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Victor Harbor, SA

Important holiday destination on the south coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula

Victor Harbor is a popular and attractive holiday destination on the Fleurieu Peninsula. It is an easy day trip from Adelaide which was once the main port of the South Australian coast and the access point - via a train to Goolwa - for all goods travelling up and down the Murray River. Today the town is famous for its horse drawn tram trips across the Causeway to Granite Island where it is possible, in the early evening, to see the arrival of little penguins. The usual holiday activities - swimming on the beach, fishing and going on cruises - are enhanced by the unusual - an excellent Sculpture Walk beside the sea and an opportunity to swim with blue fin tuna at the remarkable Oceanic Victor.

Location

Victor Harbor is located 83 km south of Adelaide.

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Origin of Name

By 1838 Victor Harbour had been named by Captain R. Crozier after the HMS Victor which was surveying the harbour at this time. The American spelling - it is correctly spelt 'harbor' - actually has nothing to do with the USA. It was an archaic English spelling which had been used in South Australia and was applied to the town when it was proclaimed in 1914. Interestingly, the local railway station spells itself Victor Harbour.

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Things to See and Do

Victor Harbor Tramway to Granite Island
Victor Harbor's most popular attraction is the Horse Drawn tram service which traverses the narrow causeway which links Victor Harbor township and Granite Island. A sign explains: "The Victor Harbor tramway which runs across to Granite Island from 10.00 a.m. daily is Australia's only horse drawn tram service. It was first established in 1894. Discontinued in 1954 and recommenced in June, 1986. The District Council of Victor Harbor owns 6 Clydesdale horses. There are 8 tapered roller bearings beneath each tram and it takes a pull of approximately 50 kilograms to pull a loaded tram. Similar horses regularly pulled many hundreds of kilograms all day long in days gone by. Our horses normally work for a total of 2 hours a day every second day. Their diet is controlled to maintain peak condition. They are under regular veterinary supervision and are stabled at Henderson Road, Victor Harbor. A living tribute to the Heavy Horse." For more information regarding ticket prices and a timetable check out http://horsedrawntram.com.au or tel: (08) 8551 0720.

Kaiki Trail
This is the simple 2.9 km (about 45 minutes) walk around Granite Island which starts at the Causeway and passes Portrait Rock, Umbrella Rock, Bridal Spray and Screwpile Jetty. There is also a sculptured granite seal on the island which was created by Sylvio Apponyi in 1992. There is a detailed brochure which can be downloaded at https://encountervictorharbor.com.au/uploads/2019/04/Kaiki-Trail-walk-map-Granite-Island-map-1.pdf.

Granite Island Little Penguin Tours
Guided little penguin tours are held on Granite Island every evening at dusk. Trained guides accompany small groups of walkers along the foreshore of the island to see the Little Penguins arrive home after a busy day at sea. The guided penguin tours (they last 90 minutes) depart daily as dusk. For more information check out https://www.oceanicvictor.com.au/ or tel: (08) 8552 7137 or mobile 0448 885 450.

Granite Island Sculpture Trail
Located on Granite Island, this 2.4 km trail (it takes around 45 minutes) has 13 sculptures strategically placed beside a cliff face path around the island. The initial ten (two are added each year) comprised:
* Ocean Lace by Britt Mikkelsen from Western Australia
* And Another (Drop in the Ocean) by Norton Flavel from Western Australia
* Adam and Eve by Peter Lundberg from the USA
* Oushi Zokei 2017 by Keizo Ushio from Japan
* Horizon Figure 2009 by Greg Johns from South Australia
* Pot Plant by Marcel Cousins from Victoria
* Walking Looking Talking by Margaret Worth from South Australia
* Bystander by Hamish McMillan from South Australia
* Blue Cylinder Revolution by Masayuki Sugiyama from Japan
* What a Tasty Looking Burger by James Dive from New South Wales
For more detailed information check out https://sculpturebythesea.com/exhibitions/granite-island. There is a downloadable brochure with a useful map.

Oceanic Victor
Oceanic Victor is an unusual nature-based facility which provides visitors with a unique opportunity to get up close to Southern Bluefin Tuna and a variety of other marine species indigenous to the local Encounter Marine Park. Visitors can swim and hand feed the fish as well as view the fish from underwater viewing platforms. Aquarium tours depart daily and wet suits and equipment are included. Guided penguin tours depart daily as dusk. For more information check out https://www.oceanicvictor.com.au/ or tel: (08) 8552 7137 or mobile 0448 885 450.

The Bluff and Encounter Bikeway
The Bluff, a 100 metre high granite outcrop also known as Rosetta Head, is the site for the memorial plaque to the meeting of Nicholas Baudin and Matthew Flinders. The plaque, which was unveiled in 1902 (100 years after the event) records: "In Commemoration Of The Meeting Near This Bluff Between H.M.S. Investigator - Matthew Flinders Who Explored The Coast Of South Australia, And M.F. "La Geographe" - Nicolas Baudin, April 8 1802. On Board The Investigator Was John Franklin . The Arctic Discoverer, The English and French Explorers Held Friendly Conference. And Flinders Named The Place Of Meeting "Encounter Bay." For more information check out http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/landscape/exploration/display/51870-meeting-of-matthew-flinders-and-nicolas-baudin-.

