Of all the ships built in Whyalla, the 650 tonne corvette HMAS Whyalla, the first ship completed at the shipyard, has become the most famous. It now stands like some kind of strange vessel which has lost its way glaring down over the Lincoln Highway at the northern entrance to the city.
Whyalla Maritime Museum
This is an ideal starting point for any visit to Whyalla. The Whyalla Maritime Museum, a really excellent and comprehensive display, combines a history of local shipping (through models, photographs and audio visual displays) with a guided tour of the HMAS Whyalla and a huge model railway display. The museum and Visitor Information Centre are open from 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. every day (except Good Friday and Christmas Day) with tours of the ship being held on the hour every hour between 11.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. (November - March)
Tours and the Visitor Information Centre
It is really quite difficult to enjoy the attractions of Whyalla without a good map and some directions. The Whyalla Fauna and Reptile Park and the Mount Laura Homestead Museum are both located on the outskirts of the city and the Steelworks Tour, the highlight of any visit, should be organised well in advance. A visit to the Tanderra Tourist Centre, next to the HMAS Whyalla, is therefore a natural starting point. The centre's telephone number is (08) 8645 7900 or 1800 088 589. The excellent (and free) Whyalla Visitors Guide is arguably the best publication of its type in Australia. It has a detailed map and very clear directions to all the major attractions in the area.
To get some overall perspective of the city a visit to Hummock Hill is a necessity. Located at the eastern end of the city it looks over the BHP's Pellet Plant to the north, across the marina to the east, down the coast to the south and across the city centre to the west. It was used as an observation post during World War II and the gun emplacements are still standing.
On the southern slope of Hummock Hill, near the beach, are the Ada Ryan Gardens. This pleasant green park, complete with a duck pond and some native fauna, is a cool retreat from the hot dryness (the town boast 301 sunny days and only 268mm annual rainfall) of the town.
Mt Laura Homestead Museum
Beyond the Ada Ryan Gardens (turn off the Lincoln Highway at McDouall Stuart Ave then turn right into Nicholson Ave and Ekblom St) is the National Trust Mount Laura Homestead Museum. It is a strange sight. An old rural homestead in the heart of suburbia and close to the large Westland Shopping Centre. Like all the National Trust Museums on Eyre Peninsula, the Mount Laura Homestead has been expanded to include a restored cottage which dates from 1914, and an extensive display of old engines. Outside is Whyalla's original wood and corrugated iron lockup (it must have been absolutely deadly in summer) which is the only known example of a portable gaol in South Australia. Near the homestead is an engine which was used to haul iron ore from Iron Knob to Whyalla more than eighty years ago.
Visiting the Steelworks
Whyalla is still the only steelworks in Australia to hold regular public tours - they are now run by a private company. The tours, which leave the Visitor Information Centre at 9.30 am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, last for about two hours and cover the entire steelmaking process from the coke ovens and blast furnace to the rolling mill. The steelworks now specialise in long products - railway lines, rolled steel joists etc. The major period of expansion for the steelworks occurred in the 1960s when two blast furnaces were opened, the coke ovens were commissioned (1968) and an iron ore pelletising plant was constructed.
Beyond the town centre there are a number of interesting scenic drives. Anyone wanting to understand the entire iron ore industry in the region should travel to Iron Knob. There is also a very interesting drive out to Port Bonython and Point Lowly which lies about 25 km northeast of the town. This coastal strip is a fascinating mixture of the old and the new. The huge Santos Fractionation Plant processes oil which has travelled 659 km from the Moomba oil and gas field. There are no conducted tours. However people driving past can see the huge storage tanks (175 000 and 250 000 barrels capacity) and the jetty which stretches for 2.4 km into the Gulf.
Fitzgerald Bay/Point Lowly hiking, cycling and driving trail is a twelve kilometre long heritage and nature trail that follows the coast. The interpretive signs along the trail explain the Aboriginal history, early European exploration, flora and fauna and marine life in the area.
Port Lowly Lighthouse
Two kilometres beyond the Santos Plant is the Port Lowly Lighthouse which dates from 1883. It was originally built in masonry and extended in concrete. The original lantern is still in place. The lighthouse was manned until 1973 (the two lighthouse keeper's cottages are nearby) but is now fully automatic.
Cuttlefish and Whyalla
Between May and August, the breeding season for the Australian giant cuttlefish (sepia apama), Whyalla attracts people from all over the world. The concentration of these unique creatures in the waters around Whyalla is quite remarkable. One scientist, Dr Mark Norman from the University of Melbourne, has described it as "the largest aggregation of Giant Cuttlefish in the world". There are opportunities to dive and be surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of these 'chameleons of the sea'. On every cuttlefish dive visitors are assured of unlimited encounters as these strange creatures hover and perform one of the most colourful and beautiful spawning dances in the marine world. This is a memorable marine gatherings and easy, boat or shore, shallow dive or snorkels - a must for every diver to experience at least once in their life.