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Venus Bay, SA

Sleepy holiday and fishing destination on the Eyre Peninsula

Between Elliston and Streaky Bay lie the quiet seaside holiday locations of Venus Bay and Port Kenny. Venus Bay is a small tourist town with a jetty and a small community of holiday makers. A road behind the settlement climbs up to the nearby cliffs. The harbour at Venus Bay is quiet. The jetty is ideal for anglers. Just over the hills to the south of the village are some of the most beautiful and dramatic cliffs on the Eyre Peninsula. The Venus Bay South Head Walking Trail is an ideal location for spotting Southern Right whales, dolphins, Australian sea lions and sea eagles. Port Kenny is a small service town overlooking Venus Bay and catering for the needs of the surrounding farms, local fishing industry and holiday makers.

Location

Venus Bay is located 355 km west of Port Augusta, 230 km north of Port Lincoln and 662 km north-west of Adelaide via the Princes and Eyre Highways.

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Origin of Name

There is a piece of local folklore which claims that Matthew Flinders named Venus Bay after the Roman God of Love but it was probably named after a 40 ton schooner named Venus which traded along the coast until she ran aground at Tumby Bay in 1850. Port Kenny was named after the first European settler, Michael Kenny, who, having made his fortune on the Victorian goldfields, moved to Eyre Peninsula where he was one of the first farmers to try to grow grain rather than raise sheep. South Australian Governor Bosanquet named the town.

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Things to See and Do

Venus Bay Lookout
When the visitor arrives in Venus Bay they have travelled over flat country and reached a town which is edged by the bay. It all looks flat and accessible. If you drive up to the Venus Bay Lookout (just follow the road up the hill from the jetty) you will find, to your amazement, that there are cliffs on the other side of the bay at the Venus Bay Conservation Park. The view is dramatic and surprising.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Murphy's Haystacks
Located 40 km north of Venus Bay, just off the Flinders Highway on the road to Calca, are Murphy's Haystacks, probably the most famous of all the natural local attractions. The 'haystacks' (some of them really do look like old fashioned haystacks) are a series of dramatically weathered granite outcrops, known to geologists as inselbergs, which were laid down around 1500 million years old. They were named after Dennis Murphy, the property owner, by the local mail coach driver who used to point them out to passengers during on the journey from Streaky Bay to Port Kenny.
It is believed that the Hay Stacks, which are composed of pink granite, were weathered and sculpted into their present form about 100,000 years ago. The granites were formed at a depth of 7 to 10 kilometres below the earth's surface. Today when we look at Murphy's Hay Stacks we see these Hiltaba granites exposed on the surface. The Hay Stacks comprise inselberg formations including boulders and pillars. These forms have been eroded into wave and flared formations. They are exceptional examples of a weathering process which occurs throughout the area and, if you are heading across the Nullarbor Plain it is worthwhile checking out Ucontitchie Hill near Wudinna and Pildappa Rock which is located approximately 20 kilometres from Minnipa. The site is well organised with a circular walking track which takes the visitor around the most impressive haystacks and into a small woodland where the haystacks are surrounded by eucalypts. There is useful signage which explains the geological origins of these unusual formations as well as their history since white settlement: "These unusual rock formations acquired their name from an Irish agricultural expert who advocated that to produce good hay farmers should harrow their land for the best results. While travelling with the coach, he noticed the rock formations in the distance and informed the coach driver and passengers that this farmer harrowed his land to produce so much hay and fodder. Being located on Murphy's property they became known as Murphy's Hackstacks. From then on passing coaches described them as haystacks to their passengers. However the haystacks are described technically as inselbergs - a hill that look like a rocky island rising sharply from the sea ... Inselbergs are formed by the uneven weathering of crysalline rock. Densely fractured compartments break down through weathering more quickly than massive unfractured compartments."

