The season is open for collecting cockles at Goolwa Beach and whether you cook with them or use them for bait, it’s a heap of fun collecting your own. Cockle season starts from the 1st of November and goes through until the 31st of May each year. You can dig them out of the sand anywhere along the beach, parking in the beach carpark or at any number of places along this stretch of coast, then head down to the waterline with a bucket and a measure and you’re on your way. But for an even better experience you can’t beat jumping in the 4wd for a trek along the beach, finding a patch of sand all to yourself.
The entrance to the beach drive is just behind the Goolwa Surf Life Saving Club building and once on the beach you turn left and head along until you find a spot you’re happy with. Being the start of the season it’s busy on the beach at the moment with traffic making it look more like a road than a beach but with around 10 kilometres of beach until you get to the Murray Mouth, there is plenty of room for everyone to spread out and still feel uncrowded.
Make sure you pick a day and time when the tides are right for driving on the beach and if you’re lucky you may just score a perfect weather day too when the sun is shining and the water is an aquamarine beauty. Week days will be less crowded than weekends too but it is a great day out for the whole family with kids enjoying digging for cockles as much as the adults.
When it comes to collecting cockles, also known as pipis to some or Kuti to the Ngarrindjeri people, it’s pretty simple. You can stand where the water just washes in or go a little deeper and twist your feet into the sand and soon enough you will feel the shells under foot. Then all you have to do is reach in and grab them and that’s it. I find that if you feel one, there are usually more in the same spot. A word of warning though is to wear bathers, because as much as you swear you won’t get too wet the waves have another idea and there will always be one that catches you out! The beauty of driving onto the beach is that if you aren’t having any success finding a bounty of cockles in one spot you can just drive a little further and keep trying. The daily limit is 300 per person or there is a vehicle possession limit of 900 when three or more people are present. They can only be kept if they measure at least 3.5 centimetres across the widest part of the shell and you can pick up a measure from tackle shops. It was also good to see Fisheries officers out and about checking that people were doing the right thing.
After collecting the cockles you can use them straight away and give fishing a go anywhere along the beach or take a drive the rest of the way to the Murray Mouth to try catching fish on the incoming tide. If you’re lucky you may get Salmon Trout, Coorong Mullet or if you have lures packed in, even the big Mulloway that all fishers are keen for at this spot.
After time on the beach I’d suggest you head back to the Goolwa beach carpark and visit the Kuti Shack perched on the dunes, to try pipis cooked by the experts. This comfortable and relaxed beach restaurant has recently undergone a renovation and they’ve increased the indoor space, giving it an updated beach shack feel, still with incredible views of the beach. The restaurant is a collaboration between the Goolwa Pipi Co. and partners, which owns over 10% of the South Australian Pipi fishery, and the talented chefs create delicious meals with the freshest of the seafood from the local area. We’ve taken many friends and visitors there and have never left less than totally impressed with the food and friendly service. The only thing we noticed on our last visit was that the venue was now quite loud inside but that may be overcome when the windows are open and let in the fresh sea air too. There is still outdoor dining too.
For one more lingering look at this spectacular coastline, visit the Goolwa Surf Life Saving Club behind the Kuti Shack and enjoy a drink and more friendly local service while taking in the far reaching views.