While Robe isn’t famous for robes, the Limestone Coast is a much surer bet, dominated by rugged limestone cliffs and underwater caverns accessible to divers. Mind you, 4WD enthusiasts will be quick to point out the network of sandy tracks that carve through the coastal dune system as more deserving of the top accolades.
Our focus for this yarn is the 4WD coastal tracks between the Canunda National Park near the coastal village of Southend and along the coast to Robe. We also dabbled in the Coorong National Park further west.
The best way to explore the network of 4WD tracks is to follow the routes put together by the local Wattle Ranges 4WD Club. There are three suggested itineraries for exploring the area that covers Canunda National Park, Beachport to Nora Creina and the Little Dip Conservation Park, including points of interest, distances and inherent dangers.
Links are provided in the ‘Maps and Guides’ section below, so you can print them out and understand the route and the lay of the land before you travel. Alternatively you can pick them up from any of the Visitor Information Centres in the surrounding areas on the way through — the Millicent Visitor Information Centre has the best reproductions, with large colour prints. And make sure you download or pick up a copy of The Tattler magazine, written by the Department for Environment and Heritage. This contains a host of supplementary information on where to camp and other sight-seeing activities to complement the 4WD fun.
There are a number of places you can prop a swag, tent or camper trailer along this stretch. Bush camping is available in the Canunda National Park or the Little Dip Conservation Park closer to Robe, although in each case the campgrounds offer little ambience. Then there are the caravan parks at most of the seaside villages. In the past we’ve stayed at caravan parks in Robe, Millicent and Beachport, but the last couple of times we’ve propped ourselves at the Southend Caravan Park’s unpowered Bushland Camping area. It’s hidden away from the caravan park, tucked behind the foredune of the beach. The sites are huge, allowing plenty of room to spread out, and you can even have a campfire between May and October. A few flush toilets plus rain and bore water add to the civility, but the pressure isn’t great. Showers are available at the caravan park down the road for a few dollars per visit. But with the beach only a sand hill away, the location is hard to top from a number of levels.
CANUNDA NATIONAL PARK
The 66km itinerary stretches from Southend to Cape Banks, near the fishing village of Carpenter Rocks. The route mainly explores areas away from the beach, carving through the backdunes and some interesting landscapes. You’ll need a full day and a packed lunch to get the best out of everything on offer.
Once you’re within the national park the track meanders its way towards the beach to follow the rugged coastline. It passes over big slabs of rock, sandy dunes, steep rocky climbs and sandy bog holes fed by freshwater springs. Beyond the magnificent beach vistas, you’ll pass through a naked dune area with unusual pyramid-like mounds of sandstone and a lookout over Lake Bonney and the distant wind farm. Lastly there’s the Cape Banks Lighthouse and camping area on the border of the park.
As of November 2012, there was evidence of a major track clearing operation, trimming vegetation along the tracks. Unfortunately this was not the case in the other parks we visited. So if you are a little delicate about your paintwork, the Canunda National Park should be your first choice for exploration. It’s the sightseer’s choice!
BEACHPORT TO NORA CREINA
Day two and we’re keen to up the ante and find some more challenging tracks. The Beachport to Nora Creina route delivers to this end with a variation of cliff-top rocky tracks, sandy backdune action and occasional forays onto the soft beaches. At 27km it’s a manageable distance, only taking a couple of hours to complete, but allow more time if you plan to hang around to play on the dunes.
As an alternative to the start of this track, follow the Bowman Scenic Drive out of Beachport to follow the rugged coastline, stopping at the signed points of interest. Of these, the Salmon Hole is great for the kids, flying down a steep dune on a boogie board and skimming into the cool water below. Back on the scenic drive, continue on, turning right at the end of the line onto the sandy track that leads up into the dunes near Pigeon Cove (37 28.147’S 139 59.283’E).
Orange marker posts lead the way through the sand hills to the Five Mile Sand Hill, a bowl-like dune that serves as a big play area with an elevated view of the coastline. In past years the constantly moving sand created a much steeper bowl that was difficult to crest, requiring careful gear selection and sometimes a bit of luck. These days the bowl is more moderate, making it a safer area to have some 4WD fun.
Further north, the track has changed in recent years to keep clear of the Millicent Sand Buggy Club. Apparently there have been a few incidents where 4WD vehicles have inadvertently strayed into the buggy club. With buggies flying around at up to 100km/h, you can appreciate the risk of a nasty head-on.
We thought the newly cut track was barely wide enough for a full-sized 4WD to slip through and despite some careful manoeuvring, there was some massaging of the paintwork by the surrounding scrub. Without further trimming, it’s not the ideal track choice for a 200 series or Y62 Patrol.
