Hidden Treasures: Yorke Peninsula

The Ethel’s unfortunate end occurred during a storm, and depending on the tides and the seas, her skeleton is sometimes covered in sand and, at others, more exposed. During a recent weather event, the sands shifted and threw up the lead, which now has pride of place in the Visitors’ Centre.

This event could well be a metaphor for the entire Yorke Peninsula, a region known locally as a farming, fishing and surfing destination. But stop a while and explore a little deeper and the Yorke will reveal its hidden depths.

A vibrant arts community is one of them, and Ballara Arts & Lifestyle Retreat in Warooka is creative central with workshops, art classes and musical soirées held there regularly. It’s the brainchild of Steph Ball, whose forebears built the limestone homestead that she has lovingly restored and turned into self-catering accommodation as well as an events venue (see the story on page 52). Ballara is the sort of place where you might run into Stansbury artist Winnie Fox as she leads a Brush with Booze workshop, glass of wine in one hand, paintbrush in the other.

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Steph, who is a talented artist and photographer in her own right, is a passionate advocate for her region. She hit on the idea of making Ballara an arts HQ after exploring the Lakes District of England with a local guide, who tailor-made tours according to the participants’ interests. “I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve been looking at it through the camera viewfinder for most of that time,” she says. “So I know the most beautiful parts as well as the not-so-obvious places. Somewhere down the track, I’d love to take photographic tours.”

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Steph’s work, and that of the peninsula’s many other talented artists, is showcased at Baker Bros Gallery, also in Warooka village, a short distance from the retreat. It and other venues such as Harvest Corner Craft & Gallery in Minlaton and Yorketown’s Peesey Pantry are also good spots to sample local produce for which the region has a growing reputation.

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The paddocks patchworked with barley, wheat, canola, lentils and other grains rolling down to the sea are of course the obvious clue that the Yorke is prime agricultural land. But it’s also beef cattle, prime lamb and of course splendid seafood territory as the boot-shaped peninsula is bounded on either side by St Vincent and Spencer Gulfs. The fisheries are home to SA’s celebrated King George whiting, red snapper, bluefin tuna and garfish and the southern rock lobster is a menu highlight during the season from late spring through summer.

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Steve Bowley of Pacific Estate Oysters has the peninsula’s only leases and he’s based near seaside Stansbury. He explains the unique vegetable flavour the Pacific and native Angasi oysters have in winemaking terms. “Grapes take on characteristics of the soil in which they grow,” he says. “Our oysters grow on seagrass meadows so they have a distinct flavour.” Visitors can taste his freshly shucked bounty at the Dalrymple Hotel on Stansbury’s waterfront, where young local chef Will Glazbrook has become a champion of all things local, from Anna Phasey’s Rosevale lentils (see story on page 62) to flathead and whiting fresh from the gulf and sausages from the celebrated Stansbury Gourmet Meats. The salt lakes that punctuate the landscape are a clue to another local industry, table salt. Will’s mother, caterer Cathy Glazbrook, and Marion Bay caterer Caroline Bonnet both use local salt in their ranges. The towering white mountains of salt at Price are where Cheatham Salt Ltd evaporates seawater into salt for table and industrial purposes.

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Where there’s food there’s drink, and Barley Stacks Wines near Maitland is the region’s first commercial winery. The Watsacowie Brewery is gaining a big reputation for its craft beer and the inside tip is that Jazzy Red beer, named for the brewery dog, is not to be missed.

With the ocean on both sides, the peninsula is popular with fisherfolk and summer holiday-makers from Adelaide, which is just two-and-a-half hours away. There are sleepy seaside villages on both sides of the irregular boot-shaped peninsula, and walkers are rewarded with beautiful coastal scenery. Walk the Yorke is a shared hiking and biking trail that runs around the entire 500-kilometre coastline from Port Wakefield on the eastern side to Moonta Bay on the west. Hikers can opt to do sections as short as a couple of hours to a few days, or the whole shebang if they have a couple of weeks to spare.

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Innes National Park at the very toe of the peninsula’s boot is the jewel in this natural crown, with splendid cliffs falling to benchmark surfing beaches, lighthouse lookouts, boardwalks through the heathland and the Investigator Strait Shipwreck Trail recalling the days when heading out to sea was a lottery against the forces of nature. The park is a birdwatcher’s delight and also the home of loads of native wildlife including the Tammar wallaby, which was reintroduced from a remnant population in New Zealand after becoming extinct in mainland SA in the 1920s. There are 110 camping sites spread across eight campgrounds in the park, but there’s also more civilised accommodation in the restored buildings of the Inneston historic precinct. In the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, Inneston was the centre of a bustling gypsum mine for plaster, chalk and fertiliser. When it closed in the 1970s, the village became part of the surrounding national park and the lakes that once were integral to the mine are now famed as the home of stromatolites, sedimentary accretions that contain an important record of early life on earth.

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One of the great attractions of the Yorke is that it’s on the road to nowhere. Travellers heading off on the great journey across the Nullarbor usually overlook it in their eagerness to tackle the big road trip. But that’s their loss. The Yorke is a place that rewards travellers with a bit of time on their hands. As they say in the guidebooks, it’s worth the detour.

The complete story was originally published in Australian Country issue 22.1. Click here to subscribe to our magazine

Words Kirsty McKenzie

Photography Ken Brass

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