June 05, 2014

Lost Time

Words by Marco Antonello - photos by Kris Korvino

The Beachport to Robe trip is a classic beach run.

Proust said that the essence of the past is best recalled in our hidden memories. The sense of smell can reignite these lost memories so vividly it is like you are there again.
That is what I love so much about the beach. With the first hint of the fresh sea air through the car window, sometimes kilometres away from the ocean, I am swept back to my childhood. I would spend time with my grandparents at their beach house, and the feeling of total ease that surrounded me then is something that has slipped away as I’ve grown older. As an adult now, that feeling is still there, albeit rarer, so it is a welcome rush of memories and nostalgia when that salt air takes me back to my carefree days.
One of the classic beach runs in the country is the Beachport to Robe run. You can do it in a single day of driving, but it is best savoured over a few easy days. Someone once said that life should be like a delicious dinner, every morsel slowly devoured. It is not something we want to end, but something we want to go on forever. The end of a good meal is always a little bit sad. Life should be like that.

Beachport, like Robe further west, was settled in 1878 as a port town. That maritime history is still represented by the 772m pier in town, which was originally 1200m. That’s over a kilometre long!
Strangely, it is only the second longest in South Australia – the top honours belong to Port Germein at 1680m. When the Port Germein jetty was built in 1881 it was the longest in the southern hemisphere.
After a full day of driving from Melbourne towards the first beach you can legally drive on (Victoria in its wisdom has banned it altogether) it was time for a break. We pulled up to the Three Mile Bend camping area in the Beachport Conservation Park. The campground lies along Lake George and was somewhat protected from the howling Antarctic winds that pummel this coastline interminably.
Lake George is home to a staggering array of bird life, with this and the rest of the coastal lakes between here and Robe recognised as important habitats for waterbirds including the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot.

Dawn over a southern ocean that never sleeps. The roar of the surf when you’re camped on the coast here is deafening throughout the night, the perfect soporific.

We were up before the crack of dawn to watch the sun rise over Lake George, as calm as a Buddhist monk and reflecting the sky like one big mirror. There were no clouds to get in the sun’s way and I had the best breakfast a man can have – an outside one.
It was time to let the pressure out of the tyres for a couple of days of driving in the sand. There’s something about sand that attracts 4WDers. It can definitely be challenging. In fact, this section of beach early in the season is one of the most treacherous in the country, and is one of those places where you will see more recovery gear actually get used in one day than most 4WD destinations demand in a month.

There is no substitute for a bit of digging, but the MaxTrax make life a lot easier on the dunes.

You drop onto the beach at Three Mile Rocks, and it is instantly apparent why this is such a popular area. The crags of limestone, the pure sand and wind-whipped sea all draw you into a sense of extreme isolation. It doesn’t feel like we just left civilisation – it feels like civilisation hasn’t existed yet. If it were not for the occasional tyre track in the fresh sand, you could be forgiven for mistaking this empty beach for a deserted island landscape.
This first stretch of beach is fairly well packed and eases one into the sand driving experience. About a kilometre up the beach you take a right turn into the dunes. This is another world altogether. If I hadn’t just turned off the beach I wouldn’t believe you if you told me it was right there.
In the dunes tyres tracks run in every direction, cutting across and around each other in a maze of moguls and dune grass. I trusted that, as long as I kept the bonnet pointing roughly northwest, I’d end up somewhere close to where I wanted to be.

If a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work, what about if you’re doing both?

The inspiration behind the name Limestone Coast quickly becomes apparent once you travel along this stretch of the beach. Fields of limestone slabs make for dire backdrops and we found ourselves perched on top of huge limestone cliffs before dropping back into the dune maze again and again.
Each time I dropped back down onto the beach it hit me anew, the blue and green washing over the landscape with fresh energy. The sand was definitely soft in a few places, particularly coming off the dunes onto the beach and again, leaving the beach. As inevitable as death and taxes, we got stuck in the soft sand a few times, but we threw some MaxTrax under all four wheels and were on our way pretty quickly.
As we travelled further along the beach and into the dunes again, we came across a feature known as ‘The Bowl’. Literally a sand bowl with entrances from every direction, it’s a great place to test out your vehicle’s opposite lock steering, if you’re into that kind of thing. Just make sure you have enough speed to get back out, and a sand flag so anyone can see you coming.

The views coming in and out of the dunes over some of these quiet coves were breathtaking, again and again.

Before we knew it we had left the Beachport Conservation Park behind. Through this section there is private property to cross and the Millicent Sand Buggy Club. It’s a good idea to stay clear of the area, and a bypass track has been built to ensure that 4WDs and fast-moving buggies don’t meet each other unexpectedly, a rendezvous that never ends up pretty.
The section of beach that marks the halfway point between Beachport and Robe is Stinky Bay, which leads into the town of Nora Creina. I’m not really sure if this place warrants the title of ‘town’, it is literally nested in the dunes just off the beach with little more than a collection of houses and a pay phone, but I guess that counts. This is also private property, but it is the only way to get off the beach and then into the southern end of the Little Dip Conservation Park. Please be respectful of the residents and this right of way will continue into the future.

It’s amazing how if you’re out 4WDing and you stop to do something how everyone always wants to help. Here’s Marco getting a bit of help from a mate.

Errington Beach marks the start of Little Dip CP, and even though we’d been driving along the same coastline all morning, when we first entered this section it seems like a different beach altogether, and perhaps even more beautiful than those further east. The rocks and small coves that seemed to come out of nowhere gave the area a more timid beauty, a welcome retreat from the wild seas of the morning.
This section also seemed to be a lot more popular with surfers and fishermen dotting the landscape.
With Robe easily in reach, we decided to take a break from driving and just enjoy the late afternoon with a bit of fishing and doing nothing at all. We did nothing for a while and then the sun began it’s slow march towards somewhere sunnier. We didn’t catch any fish, but as any fisherman will tell you, who cares.
Robe has lots of campgrounds right off the beach in the dunes to choose from, or you can drive the short distance into town where there is one of the better caravan parks in the country, Lakeside Tourist Park. The town of Robe is one of those timeless holiday towns that seems to comprise nothing more than the relaxed traveller needs, and indeed, nothing less.  


ROBE is a coastal town on the southeast Limestone Coast of South Australia located 337km south east of Adelaide.
CAMPING is available within the Little Dip Conservation Area at Long Gully, Old Man Lake, Stony Rise and The Gums camping areas at a cost of $13 per vehicle per night. Picnic tables and toilets are provided but campers must carry in their own firewood. Fires are allowed on the beach except during total fire bans.
4WDING is available on the beach as well as on tracks between Beachport, Nora Creina and Robe as well as through the Canunda National Park. Pick up the 4WD Information Pack from the Robe Tourist Information Centre for details and maps of all 4WD tracks in the area.  
BEACH FISHING is very popular in the area, with mulloway and Australian salmon being the main targets. A 12ft rod with a large spin reel is appropriate tackle and popular baits include pilchards rigged on gang hooks or live mullet.
FUEL is available in Robe.
GROCERIES, SPARES, ICE and other supplies are all available in Robe.