Talia
Sixteen km south of Venus Bay is the tiny town of Talia. It was was surveyed in 1882. The school opened in 1889 and the local hall was built in 1895. Looking at the town today it is hard to imagine that as late as the 1940s Talia was a thriving settlement.

Talia Caves - The Woolshed and The Tub
Located 20 km south of Venus Bay and 6 km north of Talia on the Flinders Highway is aun unsealed road which runs west to the coast. This is the access point to the famous Talia Caves - the Woolshed and The Tub - and a point where a boardwalk takes the visitor down to the water's edge. The so-called Talia 'caves' are actually large eroded areas in the cliff face. The Woolshed is a large, eroded cavity in the cliff face. The Tub is a collapsed limestone crater. The ocean access to the area is through a tunnel in the rocks.
The sign at The Woolshed explains: "The rock at the base of these cliffs is a coarse grained sandstone which shows some cross bedding. The cave represents a weakened joint in the sandstone along which the destructive action of the waves has been most effective. The roof of the caves is composed of much younger limestone which covered the rock in the past. With sea levels rising since the last ice age, some of the limestone has alos been eroded leaving an elongated cave following the joint."
The sign at The Tub explains: "The base rock of coarse grain sandstone making up these cliffs has joints which have allowed the destructive power of the waves to carve out caves along the weakened lines. In the case of the The Tub, the thin layer of much younger limestone composing the roof has been eroded to such an extent that it has collapsed. The caves original entrance is still covered and the collapsed ceiling has formed a rough bowl, 60 to 70 feet deep. The walking surface is very slippery due to water and seaweed - extreme care is needed as tides are unpredictable in this area."
These 'caves' are the result of the weathering of two very different kinds of rock. The cliffs were formed as recently as 100,000 years ago and are a compacted sand dune. Below the cliffs are pink conglomerate and sandstone which was formed some 1,500 million years ago. The action of the sea on these two different surfaces has resulted in the erosion which, in the case of 'The Tub' has led to the collapse of the roof of a cave and in the case of 'The Woolshed' has resulted in the waves eating at the softer sandstone which lies between the surface and the hard conglomerate.
Beyond The Tub is a dramatic cliff face which offers views for kilometres to the south along the Talia beach which is part of the Lake Newland Conservation Park. This lonely and dramatic beach looks dangerous and, as if to confirm this initial impression, there is a substantial marble monument to a Sister Millard who lost her life on 24 June 1924 when part of the cliff face collapsed. Her story is a reminder of the dangers of these cliffs. The day before her death she had resigned from Ceduna Hospital. With three friends she travelled down the coast to have a picnic on the cliffs. While she was taking a photograph the cliff collapsed and she fell into the sea. Her companions watched helplessly as she struggled to keep afloat.

