Travel

Swim With Giant Sharks, Suck on Fresh Oysters, and Explore White Sand Beaches In This Hamlet

A trip to the seafood frontier is full of surprises.

At the southern tip of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, the air is thick with charcoal and vinegar. I’m told it’s what the fisherman use to get rid of the fishy smell. It’s 5 am, the sun is peeping over the horizon, and the water is as still as glass. This is when Port Lincoln, the largest commercial fishing fleet in the southern hemisphere, is buzzing. The tiny hamlet sits on Boston Bay, the largest natural harbour in Australia. To put it in perspective, it’s three and a half times the size of Sydney Harbour. Besides importing and exporting commercial goods such as grain, wool, lamb, and beef, Port Lincoln’s wealth comes from its tuna farming for the Japanese market, making it one of Australia’s wealthiest cities. The coastal town also farms mussels, abalone, oysters, and even seahorses, earning its rightful place as the seafood capital.

READ MORE: Eight Postcard-Worthy Beaches to Visit in South Australia

Although coming face to face with your dinner underwater is a big draw for travellers, Port Lincoln is a bountiful playground for culinary enthusiasts, adventure seekers, luxury loungers, and holidaymakers. The locals are friendly, the beaches stretch for miles, and are mostly vacant. Port Lincoln is the chance to escape and reconnect with our primitive nature without the crowds.

best things to do port lincoln
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Ride sand dunes, dive for abalone, and meet koalas

Within a short drive from town is Lincoln National Park, where granite headlands, sheltered bays, scenic offshore island and wind-sculpted dunes await. The best way to immerse yourself in this rugged landscape is with a local. I enlisted the expertise of David Doudle, founder of Australian Coastal Safaris and longtime resident of the Eyre Peninsula. Doudle was raised on the land. He learned to hunt and gather the bounty from the ocean and land and knows every secret beach, cove, and nook on the coast. He’s a walking Eyre Peninsula encyclopedia and tailors tours to your interests. His Hunt and Gather Seafood experience takes guests to a private part of the coast, where he will wade into the sea and emerge minutes later with fish, abalone, bugs, and cockles, which he then cooks on the beach in front of you. I spent an entire day with Doudle, exploring the Sleaford-Wanna dune system on a 4WD tour. We surfed dunes and drove up to white sandy beaches to watch the pounding surf of the Southern Ocean. By the time lunch rolled around, Doudle had parked us on a clifftop overlooking a sheltered cove and prepared lunch in the back of his 4WD, or as he likes to call it, “the best restaurant in town.” I would agree. He fished fresh prawns from an esky, a salad, and other side dishes his mother-in-law prepared. We sat on two fold-out camping chairs overlooking the coast. Seagulls hovered above us; the crashing waves were a soundtrack for the meal. “This is what it’s all about,” said Doudle.

best things to do port lincoln
Photo: Natasha Bazika

After lunch, we made our way to Mikkira Station. It’s one of the most unexpected things to do in Port Lincoln. A local secret, said Doudle. You can’t even find Mikkira on Google Maps, and more importantly, you need a permit and a key to enter—Doudle had both. Driving into Mikkira was more like arriving on a country farm than a tourist destination. There’s a homestead at the entrance, surrounded by trees, emus, and kangaroos. Upon closer look at the trees, I spotted a koala. Even as an Australian, seeing a koala in the wild is unique—it doesn’t often happen in most places. Doudle didn’t seem impressed. “You wait,” he said. The further we drove into Mikkira, the more Koalas popped up. Mikkira Station is home to a wild colony of koalas living among the Manna Gums and Sheokes. We hopped out of the car and walked around, spotting koala after koala as we shuffled from tree to tree. The koalas are within arms reach, some with babies clinging to their backs, others big males, bellowing when we got too close. We’re the only people here. Doudle sparked a small fire and set up the camp chairs. I was preoccupied with the koalas, but when I returned, there was a bottle of Coffin Bay Gin, a cheese platter with meats, cheese, and tuna spread out on the boot lid, like a makeshift bar. We sat, ate, drank, and watched the sun go down while the koalas bellowed their snarls and squeaks in the distance.

best things to do port lincoln
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Come face to face with a Great White

Besides fishing, Port Lincoln is famous for another underwater activity—shark diving. As the original home of shark cage diving, it comes as no surprise that Port lincoln is considered one of the best places to dive with great white sharks. On my tour, I met a woman from Chicago who only planned to dive with a great white in Port Lincoln. She explained that diving with great white sharks in the U.S. is at least a seven-day charter and costs thousands of dollars. In Port Lincoln, it’s a three-hour boat ride and only costs around $561. I boarded Calypso Star Charters. The sun was just rising over the horizon when the boat left the dock. The water was like glass, reflecting the orange glow of the sun. It started smooth, but the further out to sea, the bigger the swell. Our destination was Neptune Island, a hunting ground for great whites who feed on the local seals. The water is clear and blue, like Neptune—another reason this spot is the world’s best for this interaction. The crew fitted me with a wetsuit, hood, boots, gloves and mask. Great White Sharks are cold-blooded, so you can expect the water to be cold. The 7mm wetsuit helps. After a quick respirator check, I was lowered into the cage, which doesn’t require previous scuba diving experience because of the shallow depth. I hooked my feet under where I was told to stop myself from floating to the top and waited. The waiting is intense. You’re waiting for a giant shark to appear from the depths. After a few minutes, a giant Great White swam by the right side of the cage, with speed, and launched itself at the tuna carcase the boat crew had tied to a string. After that, four more sharks appeared from behind the cage, swimming idly by, slipping in and out of view. They’re not the maneaters Jaws, and other movies portray them to be. Up and close, they’re timid. Diving with a Great White Shark is something everyone should do at least once in their life, even if you’re petrified of them because coming face to face with one will change how you see them.

