The West Coast of South Australia is near and dear to my heart. It’s the place I was born and grew up in, and it’s where many of my extended family still live. I moved away from the area when I was a teenager though, and have only returned a handful of times over the years. Recently I spent ten days back there, exploring the West Coast, South Australia, with fresh eyes.
I was very impressed by the incredible natural scenery of the area, it was even better than I remembered. If you love to explore remote, untouched, pristine places, Eyre Peninsula’s west coast should be on your wish list.
Where is the West Coast of South Australia?
Fair question really, since the coast line of South Australia tends to face south. The area called the West Coast starts south of Elliston and encompass the western half Eyre Peninsula up to just past Ceduna. The area from there over to the Western Australia border is known as the Far West Coast. You can see more about things to do there in my post here.
You can see a map here showing the approximate regions
Getting to the West Coast can be a challenge as it is approximately 7-8 hours drive from Adelaide, depending on your destination. It is possible to catch a long distance bus to some of the towns in the area, such as Streaky Bay and Ceduna. You can see the routes and schedule on the Stateliner website here.
There are also flights into Ceduna from Adelaide. The schedule is limited due to covid right now, but check schedules and prices at the Rex website here.
You will need a car to get around while you are in the area, so if you fly to Ceduna or catch a bus, you will need to hire one. I use and recommend RentalCars.com for car hire all over the world. The site compares rental prices from many different care hire companies all with the one search and I’ve had good experiences with them every time. You can check prices and availability for car hire anywhere on their website here.
Things to do on the West Coast, South Australia
Climb a Mountain at Wudinna
Okay, maybe mountain is not exactly an accurate description, but just outside of the township of Wudinna your will find it’s namesake, the granite outcrop of Mount Wudinna. After Uluru, Mount Wudinna is the second largest monolith in Australia, but at only 260m high, this is no Everest, and climbing it will only take a few minutes. On the way up there are signs giving information about the flora, fauna and geological formations of the area. From the top you will have fantastic 360 degree views over the surrounding countryside, which is mostly flat so on a clear day it’s possible to see for miles. My visit was in spring as the canola was starting to flower so the landscaped was patch-worked in greens and yellows as far as the eye could see.
At the base of Mount Wudinna there are picnic, BBQ and toilet facilities, but camping here is not permitted. Mount Wudinna is about 10km out of town. To get there follow the signs from the centre of town or from the highway nearby,
Check Out some Rocks at Minnipa
We all know that neighbours are most likely to be the biggest of rivals, and Minnipa is the town next town along the highway from Wudinna. It can’t compete with Mount Wudinna in terms of size, so instead it makes up for it by having multiple rocks surrounding it that make for an interesting visit. The most well known one if Pildappa Rock which has a huge wave-like feature along one section of it. It also has multiple areas surrounding it that are great for a BBQ or picnic, with toilets and shelters available. It is also a great free camping location. While visiting, the rock can be climbed for a view from the top, or just walk around the base and admire the waves. Pildappa Rock is around 15km from the highway and well signed from Minnipa.
The second rock is Tcharkulda Rock. Another granite outcrop, Tcharkulda is a good example of how these rocks were used in the past as water supplies for the local towns. As visitors explore the rocks, they can see the many gutters and small walls that would channel the water to holding areas before being piped into town. The little white stakes scattered around the rock mark out another path. This is a 5km cross country running track that the local Eyre Peninsula kids come together and compete on in an annual event. I remember being tortured on it more than once in my childhood. Of course I loved every minute of the challenge too! I don’t suggest visitors run it, but a stroll around the loop (or a small section) would be enjoyable. As usual there is a picnic area, and as an extra point of interest, a restored shepherd’s hut gives a historical touch.
There are many other rocks in the area too – Turtle Rock and Yarwondutta Rock to name two more – but these are mostly on private land. Visitors can view the rocks from the main roads, but there is no access to climb them.
