Margot McGovern discovers a beautiful seaside cruise along South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula.
South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula is home to some of the nation’s best surf and swimming beaches, and every summer holidaymakers flock to the seaside towns of Victor Harbor, Port Elliot, Middleton and Goolwa to soak up the sun. Located just over an hour’s drive from Adelaide, the towns offer beach houses for rent, great coffee shops and bakeries, hiking tracks with stunning views, water sports, playgrounds, and, of course beaches.
One of the best ways to explore the region is via the Encounter Bikeway, a combination of shared off-road paths and quiet back streets stretching from The Bluff at Encounter Bay, just out of Victor Harbor, to the Goolwa channel, just outside the Goolwa township.
The Encounter Bikeway stretches approximately 30km and makes for an easy and scenic ride. However, with so much to see and do along the way, it is best ridden in sections, and if you’re taking the whole family along, expect a slow ride; there are playgrounds every couple of kilometres.
Starting at the Encounter Bay end, there’s ample car parking at the base of The Bluff on the Petrel Cove side and also along the foreshore on the bay side. Before you get rolling, take the time to climb The Bluff; the 360° views over the bay and Petrel Cove are simply astounding. Catch your breath, enjoy a coffee and watch the boats launching at Whaler’s Inn and then you’re on your way.
Distance: 31.5km one way (The Bluff to Victor Harbor, 5.5km; Victor harbor to Port Elliot, 7km; Port Elliot to Middleton, 4km; Middleton to Goolwa (Laffin Point), 15km)
Surface: Sealed shared-use paths, quiet backstreets and small sections of packed gravel.
Scenery: Mainly coastal, with sections of scrubland, wetlands and suburbia.
On a calm day, as you cruise along the foreshore, you’re likely to spy pods of dolphins playing off the nearby Wright Island, and in the cooler months, between May and October, you might even spy a whale. Encounter Bay is a popular calving spot for southern right whales, although if you’re lucky you might also spot the occasional humpback. For more information about the whales that frequent the bay visit the South Australian Whale Centre.
Follow the shared path along the waterfront and enjoy the shade of the towering Norfolk pines. After about 4km, you’ll arrive at Kent Reserve, the first of many playgrounds and toilet stops en route. Circle around the park via Kent Drive and take the bridge across the river and cruise around the caravan park back onto the beachfront.
After a further 3km you’ll find yourself in the bustling heart of Victor Harbor. Here you’ll want to park your bikes and take some time to explore. As well as cafes, pubs, ice-cream shops and picnic lawns at Warland Reserve, there’s mini golf, camel rides along the beach, a large playground, the South Australian Whale Centre and the Encounter Coast Discovery Centre. In summer there are also kids’ rides and stalls peddling coffee, cold drinks and hot cinnamon doughnuts. But the real must-see is Granite Island.
Walk across the wooden causeway or take the famous horse-drawn tram to the island, where you can visit the Penguin Centre, refuel at the kiosk and enjoy the views from the walking trail that circumnavigates the island. It takes about thirty-forty minutes to walk the trail, although allow for extra time to snap some photos and look for fairy penguins. Most of the penguins leave the island to hunt during the day, so if you’re really keen to spot them, book a place on one of the night-time guided penguin tours.
Back on the mainland, take Flinders Parade out of the Victor Harbor town centre. This section of the bikeway isn’t particularly well signed. Follow the coast line until you reach the railway crossing, then a short section of off-road path will deliver you onto the footpath of Hindmarsh Road. Stay on the footpath until you’re about halfway up the hill and a small blue bike marker will direct you to turn right onto Hayward Street. From there, follow the signs through the backstreets of Port Elliot.
The bikeway bypasses the port Elliot township itself to sweep around Horseshoe Bay. If you’ve got little ones in tow, this is an ideal spot to stop for a swim and an ice-cream. It’s also worth taking a detour up to North Terrace, Port Elliot’s bustling main street, to visit the Port Elliot Bakery. Here you’ll find some of the finest baked goods in the state, including their famous custard Berliner buns. However, it’s not unusual to find queues snaking down the street, so get there well before lunchtime to avoid the crowds.
Heading out of Port Elliot, Scrymgour Road leads into an off-road shared-use path through the grassy Basham Beach Conservation Park. At the end of the park, follow Ocean Parade along the beachfront to Middleton. This is one of the most spectacular parts of the ride, with the booming surf beach stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s also less crowded than the tourist hubs of Victor Harbor and Horseshoe Bay and the place to go to catch a few waves.
Take Waikiki Way off Surfers Parade onto Newell Avenue, then turn left onto the bikepath through Tokuremoar Reserve and into the backstreets of Goolwa. This section is windy, but well signed. Just keep an eye out for the little blue bike markers. Eventually you’ll come out onto Barrage Road to cruise along the waterfront of the Goolwa Channel. This road can be quite busy, so take the packed gravel path on the water side of the road.
Bird watchers can spy stilts, terns and red-necked avocets year-round and sandpipers, greenshanks and red-necked stints in the summer months at the Signal Point Bird Hide. Let the kids stretch their legs at the playground and children’s swimming beach, or take a seat at the Aquacafe and watch the boats launching from the Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club. Water sports fans can swap their bikes for a jet ski or kayak and explore the channel.
The Goolwa Channel is also the terminus for the famous Cockle Train, which travels between Goolwa and Victor Harbor on the oldest steel-railed track in Australia. The tourist railway is another great way to explore the region, and is a special favourite with kids. It’s a thirty minute trip, one way, and operates on a seasonal timetable, so check the website for times before you go.
A little further around the bend, take a detour on the bridge to Hindmarsh Island to admire the views, visit the marina and take a river cruise on a paddle steamer.
Back on the mainland, the Encounter Bikeway officially ends at Laffin Point, but it’s worth doubling back to end the ride with a cold one at the Steam Exchange Brewery next to the train station.
The Encounter Bikeway is mostly flat with a few small undulations. Its surface is mostly bitumen with a few small sections of packed gravel and is suitable for riders of all abilities.
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