Encounter Bikeway
Located to the west of the town Rosetta Head offers excellent views over Encounter Bay and, when the whales are in the area, it is a popular vantage point. It is also the start of the Encounter Bikeway, a 31.5 km loop sealed pathway (it is suitable for walkers, cyclists and is wheelchair accessible) which travels along the coast to the wharf in Goolwa. It is recognised as an easy route which includes panoramic views from Freeman Knob, whale watching in season, the surfing destinations at Middleton and Port Elliot, and Tokuremoar Reserve - a 70 ha site with rare and endangered indigenous plants and birds as well as the last remaining remnant wetland eco-system in the region. There is a downloadable brochure (https://encountervictorharbor.com.au/uploads/2017/05/bikeway_brochure09.pdf) which includes information about bike hire as well as a detailed map of the route.

Town Centre Heritage Trail
There is a downloadable brochure (https://encountervictorharbor.com.au/uploads/2018/08/HeritageTrailBrochure.pdf) which lists a total of 38 historic buildings of significance in Victor Harbor. The 3 km walk takes around 90 minutes and starts at the Harbourmaster and Deputy Collector Customs' House (1866) before passing the Railway Station, Post and Telegraph Office (1905), Commercial Bank (1930), Grosvenor Hotel (1897), Bank of South Australia (1865), ESA Bank (1927), Savings Bank of South Australia (1928), the beautiful St Augustine's Church of England (1869), Newland Memorial Uniting Church, Town Hall and Ozone Theatre. Each building has a blue plaque outside which provides detailed information and a short history of the structure.

Of particular interest are:
Victor Harbor Station Master's Residence
Located at 2 Flinders Parade, the Victor Harbor Station Master's Residence, sometimes referred to as the Encounter Coast Discovery Centre, is "a regional interpretative centre introducing visitors to the history and development of the south coast. The Discovery Centre has three galleries forming a timeline from pre-European settlement, through whaling and settlement, the establishment of Port Victor and the river trade and finally the onset of tourism in the 20th Century with the railways." It is open daily between 1.00 pm and 4.00 pm. For more information check https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/victor-harbor-station-masters-residence or tel: (08) 8552 5388.

South Australian Whale Centre
Located at 5 Railway Terrace in the old Railway Goods Shed, this is a display with exhibits which deal with whales, dolphins, seals and penguins. These exhibits include the jaws of a Great White Shark, fossils, the belly of a giant squid and the skull of a Southern Right Whale. It is open daily 10.30 am - 5.00 pm. For more information contact  (08) 8551 0750. Check out https://www.sawhalecentre.com.au for more detailed information.

Newland Memorial Uniting Church
Located at 30 Victoria Street, the Newland Memorial Congregational Church (now a Uniting Church) was built in 1927. It is named in honour of the Reverend Ridgeway William Newland who arrived with 34 settlers in July 1839. He was central to the early development of the town and his son, Simpson, became a successful pastoralist, politician and author. A donation from Simpson Newland helped to build the church. There is a fascinating history of the church and the Newland family at https://newland.ucasa.org.au/welcome/#churchhistory.

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Other Attractions in the Area

The Cockle Train
The Cockle Train runs during the school holidays and every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday for the rest of the year. It runs three times a day from Goolwa to Victor Harbor stopping at Port Elliot. Nicknamed by the locals because they used to use it to travel to Goolwa to collect cockles, it is a pleasant journey from Victor Harbor to Goolwa and back. Victor Harbor departure times are 11.00 am, 1.30 pm and 3.45 pm
The very detailed website explains: "The Cockle Train is based at our Goolwa Depot and commences its run each day at Goolwa station, in the historic Wharf Precinct alongside the River Murray. After crossing the main Goolwa to Victor Harbor Road the line heads off across the plains to Middleton, picking up or dropping off passengers on request, and then to Port Elliot where it reaches the Encounter Bay coast. The station here is operated by the local National Trust and features a small historical museum.
"After leaving Port Elliot the train climbs to the top of the coastal cliffs and passengers then experience some of the most picturesque coastal scenery on the Fleurieu Peninsula, with nothing separating you from the beach below and a perfect view of the Southern Ocean - in winter the home of Southern Right Whale. After a 30 minute journey the train edges into Victor Harbor station, right in the centre of the town and surrounded with its iconic pine trees. Here, the locomotive is detached from the carriages and turned on our specially retained 30m long electric turntable before rejoining the carriages for the return journey to Goolwa."
For the timetable and ticket prices check out https://www.steamrangerheritagerailway.org/our-trains/cockle-train. There are no reserved seats. You can book online or at the Goolwa, Victor Harbor and Port Elliot railway stations.

