I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness,
I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages.
In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon,
man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
Coffin Bay National Park is the diamond in the Eyre Peninsula’s rough.
Discovering a place like Coffin Bay National Park in your wanderings is a little bit like winning the lottery. You are shaken, at first. Then you realise, deep down, that you are never going to be the same.
What it lacks in area it makes up for in violently varied landscapes. Jutting out like the hammer on a pistol from the southern extremity of the Eyre Peninsula, this peninsula on a peninsula has a coastline that seems designed to face in every direction at once, like Ezekiel’s vision of God’s chariot.
The run into the park from the tiny hamlet of Coffin Bay is paved for a few kilometres, the country salt scrub and rising, affording brief views out over the fractalised coastlines of Port Douglas and Mount Dutton Bay to the north.
To the south you can access, and drive on, Gunyah Beach. The water here is whipped into a frenzy most of the time by the steady pulsing southeast winds. They carve the Coffin Bay sand dunes into shifting trapezoids, pushing them inland all day long before the hot northern winds push them back toward the dawn-calmed sea.
The coastline from here all the way up to Ceduna is littered with reefs, islands and rock shelves. Sailors named the landscape to warn those who followed them, as nature has bestowed wasps and people wearing purple jumpsuits with the same message: stay away. Point Avoid, Cape Catastrophe, Mount Misery and, of course, Coffin Bay, all hold within their names a history of maritime woes. Sudden Jerk Island and Horny Point must have some other kind of history.
The paved road extends south to Point Avoid and north to Yangie Bay. The former is just a lookout, with views to Golden Island and back east down Gunyah Beach with the Coffin Bay Dunes broken ocassionally by rocky outcrops and the sun glinting off a 4WD cruising the beach looking for gutters.
Yangie Bay offers a few camping options. You can camp right where the bitumen ends in an area that is great for groups, but not as beautiful as the bush camping on the northern side of Yangie Bay. The track leading up to the bush camps is fairly overgrown, but when you come scraping out of the branches and see the bay unfolding there, a tabletop of aquamarine glass, the short trip is worth it. You can camp anywhere along the beach here, and there are a few great sheltered spots at the treeline. A track winds past the beaches, but it dead-ends.
It takes a solid three hours to get out to the furthest point on the Peninsula, Point Sir Isaac. It is a 55km journey, so that should give you a fair idea of the state of the track if you’re only averaging 19km per hour. Strewn with exposed rocks or long sandy sections that regularly trap unsuspecting surfers, the going is slow up the main track until you get past Black Springs, a sheltered campground on the northeast flank of the peninsula. The track winds up through tall dunes and eventually drops back down onto Seven Mile Beach for the run up to Morgans Landing. This is a classic spot. Beach driving is always fun, but the water here is shallow and iridescent, the blue turning indigo in a sharp line that hugs the shoreline marking the exposed reef.
The ochre and white sand dunes that lined the middle of this beach are a magnet for travellers. Every day, even if the rest of the park is empty (which, staggeringly, it often is) this is a busy crossroads of 4WDs parked on the beach against the backdrop of the sculpted dunes and boats anchored in the calm waters, their denizens coming ashore, drawn by the lines cut in the sky by these pale pink pyramids.
At sunset, the dunes change completely. Instead of white laced with blood-red sand coming in from another blow, they reflect the dark blue of the evening sky between white ripples and transform themselves again. It’s worth hanging around to watch this happen, and the closest campground is just a few kilometres up the beach at Morgans Landing.
Morgans offers several small, bollarded campsites just behind the dunes and well-protected from the winds that keen through the tops of the trees incessantly.
From here, the track breaks up into a spider web of interlocked trails running through the natural high meadows that make up the centre of much of the peninsula. You can run straight south toward Sensation Beach. Open to the Southern Ocean, you can drive on the beach, and there are some great gutters for snapper, Aussie salmon and whiting.
To the west lies Reef Point, a spectacular outcropping of rock shelf from limestone cliffs that seems to catch every tiny bit of swell that comes roaring in from Antarctica. A southwest swell here, with the remnants of the southeast wind that blows all summer long across the peninsula, makes for some epic, hollow waves at the edge of the rock shelf where these long-distance low-frequency waves trip up on the first obstacle in a thousands of kilometres long journey.
The biggest travesty of Reef Point is that you aren’t supposed to camp here, and there isn’t an officially sanctioned campsite within 45 minutes of the place. I’d bet my hat that plenty of surfers have crashed in their station wagons here, waiting for a dawn barrels session.
This edge of the world coastline has a ghostliness to it. The bare vegetation is scattered in a tessellated pattern, spread wide to share the rare rains that come when the wind blows from the southwest. Between the burned green skin-like texture of these succulents, the white limestone is slowly and meticulously disassembled, grain by grain, by the interminable wind.
“If you’re going to come here without being bored out of your mind, make sure you bring some mull along.”
Thus Mullalong was named, I’m told, by one of the first locals to hole up here with his ‘old lady’ surfing this picture-perfect left-hand point. In my travels, this is one of the prettiest, easiest –breaking reef breaks I have ever come across…world class, yet beginner-friendly. The track in has a brief steep section, with plenty of warning, but it is the heaviest bit of 4WDing on the island.
The northern tip of the peninsula is called Point Sir Isaac. Named for Sir Isaac Coffin, the same bloke they named the bay after, this finger of land extends out into the mouth of Coffin Bay. The white sand beaches are fringed by the same rust red rocks that you see in Tasmania’s Bay of Fires, and the track runs around the rim of the finger up a rocky hillside, providing views out over the Southern Ocean, nothing but indigo horizon in every direction.
For such a small parcel of land, a long involuted tube of sand dunes, limestone cliffs and landscapes that vary as wildly as anything on the mainland, Coffin Bay is a lost treasure – an empty playground for anyone who wants to venture off the beaten track without the kind of overland expedition that a journey to somewhere like the Kimberley entails. And perhaps the name of the place needn’t be a dire prophecy linking the local great whites with the subterranean fear in every surfer’s heart, but it can be a gentle warning to see this place before the coffin comes. You get one chance at this exploring game, and Coffins has warmed my jaded heart.
LOCATION: Coffin Bay National Park is on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula approximately 300km to the west of Adelaide and 46km west of the town of Port Lincoln. The park contains a long peninsula and a spectacular coastline of limestone cliffs and white sand surf beaches.
CAMPING is available within the Yangie Bay camping area, with fees payable on entry to the park. The majority of the park to the north of Yangie Bay is 4WD access only.
4WD accessible campgrounds are located at Black Springs, Big Yangie, Morgans Landing and The Pool. Campers are advised to carry in their own drinking water and firewood. The collection of firewood is prohibited within the park and total fire bans are often in place between November and April. The use of generators is not permitted on days of total fire ban.
FUEL is available at Coffin Bay Township and at Port Lincoln.
MORE INFO is available at www.environment.sa.gov.au