By Julie Bates
Grab your phone and type the word ‘Coorong’ into any search engine or social media account. Wait and see what happens.
Take a look now. I can guarantee your screen will be covered with some of the most startling natural colours, and gloriously unique Australian landscape beauty you’ve ever seen.
Yes, that’s our Coorong alright. The 140-kilometre-long, narrow lagoon, surrounded by stunning national park and sand dunes is a photographer’s dream. The place where the classic Australian Storm Boy movies were filmed and the ultimate getaway for people who need to relax, slow down and unplug from the daily grind.
It’s that place you’ve driven past 40 times, but never had the time to really stop and properly take it all in. Because that’s what happens at the Coorong. It forces you to stop. Breathe. Listen. Relax.
And eventually … explore.
The romance of the Coorong has been compared to another iconic Australian experience – Kakadu. Not because of any similarities. But instead, because of their distinct dissimilarities and phenomena which set them apart from anything or anywhere else in the world.
It’s this unique wonderment and natural beauty which connects people to the Coorong, and helps them fall in love with it. The Coorong has its regulars – those who know the ‘secret camping spots’ for all weather events; those dreaming of catching their bag limit along either side of the dunes; those who need regular time out from the city hustle and need some time to breathe; and of course those who love reconnecting with nature, in all of its untouched glory.
I’ve always been in two minds about inviting people to the Coorong. Selfishly, I want to keep it to myself (and the thousands of others who already visit each year). BUT, in the spirit of giving and sharing, I feel like it’s the right time to spread a bit of Coorong-love out to the wider national community. So whether you’re based a couple of hours away in Adelaide, or one of the passers-by from interstate – a visit to the Coorong MUST be added to your bucket list.
During the cooler months, the Coorong comes alive. In fact, often the vast wetland ecosystem and untamed coastal scenery takes a step up from autumn to spring. The freshwater lakes are protected and still on winter mornings, perfect for paddling and exploring. The water levels are higher, and the estuaries and Murray River mouth create a visual spectacle each day. The saline lagoons change colour each month as the local ecosystem demands.
And the wildlife … oh the wildlife.
A mix of fresh and saltwater fish call the Coorong home, depending on which side of the dunes you’re on. In Meningie’s Lake Albert, you’ll find the famous Coorong Mullet. An iconic catch of the region, its distinctive texture and taste has led it to be championed at recent Tasting Australia events by some of the world’s best chefs. Or if you’re like me, you’re just happy with a fresh Coorong Mullet sandwich from the local general store (seriously, try them, try them, try them again).
If you’re after hands-on experience with the local fishing industry, it’s worth getting in touch with local couple Glenn and Tracey Hill from Coorong Wild Seafood. Historically known for offering up some of the best fish in the world (these guys are on a first-name basis with the likes of Maggie Beer and Simon Bryant) they’ve just branched out and are now in the early stages of inviting people along to their factory for a look and taste of the local catch. Give them a call to see what’s on offer when you’re down this way.
Other than the mullet, there’s also species of bream, flounder, mulloway and perch for those with time to search. If you’re playing on the ocean side of the Coorong lagoons, you might also be lucky enough to come across some of the bigger freshwater species of mulloway, salmon, gummy sharks and bronze whaler sharks. Remember to always check details of the sizes, bag limits and marine sanctuaries before you head out – it’s part of ensuring our local Coorong species are here for the next generations.
Photo courtesy of Tasting Australia.
If you’re staying along the other side of the Lakes, closer to the Murray Mouth in Goolwa (and prefer to do your fishing with your feet) you can go in search of your own Goolwa Pipis along the beach – one of the most unique culinary experiences you’ll ever have! Keep in mind that Pipi season closes from 1 June to 31 October (inclusive) to ensure they can regenerate. So save your digging for the warmer months! (Or pop in to Bombora Café right on the beach at Goolwa and grab a serve of your own immaculate cockle dish, prepared by chef/owner Joel. These guys are famous for their Pipi dishes and fresher than ever seafood meals served overlooking to surf beach).
Photo courtesy of Goolwa Pipi Co.
For the twitchers – it’s paradise. Pack your binoculars and the camera zoom lens, because no matter where you go, the birdlife is abundant in the Coorong. In fact, there’s even a birdwatching trail you can follow, which leads you through internationally protected wetlands under the Ramsar convention. From the Banded Stilt to the Royal Spoonhen, more than 240 bird species have been recorded here and migratory flocks travel here from as far away as Siberia and Alaska. Of course, there are pelicans by the thousands and for anyone fond of Mr Percival in Storm Boy, your own pelican experience awaits.
