Eyre Peninsula: Why it pays to discover Australia's best-kept secret for yourself

It's surprisingly easy to forget how enormous Australia is. It's literally a continent. A mammoth chunk of earth.

Yet, the majority of our trans-Tasman getaways are largely limited to weekenders along the eastern seaboard. Brunch and Bondi jaunts to Sydney, theme park missions to the Gold Coast with the extended family. Maybe a sporting fix in Melbourne.

But for those bold enough to veer from that well-trodden tourist path of hydroslides and high streets awaits some of the most breathtaking, unspoiled wilderness on the planet. The kind of natural splendour that will force you to take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror and reassess your entire travel philosophy.

And no, exploring these nooks of Aussie doesn't necessarily require the kind of ambition that demands a camper van, an encyclopedic knowledge of venomous snakes and spiders, and a first-aid certification. Some of the most stunning samples of planet Earth lie a mere connecting flight away from the main ports: undauntingly accessible and as hospitable as they come. 

Case in point – the Eyre Peninsula. A criminally underrated jewel at the bottom of the South Australian crown.

A mere 60-minute flight from Adelaide to Port Lincoln separates you from all varieties of adventures sprawled across Lincoln National Park - 215 square kilometres of untamed beaches, sheer cliffs, and every assortment of wildlife you could imagine.

Frolicking with Australian Sea Lions.
Frolicking with Australian Sea Lions. Photo credit: South Australia Tourism

Part of its magnetism lies in its maritime nature. The area is renowned for some of the best seafood in Australia. Venture down to its marina and you'll find hordes of trawlers lined up and ready to bring in everything from salmon to tuna, trevally to the region's King George whiting.

True to that brand, it's also regarded as one of the best spots in the world to get up close - and far too personal - with a great white shark.

Shark fiends from far and wide flock to Port Lincoln for the steel cage experience, but be weary, it's quite a commitment. Depending on the conditions, the round boat-trip can exceed 12 hours and there's absolutely no guarantee you'll be lucky enough to come across a great white.

For a much more wholesome and surefire winner of an experience, you could check in with the great humans at Calypso Star Charters and jump on-board for a swim with the resident Australian sea lions.

Just a leisurely 80-minute cruise with skipper 'Tacker' and his friendly crew and we're in translucent turquoise waters on a postage stamp island, whose only inhabitants were a curious crew of frisky ocean felines buzzing for a chance to make some new mates.

Adorable doesn’t do these creatures justice: they look like they've stepped straight out of a Disney movie. A short trip to the shore and they quickly pluck up as they sense the action is on the way. A few join us in the water instantly, before FOMO kicks in and the rest waddle over to join the fun.

The next hour is spent frolicking in the shallows with these magical mammals, who up until the late 1970s were considered pests and hunted as such.

Swimming with Australian Sea Lions.
Swimming with Australian Sea Lions. Photo credit: South Australia Tourism

Sadly, only around 12,000 remain, and the opportunity to connect with them in their natural habitat was more poignant than I'd expected. These toddlers of the sea match every inch of energy I provide – the more playful I am, the more playful they are.

To prevent human disturbance to the sea lions, Jones Island is deemed a prohibited area and Calypso are one of very few organisations who have a licence to visit – limited to an hour of interaction at a time. When we start to swim back to the tender, their wee heads pop quizzically out of the water, as if we were leaving their party early after the first round of drinks.

It was a heart-wrenching separation. I could easily have spent another few hours with my furry new bros. The encounter instantly shot into the 'Top 10 Experiences of My Life' rankings and had me riding a natural high the rest of the day. You genuinely connect with them.

The season runs – weather dependent - from September through until June/July, so time your stay accordingly.  

And connection is a common theme during our exploration of Eyre Peninsula. The people we come across seem to have a deep link to the land, perhaps none more so than Kane Slater, founder of the magnificently unique Yarnbala.

Pigeonholing Yarnbala into any traditional entertainment category isn’t possible. It's a restaurant. It's a museum. It's a zoo. It's a bar. It's an art installation. And it is overflowing with charm and authenticity.

Nestled in the vast and thick vegetation near Coffin Bay, Kane and his family uncovered a piece of bushland they used for one of life's simplest and most timeless treasures – gathering around a fire, spinning a few yarns (see what they did there?), listening to music, and simply enjoying one another's company.

Kane has since taken that concept and expanded it for public consumption, crafting a high-character pergola out of regionally sourced, natural and recycled materials, with a bar and table seating centred around a firepit – all designed to create maximum immersion with nature.

Yarnbala. Photo credit: South Australia Tourism

It's the perfect vehicle for Kane to share his passion for the environment, which shines through in his encyclopedic knowledge of its flora and fauna, and deep respect for the local indigenous people.