Point Labatt Sea Lion Drive Scenic Drive
Lying 75 km north of Venus Bay (most of it on gravel roads via Murphys Haystacks), the 60 metre high cliffs at Point Labatt are impressive. To stand on the cliffs gazing across the waters is to feel as though you are standing on the edge of a dark ocean which stretches from the Great Australian Bight down into the Great Southern Ocean. Point Labatt's primary appeal is that it is home to the only accessible mainland breeding colony of Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinera). The colony varies in size but it has been estimated at about 50 sea lions. The rocky edge of the shore is also home to New Zealand fur seals and Australian fur seals (The seals grow to 4 metres in length and can weigh as much as 200 kg) and the cliffs offer nesting homes for Osprey, White-bellied Sea-Eagle and Peregrine Falcon and Black-faced shags, Red-necked stints and Crested terns mingle with the sea lions on the rock platform.
The signage at the top of the cliff explains that: "This colony at Point Labatt represents the largest mainland population of Australian sea lions in the world. Here the natural features of this ancient coastline provide ideal habitat for these beautiful aniimals to breed and nurture their young. The surrounding waters provide them with abundant food resources - fish, squid, octopus, cuttlefish, crabs and crayfish. The reefs offshore break up the strong Southern Ocean wave energy and disperse it into smooth granite rock pools and sheltered sandy beaches inshore. This provides a perfect natural nursery, free from predators like the great white shark. The towering cliffs above also provide protection from human activity and animals on land. Pups weigh around 7 kg at birth and take to the ocean for the first time at about four weeks of age. They depend entirely on their mother's milk for the first year. During this time they learn important hunting skills by following their mothers on excursions at sea. At 18 months they are fully weaned and have developed the skills necessary to dive, hunt and catch their own fish independently. The Australian sea lion was hunted to the brink of extinction until the abolition of commercial sealing early last century. Whilst otehr species like the New Zealand fur seal have recovered steadily, the Australian sea lion is still one of the most endangered marine mammals on earth due to a number of their unique characteristics - they feed primarily on the sea floor; they breed only every 18 months and they prefer to colonise more sheltered coastlines."
Between June and October the point is also an excellent whale watching site. Notices on the clifftop point out that this is an area where the whales breed. As well there is a notice covering the history of the area: "Point Labatt Conservation Park. Matthew Flinders, in the Investigator, was the first European to explore, map and name this coastline for England in 1802. About the same time Nicholas Baudin in Le Geographe charted this coast for France. This reserve protects the only permanent sea lion colony on the Australian mainland. The Marine Reserve off shore ensures minimum disturbance to the seals and the reef fish upon which they depend for food. This area was declared a Conservation Park in 1973."
Don't expect to get up close and personal with the sea lions. They lie on a rock platform far below the viewing platform. A pair of binoculars would be very helpful.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Port Kenny was home to the Wirangu and Nawu Aboriginal people.

* The first European to sight the coastline was Matthew Flinders who sailed south in the Investigator in 1802.

* The first settlement in the area was that at Venus Bay where a whaling station was established in the 1820s.

* In 1839 Venus Bay was explored as a possible site for the South Australia Company.

* A tiny whaling settlement consisting of a shop, hotel and police station operated until the 1840s.

* The district was opened up for grazing in 1840s and cereal cropping in the 1870s.

* In 1855 Venus Bay was operating as a base for the local Native Police.

* Venus Bay was surveyed in 1864 and named Parkin.

* The township was abandoned by 1900.

* Port Kenny was surveyed in 1912.

* It was revitalised in the 1920s when it became a base for a commercial fishing operation.

* A local hall was opened in 1934.

* The Port Kenny hotel began operation in 1939.

* Grain was still being shipped from Port Kenny and Venus Bay until the late 1950s.

* In 1955 the school at Venus Bay closed down.

* In 2016 the Port Kenny school closed and amalgamated with Streaky Bay.

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Visitor Information

There is no visitor information at Port Kenny or Venus Bay. The closest are the Streaky Bay Rural Transaction and Visitor Information Centre, 21 Bay Road, Streaky Bay, tel: (08) 8626 7033 or the Elliston Community Information Centre, 6 Memorial Drive, Elliston, tel: (08) 8687 9200.

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Useful Websites

There is an official website which has information about the town and surrounding area. Check out http://exploreeyrepeninsula.com.au/destinations/west-coast/port-kenny and http://exploreeyrepeninsula.com.au/destinations/west-coast/venus-bay.

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Got something to add?

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2 suggestions
  • Beautiful area. We moved to Venus Bay in late 1972 to begin work on the Finders Hwy – the Talia to Streaky Bay section. I`d got a job with Mac Donald Earthmovers even though I only had a bike licence. Still I drove the water truck (no licence) eventually a dozer (cable D9 pilot motor start) finally the grader working out of Streaky. But by then the hard road had broke Jim Mac Donald. By 1975 We didn`t get to finish what we started. So I took our family out to the SA/WA border. Another road job, another story .

    Trevor Zealley
  • Heading for Venus Bay next March and wondered if there was anywhere to ride a bike.

    Eileen