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Coorong, The, SA

Beautiful lagoon and coastline south of Lake Alexandrina

“Storm Boy lived between the Coorong and the sea. His home was the long, long snout of sandhill and scrub that curves away south-eastwards from the Murray Mouth. A wild strip it is, windswept and tussocky, with the flat shallow water of the South Australian Coorong on one side and the endless slam of the Southern Ocean on the other.”
So begins Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy, one of Australia’s best-loved children’s stories. Since 1964 the book, the film (it has been made twice) and the play have evoked and defined this wild, beautiful and unspoilt area where the Southern Ocean blows up sand dunes so steep and so high that even four wheel drives have trouble traversing them. 
The Coorong is isolated and consequently only small numbers of anglers try their luck. The indigenous Ngarrindjeri people still fish and live on this lonely, sandy and poetically beautiful seascape.
As a geographical definition "The Coorong is a narrow neck of sand dunes stretching 145 km along the south-east coast of South Australia".
As Thiele, in his book Coorong, wrote: 'The Coorong is wilderness. For that reason it is of inestimable value to South Australia and the whole of humanity ... It is an elemental region, a place of wind and water and vast skies, of sandhill and tussock, lagoon and waterweed, stone and scrub. It is a place of softened contours, muted colours and sea haze - and of glaring saltpans so intense that our brows pucker and our eyes wince. A place of winter storms and summer sunglades, of shorelines soft with sand and sibilant reeds, and of limestone outcrops sharper than teeth. A place to sense the universal in the particular, the infinite in the infinitesimal, the verities of life in blowing seeds and grains of sand.'
Today the Coorong is a 46,745 hectare National Park which, to people racing through it, is nothing more than sandy countryside and withered vegetation.

Location

The northern end of The Coorong, located at Meningie, is 149 km from Adelaide. 

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Origin of Name

"Coorong" is widely accepted as a corruption of a Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal word "kurangk" meaning "neck" or "long, narrow neck".

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Things to See and Do

Exploring The Coorong
There are three sensible ways to explore The Coorong:
(i) take a cruise from Goolwa which crosses the mouth of the Murray at Lake Alexandrina and has passengers alighting on Younghusband Peninsula, walking across to the ocean side and observing the long, beautiful beach which runs the length of The Coorong.
(ii) drive along the Princes Highway stopping at the various points of interest - check out the pelicans at Jack Point, go for a walk at Salt Creek, inspect the historic ruins of the Chinaman's Well and learn about the Chinese who were dropped off to walk all the way to Victoria, visit 42 Mile Crossing. Stop at lookouts and admire the rich birdlife on the Coorong lagoon.
(iii) if you are driving a 4WD cross over the sand dunes (42 Mile Crossing is the most convenient access point) and marvel at the beauty of the long beach

Bird Watching
The Coorong is famed for its birdlife. The lakes are home to populations of egrets, cranes, swans, pelicans, wood ducks, sandpipers, terns, white-faced herons, ibis, kites, galahs, rosellas, wattlebirds, red necked avocets, purple swamphens, grebes, spoonbills and currawongs. It has been estimated that more than 240 species of bird have been observed on The Coorong with some migrating from as far away as Siberia, China and Japan.  There is a map, with pictures of many of the birds, which can be downloaded at https://coorongcountry.com.au/coorong-birdwatchers-trail.

Fauna
The Coorong is home to western grey kangaroos, echidnas, wombats, possums, a variety of snakes and there are mulloway, mullet and bream in the waters of the lagoon. 

Camp Coorong
Camp Coorong, owned and operated by the local Ngarrindjeri people, is located 11 km south of Meningie. Here is the description of its aims taken from the website: "At Camp Coorong we offer various activities we feel will suit any person or group wishing to learn more about Aboriginal History, Arts, Crafts and the environment within the Ngarrindjeri region. The idea of the development of Camp Coorong was a vision that we, the Ngarrindjeri people, had back in 1985.  We believed that we must have a place where people can come to learn about our heritage and culture.  We also believed that this would lead to non-Aboriginal people developing a better understanding of our Ngarrindjeri traditions and our relationships to the land, waters, trees, plants and animals. At Camp Coorong, to develop better understandings, we tell of our traditions and our way of life before European invasion of our lands,  We teach the ways that my ancestors lived. We take groups out on field trips upon the land talking about places that are important to us. We teach our Ngarrindjeri basket-weaving techniques.  We tell of our stories relating to the land, waters, trees, plants, birds and animals - people call them our dreaming stories." For more information check out https://www.ngarrindjeri.org.au/camp-coorong.

