The Coorong National Park in South Australia is a park with so much to offer everyone in love with life in the great outdoors. Whether it’s fishing, camping, four wheel beach driving, bird watching, kayaking, fishing, walking, photography or a mix of all of the above, this incredible stretch of beach, dunes, calm waters and wild ocean is one that adventurers need to experience at least once in your lifetime.
I’ve written before about camping in the dune campsites on the ocean side of the Coorong, a fantastic experience with total serenity except for the sound of crashing waves. The beach is really wild and if you can manage a surf rod with a heavy anchoring sinker you have the possibility of landing big fish here and I’m talking Mulloway over the metre length. The remoteness is wonderful and you can feel alone in the world in this great wilderness area.
Another way to experience the spectacular Coorong waterway is by boat. We have a 14 foot V nose aluminum punt which is perfect for cruising in the Coorong channel. There are a number of places to launch a boat in the area including a boat ramp next to the Goolwa Aquatic Club. Here you’ll find a big carpark area to leave the car and trailer while you are on the water. Launching from here means cruising along the lowest part of the Murray River and heading towards the Goolwa Barrage. This barrage is one of five in the region which were built to separate Lake Alexandrina from the sea and to reduce salinity levels in the lower reaches of the Murray River from the ingress of the sea from the Murray Mouth at times of low flow. These series of barrages also help to stabilise the river level for upstream irrigation.
Going through the barrage is an interesting exercise if you’ve never taken a vessel through a lock before there are strict procedures to know. At Goolwa Barrage you can either phone ahead to contact the operators or as you are approaching you give three longs blasts of a horn to let them know you want to go through. When you see the red flashing light on top of the control box it is an acknowledgement that the lock operator has seen you and is preparing the opening of the lock gate for you to enter. When the flashing light changes to green you are good to enter the lock where the concrete walls inside have ropes hanging down for you to grab onto and hold as the water level is lowered before the exit gate is opened and you can pass through to the other side. The process is reversed on the return trip upstream and it only takes minutes for the lock chamber to empty and fill up to the levels required. In probably less than 15 minutes the whole process is done and you move on.
Once through the lock there are markers to lead you through the Goolwa and Coorong channels and you will see plenty of wildlife along the way. There are huge amounts of pelicans which use the Coorong as a breeding ground and this area is a wetland of international importance with many migratory birds also using it every year. Apart from the birds you will spot fur seals, making the most of fish supplies and I even spotted a couple of dolphins near the Murray Mouth area of the channel.
There are a number of commercial fishers that operate in this waterway and it’s popular with recreational fishers too due to its easy access, relatively sheltered waters and long list of ocean fish species to be caught, including the much sought after Mulloway. The minimum length of a Mulloway that can be kept if caught in the Coorong is 46cm as opposed to 82cm in other waters.
As you motor along the Coorong you pass a small settlement of shacks, these are Government owned crown land shacks leased to current owners. I believe they have a 99 year lease and after that end up back in the hands of the Government to do with as they wish.
As well as other private water craft in the Coorong there are also organised Kayak tours to take and the boat ‘Spirit of the Coorong’ regularly cruises from the Goolwa wharf, so even if you don’t have your own boat you can experience this terrific waterway. During the cruise, Spirit of the Coorong pulls up at one of the beaches and passengers are taken on a guided walk across the dunes to the ocean beach on the other side. All of this you can do if you have your own boat too.
There are even a couple of boat only access campsites that you can book to stay in. Barker Knoll campground is suitable for tents and swags and has a walking trail that takes you over the dunes to the ocean on the other side of the peninsula. There are no facilities here but a little further along is Godfreys Landing campground, another only accessible by boat and also suitable for tents and swags but this one has long drop toilets, a shelter structure and a walking trail of about 1.5 kilometres to the beach. Sites for two people are $16 per night and can be booked online through the National Parks and Wildlife SA website. A maximum number of 16 people can stay at one time which would make it a very peaceful campground with terrific fishing on your doorstep.
The Coorong is a beautiful unspoilt natural wonder to see, whether you choose to visit by car or boat the 130 kilometre stretch of salt water lagoons in South Australia is truly remarkable and peacefully uncrowded.