Dune Surfing & Cliff Diving on Yorke and Eyre

Al and I probably don’t look like we’re into extreme sports. Other than skiing (and the odd bit of bungee jumping and shark diving in my youth), it’s been yoga and pilates all the way for me. As for Al, well, I guess dog-walking and mowing have been his activities of choice since he quit horse riding and jousting. So, what suddenly turned us into adrenalin junkies when we reached the southernmost coast of South Australia? Did breaking down in the Flinders Ranges flip us over the edge? Was there something in the wine at WOMADelaide? Or have we been drinking too much Al and Tanya’s Bush Wine? Well, that might have something to do with it, but I suspect the main trigger has been all the empty roads and beaches on this Australian adventure of ours – nine months of having Bailey and Saffy as our main source of conversation has finally taken its toll.

At Womad international music festival, in Adelaide:

Christies, Southport and Noarlunga Beaches (south of Adelaide):

It all started when we left Adelaide and headed up through Port Augusta and then south onto Yorke Peninsula. As we drove, the route got quieter and quieter until we were the only car left on the road. In front of us, massive sand dunes towered on the horizon, and as we headed towards them, we were both intrigued by what lay beyond. Why had we never heard of the Yorke Peninsula before we arrived in South Australia? And why were we the only car on the road? It seemed not many others knew about it either.

Still, we considered the emptiness to be an advantage as we belted out our car karaoke, accompanied by some head and shoulder dancing. Anyone for another word-perfect rendition of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer”, with some car-dancing? Oh, go on then:

Nobody on the road,
Nobody on the beach.
I feel it in the air,
The summer’s out of reach.
Empty lake, empty streets,
The sun goes down alone…”

(We’ve been singing that song ever since we left Balmain, as you’ll notice if you watch the first video we ever posted on our Four Corners blog).    

When we finally arrived at our accommodation, on the edge of Innes National Park, we were thrilled to discover that it was nestled at the foot of the sand dunes we’d been driving towards for the past two hours. And inside our cottage, we found some instructions from the owner about how you could scramble over the dunes to the peninsula’s most spectacular beach, Formby Bay. “As you walk, you’ll need to watch out for snakes,” he wrote, “but it’s well worth it.”

Our cottage on 100 acres, near Innes National Park, Yorke Peninsula:

After five hours of car karaoke, it would take more than a few deadly snakes to keep us from the beach, so we headed off on foot, convinced that within ten minutes we’d be floating on our backs in a beautiful, lagoon-calm sea. We really should have taken note of our host’s final remarks, but for some reason we missed them on that first read through: “We hope you enjoy our piece of paradise – 100 acres all to yourselves.”    

About an hour later, as we scaled our fifteenth dune – sliding backwards, sweating, panting, and still with no beach in sight – we wondered if our host had been kidding about the glorious dune walk down to the sea. But the snakes were real enough – we could see the tell-tale signs all around us: zigzag imprints on the sand, with scaly skin patterns visible in places. We could also hear the thundering surf (so much for the lagoon), and we kept thinking the sea would appear over the next dune. But it didn’t. In the end, we gave up and headed back to the house, and decided to do the sensible thing and drive down to the beach.

Trekking through the sand dunes, on our “glorious walk to the beach”:

Our trek had given us an idea, though. The dunes were so vast and steep that they reminded us of ski slopes: why not try surfing them? We’d seen people doing just that at Little Sahara on Kangaroo Island, and although it didn’t look easy, we thought we’d have a go.

So, the next day, we found some pieces of junk that looked like they’d be ideal for sliding on sand, and we headed back into the dunes, Al in his special dune-surfing kit (shorts, t-shirt and hiking boots) and me in my usual outback garb.

All I can say is I’m glad no one was filming us. At least, I hope they weren’t. We hiked up to the highest, steepest dune, threw ourselves over the edge, and…

…nothing.

Two adults sitting on plastic boards (one in a special dune-surfing outfit) going nowhere. I gave up at that point, but I have to hand it to Al – he wouldn’t be defeated. He tried forwards, backwards, sideways, sitting, lying, kneeling, and finally, running at it and launching himself over the edge. Still nothing. A great big blob on a piece of non-slidy junk (Al says: don’t write “great big blob”, write “sexy hunk of a man”. Okay…). Believe it or not, with the kind of perfect timing that occasionally makes me think there must be a god (who’s having a lot of fun, laughing at us), a little sight-seeing plane flew over us at that point, and the occupants got a bird’s eye view of two British-Kiwi nutcases in the middle of nowhere, throwing themselves off the top of sand dunes.

Although dune surfing turned out not to be not our thing (is it anyone’s thing?) we did enjoy the stunning coastal scenery around the Yorke and Eyre peninsulas, and if you’re into cliff diving and you enjoy extreme solitude, you should make a beeline for them.  I must confess I’m not a big fan of heights  and I spent most of my time trying to avoid falling off the tops of the limestone cliffs, which are hundreds of metres high in places, into the wild surf of the Southern Ocean. Everywhere you go, there are hidden overhangs, sea caves and rocky outcrops, along with numerous graphic signs warning people of what will happen if they venture too close to the edge.

Beautiful Formby Beach, where we watched dolphins playing in the surf:

Innes National Park, Yorke Peninsula: some of the wildest coastline we’ve ever seen, especially around Pondalowie Bay on the western tip of Yorke Peninsula:

Ethel Beach (site of a shipwreck in 1906) and China Man’s Hat, Innes National Park:

Spencer Lighthouse, Innes National Park:

I did get a bit too close once or twice, in my quest to photograph the bottlenose dolphins and sea lions in the bays, so I nearly had an inadvertent cliff diving experience. We were staying in Venus Bay on the Eyre Peninsula – another stunningly beautiful, oddly empty place, framed by mountainous dunes, dramatic cliffs, wild surf and violent winds that whip across the landscape.

Our beach house and the cliffs beneath us at Venus Bay, Eyre Peninsula. We ate delicious Coffin Bay Oysters at 1802 Oyster Bar and Bistro at nearby Coffin Bay:

Australian Sea lions frolicking in the surf at rugged Point Labatt Conservation Park, near Venus Bay, Eyre Peninsula:

One evening, I headed out onto the cliffs alone, hoping to photograph the dolphins at sunset. The surf was even crazier than usual, and it was blowing a gale, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to capture the beautiful sight of dolphins leaping through the waves, silhouetted against the setting sun. But they were nowhere to be seen that evening – I think they were heading for calmer waters while I battled the elements and fought to keep my footing. Still, I did get a couple of nice sunset shots as I balanced a hundred metres above the stormy waves, which will hopefully provide some inspiration for any keen cliff divers who might be reading this.

My cliff diving sunset at Venus Bay:

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