Now here’s the best news. One local bloke - Mik - has decided it’s time to set up a level of luxury for people who want to experience the Coorong. Over the past few years he’s been tinkering away, working to get the perfect place set up for that dream escape. What he’s come up with are some of the funkiest little carbon-neutral cabins you’ve ever seen. And of course, they’re perched right on the doorstep of the Coorong.
Photo courtesy of Coorong Cabins.
Aptly named the Coorong Cabins, the retreats are the ultimate balance of luxury and cool simplicity. Only a 10-minute drive from Meningie, and less than two hours from Adelaide, these cabins might just be the perfect host to the romantic escape you’ve been looking for (or ideal for a small family or group).
What we know is this. Everyone who stays at Coorong Cabins, starts planning their return trip before they leave.
It doesn’t matter what time of the year you stay either. In warmer months you can cook up your marshmallows and knock down some wine around the outdoor fire pit. Or if it’s a bit chilly, just snuggle up near the indoor fire place. You can experience the sunset along the deck regardless, as both cabins (the ‘Wren’ and ‘Pelican’) overlook the Coorong lagoon and allow you to experience the natural beauty of the Coorong National Park.
One of the best things about the Coorong Cabins is that they provide everything you need for your perfect, all-weather Coorong experience!
Photo courtesy of Coorong Cabins.
There are kayaks, lifejackets, fishing gear, bikes for all ages, pedal go-karts, an award-winning native garden to explore, safe play spaces for the kids, outdoor entertaining area and games room (and this is the short list). So you can get away with all the best outdoor toys, minus the trailer load! Coorong Cabins even has its own fruit and vegetable garden that you can pick fresh produce from each day you stay.
Of course while we’ve fallen in love with the Coorong Cabins (and for good reason), there are plenty of other places you can hire for your time away exploring the Coorong. Check out Coorong Realty for their local listings – or if you don’t have the time to explore online – just give Kerry and her team a call, let them know what you need and they’ll make something work for you. They’re locals, and the Coorong is their backyard. They’re happy to share their secrets with you.
However, if you're looking for something a bit bigger, with idyllic views across the Coorong, there's also the nearby Coorong Waterfront Retreat (pictured below). A contempary and fully-self contained accommodation venue sleeping six, it's the perfect place for a family, or group to enjoy the best of the Coorong. Similarly, these guys offer free use of the kayaks, wifi and have beautiful gardens and surrounds for guests to relax amongst, no matter what the season. Or if it's a bit too chilly, you can simply kick back by the fire and enjoy the water views from one of the best vantage points in the region. (Oh, and it's not just us who think they're pretty great, we've just found out these guys are award-winners too - twice taking out silver in the South Australian Tourism Awards, and more recently receiving a Certificate of Excellence with Booking.com for their exceptionally high guest review ratings!).
Photo courtesy of Coorong Waterfront Retreat.
Or if you want to browse your options – including some bed and breakfast style accommodation, take a look at a few other waterfront holiday listings for the Coorong on Stayz. If you prefer to camp, check out details of the Coorong National Park, or give the crew at the Lake Albert Caravan Park (right on the waterfront in Meningie) a call to chat about their cabins or site availability.
Photo courtesy of the SATC.
Now if you’ve got the time to venture around, and a love for exploring new places and tastes, here’s what I’d recommend you add to the itinerary. The beauty of the short road-trip to the Coorong, is there are some spectacular experiences within a short drive.
Get salty, snap a selfie
Along both sides of Meningie lie the magnificent pink-coloured salt lakes, the perfect spot for those bare feet selfies you’ve been wanting to capture since The ‘Tiser decided to run their giant feature on this wonder of nature. Just make sure you DON’T drive ON to the salt lakes … otherwise, you’ll be knocking on the door of a local farmer asking for help to tow you out of there! Bare feet works best (and is apparently like a spa treatment for your feet anyway).
Photo courtesy of Kate Hill.
Get closer to nature
If you’re keen on getting closer to nature, and want an insight from the local experts, then there are some brilliant Coorong tours to consider as well. If you’ve got the time during your stay – or are even looking for a day trip from Adelaide, then you should check out award-winning Canoe the Coorong for a paddle in to some of the most pristine places. Otherwise, if you’re not up for the exertion, try Spirit of the Coorong or Cruise the Coorong (both based in Goolwa) for a boat ride to some of the most magically untouched beaches and wetlands you’ll ever come across. The cruises vary anywhere from two hours, to a full day adventure cruise, so they can suit your timeframe and budget.
Photo courtesy of Canoe the Coorong.