best things to do port lincoln
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Slurp oysters fresh from the farm

Australia’s best oysters grow in the remote, unspoilt and pure waters of the expansive Coffin Bay waterway. Slurping oysters from the farm is a must-do in Port Lincoln, whether you’re donning waiters or plucking them from a boat. Experience Coffin Bay offers a range of tours, from private to groups. If you’re short on time, the short and sweet 1-hour tour is a great way to taste the oysters, cruise the bay, and learn about Coffin Bay and why the oysters are so famous. My guide, Scotty, is a wealth of knowledge regarding oysters in Coffin Bay. As he shucked freshly plucked oysters from the baskets floating in the water, he explained the water is the main reason Coffin Bay Oysters are the best. It’s natural, undisturbed, and pure, he said. Oysters adopt the flavours they grow in. This water is sheltered from the harsh sea, resulting in clean, fresh oysters that keep a subtle salty taste, are low in fat and cholesterol, and are rich in minerals. In fact, Coffin bay Oysters are exported to Germany and other major cities around the world. The next time you’re at a restaurant in Berlin, slurping down oysters, ask where they’re from. Chances are it’s Coffin Bay.

best things to do port lincoln
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Take the road less travelled

Whalers Way is privately owned land on the tip of the Southern Eyre Peninsula, safeguarding dramatic coastal views behind a required permit. To access the roads, you need a 4WD. Enter Untamed Escapes. They offer private and group tours around Port Lincoln, including a guided tour of Whalers Way. The journey starts at a locked gate and a sign that reads “enter and travel at own risk.” The warning refers to the raw landscape we were about to enter. Cliffs, blowholes, crevasses, caves, and golden beaches., I knew instantly we were somewhere special. Untamed Escapes founder Hassie chauffered me from cliff to cliff, climbing over rocks masquerading as road. Cape Wiles is an incredible lookout to the park’s southeast corner with direct views of the rocks below. Seals can be seen lounging on the rocks. This clifftop is also as close as you can get to the Great Australian Bite from here. The towering dramatic cliffs look as if a serrated knife has carved them. Below, the might of the Southern Ocean crashes against the rocks, eating at the structure. A trip down Whaler’s Way should be on every itinerary. The landscape is unprotected and unsheltered from the harsh weather conditions, making it a raw, untouched, and relatively inaccessible slice of the Eyre Peninsula.

best things to do port lincoln
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Eat bush tucker in a grassy she-oak woodland

Yarnbala is a special place, said Kane, founder of Yarnbala, a new guided tour and dining experience. Here Kane has brought back native vegetation, built homes for the western pygmy possums, and created a space for people to visit and learn. The 1.5-hour tour takes guests through a grassy she-oak woodland, where Kane picks bush tucker and coaxes you into trying it. He pulled bright red quandongs off the tree and peeled them like a mandarin. I popped one in my mouth. It was tart, but I didn’t mind. As we walked through the land, he pointed out the shrubs on the ground; almost all of them were edible. We walked back to Yarnbala HQ, which is a shelter made from recycled natural materials, dressed up with fairy lights, a fire pit, and a large outdoor dining room. Kane demonstrated an ancient method of water divining, which, as we tested for ourselves, is abundant in Yarnbala. In the evening, guests can enjoy a multi-course dinner cooked by a local chef, highlighting ingredients found on the property. There’s also a beautiful bar made from wood, where Kane serves local spirits and wines. As the sun goes down, he settles in with a lap steel guitar and didgeridoo, putting on an incredible live performance while the fire roars in front of him. I’m reminded of what Kane first said about Yarnbala, and I’m in agreeance by nightfall. Yarnbala is one of a kind.

best things to do port lincoln
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Where to stay

Port Lincoln has many hotels in town, but to keep in tune with nature on your trip, book a stay at Tanonga Luxury Eco Lodges. Located just a 20-minute drive from town, Tanonga is private and immersed in rolling verdant hills and tall grasses. There are three lodges to choose from, including The Ridge, which sits atop a hill and has 360-degree views of the surrounding valley. The sunsets in the morning are spectacular and best taken in from the bedroom. Each lodge is self-contained and ideal for long or short stays. The fully-equipped kitchen can handle just about all your cooking needs. You can order a hamper of local goods to be waiting for you on arrival. The architecture itself is something to marvel at. Each lodge blends seamlessly with its surroundings yet maintains a high-end design, with plush furnishings and luxury necessities without the ecological footprint. The floor-to-ceiling windows take advantage of every view from every corner. Even the indoor bathtub has a view. Nearby are walking trails free for you to explore. When the sun disappears behind the mountains, a blanket of stars light up the night.

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Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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