Take a Coastal Drive around Streaky Bay
Driving the coast of Eyre Peninsula is stunning no matter where you choose to do it, but there are three drives around Streaky Bay that will keep you busy for a full day and provide you with absolutely stunning scenery.
The Point Labatt Scenic Drive is the furthest south and will take you to the Point Labatt sea lion colony view point. This clifftop overlooks rocks where the sea lions like to rest. During our visit in wet and windy weather there were about 15 sea lions on the shore, but it’s not unusual to see more that fifty of them here. Along the way out to Point Labatt you will see some stunning scenery and have the opportunity to see local wildlife. From Streaky Bay the round trip is about 130km, mostly on dirt roads, and can take up to half a day depending on how often you stop to explore. Can be combined with a visit to Murphy’s Haystacks and/or swimming with sea lions at Baird Bay (see below).
The Westall Way Loop Drive takes you to one of my favourite places along the whole coastline, Smooth Pools. This beach is covered with granite rocks, with many small pools making for perfect little private areas to take a dip on a hot day. They are protected from the strong waves of the ocean along this part of the coast. Also perfect for exploring on days when the weather is not so great. Of course that’s not the only spot along this drive, which takes visitors to half a dozen or so more interesting viewpoints and great surf spots too. From Streaky Bay the drive is about 55km and will take two to three hours to complete. Can be combined with sand boarding or 4WDing the Yanerbie sand dunes (see below)
The Cape Bauer Loop Coastal Scenic Drive has more of that spectacular Eyre Peninsula scenery. My favourite stop along this loop was the Whistling Rocks and the Blowholes. The sound the whistling rocks make is incredible. Hallys Beach is another great stop with a pristine beach just perfect for a stroll in the middle of your drive. The whole loop is around.40km and will take 1.5 to 2 hours for the drive.
A map showing all three drives can be downloaded here
Admire Murphy’s Haystacks
Of all the granite rocks in the area, these are the most well known, the most impressive and possibly the most spectacular things to see on the West Coast. They are located just off the highway between Streaky Bay and Port Kenny and are well signposted. Also known as inselberg rock formations (literally, from German, “island mountain”) these are some of the oldest rocks in Australia at about 3 billion years old. Murphy’s Haystacks sit dotted over an area of private farmland. Entry is clearly marked and uses an honour system, with entry just $2 per person or $5 for a family.
The haystacks got their names, unsurprisingly, from the owner of the land at the time, Denis Murphy, but it wasn’t him that came up with it. The story goes that a traveller was passing on the highway and saw the rocks in the distance. He thought they were piles of hay, and could not believe that such huge piles had been produced. He immediately started to enquire as to the farming methods used to create such bounty. This discussion lead to the rocks being called Murphy’s Haystacks, and the name has since stuck. The farm has been handed down the generations, and the current owner of the land is Denis Murphy’s grandson.
On arrival the most photographed group of rocks is easily seen right in the middle of the field (the photograph at the top of this post), but ensure you continue to follow the path and also take a look at the other rocks in the scrub. There are a lot more here and some are particularly interesting or beautiful. A visit at sunset can be especially impressive.
There are picnic and toilet facilities here, and camping is allowed for a small fee.
Swim with Sea Lions at Baird’s Bay
Sea lions are often referred to as the puppies of the ocean for their playful, inquisitive nature. At the tiny, remote town of Baird’s Bay there’s a boat tour that will take you out to play with them in the water. Operating from September to May, this tour will firstly take you out to the shallow waters of Baird Bay to play with he sea lions, and then to some deeper water to swim with the local bottle nose dolphins. This family run business has been operating for close to thirty years now and it’s success in such a remote place speaks volumes for just how incredible this experience is.
For more information and to book this experience, see their website here
Sand Boarding or 4WDing at Yanerbie Sand Dunes
Not too far from Baird Bay, and twenty minutes from Streaky Bay, are the Yanerbie Sand Dunes. These stunning white dunes are the perfect location for hours of fun, especially if you are looking for things to do with kids on the West Coast. Grab a board and slide down the dunes, or enjoy some 4WDing along the marked tracks.
