SAND BETWEEN THE TOES AND UNDER THE TYRES.
Paul Murrell heads for sun, sand and surf in SA in a Golf Alltrack
Text: Paul Murrell | November 2017
One of the enduring memories of an Australian childhood is the family trek to the beach. It always started, on a searing summer’s day, with loading the boot with the various essentials – beach towels, sun screen, a blanket to spread on the sand, a scarred old Esky full of the makings for a salad and bottles of pre-mixed cordial, followed by the seemingly endless drive through the suburbs, windows down to catch any hint of a breeze.
But finally, we’d catch our first glimpse of the sparkling blue horizon. We’d arrived, and any minute we’d be frolicking in that welcoming, cool, clear water. Ah, but not quite yet. First we had to find somewhere to park the car, and since it seemed almost everyone else had the same idea, parking spaces were at a premium.
Endlessly, but increasingly less optimistically, we circled the blocks near the seashore, steadily widening our search and moving further and further inland. The elusive parking space found, the car parked, the boot unpacked, we began the long trek to the beach, laden like desert Bedouins, hopping across the sizzling tarmac and full of anticipation.
If only we’d known!
In South Australia, there are a number of beaches that you can legally drive onto and along, and many of them are suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles. What luxury! Not only can you drive right to the water’s edge, everything you need for the day is right there with you, and if necessary, the car can even provide shade. Not something you can do in many places in the world.
As you drive down onto Aldinga beach, you have to pinch yourself to remember you’re so close to the Adelaide CBD. Where else can you drive out of the city and be sitting on a beach beside your car in 40 minutes? The beach is reasonably flat with hard-packed sand (stay away from the large round pebbles high up on the sand line) and the beach itself is perfect for swimming, snorkelling, beach cricket or volleyball.
>> As you drive down onto Aldinga beach, you have to pinch yourself to remember you’re so close to the Adelaide CBD. <<
However, it pays to do your homework before you go. It isn’t really necessary to deflate your tyres, as you would have to do on softer sand (although the 4MOTION all-wheel drive of our Golf Alltrack provided added reassurance), but conditions on beaches are constantly changing and it is wise to check the weather forecast and tide times. It’s best to drive along the beach at low tide and allow plenty of time to return to the ramp before high tide. Even though you’re on a beach, the law still considers this a public place so all the usual road rules apply – wear your seat belt, observe the speed limit (10km/h), don’t drink and drive and pay particular attention to other beach users who tend to forget that vehicles are travelling through their playground. Nearby beaches such as Sellicks and Silver Sands are also open to vehicles and like Aldinga, are open from 5.30am to midnight (perfect for those long summer evenings).
There’s another bonus that we could only have dreamed about as children as we munched our soggy tomato and lettuce sandwiches, spitting out the grains of sand that inevitably found their way between the slices of bread, and sipping lukewarm lime cordial. Only minutes away from Aldinga Beach is the renowned Star of Greece restaurant in Port Willunga.
Looking out over the placid waters of Gulf St. Vincent, it’s hard to reconcile that the restaurant is named after a shipwreck that claimed 17 lives in 1888. Once a humble beachside kiosk, under the guardianship of Doug and Nikki Govan, the Star has grown and morphed into a stylish fine dining establishment (although you can still sit out front and enjoy the beach kiosk ambience, a cold beer and fish and chips).
A great view is always enhanced by good food, so try the tasting menu for the full experience, or order a la carte for South Australia’s world-famous Coffin Bay oysters, kingfish sashimi, Coorong Angus beef and Moreton Bay bugs (not all the great food is South Australian-sourced!) and linger over a dessert of burnt marmalade ice cream with citrus curd.
You can drop in to the kiosk (open weekends and every day during school holidays) but bookings are essential for the restaurant (Wednesday to Sunday, 12-3pm for lunch, dinner Friday and Saturday nights, open seven days a week for lunch and dinner from 26 December to 26 January).
>> Looking out over the placid waters of Gulf St. Vincent, it’s hard to reconcile that the restaurant is named after a shipwreck that claimed 17 lives in 1888. <<
There are plenty of other beaches around South Australia where vehicles are welcome. You can drive onto Goolwa Beach and wend your way as far as the Murray River mouth (recommended for experienced off-roaders). On Kangaroo Island, one beach, Emu Bay, is suitable for driving. Before you venture onto the sand (all-wheel drive is not essential), pick up some oysters from American River and then sit back and enjoy the sweeping views visible through your windscreen.
Further afield, there are several beaches on the Eyre Peninsula, including Lincoln National Park with its spectacular Sleaford-Wanna sand dunes (experienced four-wheel drivers only and follow the orange marker posts). Point Sir Isaac in Coffin Bay National Park is popular with surfers, birdwatchers and anglers (experienced four-wheel drivers only, allow three hours each way to the lighthouse).
Long Beach is close to the burgeoning Limestone Coast wine region and the delightful tourist town of Robe (suitable for novice off-roaders) while south of Robe is a more challenging drive in Little Dip Conservation Park.
The Yorke Peninsula also offers beach driving thrills with 700 kilometres of coastline. Popular is the novice-friendly North Beach at Wallaroo.
On any beach, respect private property (many owners allow four-wheel drivers to traverse their land), stick to defined tracks and consider the wildlife that makes its home in the dunes above the high-water mark.
Of course, there is one downside to parking on the beach; when the assorted children, dogs and other passengers climb aboard for the drive home, car-proud owners will wince at the sand deposited on the carpets. But it’s easy to vacuum up, so revel in an experience few people in the world can enjoy.
Following a successful career in advertising which surprised everyone (not least himself), Paul escaped to the Adelaide Hills where he has indulged himself ever since by enjoying and writing about cars (old and new), travel and wine. He lives and travels with his wife and designated driver, Sandra.