The Southern Encounter
The SteamRanger Heritage Railway operates a number of services (check out http://www.steamrangerheritagerailway.org/our-trains/the-southern-encounter) from Mount Barker to Goolwa and on to Victor Harbor. The most popular is the Southern Encounter. The SteamRanger website explains: "The Southern Encounter operates on the first and third Sundays from June until the end of November. The journey … leaves Mt Barker mid-morning, climbs up to the crest of the line and then winds down the eastern escarpment of the southern Mt Lofty Ranges, crosses the Angas River, then enters the historic township of Strathalbyn and continues southwards across the plains and across the Currency Creek viaduct and on to Goolwa. At Goolwa, the train draws alongside the river wharf and passengers alighting here have over four hours to explore local attractions, have lunch on the riverside, visit the Steam Exchange Brewery in the old goods shed, or take a short river cruise. Beyond Goolwa the train then meanders westwards to Port Elliot before cresting the cliffs where passengers can experience some of the most picturesque coastal scenery in the state, then onto Victor Harbor for a three hour stopover."

Urimbirra Wildlife Park
Located at 10 Welch Road, Hindmarsh Valley, about 5 km outside Victor Harbor via Armstrong Road, the Urimbirra Wildlife Park is home to more than 70 species of Australian animals and birds. It is activity based and invites visitors to "Pet a kangaroo, pat a koala, feed an emu and watch a professional snake handler!" It is open daily 10 am - 5 pm. Check out https://www.urimbirra.com.au or tel: (08) 8554 6554 for more details.

Waitpinga Beach and Newland Head Conservation Park
Located 17 km west of Victor Harbor via Waitpinga Road, Waitpinga Beach is part of Newland Head Conservation Park. Its interest lies in the quality of fishing available and the fact that the beach often has large waves rolling in off the Southern Ocean which makes it popular with surfers. It is said to be the best surfing beach closest to Adelaide. There are four walks in the park and it is common to see kangaroos grazing on the hills in the late afternoon and early morning. Check out https://www.parks.sa.gov.au/find-a-park/Browse_by_region/Fleurieu_Peninsula/newland-head-conservation-park#see-and-do for information about the walks in the park.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the local Aborigines, the Ngarrindjeri people, called the area around Victor Harbor, 'wirramulla'.

* Near Victor Harbor on 8 April, 1802, Matthew Flinders commanding the Investigator and Nicholas Baudin, the French explorer in Le Geographe, both were surveying the coast, met each other. It was on the basis of this unlikely event that Flinders named the stretch of coastline Encounter Bay.

* By 1829 Captain Charles Sturt had explored down the Murray River and it was agreed that a settlement should be established near the mouth of the river so that the inland could be opened up.

* By 1837 there was a whaling station on Granite Island. 

* In 1837 Colonel William Light inspected the area around the mouth of the Murray and concluded that the land was poor and the mouth of the river was probably not navigable.

* In 1838 Sturt endorsed Light's view that the mouth of the Murray could not be made safe for navigation.

* By 1838 Victor Harbour was already recognised as a port.

* A decision was made that Goolwa would become the last point for shipping on the Murray River and there was a debate as to whether Victor Harbor or Port Elliot would be the ocean port.

* The first European settlers moved into the area in 1839. Some lived on the mainland and worked at the local whaling stations. Others took up land and started grazing sheep and cattle.

* In 1851 work started on a railway between Port Elliot and Goolwa at a cost of £20,000. It ended up costing £31,000 and wasn't completed until 1854.

* By the 1860s the major port activities had moved from Port Elliot to Victor Harbor.

* In 1863 the town of Port Victor was laid out on Victor Harbor.

* In 1864, after seven ships had sunk off Port Elliot, it was decided to extend the horse drawn railway from Goolwa to Victor Harbor and use the harbour as the main access point for goods travelling up and down the Murray River. The Victoria Pier was opened that year.

* The Causeway was completed in 1867.

* The last whales was caught off Port Victor in 1872.

* In 1881 an additional jetty was built.

* By the 1880s some 25,000 bales of wool from all over western New South Wales and Queensland were being shipped down the Murray, travelling by train from Goolwa to Victor Harbor, and then being shipped around the world.

* By the 1890s, when the railway lines were established, the wool trade down the Murray stopped.

* In 1894 the first Horse Drawn Tram Passenger service was established.

* In 1912 the first edition of the Victor Harbor Times appeared.

* The municipality of Victor Harbor was declared in 1914.

* The Horse Drawn tram stopped operating in 1956. It was replaced by a Tractor Train.

* In 1986, as part of the 150th Anniversary of South Australia, the old Horse Drawn tram was revitalised at a cost of $570,000.

* Victor Harbor was declared a city in 2000.

* The Horse Drawn tram was stopped in early 2019 because the causeway bridge became dangerous. It started again later that year.

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Visitor Information

Victor Harbor Visitor Information Centre, 1 Esplanade, tel: (08) 8551 0777. Open seven days from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm.

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Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out https://encountervictorharbor.com.au.

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