Unfortunately the dunes were one thing I had to admire from afar (and they are spectacular even from there) as access is by 4WD only.
Explore Talia Caves
This was another activity I will have to go back to the West Coast for! The Talia Caves area includes three individual sites to stop and admire the natural landscape. Stop at Monument Lookout for incredible views, then at the Tub to learn about some of the geology of the area, and lastly, the most well known and spectacular site, the Woolshed Cave, shown in the video below. During our visit In August 2020, the stairs down to the cave had been damaged during a storm so we could not get down to see the cave itself, but hopefully they will be repaired before we visit again.
Do an Oyster Tour at Smoky Bay
On a previous trip to Port Lincoln on the Lower Eyre Peninsula I had planned to do an Oyster Tour at Coffin Bay, but for various reasons it didn’t happen, so when I saw a small note on the pin-up board at Smoky Bay Caravan Park about an oyster tour here I jumped at the chance to take part. We had an great morning learning and exploring the oyster lease with Jeff and Colleen from SA Premium Oysters, not to mention eating more delicious Smoky Bay oysters than I probably should have. I will happily go out on a limb and say that in my opinion these oysters from Smoky Bay are the best in South Australia, yes, even better than Coffin Bay oysters, which are acclaimed world wide.
Walk the Elliston Coastal Trail
In and around Elliston your will find a 13.6km coastal trail. Meander along it to enjoy not only some spectacular views, just typical of the dramatic Eyre Peninsula coast line, but to also see some interesting sculptures and learn about the history of the area. Look out for the heads on the clifftop reminiscent of the heads of Easter Island, and the pair of thongs.
The walk can be done in smaller sections, and much of it is accessible by car if the weather is too bad or walking is not for you.
I can’t talk about things to do on the West Coast without talking about fishing. There are just so many great opportunities to throw a line into the ocean, and a very good chance you will pull something out of it.
For beach fishing, Locks Well just south of Elliston has a reputation of being one of the best in South Australia. Even if you are not fishing, this is a spectacular place to spend some time. Be warned though, there are about 250 steps down onto the beach – which means 250 steps back up again. Make sure you have everything you need before heading down as you don’t want to be doing the trip too many times.
Another good beach for fishing is Mount Camel Beach near the Talia Caves, or try Hallys Beach near Streaky Bay.
Fishing from jetties along the coast is very popular too. You can find jetties at Elliston, Venus Bay, Port Kenny, Streaky Bay, Haslam, Smoky Bay and Ceduna.
Unfortunately you will not be able to fish at the Wirrulla jetty – this inland town built a jetty after realising all the towns in the area that drew tourists had jetties, and thought that perhaps if they had one too, more tourists would come. With tongue firmly in cheek, the jetty was built right outside the pub, and it’s perhaps the only inland jetty in Australia. Pop in and have a look if you are passing.
Of course the ultimate fishing experience is to take a boat out. All of the coastal towns have boat ramps for launching your own boat. Many of the towns also likely have boats for hire too. In Venus Bay, the caravan park had small boats they hire out by the hour which would be perfect for getting out on the water to fish.
Where to Stay on the West Coast of South Australia
There are many different options for accommodation in the region, from free camping areas to self contained holiday homes to hotels and caravan parks.
During my most recent trip we stayed at Venus Bay Beachfront Tourist Park in one of their starfish cabins. We found this to be fantastic value in a very comfortable can with a full kitchen and sea views.
We also camped in our tent at Smoky Bay Caravan Park, which has possibly the best camp kitchen I have ever come across while travelling. It is also one of the neatest, cleanest caravan parks I have seen too.
For a farm retreat, I have head amazing things about the Crocodile Park Farm Retreat and it’s on my list for places to stay during my next visit.
For a luxury option, check out Perlubie Sea, a stunning bed and breakfast with stunning views from the bathtub!
Want even more? – I have created a Facebook Group to answer any questions you may have about travel in South Australia. We can help with any queries you have, make further suggestions and provide the latest information. Click here to join now.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.