A Tale of Two Visits: Coffin Bay and Lincoln National Parks

Back in 2016, we decided our Christmas present to ourselves was going to be a cage dive with Great White Sharks off the coast of Port Lincoln, South Australia. Some couples gift each other nice jewellery or a thoughtful handmade present for Christmas; we went a different direction… So from this idea we reverse engineered a 10-day South Australian coastline road trip, which included visits to Coffin Bay and Lincoln National Parks. Getting the inside scoop from a Port Lincoln local, we decided to spend more time in Coffin Bay and leave Lincoln as a day trip. Besides the cage dive itself, our visit to Coffin Bay NP was a real highlight of our trip. We had a picturesque campsite at Black Spring Wells, surrounded by roos, seals, dolphins, and a stingray, with the most perfect dunes and beaches wherever we went. To top it off, we practically had the place to ourselves. We promised ourselves we’d be back, and when we loosely planned out our current trip, Coffin Bay was always a must do.

So when we left the Gawler Ranges, we couldn’t wait to get back to our beloved Coffin Bay. We had some great (although VERY windy!) stops on our way south, particularly at Horrocks Lookout and Greenley Beach.

Greenly Beach

Finally we reached Coffin Bay, and after sampling some world famous Coffin Bay oysters, we crossed the Coffin Bay NP border and started driving through the winding roads, with the occasional emu, roo, or goanna darting across the road as we meandered on. Having the caravan in tow, we parked up at the only caravan-accessible campsite in the whole park: Yangie Bay. Everything beyond that is 4WD-only and much too challenging to be towing a large van. When we visited in 2016, this campsite was still under construction and looked like the most uninviting place to stay. Much to our relief, the campsite was finished and beautiful, with great views over the bay and plenty of animals strolling around.

Almonta Beach

After a cool off swim at Almonta Beach, we made our way to where we had camped during our last visit, Black Spring Wells. Unfortunately on this visit there was no photogenic little roo posing in front of the tranquil, gorgeous beach…no roos at all for that matter, and the beach was fairly choppy, but it was still a lovely spot.

On our way back to Yangie Bay, we came across a bogged FJ Cruiser, ironically almost the exact same spot our FJ had gotten bogged back in 2016. After helping the FJ get out and on its way, we made our way through the track, only to get stuck at the same spot. Again. And we were REALLY stuck. After lots of digging and finally getting snatched out by another car, we made it back to the van completely covered in sweat and sand. Ah, the joys of 4×4 driving!

The next day, we ventured further into the park towards the northernmost point, Point Sir Isaac. This included driving along Seven Mile Beach. In 2016, the beach was pristine, the sea calm, and the drive pleasant. We stopped at one point along the beach to climb up a nearby dune overlooking this little stretch of what we considered to be paradise.

Great views of the beautiful Seven Mile Beach in 2016

This time, the sand we drove on was so soft, we didn’t even consider the option of stopping for photos (especially after our incident the previous day). Gusty winds were whipping up grey, choppy waves and seaweed covered a good portion of the beach. Not exactly the postcard-worthy scene we came upon a few years ago! 

Back in 2016, we had no problems with soft sand along this beach…much different scenario this time around!

We spent the rest of the day exploring through the northern end of the park, taking various tracks along the rocks and down to various beaches. The best beach in the northern end, which lives up to its name, was Sensation Beach. Also living up to its name, for Marc in particular, was the track  to the beach, called Misery Track, as it left a few pinstripes on the car going through. At least having a sensational beach at the end softened the misery of having a couple extra marks on the car.

No need to wonder how Sensation Beach got its name!

That night we had planned to tent camp near Point Sir Isaac. As we set up and started settling in, the wind started to build. And it got stronger and stronger, until our tent was almost permanently sideways in the 50+ km winds. Now we had two choices: either tough it out to spend the night here and hope our tent was still intact in the morning, or pack up and head back to the van, still parked at Yangie Bay. No avid camper wants to give up on a campsite, and in all our years of camping we never had, but that day we made the unsavoury decision to save our tent and drive the several hours back to the van. It wasn’t a decision we liked to make, but at least we had a comfortable and worry-free night at Yangie Bay.

After Coffin Bay NP, our next stop was Lincoln NP. In 2016, we chose to leave this destination as a day trip, making the trek out to Memory Cove, having a quick look around, then heading off again. We were blown away by how beautiful Memory Cove was; an idyllic white sand beach and a delightful wooded campground. We knew we would definitely come back to stay here, but we had also missed all of the northern part of the park during our last visit. So we started by heading north, basing ourselves at Fisherman’s Point Camp.

Fisherman’s Point

From there we explored one secluded beach after another, all of them so inviting despite the days being windy and cool. Before heading to Memory Cove, we drove the Sleaford-Wanna Track on the southern coast of the park, a 14km 4×4 track over sand dunes that looks out to an amazing coastline. If you’re confident with sand driving it’s a must do!

The winding tracks of the Sleaford-Wanna Dunes

After our experience at Coffin Bay, we weren’t sure what to expect from Memory Cove. Was it really as good as we remembered? If so, would it be much different to our visit almost three years ago? We called in to Port Lincoln to pick up our gate key (they only allow a limited number of visitors into the reserve each day) and made our way back into the park and down the long, bumpy track through the Memory Cove Wilderness Protection Area. The track started by going through wide open plains with remnants of spring wildflowers colouring the grass, then began to climb as we reached the sea cliffs of the southeastern corner.

Sea cliff views along the track to Memory Cove

Just when we were starting to get sick of the endless potholes and driving less than 15km per hour, the track dropped down suddenly into the Memory Cove campground. On the other side of the dunes, we were met with the most perfect white sand beach framed by lichen-stained granite boulders. We spent a blissful day here just enjoying the serenity and pristine beauty of this special place.

Memory Cove

We left the southern Eyre Peninsula with a completely different mindset to our last visit: having enjoyed Coffin Bay National Park but not to the extent we were expecting, and having experienced so much more of Lincoln National Park that we absolutely loved. Isn’t it amazing how preconceived notions can completely change the way we see and experience a place? Our take home message from this was to come to places with less expectation, to simply enjoy a place as is, for what it is and what it isn’t.

We headed back north through the Eyre Peninsula, stopping at Tumby Bay for a bit of a fishing lesson and Perlubie Beach, a beautiful beach that we could camp directly on with our van.

A magic sunset at Perlubie Beach

After making it back to the top of the peninsula we made our way to Ceduna, and the start of one of the most iconic drives in all of Australia, the Nullarbor.

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