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Coffin Bay, SA

Isolated and beautiful holiday area famous for its Coffin Bay oysters.

When the words "Coffin Bay" are uttered most people think of oysters. Coffin Bay and Coffin Bay National Park (30,380 ha) are a central part of an isolated, unspoilt South Australian holiday destination on the Eyre Peninsula. They are designed for people who want to spend time fishing, sailing, skin diving, water skiing, bushwalking, enjoying themselves on the beach and messing about on the bays and waterways in boats. So popular have the calm waters of the bay become that the population of the area during the Christmas school holiday time is likely to increase tenfold. The surrounding area is spectacularly beautiful and some of the out-of-the-way places including Gallipoli Beach, Farm Beach and the Coffin Bay Peninsula are genuinely fascinating.

Location

Coffin Bay and Coffin Bay National Park are located 691 km west of Adelaide via Port Augusta and 44 km west of Port Lincoln.

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Origin of Name

Coffin Bay was named by Matthew Flinders after his friend the naval officer, Isaac Coffin, who became Sir Isaac Coffin. Coffin, who became a Vice Admiral in the British Navy, helped Flinders when he was preparing to sail to Australia.

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Things to See and Do

Oysters and Coffin Bay - The Oyster Walk - A Journey into the 1840s
Coffin Bay is famous around Australia for its oysters. There is a downloadable brochure and map which can be accessed at http://exploreeyrepeninsula.com.au/destinations/lower-eyre/coffin-bay (click on Oyster-Walk-brochure.pdf). The Oyster Walk is a 15 km trail which combines the history of oyster harvesting in the district with a pleasant walk which combines superb views as well as an opportunity to observe the area's fauna and flora.
In summary: "The Oyster Walk was formalised in 1988, as a joint project between the District Council of Lower Eyre Peninsula and the Department for Environment and Planning. The initial project established a defined walkway meandering through remnant coastal vegetation. Ongoing upgrades including interpretative signage, additional seating and re-vegetation have been achieved ... In 2009, The Coffin Bay Tourist Association partnered with the Department for Environment and Heritage to create an extension of the Oyster Walk into Kellidie Bay Conservation Park and the historical site of Old Oyster Town.
There are five points along the walk of particular interest:
A (at entrance near railway shacks) - Henry Hawson first explored this area in 1839, he was issued the pastoral lease in 1847 and named the area Kellidie, in some writings it was “Of The Keltie”. Henry Hawson was credited with building the track to Kellidie from the western road leading to Wangary and Dutton Bay.
B (at well site) John Mortlock acquired and developed the Kellidie Bay station and built a house on its shore around 1866. Mortlock was credited with digging around 20 wells in the area and had shepherds stationed at these sites who attended their flocks and yarded them at night due to a problem with wild dogs. This is very likely one of those wells.
C (at west hut site) On the 16th December 2003, Historical Archaeologist, Mark Staniforth conducted an archaeological assessment at the Oyster Town site. Mark recognised the area, and the artefacts found, to be of the 19th century. Mark found the remains of half structures of five house sites. He described European houses of the 1840’s to be a one-room hut of about 4m x 3m in size. The houses were made from materials such as slab (wooden boards), thatch, bark and canvas. These materials do not survive well therefore today there is little evidence to identify their existence
D (at east hut site) The early settlers of Australia built simple homes (huts) using bush materials. A large chimney made out of rough stone, was built outside one wall for the fire place and kitchen. The veranda at the front, was used as a sitting room where rough hewn wood chairs or stumps from fallen logs were placed. The veranda was also used as a shed for the storage of saddles, bridles and stock whips, as well as tools. Usually there were no doors on these huts. As the family got larger, they added another room onto the house. The wash house or bathroom was away from the hut itself.
E (at rosemary bush) In addition to the oyster fisher's huts, many of the hut sites in this area would have been shepherd's huts. The main rations of the shepherds consisted of flour, tea and tobacco with mutton making up the main part of their diet. There is little doubt that fish, bush tucker and small gardens would have added to their pantry. It is likely that the hut situated here could have been a shepherd's hut. The rosemary bush (Rosmarinus officinalis) was probably planted by an Oyster Town resident as part of a herb garden around 1850 to complement their mutton diet. This bush now extends more than 30 metres across and has been described by Historical Archaeologist, Mark Staniforth, as a significant cultural feature." There is a detailed history of Oysters in Coffin Bay in the town's brochure which can be downloaded at http://coffinbay.yourvisitorguide.com.au.

