4 4WD TOURING: The West Coast
Grade: Moderate More info: www.bairdbay.com, www.seafoodtrail.com
YOU COULD TELL by their movements that they were feeding. The school of fish was obviously trapped close to the rocky shore and the small pod of dolphins was feasting on them while the going was good. The mammals’ arching backs, rapid dives and planned attacks were all part of a well rehearsed and executed strategy. Meanwhile, a group of swiftly flying terns swooped through the sky, stooping into a vertical plunge as any likely morsel, forced too close to the surface by the hungry dolphins, caught their eye.
We were standing on the cliffs at Point Westall, southwest of the fishing and farming community of Streaky Bay, enjoying the view of this spectacular coast and looking for a spot to camp when the dolphins had caught our eye. Earlier that day we had been at the small community of Baird Bay where we had joined Alan and Trish Payne at Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience for a swim with the delightful sea lions (most people call them, rather incorrectly, ‘seals’) that call a small island just offshore, ‘home’, as well as joining a pod of dolphins for a short swim. It’s one of the best, if not the best, wildlife experience you can have in Australia.
From Baird Bay we drove the short distance west to Point Westall and then pushed on along the rugged cliff-lined coast to High Cliffs. Here there is a small and pleasant bush camping spot located just back from the beach and close to the bluff that gives the spot its name.
Over the next week we poked our way north, passing through the coastal town of Streaky Bay and then along the coast, sampling its delights and camping at such places as Perlubie Beach and the less well known Dunn’s Well in Acraman Creek Conservation Park. The creek offers protected water and good fishing (great for a kayak) as well as fabulous bird watching.
Point Brown juts out into the Great Australian Bight from near Acraman Creek and south of the tiny hamlet of Smoky Bay. The good dirt road ends at a sign overlooking Edward Bay and the finger of cliffs that is Point Brown. From here a 4WD track skirts the coast and then breaks into myriad lesser tracks that cut across the peninsula to the shores of a sheltered St Mary Bay and the distant tip of the headland. There’s fishing, snorkelling and surfing along this coast as well as protected spots for swimming. Offshore are the scattered islands of the Nuyts Archipelago, the island group taking its name from the Dutch official, Peter Nuyts, who in the Gulden Zeepard under the command of Francios Thijssen, sailed these waters in 1627, 125 years before Matthew Flinders in the Investigator, and Frenchman Nicolas Baudin in the Geographe.
Just 40km or so from Point Brown, Ceduna is the biggest sign of civilisation on this far northern coast of Eyre Peninsula, where you have your choice of heading to remote beaches and cliff-lined coasts further west, or heading north across well-vegetated sand dunes on Googs Track to Kingoonya and beyond. But before you rush off on another series of adventures make sure you enjoy the fine seafood – especially the oysters and the King George whiting – available in the town. By then you would have realised that a 4WD trip to SA’s far west coast is not only an adventurous and pleasant way to spend a week (or a month or more) but it’s also a gourmet extravaganza of some of the finest seafood around. No wonder we keep going back there! – Ron Moon