Woods Well
Located 43 km south of Meningie, Woods Well is a tiny settlement with a road which leads to a headland which looks across the Coorong Lagoon. The location achieved some infamy in the 1860s when a man named Malachi Martin, who drove the mail coach between Kingston and Encounter Bay, murdered the local innkeeper and subsequently married the innkeeper's wife. Shortly afterwards the maid, a woman named Jane McNinamen, was killed and her body shoved down a wombat hole. Martin was arrested for the two murders and hanged on Christmas Eve, 1862.

Jack Point
Located 48 km south of Meningie, 7 km north of Salt Creek, and just off the Princes Highway, Jack Point is the largest Australian Pelican breeding rookery in the country. The Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) is the largest species of pelican growing up to 1.8m and weighing up to 13 kg. In the Coorong it lives on fish, crustaceans, shrimps, turtles, tadpoles and frogs using its pouched bill to hold 9 to 13 litres of water. The pelican breeding season is from August until January.

Salt Creek
Salt Creek is a service station with overnight and holiday accommodation. It is also a point of access to the Coorong National Park. The service station operates as a Visitor Information point.

The Old Oil Rig
Located at Salt Creek is a replica of an oil rig - an amusing folly of the area. In 1892, a group of entrepreneurs drilled Australia's first oil well. They believed that a compacted vegetable substance (known as 'coorongite') was an indication of oil further down. It was an unsuccessful experiment which is remembered by the oil rig. 

Ngrugie Ngoppun Walk
This is a 2.5 km loop walk which takes around 75 minutes and starts at the Oil Rig Replica and connects with the Lakes Nature Trail Walk. It passes through excellent bird watching areas beside Salt Creek and crosses to Pipe Clay Lake and a salt lake. It crosses the Loop Road which leads out to Tea Tree Crossing. Check out https://coorongcountry.com.au/coorong-walking-trails/#NgrugieNgoppunWalk for a detailed map of the route.

Nukan Kungun Hike
Starting at Salt Creek, this is a 27 km trail which normally takes two days. It heads south on the mainland side of the Coorong Lagoon until it reaches 42 Mile Crossing where it crosses to the beach which runs down the ocean side of Younghusband Peninsula. During the walk the important historic site at Chinaman's Well is passed.

Chinaman's Well
Located 19 km south of Salt Creek is Chinaman's Well which was built around 1856. It is a simple well which was dug by one of the thousands of Chinese gold prospectors who were put ashore on The Coorong and expected to walk from South Australia to the goldfields in Victoria. It was a journey which was designed to avoid the taxes which had come into force for all miners entering Victoria ... they were usually charged at Victorian ports. The overland walk was designed to avoid the payments. There is a detailed and fascinating account at https://cv.vic.gov.au/stories/immigrants-and-emigrants/many-roads-chinese-on-the-goldfields/walking-to-the-diggings/the-treks-from-robe. 

42 Mile Crossing
Located 81 km south of Meningie and 70 km north of Kingston S.E., 42 Mile Crossing is a popular point at the southern end of the Coorong lagoon where 4WD vehicles can cross over the sand dunes and drive along the beach. From the top of the sand dunes there are panoramic views which allow visitors to see the vastness of the beach, the very high sand dunes, as well as the low lying marsh and scrubby areas which lie to the south of the lagoon.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Cruising the Coorong
Cruises to the Mouth of the Murray and the Coorong are offered from Goolwa on the western side of Lake Alexandrina. The Spirit of the Coorong, a comfortable 14-metre flat-bottomed boat, has a full cruise schedule of two major cruises around the Coorong National Park. On the shorter Coorong Discovery Cruise it departs from the main wharf at Goolwa, passes through the barrage which separates the ocean’s saltwater from the Murray River’s freshwater, passes the mouth of the Murray and heads down into the Coorong. The cruise include lunch, afternoon tea and a very informative commentary focussing on both the history of the area and offering a wide ranging discussion of the local flora and fauna. Expect to see many of the region’s 240 bird species including black swans and, of course, hundreds of pelicans. The Coorong Discovery Cruise lasts 4 hours (noon-4.00 pm) and operates on Thursday all year and Monday from October to May. Check out http://coorongcruises.com.au/soc/?page_id=74 for rates and further information.
There is a longer tour: the Coorong Adventure Cruise which lasts 6 hours (10.00 am - 4.00 pm). It passes the mouth of the Murray, continues down Younghusband Peninsula where, at Godfrey’s Landing, passengers alight and cross the narrow peninsula, walk down onto the beach and search for cockles along the shoreline. Check http://coorongcruises.com.au/soc/?page_id=76 for more details.
There is also the Spirit II, 13.6 metres, seating 32 passengers, which departs at 1.30 pm on Saturdays between October and April and cruises through the barrage and down to the mouth of the Murray River where, if conditions are right, passengers alight and walk on the sandbar. Check http://coorongcruises.com.au/soc/?page_id=106 for more details or phone 1800 442 203 or (08) 8555 2203.

