Encounter Bay SA

Looking west from the Bluff
Looking west from the Bluff to King's Head

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Britain and France were both anxious to complete the cartography of the large unchartered stretches of Australia's southern coastline.
In 1802, a British vessel, the 'Investigator', captained by Commander Matthew Flinders, and the French 'Geographe', were assigned the task by their respective governments. Sailing from opposite directions, the two expeditions met at what Flinders later named Encounter Bay, south-east of where Victor Harbor is now sited,
The meeting was amicable, and each vessel continued their expeditions, mapping and naming South Australian coastal features in both English and French.
Despite their initial anxieties, neither government showed interest in the southern coastline for the next thirty years, and the shores were left to the whalers and sealers who probed the coastline in search of seal and whale oils for the lucrative markets of England and China.
The presence of the whalers had a devastating effect on the local aboriginal tribes of the Encounter Bay area.
Previously self-sufficient, with semi-permanent camps and thriving on seafoods, river-fish, crustaceans and bush foods, they soon became a dependent society feeding on the huge waste quantities of fresh whale meat.
Their bay became fouled with blood and offal, and the air was polluted by the stench of decomposing and boiling blubber,
Such was the scene when official settlement of South Australia took place in 1836.

The South Coast is the closest place to Adelaide with any hope of consistent surf. Exposed to swells from the southern ocean, this long stretch of coastline has something for everyone and there are not too many days a year it's totally flat.

The south coast stretches from Cape Jervois to the mouth of the mighty Murray River, and if you take the long way, covers nearly one hundred kilometres. The areas most commonly descended upon by wave starved Adelaidians stretch about 50km, from Parsons Point to Goolwa. Offshore for this area is generally northerly, but can range from north east to almost westerly. Onshore sea breezes are common in the afternoons, especially in summer, so early risers may be rewarded with glassy conditions. There are arguably three main areas on the south coast, or "The Far", or "Down South" as Adelaide surfers tend to call it. The westernmost area is Waitpinga / Parsons, the easternmost is Goolwa / Middleton and right in the middle is Victor Harbour.

Waitpinga / Parsons

Waitpinga ( locally abbreviated to "Waits" ) and Parsons are two beaches separated by a point. Parsons Point is the best place to view Parson's Beach, to your west, or Waitpinga Beach, to your east. A dirt road leads off the main road from Cape Jervois, and is clearly signposted. Parson's has a series of beach breaks that break in all but the smallest swell, and a left hander that breaks off the point. This beach is very exposed to southern swell, and can have very heavy breaking waves and strong rips. Beach break quality is largely dependent on sand banks, which are often heavily guttered in the winter months resulting in big close-outs on larger swells. Parson's point starts breaking at around 3 feet, and has been known to handle up to 8' waves without closing out. It's best in the 3-5' range, and starts to barrel on the inside on a bigger swell. Around the point, and heading back toward Victor Harbour, you get the other side of the point, where not surprisingly you get right handers. On bigger swells, the Waits Point right hander can be a great wave. Plenty of open ocean power, big walls and a top to bottom break with a few barrels. Sometimes the point will hold out in a big swell while Waits and Parson's beachbreaks are closing out and unsurfable. Waits beach has several beach breaks, similar in character to Parsons, and dependent on sand banks for shape. Most of the waves tend to break into channels, where strong rips and backwash waves can surprise you as you paddle out. Right in front of the Waitpinga Carpark ( enter through the National Park ) is a small reef, that has a fairly consistent left and occasional right hander. This reef never is exposed, and the wave shape is effected more by sand build up than tide. The beach breaks at Waits and Parsons seem to prefer a low to mid tide, but this in turn depends on swell size and direction. Because of the heavy break and strong rips, learners should best keep clear of these beaches.

