Written by Peregrine Travel Centre Team Member Cathy.
Much of my childhood was spent on the west coast. Each summer holidays I would visit with my great grandmother and great aunts and uncles in Port Lincoln and stay on a relative’s farm in Port Neill. But let’s just say it has been a really really long time since I have been back. So when I found out a company called Nullarbor Traveller offered a 3 day Southern Ocean Adventure tour to Eyre Peninsula I thought it a perfect opportunity to reconnect with my childhood, indulge my interest in wildlife and face a long held fear. But more about that later.
The tour departed at “oh my goodness this is early” o’clock and our small group of 9 headed for Wallaroo to take the ferry across the gulf (yes it is running again). Whilst taking the ferry doesn’t save that much time, it is a much more relaxing and enjoyable way to travel to Eyre Peninsula. Arriving early afternoon we settled into our hostel accommodation and enjoyed our lunch. Now I need to interject here and say that I have not stayed in a hostel since my 20’s and even then I didn’t enjoy it much, not that I am overly precious, but basic cleanliness and personal safety are on my list of requirements in accommodation. The YHA in Port Lincoln is definitely the cheese and not the chalk! This place is impeccably clean, well organised, with great facilities and located within the centre of Port Lincoln. My only complaint, which is more a reflection of me than the facilities, is that like most hostels they have bunk beds, and I drew the top bunk – the hips and knees don’t bend so well anymore, and the bottom ladder wrung was easily a hurdle height from the ground!
Anyway…. after lunch we headed out to Coffin Bay and the beautiful national park. Here the southern ocean relentlessly pounds the shore and creates a wonderful rugged and intricate coastline. Sea birds soar and float on the air currents and scour the beach for tasty morsels.
Emus and kangaroos wander the hills and with the low coastal scrubland they are easy to spot.
The wildlife encounter continues with a visit to Mikkira station, the only wild koala population on Eyre Peninsula. Here the koalas sit comfortably watching the people parade and will often pose for a super close up photograph.
The tour also takes in Lincoln national park and Whalers Way, but I and a few others opted to sample some of the local produce instead. And sample I did! First it was a sample paddle from the local craft beer brewery – Beer Garden Brewery. Now I am not a big beer drinker and I won’t say that I loved all the beers on offer, but the EPA (Eyre Peninsula ale) was quite delicious, for others it was the new addition of a coffee flavoured stout. Following beer it was a given that the local oysters should be next on the list. The Port Lincoln Hotel offers a multitude of options when it comes to oysters; from the popular and favourite Kilpatrick, to Japanese inspired flavours, sorbet, creamy mornay and au naturelle. The final stop on the sampling tour was Boston Bay Wines. We worked our way through the range of 6 – all very good, but for me it was the 2015 award winning Riesling that hit the spot just right.
I mentioned earlier that I was also to face my fears on this trip and that I did.
I have long been terrified of sharks; an illogical and irrational fear, I know. I took swimming lessons at Port Neill, until I was older and lessons were moved to the end of the jetty; and that was the end of that. This coincided with an encounter with a fever of stingrays and the publication each week of a chapter from “Jaws” in the Sunday Mail, which left me both fearful and fascinated by sharks. I know of course this anxiety is completely ridiculous but also quite local. I have snorkelled in the South Pacific, the Caribbean and Asia, with no concern whatsoever; and recently I actually swam with green sea turtles and whale sharks in Madagascar, but get me into our own ocean… not a chance!
Well I am not getting younger and the time had come to face my fear and perhaps a great white.
So this Easter while you were all devouring chocolate and hot cross buns I joined the optional tour of shark cage diving and found myself on a boat heading to the Neptune Islands in the hopes of encountering this magnificent creature.
To get to the Neptune Islands I joined Adventure Bay Charters. I chose this particular operator for a couple of reasons; Firstly, I like that they don’t bait or burly, they use music, ACDC is a favourite of this apex predator, which apparently appeals to their natural curiosity (perhaps as most of these sharks are adults, they are just coming around to see what all the racket is!) Secondly, Adventure Bay charters are the only operator to have an “aqua sub” – basically a big plastic box that allows you to be underwater without getting wet. It also provides an option to experience the sharks if you can’t swim, or use a regulator, or if you chicken out of the actual diving. Fabulous idea!
The trip to the Neptune islands takes over 2 hours, enroute passing by Lincoln National Park and from the perfect vantage point we could see nests of sea eagles and osprey carefully constructed on the sheer cliff faces. We spied lazy sea lions enjoying the warmth of the sun and a rest from their own hunting.
To pass the time you can watch a movie – we enjoyed Finding Nemo, but they also have The Big Blue, The Perfect Storm, you get the idea. Clearly the crew has a warped sense of humour!
We arrived at our anchorage point; deep water nestled between two underwater shelfs. Sharks like the element of surprise and prefer to attack from below, so this location was perfect (for attacking what? I really didn’t want to know!) I can tell you I was quite nervous, but that was all forgotten trying to get into the thick rubber suit – oh now I know, I look exactly like the sharks perfect meal; a big, slow and rotund sea lion! These wetsuits are awkward to wear, but they serve their purpose in keeping the blood flowing in the freezing waters of the southern ocean.
It took me a while to get under the water on my first attempt. What you don’t think of or realise is that the cage is hanging off the back of the boat and it is getting bounced around in the swell. It is absolutely like getting into a washing machine! Once fully submerged the scanning begins.
Over the course of the day we saw 3 sharks, each bigger than the last, but they don’t hang around too long. I had seen two from the aqua sub, and finally on my 3rd dive I saw this awesome animal cruise on by. It was not really close to the cage, and from the comfort of my home as I write this, I can say it would have been nice to have it come closer, but at the time, close enough!
To see the fluid motion with which the sharks move, is just incredible.
This was a long day, over 12 hours by the time we arrived back at the marina, but totally worth it! I would happily do it all over again. Adventure Bay charters and the crew were amazing! Not only do they drive the boat, operate the cage and bubble, they provide food and drinks (nonstop all day I might add) offer help and sympathy for those suffering the effects of the southern ocean, and support, patience and encouragement for those a bit nervous about getting into the cage.
But this was not the last underwater encounter I opted for. Again I joined Adventure Bay charters, but this time swimming with sea lions at Hopkins Island. Sea lions… sharks… hmmmm. Not the first person to ask the question “don’t sharks eat sea lions for breakfast?” the answer is yes, but we were all reassured the geography of this location was not one that sharks enjoyed. The water is shallow, so there is no element of surprise and sea lions for the most part are more agile and faster, so apparently sharks don’t bother. What is the definition of gullible? Better perhaps, what is the Australian saying? “She’ll be right!” and right we were.
The trip to Hopkins Island is not as long, only an hour or so. As we arrived at this secluded little cove we began to see all these “rocks” start moving around and barking and then skipping to the ocean. They really are like puppies welcoming home their owners. Sooo happy and excited to have someone to play with. Once in the water it was soon apparent that we were there completely for their amusement. We must look so “unco” trying to roll and dive and somersault. Who cares, it was super fun. We had an hour with these delightful animals before heading back to Port Lincoln.
The weekend was over and back to Adelaide I went. It was exhilarating, inspiring, educational, flavourful, fun and totally exhausting. So next time you are looking for an extended weekend break in your own backyard, why not consider the Nullarbor Traveller 3 day Southern Ocean Adventure. f you want help planning your tip to Port Lincoln, myself and the team here at Peregrine Travel Centre SA are more than happy to assist.