As the beach track closed in on Nora Creina, sand drifts had engulfed sections of the track yielding either an interesting descent or a challenging climb. We walked the climbs for a quick sanity check and after a readjustment of tyre pressures and an assessment of the required run up, we traversed each dune without incident. It would make entertaining footage for a GoPro camera, though!
The final run along Stinky Bay is an entertaining drive, with the track hugging the base of the foredune and pushing through soft sand at the high water line. Tracing the perimeter of the beach towards the next headland, we were scanning for the exit point or tyre tracks that might lead to same. It’s all good fun!
A public access route passes through the private Nora Creina fishing village, linking the beach to the Little Dip Conservation Park — the next leg of our journey.
LITTLE DIP CONSERVATION PARK
Little Dip has its own charm and challenges that put it right up there when it comes to a challenging drive. Like the Beachport to Nora Creina run, it’s a fairly short stint encompassing a 21km leg, yet it packs a lot of punch into such a short stretch. Steep beach exits, rocky headlands with elevated views and plenty of soft beach action are just a few of the highlights.
The beach exits can be a bit tricky, often requiring a careful balance of steering input and momentum, sufficient to carve through the soft sand at the exit point and climb the headland, all while keeping an eye out for oncoming vehicles.
It was interesting passing a section of track where we had bogged ourselves on a previous visit. A precariously angled sand drift had formed across the track causing some concern about the possibility of a rollover. An easy-does-it approach didn’t quite cut it on the day, causing the vehicle to belly out, and worse still on that precarious angle. And as we were travelling alone, a delicate winch recovery ensued. Being a warm day, digging a massive hole in the sand to bury the spare wheel to winch off wasn’t considered the best way to burn off a few calories…
If time permits, check out the Coorong National Park north of Kingston. The Coorong is a saltwater lagoon system protected from the Southern Ocean by the Younghusband Peninsula, which extends for over 130km to the Murray Mouth near Goolwa. If you ever saw the 1977 film Storm Boy, the area is a wilderness haven and refuge for pelicans, ducks, swans, cormorants and numerous species of migratory birds, with Coorong mullet and school mulloway the predominant fish species. Otherwise salmon, shark and flathead are the common catches from the ocean beaches. Unlike further south, conservation takes precedence, although beach access is available at a couple of points for fishing enthusiasts.
There are a number of formal camping areas although many are overgrown and would best suit a swag or small tent. We stayed for a couple of nights at the main campground at 42 Mile Crossing. There’s a large camper-trailer friendly camping area with covered picnic tables and pit toilets. It’s not the best for serenity due to the constant throng of vehicles passing to access the beach. Otherwise, if you don’t mind being self-sufficient, there are good campsites on the beach behind the dunes. Parnaka Point also looked good with campsites overlooking
If serenity is high on your hit list, camping is available on private property at Ewe or Mundoo Islands near the Murray Mouth. The property offers saltwater or freshwater frontages popular for fishing, kayaking and nature photography. However, it’s only really suited for visitors who are prepared to stay put for the duration of their stay. Escorted access is required over the Murray River barrages to get there ($50) and there’s no driving on the property. Consider it like a private conservation reserve. Only one group can be booked per camping area so you are virtually guaranteed isolation.
There’s plenty of other interesting sightseeing along the Limestone Coast, from the delights of the Coonawarra wine region, the mega-fauna of the Naracoorte Caves or the delightful ocean beaches and bays. Combine that with the challenging 4WD coastal tracks and that’s enough to have you coming back, time and time again.
- The Limestone Coast stretches from the Victorian border all the way to the Coorong, in South Australia.
- The smaller seaside villages of Robe, Beachport, and to a lesser extent Southend, have basic supplies including fuel, beer and some food, whereas you’ll need to venture to some of the bigger townships of Millicent, Kingston or Mt Gambier for mechanical repairs.
- Phone the Park Ranger (Canunda, Beachport, Robe) on (08) 8735 6053 for beach conditions.
- Phone (08) 8735 6053 for Canunda NP and (08) 8575 1200 for Coorong NP information. Camping costs $13 per vehicle per night. Visit www.parks.sa.gov.au for more information.
- Southend Caravan Park, Bushland camping costs $8 per person/night. Phone (08) 8735 6035 or visit www.southendcaravanpark.com.au for more information.
- Mundoo Island costs $20 per adult per night and $10 per night for children up to 16; $50 barrage escorting fee and return, no facilities. Phone (08) 8555 2242 or visit www.mundooisland.com.au for more information.
- UHF radio Channel 10
Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia 65, May/June 2013.