As an aperitif, Kane takes us on a walking tour of the surrounding area, foraging all manner of "bushtucker" to showcase the vast array of endemic species amid one of South Australia's last remaining communities of 'grassy low she-oak woodland', one which has been officially deemed critically endangered.

Berries with four times the vitamin C content as an orange. Nuts comprised of 30 percent protein. A smorgasbord of offerings that the native Barngala, Nauo and Wirangu people have used as sustenance for centuries.

With the sun setting, the fire blazing and wood-fired pizzas and locally made gin flowing, Kane seamlessly transitions behind his trio of didgeridoos, lays his sliding guitar across his lap, and serenades us with a musical melange, providing the perfect ambience and amplifying his undeniable 'cool uncle' vibe.

Coffin Bay.
Coffin Bay. Photo credit: South Australia Tourism

Yarnbala is a remarkable venture, simultaneously paying tribute to, preserving and cultivating its environment in a textbook example of responsible tourism I'd wholeheartedly recommend you try for yourself.

No sooner had we bid farewell to my new favourite human being, we're welcomed aboard our trusty tour bus by our guide Doug from Australian Coastal Safaris.

Quintessentially Aussie, Doug expertly plays to his eager crowd, regaling us with folk stories, facts, and limericks curated over his decades leading travellers across all corners of Australia.

He hits peak form at Mikkira Station, where we offload to wander through the acres of land, primarily to get up and close and very personal with the koalas littered among the Eucalyptus trees.  

Did you know Koalas eat their own poo? There's an icebreaker for your next dinner party.

The majority we come across – all sky-high off their own supply – have wee Joeys peaking out from their laps, melting us with their cuteness. One member of our group is overheard declaring them cuter than her own baby. I'd never met said baby, but I wasn't about to protest.

Wanna sand dunes.
Wanna sand dunes. Photo credit: South Australia Tourism

With the landscape painted a bright orange by the departing sun, we settle in for a spread of fresh seafood and beers, entertained by Doug's endless knowledge and the boxing Kangaroos in the distance. Ah, Straya.

The next and final round of action sees the torch passed to Doug's boss, who goes by the name of 'Lunch'. Not even the most severe peer pressure can extract the story behind his moniker, but we quickly take consolation (and far too much satisfaction) in dubbing Jimmy – his 12-year-old son and right-hand man - 'Snack'. Banterific stuff.

We pack into Lunch's pair of fully kitted 4WDs for an adventure into the sprawling, gigantic sand dunes which run along the coastline of Coffin Bay National Park from Wanna to Sleaford.

The peaks of these monoliths offer a magnificent, contrasting vista with the breathtaking stretch of dramatic limestone cliff faces, white sand and breaking cyan waters, where schools of salmon gather metres from the shoreline. It's that level of spectacular that almost leaves you dazed.

The entire scene felt prehistoric. Packs of emu run across the crests of the dunes in the blazing midday sun. Apart from our crew, there's not a solitary soul to be seen across dozen of kilometres of beach. It's awe-inspiringly beautiful.

"How's the serenity?" I asked Lunch. He didn't get it.

Coffin Bay.
Coffin Bay. Photo credit: South Australia Tourism

Obviously, a trip atop some dunes would be wasted without a spot of sand-boarding down their sheer slopes, which put Auckland's Bethells' to shame. A great time, and an effective cardio workout as you traipse your board back to the top after each run like a Warrior during NRL pre-season.

In a fitting farewell en route to our base, we make a stopover sample a cross-section of the local seafood delights at The Fresh Fish Place – a restaurant that does exactly what it says on the tin. Promise me you'll try the Nannygai. I'm serious.

We burn off the gluttonous mountains of seafood with a leisurely electric bike tour around the seafront of the sleepy Port Lincoln township, which was pleasant enough but - after the day we'd had - tantamount to a Happy Meal after a five-course degustation.

In a quiet moment after his namesake, I asked Lunch - who is born, bred and bleeds Port Lincoln - what he believed differentiated his beloved Eyre Peninsula from the rest of the country.

"It's the unspoiled wilderness," he mused. "No other part of Australia has this kind of unfiltered beauty."

The response is perfectly in sync with my own assessment. Eyre Peninsula is one of those places you don't just visit, you experience.

That sense of being on the last frontier, the only person for miles on a remote stretch of beach that seems untouched since Matthew Flinders discovered it two centuries ago, where the next country south is Antarctica. Animal encounters that don't involve a turnstile and someone trying to sell you an overpriced polaroid. These are the kinds of moments that make travel fulfilling.

And it sure beats queuing in 33-degree heat for a rollercoaster.

Newshub travelled to Eyre Penninsula courtesy of GoPro and South Australia Tourism.