Victor Harbor/Port Elliot

The main road from Waitpinga veers away from the coast for a few kilometers as you head back toward Victor Harbour. The first break of any note is King's Head, which is about 5km out of Victor. Just before you come over the hill and look down on Victor and The Bluff to your right, there is a turn off with a dirt road leading up over a hill and down to a small carpark. From here you look back toward Kangaroo Island, across a small bay to a point with a very big house perched alone on the end. If there's a moderate swell you should be able to see the right hand point setup commonly known as King's. King's needs a big swell to really fire, and has a reputation as one of those breaks you surf when it's too big for everywhere else. Like most of the south coast, Northerly winds are offshore, so NE around to NW winds are the go. An incoming tide may go some way to soften the "where'd the water go?" jacking take off, but with a big swell and a 15 knot offshore, getting into waves at King's is a challenge. Still, if you do, you'll be rewarded by a long peeling right hander with fast bowling sections, and if you're really lucky, the odd barrel. Looking from King's across the bay you'll see a big funny looking grassy hill, known as "The Bluff". Just next to The Bluff is a small bay known as Petrel Cove. This is another spot that can get waves in a bigger swell, but struggles to break a lot of the time. It is a sand / rock bottom with a rugged entry to the water so if you like slashing your feet to shreds, leave the booties at home. The shape and direction of the break(s) at Petrel Cove are defendant on swell direction, but it is slightly sheltered in a westerly so can be worth checking on a storm swell. Most of the time though, keep driving! The Bluff marks the western end of Encounter Bay, which sweeps around for about two km and forms the beach frontage of the township of Victor. Rosetta Bay is generally sheltered from swell by The Bluff and Granite Island, which is connected to the mainland by a causeway. Again, in a very big swell you may get waves there, especially in a spot called Shark Alley, where you may get a right hander. Generally though, this is not a surf beach. The other side of the causeway the coast bends around and is more east facing. The area near the bowling club is lined with pine trees and, oddly enough, is called "The Pines". This area rarely gets swell as it is very sheltered as it faces away from the prevailing swell. Sometimes though, on a big swell, lines push through the gap between Granite Island and the mainland. The swell wraps around into the pines and in a south westerly is cross-offshore. Worth a look if everywhere else is too big. Beyond The Pines you start to head out of Victor, and the coast swings back around and is south facing. As you head toward Port Elliot, you get into some decent set-ups of reef and beach breaks. These breaks are more exposed to powerful southern ocean swells than any others in the Victor area. As you take the main road out of Victor that heads back to Adelaide, you turn off right at the big roundabout, heading toward Goolwa. If you drive about half a kilometer you can turn right down any side street and get to the beach. The side streets intersect a road that runs along the top of the high beachfront, where you can get several good looks at the surf. Check these breaks if Middleton is 4 - 5', or closing out. The first break here is The Dump, which you can check out from the top of the road that leads down a steep hill to the carpark. The Dump is a sand / reef break that mainly breaks right, but can also have a short left at the southern end of the beach. Like most of the breaks in this area, it needs a moderate to large swell to get going. On it's day, the Dump is a big walling wave, that breaks top to bottom and packs a lot of punch. The take-off is usually fast jacking, but on a full tide can be deceptively easy- until it doubles up and launches you head first to the bottom. At around 4', and on a mid tide, you can get a nice backdoor barrel on the inside here, as you race the thick lipped first section. At 6' and beyond, a reef further out to sea comes into play, making the left about 30% longer. On these days, the first reef ( where the take off normally is ) becomes a barrel, and the shorebreak usually closes out heavily- which makes getting out there interesting. There is another break back toward Victor that has a right hander and can get good, but is less consistent than the Dump's left.

