between the lines, checking the floating baskets and repositioning as needed. Bowley opens a basket to show us the clean shells of oysters grown amid wide tidal flows and healthy waters. "It takes three years to grow one to full size," he says, pointing to the growth rings, which can date an oyster like tree rings.

While Bowley grows two million Pacific oysters (endemic to Japan) he is also one of the few farmers with a renewed interest in growing native Australian Angasi oysters (Ostrea angasi) also commonly known as southern mud oysters. "The flesh is more wild and gamey," he says. "They have a stronger flavour with a long, peppery finish."

Back on deck the scent of fresh lemon juice mixes with the salt air as we sip and slurp the different varieties. "There is something in the rhythm of nature that creates these unique flavours," says Bowley. "You should taste them in autumn when the sea grass is in flower."

Whatever the season, the Yorke Peninsula has always been a favourite getaway for South Australians, yet for some reason it has remained off the radar to visitors from outside the state. As travel restrictions eased it was time for me to take the advice of my Adelaide friends and visit the boot-shaped peninsula on the city's doorstep. With a Mediterranean climate, 700 kilometres of coastline and ocean on three sides, it's easy to see why locals refer to it as "the island you can drive to".

A flight from Sydney to Adelaide followed by a 90-minute drive and I'm on island-time, heading south and tracing the ultramarine curve of the Gulf St Vincent.


The Yorke Peninsula, which produces some of the finest seafood in the world, including blue swimmer crabs, King George whiting and Australian salmon, is becoming a magnet for foodies and nature lovers. Designated trails include the Home Grown Trail, Coastal Way or the Beverage Trail. Over the next four days I plan to drive from top to toe and sample all three.

After my deckhand experience at Stansbury I continue south through Yorketown, where an unexpected detour leads me along the newly opened Salt Lake Trail. From four colour-coded self-drive trails I choose the 48-kilometre Full Drive, which leads past a froth of pink, orange, blue and silver lakes.

From here it's a 50-minute drive southwest to Marion Bay where I'm booked into My Sister and the Sea for two nights. A quintessential beach shack, full of ocean treasures and shell art, it is the ideal basecamp for exploring the nearby Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park.

The road through the park traces the tip of the peninsula's boot, passing mobs of emus and skirting ochre cliffs that have collapsed into the ocean like crumbled honeycomb. I pull into Stenhouse Bay, continuing on foot to the jetty, its bleached pylons an artist's sweep of white pickets against a blue canvas.

Towards Deep Lake a set of stairs leads to Ethel Beach, where the exposed bones of the 118-year-old shipwreck the Ethel lies curled on the sand like a prehistoric beast. Standing amid its rusted ribs I look out across a violent ocean, where steely storm clouds jostle like bullies against a smudged horizon and flashes of lightning cleave the sky.

Leaving Marion Bay I turn north and inland to the peninsula's golden heart where some of Australia's best wheat and barley are grown. And with wheat country comes beer, wine and spirits.

Whatsacowie Brewing Company at Minlaton is the first independently owned microbrewery on the peninsula. Sample a Sea Song, made from locally foraged ingredients or a Smooth Ray, named after the giant smooth rays that grace the beaches. Or try a peach and green tea Hard Vodka Seltzer, made in collaboration with Sunny Hill Distillery, one of only two distilleries in South Australia to boast the "crop to drop" tagline.

Near the historic town of Maitland, Barley Stacks Wines has been growing vines since 1996. "Being close to the coast with a rich grey soil over limestone our wines are unique to the Yorke Peninsula," says managing director Lyall Schulz, as he pours me a glass of their 2021 Viognier. With hints of apricot and peach, and a citrus zest, it would pair perfectly with a plate of native Australian Angasi oysters.

The Angasi oyster was an important food for the Narungga people of the Yorke Peninsula, well before Europeans arrived and dredged oyster reefs to near extinction. To learn more about the Narungga people's connection to the coast I head southwest to Port Victoria where I meet Quenten Agius, owner operator of Aboriginal Cultural Tours.

Quenten's clapping sticks rise above the coastal breeze as he calls to his ancestors to let them know we are coming. Under his guidance I learn that the peninsula is home to four tribal groups, each with their own stories, song and dance. Over the course of the morning Quenten shares creation stories, applying red and white ochre to our faces so we can visit the sacred site where the creation ancestors formed the landscape. "The red lichen on the rocks is Burtherer's blood, " explains Quenten. "The patches of white ochre are his fat."

Our final stop is an ancient midden, where the Narungga once feasted, discarding bones and shells over thousands of years. Excavated by wombats, not archaeologists, the ground is strewn with quartz stone tools and hammer stones, fairy penguin bones and remains of ash. "This is a cultural living area," says Quenten. "Our old people want to share with visitors the beauty of our land."

And that's the beauty of a trip to the Yorke Peninsula, where the daily pace still keeps time with the seasons and the tides, and passionate locals like Quenten Agius and Steve Bowley invite visitors to become fully immersed in their 'island' home. Just don't go calling it a tour.




My Sister and the Sea is a three-bedroom weatherboard cottage in the township of Marion Bay. Sleeping up to six, the entire cottage costs from $330 a night including breakfast provisions. See


Pacific Estate Oysters run their "Deckie for a Day" program from Stansbury. The two-hour experience (tide dependent) costs $130 a person. See

Aboriginal Cultural Tours offers a half-day Coastal Tour for $100 including pickup from Port Victoria. See

Kerry van der Jagt travelled as a guest of South Australian Tourism Commission