This Coorong cruise from Goolwa will take you on fascinating journey of discovery through the Coorong National Park — a pristine sanctuary for many species of bird. Expert commentary is provided, along with a delicious lunch. Duration: 3.5 hours
Cruising the majestic Coorong offers a unique opportunity to experience South Australia’s wild wetlands first-hand.
Located just 80 minutes’ drive south of Adelaide, the Coorong Lakes system and Younghusband Peninsula create a wild border between the land and the sea. This Ramsar Convention designated ‘wetland of international significance’ was declared a national park in 1966. The environment is protected by lochs and lagoons which attract black swans, Cape Barren geese, Royal spoonbills, Australian native pelicans and 230 migratory birds from around the world.
I’m on the Spirit of the Coorong Discovery Cruise — the Coorong cruise from Goolwa offered by Coorong Cruises. It’s a 3.5-hour informative and entertaining guided tour through a section of the Coorong Lakes, which will take us to the mouth of Australia’s longest river — the Murray. We’ll trek across shifting sand dunes — once home to the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal people — and get up close and personal with the great Southern Ocean.
We depart from the historic river-port town of Goolwa. A warm sunny day lifted by a cool salty breeze makes fine sailing weather and dries the wings of the many cormorants resting on the wharf’s pylons. Our comfy 50-seater catamaran eases itself away from the wharf and glides past towering Hindmarsh bridge as we settle back with a generous lunch of cold meats and salad.
Spacious picture windows give optimum viewing opportunities of the surrounding islands and multi-coloured waterways that change hues depending on the salt levels. The entertaining commentary from skipper Pedler informs us of the history of the area.
This haven for bird life was the setting for the iconic 1976 Australian movie, Storm Boy, about a boy and his pelican. Slowing down as we pass Bird Island, we see a group of Australian native pelicans — the largest pelican in the world. They tower over flocks of swans, black teals and the striking grey-and-white Cape Barren geese, all preening themselves and perusing the water’s edge for food.
As we pass through our first wooden barrage, dropping a half-metre to the ocean side, families of New Zealand fur seals sunbathing on the lock’s pylons throw us a curious but cursory glance. Implemented in 1935, the dam-like system prevents seawater from polluting the fresh water lakes.
For thousands of years the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal people populated the area, building low-lying shelters amongst the dunes. They regarded the Coorong as something akin to a supermarket. This untouched system of flora and fauna provided clean water and an abundant food supply, including waterfowl and turtles.
We disembark at Godfreys Landing, the official start of the Murray River. Smiling guide Nathan warns us ‘Don’t wander off; if you get lost, we won’t be back until Thursday. At least wait until I give you the bush tucker talk, so you can survive until then’.
Nathan shows us how to recognise coastal pigface and seaberry, saltbush (that was used as a laxative), wild rosemary which acts as an insect repellent, and samphire — now a staple in many upper class Australian restaurants.
We follow a crisscrossing path through towering sand dunes. The wind whips up as we scale the last peak, and stinging salty air off the pounding Southern Ocean slaps me in the face. The water temperature is surprisingly temperate and it’s not long before our group is doing the ‘cockle shuffle’. ‘Plant your two feet deep in the wet sand and do the twist’, says Nathan.
This fascinating Coorong cruise from Goolwa operates throughout the year.
Additional images: Bigstock
Susan Hinchey is a freelance travel writer who, even as a teenager growing up in country New South Wales, knew she wanted to see the world. A couple of years out of high school Susan embarked on an eight-week European Contiki tour. Since then she has visited Alaska, Canada, Thailand, Vanuatu, Fiji, Greece, parts of North America, and Britain several times. Susan’s go-to getaway is a camping trip anywhere along the Australian coast. Her favourite travel moments have included sailing the Mediterranean and visiting Denali National Park in Alaska.