Following in the Footsteps of Storm Boy
South Australian Tourism have created a theoretical 3 day (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) journey around The Coorong which covers many of the places and experiences in Storm Boy. It can be accessed at https://southaustralia.com/travel-blog/south-australia-storm-boy and involves camping on The Coorong (there are 12 campgrounds); canoeing on the lagoon; experiencing local Aboriginal culture; and travelling across from Goolwa on the Spirit of the Coorong.
Storm Boy, which was filmed in 1976 and again in 2019, tells the story of a young boy who lives on The Coorong and has a special connection with three pelicans. It is a story about friendship, Aboriginal culture and growing up in the isolated wilderness of the Coorong which was written by Colin Thiele. See the Aussie Towns entry on Eudunda for more information about this remarkable children's novelist and educationalist - http://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/eudunda-sa.

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History

* Geologically The Coorong is a series of ancient sand dunes. The oldest was probably formed some 120,000 years ago.

* A second dune formation was created about 80,000 years old. Some of those dunes still remains on Younghusband Peninsula. 

* The modern Coorong was formed between 20,000 and 6,000 years ago when the sea rose to form an island on top of the sand dune. A lagoon was produced behind the present line of dunes. Over time the wind and the sands created this unique neck of land. 

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans there were five Aboriginal tribal groupings living on The Coorong. They were part of the Ngarrindjeri people who made bark and reed canoes, lived on the fish and molluscs in the area, and built shelters against the cold Southern Ocean winds. 

* In 1837 two men, Strangways and Hutchinson, discovered the narrow lake behind the sand dunes.

* In 1838 a Captain Gill, having been wrecked near the mouth of the Murray, rowed a dinghy up the Coorong.

* By 1839 Charles Bonney overlanded sheep along The Coorong. 

* In 1840 Lieutenant Pullen surveyed the mouth of the Murray River.

* By 1840 there was a ferry across the Murray at Wellington which offered access to the Coorong and by the mid-1840s there was a stock route and a mail run down the coast. 

* The Ngarrindjeri people were decimated by the arrival of Europeans. The combination of smallpox (which raged all the way up the Murray River) and massacres saw the numbers of Aborigines on The Coorong drop from an estimated 3,200 in 1842 to 511 by 1874.

* In 1856 Sir Charles Todd surveyed a telegraph line from Adelaide to Melbourne which ran the length of The Coorong.

* In 1856 Captain Cadell sailed a steamer as far as Salt Creek. 

* From 1860-1900 sheep graziers moved into the area but they were hampered by rabbit plagues and the mysterious 'coast disease'. 

* In 1892 an oil well was drilled (unsuccessfully) near Salt Creek.

* By 1914 sections of The Coorong were being set aside for a National Park. 

* In 1966 the official Coorong National Park was created. 

* In 1968 an additional 6840 hectares were set apart as a game reserve.

* In 1980 the Coorong National Park was included on the Register of the National Estate. 

* Today the Coorong is a wild and beautiful wilderness known for its peacefulness and isolation.

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Visitor Information

Coorong Cottage Industries & Lakes Hub, 14 Princes Highway, Meningie, tel: (08) 8575 1770. Open seven days 10.00 am - 4.30 pm. Also check the Coorong National Park Information Office, tel: (08) 8575 1200.

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Useful Websites

There are two useful websites. Check out http://www.thecoorong.com and https://coorongcountry.com.au.

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