Giant art and waffles
If you have a love of art, big icons and sweet treats, a quick trip in-land to Coonalpyn is most definitely for you. This small farming town is home to the State’s largest art canvas – a 30metre high grain silo mural (painted in 2017 by world-famous artist Guido van Helten). Around every corner lies cool and quirky little art pieces, with a mosaic covering the local public loos and a bright eagle-eyed fence installation adorning the local sports club boundary. Before the art though, there were waffles. And I’m not talking just plain old, packet-toasted waffles. I’m talking traditional Belgian waffles with all the trimmings and toppings you could dream of. What began as an entrepreneurial school child’s side project has become one of the most frequented road-trip stops along the State’s Dukes Highway! Just look for the big waffle along the highway’s access road, and make sure you save room for a second helping of waffle goodness.
Photo courtesy of Coorong District Council.
A winey stop-off
Another short drive from the Coorong (and a great place to stop on your way to or from the State’s south east) is the magnificent wine region of Langhorne Creek. The area is home to some of Australia’s biggest names in wine - like the historic, internationally acclaimed and family-owned Bleasdale. It’s also home to some of SA’s best emerging boutique wineries like Bremerton, Lake Breeze and Angas Plains, and hosts the annual Handpicked music festival, attracting thousands of revellers each year. I’d also recommend The Winehouse as a great stop for those foodies keen for a gourmet lunch date. The restaurant is right in the centre of town and encompasses a cellar door and Meechi’s boutique beer brewery as well (so you can sneak a taste and grab a six-pack to send you on your way).
Photo courtesy of the SATC.
A wild road trip
Or, if you fancy a walk on the wild side, why not cap off your Coorong experience with a visit to Monarto Zoo. It only takes a couple of hours to visit the meerkats, chimps and zebras. But I’d suggest you take an extra half day on your trip and throw in a behind the scenes experience. It really is like nothing else you can experience here in SA, as you get within a whisker of the Lion pride, cheetah family, cheeky chimps, glorious giraffes and the cutest little meerkats eating straight from your lap.
One particular barista
If coffee is your thing, and you’re a bit particular about your brew, then I’d advise you to make a stop at Little Local Co, en route to the Coorong. Hidden along the main street of Tailem Bend, Little Local Co’s owners and baristas Amy and Neil Chinsami have been making headlines for all the right reasons, with their unbelievable blends of warm and cool drinks and drool-worthy cake cabinet making their way to the top of the State’s best cake and caffeine stops.
Photo courtesy of Little Local Co.
Lunch on the go
The Coorong is also renowned for its exceptional bakeries, where locals head for a mid-morning pie and also a regular haunt for those travelling the Adelaide to Melbourne route. One of my favourites is the award-winning Tailem Bend Bakery, which recently claimed honours for the State’s best sausage roll (and I’d have to agree!). Also, closer to the Coorong itself is the Meningie Bakery, which dishes up one of the meanest vanilla slices you’ll taste, but complements these naughty treats with some beautifully fresh salad rolls (for the more health conscious).
Rev your engines
If you’re after an adrenalin rush while you’re in the Coorong, then you should drop into The Bend Motorsport Park for a look AND a play. These guys are about to release a range of high adrenalin experiences on their circuit, including V8 race car hot laps with pro drivers, off-road gravel courses, four-wheel-drive adventures and drifting.
Go towards the light … house
The Coorong is also home to the only in-land lighthouse in the southern hemisphere, the Point Malcolm Lighthouse at the Narrung ferry crossing. Not only is this icon steeped in incredible history, it’s location offers one of the most magic views of the Narrung Peninsula, where Lake’s Albert and Alexandrina intersect. This is a small detour on your way to Meningie and worth a look (and definitely a photo opportunity).
Photo courtesy of Coorong District Council.
A day at the local
Whether you’re staying at accommodation or camping down at the Coorong, you might want to spend a day getting to know the locals in Meningie. This beautiful lakeside village is renowned for its small-town hospitality, and offers some quaint little experiences too. You can take a walk along the Pelican Path in the centre of town, giving you a close-up experience to Lake Albert. Along this route you’ll find a full scale ostrich sculpture paying tribute to a local fable about a local bushranger (and it’s ready for a quick snap too, with foot straps available to climb and ride). It also includes the giant wooden pelican totem pole, nature playground and exercise equipment for those keen to stretch their legs. Oh, and if you’re hungry, make sure you pop in to one of the local shops for a Coorong Mullet sandwich – you won’t get it anywhere fresher than here!
See you in the Coorong soon.
About the author
Originally hailing from the city, Julie Bates now resides with her family in the heart of the Murray River, Lakes and Coorong region, with property only metres from the world-famous Monarto Zoo. Julie has fallen in love with the region, and has been lucky enough to combine her experience in tourism, with her passion for bringing more people to the region she now calls home. Julie knows every stretch of the region, and the characters who live and work along it. If you ever meet her, she’ll tell you about the great places to eat, play and explore; the magical scenery she gets to see every day at work; AND with her tribe of three kids, she can fill you in on the most family-friendly itineraries for a weekend (or week) away (and she knows the best places to escape without the kids for a weekend too).