Pure Coffin Bay Oysters
Located at 9 Martindale Road the "Oyster Shed" offers fresh oysters for sale and, if there are four people to make up a group, tours and tastings. It is open from Monday to Friday and Tours are by appointment only. Tel: 0428 261 806 or check out http://www.coffinbayoysters.com.au.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Coffin Bay National Park
There are a number of useful brochures and maps which can be downloaded at the Coffin Bay National Park website (http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks/Find_a_Park/Browse_by_region/Eyre_Peninsula/coffin-bay-national-park). The primary appeal of the park, as articulated on the website, is "The park conserves a representative sample of diverse coastal landscapes ranging from high windswept cliffs and massive dunes to pounding surf beaches and sheltered sandy bays. Visit during late winter and spring and you're likely to see the park ablaze with native flora. There are plenty of opportunities to explore the park. At the southern end of the park, Yangie Bay which is accessible by 2WD offers an ideal place to paddle your canoe, enjoy a bush picnic or explore a coastal bushwalking trail. A sealed road to Point Avoid takes in spectacular island views. The bays and coastline around the park are also great for boating, sailing, scuba diving and windsurfing. The stunning northern beaches of Coffin Bay National Park are only accessible by high-clearance 4WD. A favourite destination for anglers, birdwatchers and surfers, this remote and beautiful area offers several secluded camping areas with easy beach access."

Of particular interest in the Park are:
1. Point Avoid and Yangie Bay
A trip out to Point Avoid and Yangie Bay is well worthwhile and available to everyone with a 2WD vehicle. Take the Coffin Road to the west of Coffin Bay to Point Avoid and Golden Island Lookout. The views of the rugged and lonely beaches on the western shoreline of the park and the dramatic view across Coffin Bay which is offered at Yangie Bay Lookout are breathtaking. The size of the huge sand dunes in the area (some are over 100 metres high) are a visual reminder that the seas, driven by the Roaring Forties and uninterrupted on their journey across the Great Australian Bight, can hurl themselves against this section of the Australian coast.

2. Driving, The Beaches and Other Attractions
The park’s long pristine beaches are isolated and peaceful. Expect to see seabirds and the occasional emu. There are 4WD tracks across most of the north and western sections of the park. They take the visitor past huge white sand dunes to beaches and lookouts where it is possible to see dolphins, sea eagles, ospreys, emus, hooded plovers, goannas and western grey kangaroos. There are more than 120 species of birds in the park. There are breeding grounds for sea birds such as the reef heron, fairy penguins, cormorants, sooty oystercatchers, and crested and caspian terns. The flora includes the moonah tea-tree, cutting grass, the beautiful drooping she-oak and, in spring and summer, the parks are covered with the wildflowers which grow in profusion.

3. Fishing at Coffin Bay
Coffin Bay has gained a reputation as a haven for anglers. It attracts rock fishermen, surf fishermen, people keen to fish from boats, and jetty fishermen (there are special fishing jetties near Coffin Bay township at Crinolin Point and Schnapper Point) and the fish caught in the area include whiting, salmon, trevally, garfish, tommy ruffs, snapper and flathead.

4. Walking in the Park
* Yangie Lookout Walk (1 km return, 20 minutes). A short climb from Yangie Bay camp site with great views overlooking Yangie Bay and Marble Range.
* Yangie Bay Hike (2 km loop, 40 mins) A walk from the Yangie camp site via Yangie Lookout which includes ocean views of Thorny Passage Marine Park and walks through coastal mallee.
* Yangie Island Hike (5 km, 100 mins) A walk from the Yangie camp site via Yangie Lookout which offers a close up view of Yangie Island from the adjoining beach.
Yangie Bay to Long Beach Hike (20 km return, 7 hours). This hike from the Yangie camp site includes the vegetated dunes and leads to the extraordinary Long Beach.
* Black Springs Well Hike (2 km return, 40 mins) Trail starts at Black Springs camping and follows the coast around to the headland overlooking Port Douglas.
* Black Rocks Hike (12 km return, 4 hours). Trail starts at Black Springs and follow the rugged coastline of Avoid Bay with views across Lake Damascus.
* Boarding House Bay Hike (24 km, 8 hours return) The trail starts at the Whidbey Wilderness Area and passes through coastal heath, samphire flats and mallee woodlands offering views of cliffs, beaches and offshore reefs.
* Whidbey Hike (24 km, 8 hours return) The trail extends from the Boarding House Bay Hike and offers views of wilderness coastline toward Point Whidbey through coastal heath and low mallee as well as sheltered coves and a large blowhole.