Parsons Point, looking from Waitpinga toward Kangaroo Island

As you head toward Port Elliot on the Goolwa road you will see a turn off to the Chiton Rocks Surf Lifesaving Club. Chiton ( or Shiton as you may hear it called locally ) is another sand / reef break similar in character to The Dump. It usually has a peak, so you often get a left and a right break- a great wave on it's day- if a little short. You may also find breaks either side of Chiton working at different times under different swell and tide conditions. As you come into Port Elliot, there is a turn off opposite the drive in, that leads to Boomer Beach. Boomer is good fun for a body bash on a 2 - 3' swell ( where you usually get hoards of boogie boarders flapping around in the closeout shorey ), but on a 4 - 5' swell though, it can get downright nasty. There is a lot of water here, a strong rip and a steep beach. It is not often surfed, but at times on a big swell a second, and sometimes third reef start breaking. On days like this many a board will be snapped in the shorey, as it dumps a 6' closeout onto suck dry beach. Also on days like this, if you get out, and make the take off, and don't get a killer closeout, you may just get the thickest gnarliest barrel on the south coast. Just remember to flick off before the shorey - or you're history. At the southern end of the beach is a point, and a generally booger infested beach known as Knight's. Readers of the surf mag "Tracks" may remember seeing a photo of a board impaled on a "No Standing" sign at Knight's, scrawled across the board the words "No stand up cooks". No one knows what they have against upright masters of cuisine. On a big day, many of the "non-standing cooks" vanish, and you can get a short intense right hander there. Just around the point from here is a novelty spot known as Green Bay. This is a boogie boarder haven, where waves forced into a narrow channel between the cliffs hit the cliff face and surge back out again - resulting in a wave you can ride in and back out again. Further around the rocky point is a small scenic bay known as Horseshoe Bay. This is a very sheltered bay frequented by families during summer, but can have a small shorebreak occasionally. The bay is almost semi-circular, and swell is blocked by a large granite rock island just offshore. At the southern end of the bay is a point, around which you'll find another break. Chicken Run is a right hander that rolls down a granite rock point in larger swells, which it needs before it will break. On a bigger day, it can be quite a long wave, with a typical point break easy paddle back out. You can actually stand on the point, only meters away from the take off, jump in and be there in thirty stokes without getting your hair wet. The take off is relatively soft, with the wave picking up speed and bending around as you get into it. Chicken run can offer some shelter in a westerly storm swell, as the point blocks the prevailing wind. Entry is through the Port Elliot Caravan Park, but don't bother looking unless the Middleton area is at least 4 - 5'.

Middleton / Goolwa

From Chicken run and the point a bay swings around past Basham's beach, which is generally a bit sheltered, and tends only to break when the swell's big. At the southern end of this sandy beach is a jagged rocky point, known as Frenchman's Point. Frenchman's forms one side of the infamous Middleton Bay, the other side flanked by, you guessed it- Middleton Point. Frenchman's is a sand over rock point break that breaks right into the bay, and starts to work at 3'. On a 4-5' swell it can be a fast hollow wave, but won't hold much more than 6' before closing out. Middleton Bay starts to break at about 2', and will hold up to 6' before it closes out from point to point. A left hander breaks into the bay, but right handers also occur on the other side of the peak. The right is short due to it hitting the point, but the left can be a nice sucky wave on a 3-5' swell, with a rare barrel to be had on the inside. Off Middleton Point is a right hander that breaks down toward Day Street, that can be quite long on the right sort of day. South from here you get into a very long stretch of beach breaks that stretch the fifteen odd kilometers to the Murray river mouth. Popular with swimmers and beginners are Day St. and Surfers, which have some sort of wave most of the time. About a kilometer south is Cliffs, which can be a little bigger than Day St., and has a pseudo point break. These are all on hard packed sand, with long gently sloping beaches. Wave shape is dependent mostly on sand bar formation, and is generally nothing special. Expect a looooonnng paddle on a bigger day, through 2 or 3 impact zones, where you'll end up 250m offshore. The beach breaks continue all the way south through the resort town of Goolwa, where the swell is usually about 1' bigger than Middleton. On a day with a 3-4' swell, and a 5 knot NW offshore wind, there can be some nice beachbreaks here, and you can usually find one without much of a crowd. Bear in mind though, that all of this- light offshore, nice clean swell, and good banks- is a big ask here. Your south coast sojourn reaches it's finale when you reach the Murray Mouth. There are a few ways you can get here, for starters you could just drive you car on the beach from Goolwa. Another way is to catch the Goolwa ferry ( it's vehicular, that means you can get your car on it! ) across to Hindmarsh Island, then drive down to the southern end of the Island. The 'Mouth is a typical rivermouth setup, with waves breaking into the mouth from each side. There can be some excellent waves here at times, and not much of a crowd- for a few good reasons. Firstly, it's not the easiest place to get to, secondly, there are strong currents here, and a lot of local knowledge goes a long way, and finally, it has a sharky reputation. Check this spot if Day's / Goolwa look OK with clean waves, but you want that bit extra. In reality, the surf on the south cast doesn't end there, but the coast is isolated from the mainland by a huge marine estuary known as The Coorong. Then again, if you have a four wheel drive, and you want true solitude...