I was once one of the many travellers who, upon driving down the eastern shore of South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, would pass the Port Clinton turn-off without a second thought.
That was my mistake.
Because it’s only 90 minutes from Adelaide, it’s a great base from which to explore many of the FAAAAABULOUS upper Yorke Peninsula’s attractions AND it gives great chill-out.
So why haven’t more people discovered Port Clinton South Australia?
Beats me. Especially when it’s got these HOT FIVE things to see and do! Sit back and take a tour – then tell me you don’t want to see them for yourself!!
Port Clinton’s location on the Yorke Peninsula and nearly at the northern tip of Gulf St Vincent means splendid coastal scenery. But to really appreciate the beauty of its setting amidst fertile farmland, take a drive to the lookout point up in the low range behind. This is classic South Australia!
In the town itself, it’s hard to miss the long line of low RED cliffs rising above the mangroves at the southern end of the great curve of the bay around which the township of Port Clinton has evolved. Just a touch of the sun and they GLOW.
An unusual mixture of red and white, the cliffs are great fun to explore and VERY photogenic!
But watch out for the tides 😀
At low tide Port Clinton’s shallow bay recedes so far from the water’s edge it almost looks like it’s been tele-transported inland. That’s the same view Matthew Flinders, first European to explore the area, saw in 1802 when he apparently waded ashore through the mudflats.
But if you’re wearing clothing that wouldn’t benefit from a liberal coating of the type of mud that hangs on for grim death and leaves a nasty stain when it finally and reluctantly lets go, you’d be advised to leave mudflat-wrangling to the explorers.
Or wait for high tide when the Port Clinton foreshore becomes a different place!
It’s hard to believe the bay’s shallow waters once held a deep (ish) water port where smallish ships berthed – yes, that’s why it’s called PORT Clinton! Of course it’s possible the almost-hidden plaque marking the site of the long-gone jetty at the northern end of the bay is a fake …
After all, it doesn’t say how many boats were beached at low tide while the jetty was operational!
The town’s position on Gulf St Vincent also means it’s in one of only three zones in the world (along with the Torres Strait and Gulf of Mexico) to experience the Dodge Tide phenomenon. But while it’s a thrill to think of watching something that most of the rest of the world hasn’t seen, the reality is that watching a dodge tide is almost as boring as watching water almost not moving.
In fact, it’s EXACTLY as boring as watching water almost not moving because that’s what a dodge tide is – although South Aussies are the only folk to call it that)! But don’t let me spoil your fun – check it out for yourself!
The Coastal Walk
It’s 6.6 km (4.1 miles) via the coastal walking trail from Port Clinton to Price, next town south along the Peninsula’s eastern shore. The track’s more than just a tiring walk for the less fit – it’s an intriguing habitat hike and it’s part of Walk the Yorke, a network of ~500 km of trails and roads connecting the whole of the Yorke Peninsula!
From above Port Clinton’s awesome RED cliffs the track winds between remnant coastal scrub and farmland before descending via a 78-step staircase onto a wombat-burrow-ridden plain and following one of Australia’s best Samphire salt marshes into Price.
If a 13.2 km hike ( total return distance – 8.2 miles) seems a bit too much for one day, break it into two legs by walking from Port Clinton to the top of the staircase and back on one day; and from Price to the bottom of the staircase and back on another!
Q: What’s the common name for a low-lying, marshy area of land with pools of water?
b) Salt Marsh
If you answered a), relax. You’re a regular person.
If you answered c), you probably already know you’re a birdo.
Not everyone visits Port Clinton for the birds. Actually, hardly ANYONE does. That I know of, anyway!
But every summer, Port Clinton is the end of a gruelling journey – a round trip of up to 25,000 km – from the Arctic Circle for thousands of shore birds who spend the northern winter feeding on these southern mud flats to fatten up so they can fly back to the northern hemisphere to breed.
How do I know?
Pilchard and I regularly count the shore birds at Port Clinton for Shorebirds 2020, a Birdlife Australia initiative. Data us counters provide is used to monitor shorebird numbers and lobby for protection of threatened habitats for shorebird conservation.
By itself, our count data from Port Clinton might not be significant – but it’s helps inform the national shorebird conservation project.
And if we weren’t involved, I’d never have seen Red Knot changing from its standard drab, greyish colouring into brick-red breeding plumage right here in Port Clinton.
I hope our data helps to preserve its southern feeding grounds – northern habitat degradation have put Red Knot at risk.
So if you’re in Port Clinton and you see birds feeding on the shore, don’t ignore them! They just might be from the other side of the world.
Oh, and if you answered b)? You’re just a slightly more pedantic regular person.
One of the most attractive things about Port Clinton South Australia is its strong community spirit. Especially when that flows over from the excellent community caravan park managed by one-man-powerhouse Dusty, into an awesome recently refurbished Community and Sports Club – with its own bistro!
The community knows what it’s doing by sometimes issuing free drinks vouchers to caravan park guests – it got them two club meals in a three-night stay from us! But we were the REAL winners – this meal of two giant fish fillets was only $AUD10! And the house champagne only $3:50 – unless it’s happy hour, when it’s cheaper!!
Do yourself a favour 😀
Of course there are plenty of other things to do at Port Clinton, especially if you’re not just there for a family bonding weekend to show your kids how excessive drinking and smoking negatively affects health, well-being and social interactions.
Or for a bird survey.
There’s fishing, swimming (high tide!!!) and crabbing (during months with an ‘R’ in them) to keep you busy. Check out the lookouts above the bay and on top of the cliffs, especially at sunrise and sunset. Drive up into the hills behind Port Clinton for fabulous views over the town and the Gulf. Explore the Clinton Conservation Park at the northern end of town. Hit the Club on Friday night for the great raffles.
AND use it as a base to explore the upper and/or central Yorke Peninsula – use these FIVE suggestions as a starting point:
- Get the good stuff from the FINE Ardrossan bakery just down the road (15 minutes drive) then go fishing from the Ardrossan jetty
- Go through the centre of the Peninsula to Barley Stacks Winery via Maitland (30 minutes drive)
- Visit the historic Moonta Mines area (3 walking trails) and/or the Wallaroo Heritage and Nautical Museum (also a town heritage walking trail) on the western side of the Peninsula (30 minutes drive)
- Drive across to Port Victoria (45 minutes), last windjammer port, and visit the Maritime museum or take a walk along the coastal Geology Trail (3 km)
- Spend a day on the beach at Tiddy Widdy near Ardrossan, or Moonta Bay near Moonta
Or if all else fails, just hit up the Scenic Loo just outside the caravan park – it’s a national loo superstar because it’s in MY BOOK!