Wangery
The Old Hotel at Wangary, 26 km from Coffin Bay and located on the Flinders Highway, is one of the very few pubs in Australia actually to boast that it has 'No Beds-No Beer'. The pub hasn't had a liquor licence since 1933. Instead it operates as a general store. No one is exactly sure where the word 'wangary' came from with sources claiming that it is a corruption of the local Aboriginal word 'wangara' which could variously mean 'talk' or 'to have a corroboree'. The Old Hotel, which was built in 1871, is now the only building of any significance in the tiny settlement. Its moment of fame came when someone found an old horse carriage in a shed out the back which was being used by the hotel's fowls. Closer investigation found the motto "Crede Biron" on the carriage and it was discovered that its original owner had been the English poet Lord Byron. Apparently Byron had sent the carriage to Lady Charlotte Bacon in Adelaide. It had subsequently been bought by the owners of Wangary Station and eventually found its way into a shed behind the hotel. The owner of the hotel, oblivious to the value of the carriage, sold it to a blacksmith in Port Lincoln who dismantled it and sold it off as souvenirs to tourists. Apart from The Old Hotel, Wangary has the historic ruins of the old Post Office, Coach House and Bakery and, surprisingly for such a small settlement, it has is a very fine oval. It also has a charming Anglican Church with a bell tower which dates from 1900.

Mt Dutton Bay Woolshed and Jetty
Six km from Wangary is Dutton Bay where an old woolshed and restored jetty stand as reminders of an era when this entire stretch of coastline, from Dutton Bay to Elliston, was privately leased to Price Maurice who built the wool shed in 1875 using local stone and wooden trusses from Oregon in the United States. It is estimated that over 20,000 sheep were shorn each year at the woolshed's peak of activity with the fleeces shipped from the jetty to overseas markets. It continued to be used as a woolshed in the 1970s. Now restored, the shed functions as a museum displaying items relating to local economic history, centring on shearing, farming and fishing. A wool press dates from the early 19th century. The shearer's quarters, which also date from 1875, once housed 14 blade-shearers as well as four roustabouts and two cooks. The Woolshed Museum, which is State Heritage Listed, is open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm, tel: (08) 8685 4031. Check http://duttonbay.com for further details. There is a cafe and accommodation is available. The tiny location has a modern boat ramp and there are a number of holiday homes along the shoreline.

Farm Beach
Ten km from Wangary is Farm Beach, a tiny settlement which is really nothing more than a caravan park and launching point for dozens of small fishing boats. It is, however, a must for anyone who wants to see a truly fascinating and bizarre 'tractor museum'. On the weekends, and during holidays, the beach and foreshore are crowded with fishermen who use old tractors to get their boats over the mountains of seaweed which are washed up onto the beach. The result is a parking area where, at any one time, there may be up to 50 tractors, all of them ancient and rusty. At the south end of Farm Beach, just near the main launching point, there is a rough dirt road which leads to the beach where the invasion scenes in the movie Gallipoli was filmed. Unfortunately all of the trenches, sandbags and the dugouts have been removed. The only thing left is a bay which approximates to the famous shoreline where the ANZACs came ashore at Gallipoli. The section of the coastline has been renamed Gallipoli Beach.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the local area was occupied by the Nauo Aboriginal people (sometimes spelt Nawu).

* The first European to explore the coast was the French explorer Bruni d'Entrecasteaux, who sighted the coast but did not land because of the rugged shore and the difficult and dangerous seas.

* The second European in the area was Matthew Flinders in 1802 who named Coffin Bay after the naval officer, Isaac Coffin. Coffin, who was to become a Vice Admiral of the British Navy, assisted Flinders when he was preparing to sail for Australia. Flinders, like d'Entrecasteaux, did not land.

* By 1804 whalers had entered Coffin Bay and established a simple settlement.

* In 1839 a man named Henry Hawson explored the area and established a claim over Coffin Bay. He used the land to run sheep.

* In 1847 Hawson was officially granted a pastoral lease over the land. He called his property Kellidie.

* By 1848 there was a small settlement, appropriately named Oyster Town, in Coffin Bay exploiting the vast supplies of oysters in the area. The oysters, harvested by up to thirty cutters, were shipped to Adelaide (via Port Lincoln) until they ran out and the town was abandoned.

* In 1866 a man named John Mortlock, who had purchased Kellidie from Hawson, built a house on Kellidie Bay.

* By 1871 there was a house, a store, garden, sheep yards and huts where Coffin Bay township now stands.

* The oyster beds were closed for seven of the nine years between 1882 and 1891.

* By 1891 Oyster Town had effectively closed down.

* In the late 1960s Pacific oysters were imported from Japan and Tasmania and the local industry was established.

* Today Coffin Bay Oysters (Pacific oysters) are known internationally.

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Visitor Information

The Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre, 3 Adelaide Place, tel: 1300 788 378 has information about the area. The Beachcomber Takeaway and Tourist Centre, 113 Esplanade, tel: (08) 8685 4057 has brochures about the area.

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Useful Websites

The town has an official website - http://coffinbay.net - which provides useful information including accommodation and eating suggestions. There is a downloadable brochure which can be accessed at http://coffinbay.yourvisitorguide.com.au.

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