Why Port Clinton is a TOP Aussie Town!

Last Updated on March 4, 2022 by Red Nomad OZ

Port Clinton Shacks from Cliff-top Lookout
Port Clinton Shacks from Cliff-top Lookout, South Australia

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.

And theirs.

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 from a vantage point in the hills behind
Port Clinton from a vantage point in the hills behind, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

The Scenery

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.

Port Clinton Cliffs from below, South Australia
Port Clinton Cliffs from below, South Australia

An unusual mixture of red and white, the cliffs are great fun to explore and VERY photogenic!

But watch out for the tides 😀

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.

Port Clinton Shacks at Low Tide, Yorke Peninsula
Port Clinton Shacks at Low Tide, Yorke Peninsula

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 …

Boats in Port Clinton's Bay, High Tide, South Australia
Boats in Port Clinton’s Bay, High Tide, South Australia

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!

Flowers of Port Clinton
Flowers of Port Clinton, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

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.

Port Clinton/Price Walking Trail Steps and Salt Marsh
Port Clinton/Price Walking Trail Steps and Salt Marsh

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!

The Birds

Q: What’s the common name for a low-lying, marshy area of land with pools of water?

Red-capped Plover at Port Clinton
Red-capped Plover at Port Clinton, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

a) Swamp

b) Salt Marsh

c) Wetland

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.

The varied Port Clinton seashore, Yorke Peninsula
The varied Port Clinton seashore, Yorke Peninsula

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.

Red Knots in different stages of breeding plumage at Port Clinton
Red Knots in different stages of breeding plumage at Port Clinton

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.

The Club

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!

Was this meal REALLY only $AUD10?
Was this meal REALLY only $AUD10?

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.

Port Clinton Beach, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia
Port Clinton Beach, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

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
Scenic Loo at Port Clinton Caravan Park
Scenic Loo at Port Clinton Caravan Park, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

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!

Port Clinton Sunrise, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia
Port Clinton Sunrise, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

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    1. I hope you enjoy Port Clinton as much as I do, NPO! And Walk the Yorke is a great way to see the whole Peninsula, with the added bonus that you can pick & choose the sections you do!

  1. This website has only just been brought to my attention and reading through it i am pleased that so many people have enjoyed their visit to pt. clinton. Here we have a club which is the envy of all surrounding towns, where meals are the best you will get on the york, the locals are always ready to help if you need assistance and as for the views they have to be seen to be believed. So get over here now while you can. I. Fraser president P.C.C.C.

    1. Ian, it’s ALWAYS a pleasure to visit Port Clinton – there’s so much to keep us coming back! Looking forward to our next fantastic meal (and a couple of drinks!!) at the club, enjoying the hospitality at the caravan park, and an early morning photo call and bird count on the beach! It could be as early as next week 😀

    2. It might have been me, indirectly, as I mentioned it to Di from the caravan park while making my booking to stay at PC early December with my Explore South Australia Meet Up group. I know she told the park manager, Dusty, about it. Word gets round. I’ve the honour of being Red’s brother in law. The Explore AS group’s looking forward to the stay AND the famous $10 meal!

  2. Hello Red, Port Clinton looks like a lovely place to visit. And I would love seeing the shorebirds there. The Red-capped Plover is pretty. I have seen the Red Knots here back in late May. Lovely scenery and gorgeous photos! Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Have a happy day!

    1. I’m amazed at how far those little birds fly, Eileen! It’s awesome that they end up on a beach in South Australia where I can see them – and also amazing that you’re seeing them on the other side of the world! Hope your week is great 😀

  3. Very interesting post! The first two photos reminded a bit of coastal southern California. I always enjoy learning more about your country from your posts. Fascinating!

    1. It’d be interesting to compare notes on our coastal areas one day, Christie – if Southern California looks like this, then I think I’ll like it!! Thanx again for your kind words – have a great weekend 😀

  4. sadly we missed Port Clinton when we visited SAUst a couple of years ago. In fact we left out the entire Yorke Peninsular. We ran out of time. So next time on our list is the Yorke and Port Clinton! Thanks for the fabulous round-up of the sites Red. Happy travels.

    1. It’s always good to leave yourself with something to go back for, Jill! That’s what we always find. I hope you like the Yorke Peninsula as much as I do when you finally get there!! Happy travels to you too!

  5. Really, Red, I´m sad river isn´t right, I could just pop right in at low tide – we missed out on this place and it´s so beautiful!
    We only saw the high tides in Broome and Derby. I love all the red!

    1. It’s a different world down south, Iris – the tides at Port Clinton are dramatic because the bay is so shallow to start with. They’re dramatic up north because of the volume of water! The RED rocks for me too 😀

  6. I lived at Port Clinton, briefly, I was three and that is where (I’m told) I took my brother’s hand and told him we were walking across the water to visit Grandma in Germany. On a good day Port Wakefield can be seen, and I thought that was ‘across the ocean’. The tide was out when we started walking and my dad rescued us as the tide was coming in.
    I’d love to go back there one day, but to stay for a while, get to know the area, not just a see-the-sights-and-leave visit.

    1. Haha, River! Port Walkefield IS across the ocean from Pt Clinton!! Don’t let anyone tell you anything different 😀 Just as well your Dad was there, huh! I have only been to Port Clinton for short visits but it has a really nice vibe – the more we go, the more we like it. And while the birds keep coming from overseas AND the Club bistro keeps serving deep-fried camembert, we’ll keep going back!!! See you there sometime, maybe??

  7. I once got amazed to see the dramatic tides in Cairns although it is not counted as a rare phenomenon at all. Aussie great nature is always stunning – But I’m not courageous enough to travel thousands of kilometers to see the very very slightly moving Dodge Tide!!

    1. Hahaha, you’ve got the right idea about Dodge tide, Kozue!!! The dramatic tides in Port Clinton are because the bay is so shallow that any slight movement of water is very noticeable. The actual water movement is much larger in places like Cairns, and largest of all (in Australia) in Western Australian town Derby! But you’re right – Aussie nature IS stunning!!

    1. The whole Yorke Peninsula makes a great holiday destination, Liz! If you like stark South Aussie scenery, that is 😀 Hope you like it as much as I do!!

  8. I have been through Port Clinton enroute to Ardrossan, where we spent a night. I remember the red cliffs and the low tide. Ardrossan had similar red cliffs and we spent our time crabbing off the long pier. We had extremely windy weather when we were there so after a quick visit to the copper mining town of Moonta we sought shelter at Port Pirie. Those wild flowers are incredible – I wish they were around when we were there.

    1. I hear you, Kathy! On our last stay in Port Clinton the wind was so strong we had to get up in the middle of the night to take down our bed-end awnings or they’d have been ripped to shreds! A couple of days later the sea looked like a millpond!! The cliffs all along the east coast of the Yorke Peninsula are SO red – such a contrast to the white limestone further west! I took the flower shots over a few visits – there’s always something out, but spring is the best time!!

    1. Haha, it’s all done with mirrors, Andrew 😀 I have an alternative pic of the playground with BLACK clouds above it – one day I’ll switch it over & see if anyone notices!!!

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