Port Elliot Treasures

We are in Port Elliot. Again. Purportedly in the height of summer. Yet we sleep snuggly under our quilts and travel with layer upon layer of clothes like Sara Lee’s Danish pastries. Whatever the weather, however, Horseshoe Bay, with its rocky seascape and short jetty always provides a joyful view and a relaxing escape.

By the way, I’m not complaining about this year’s half-hearted summer weather. I am hopeless in the heat, and inclined to wilt like a fragile flower. And let’s face it, last year was the summer from hell, with those fearful bushfires tearing through Australia. So, let’s breathe a sigh of relief for this cooler January than was our lot in 2020.

Port Elliot is one of the prettiest old towns on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. It sits on the eastern side, between Victor Harbor and Goolwa, where the open seas of the Great Australian Bite provide a surf we don’t often have on our side of the peninsula, in the shelter of the Gulf St. Vincent. Early this morning, the waves poured over Christmas Pudding rock like thickened cream, while the rising sun struck through the clouds on the horizon, two long fingers of God, the sunlight glittering on the water like tinsel. The sand was white and smooth, made new by the night’s high tide. A few swimming enthusiasts were already striking out towards the diving platform in the middle of the Bay, while a man with a stick was autographing the pristine sand.

It’s only been a quick overnight trip to see friends before they head back to the city, and we could have driven home last night, but it is such a treat to sit in a deckchair with a cup of tea and watch the surf only metres away, as the town slowly starts to wake up. Then there’s time for a walk after breakfast, taking the path around the bay, past the memorial garden with its thick hedges of rosemary for remembrance, and up over the cliffs, where it is easy to see why Port Elliot never provided the hoped for safe harbour for ships exporting goods from the Riverland. As a safe bathing beach, however, it is picture perfect. And the lawn bowlers have the best view in town, their bowling green sitting above the beach like an infinity pool. We stray off the Harbourmaster’s Walking Trail to go in search of coffee and end up following the train line out to Lakala Reserve where local producers are setting up for the twice monthly market.

Last night we dined at No. 58 Cellar Door & Gallery on Watersport Road. Usually, it’s only open over the weekends, but during the summer holidays, its open seven days a week. This rustic cellar door for Thunderbird Wines is set among the vines on the corner of the old Waverley Estate, both part of Campbell Haig’s portfolio. Unfortunately, it was a bit cool to sit out on the deck, but we were given a large table right by the kitchen, which meant we could watch the chef in action whenever there was a lull in conversation.

The dinner menu is simple: a small selection of wood-fire pizzas on a damper like base. We started on the last dish of roast potatoes and a bowl of warm olives, then went on to share three pizzas, one topped with salami, another with ham and gorgonzola. The third had a garlic and tomato, scattered with tiny pipis from the beach at Goolwa, still in their shells, and needing to be extracted with each slice, tasting like the sea. Beyond the deck, neat rows of vines disappeared into the shadows as the sun set behind them.

The vineyard was planted barely a decade ago, apparently under contract to a boutique Adelaide Hills winemaker. Now operating under its own label, Thunderbird Wines produces small wine batches of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Shiraz. We chose their bubbles, the NV Blanc de Blanc, and it went down a treat.

The dining space includes a shelf of products for sale – oils, jams and sauces – is also used to display local art works. Kids are welcome and the space is warm and inviting, the staff always happy to help.

And then there’s South Sea Books, an independent bookshop with its cosy leather sofas and a coffee machine to extend your browsing time ~ at least when Covid restrictions aren’t disrupting proceedings. Originally a pretty stone cottage on the main road, South Seas has recently been enlarged with a light, brick addition on the side. I have been dropping in here for years, not least because I discovered that the owner, Sarah Taylor, went to school with me. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful and peaceful retreat, the shelves and tables choc-a-bloc with delicious looking books, the old part of the building looking gorgeously homely, like a private, overstocked sitting room, the kind of sitting room any bookworm dreams of owning. The staff leave handwritten notes, recommending their favourite books and I challenge you to walk away with only one, or resist the beautiful, hand-picked cards.

And when you have eaten your fill of books, two doors down there is an attractive coffee shop, ‘Beaches,’ where you can sit down to examine the towering pile of literature you have inexplicably acquired…

*The lovely painting of the bookshop is the work of Abbey Rawson of Abzurd Creations used here with her kind permission.

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