‘The eye can observe nature and the mind describe it, but it is truly experienced in the soul.’
~ Jill Murch (words and photo)
Earlier this year, I escaped to the beach for a few days R&R with my parents and my daughter. Robe is a small, sleepy fishing village on the Limestone Coast between Adelaide and Melbourne. It’s neither Borocay nor the Sunshine Coast, so eliminate all thoughts of theme parks or five star resorts. Robe has even – so far – remained undiscovered by McDonalds. It is the perfect destination for an old fashioned beach holiday with the family.
Grab a map and I’ll show you…
Robe is in the south east corner of South Australia, a comfortable three and a half hour drive from Adelaide, or six hours west of Melbourne – a hop, skip and a jump for most Aussies. From Adelaide CBD the road will take you through the hills, over the Murray River and along the Coorong (remember Storm Boy?). Meningie, on the edge of Lake Albert, has a lovely picnic spot for coffee or a lunch break.
From Melbourne, head west to Ballarat, skirt the Grampians and cross the border near Penola. Then make a quick detour to the Coonawarra for a bottle of wine or two (Di Giorgio’s, Hollick’s, Bowen Estate, Zema’s) before rolling on to Robe.
French explorer Nicholas Baudin discovered and named Guichen Bay in 1802 after a French Admiral of the same name. The town itself was named for the fourth Governor of South Australia, Major Frederick Robe, who chose the site and proclaimed it a port in 1847. It is one of the oldest towns in South Australia.
By the 1850s, Robe was one of the state’s busiest, wealthiest ports. Bullock teams transported wool and wheat from the local farms to the jetty, and horses were shipped out to the Indian Army. During the Gold Rush, thousands of Chinese landed at Robe to gatecrash the Victorian goldfields. It meant walking 200 miles to Ballarat or Bendigo, but it was worth the hike to dodge the Victorian landing tax.
Eventually competition from Port MacDonnell, Beachport and Kingston began to undermine this thriving port. When the railway was built, it did not reach down the coast to Robe. Rising transportation costs caused further economic decline.
Isolated from the railway and the main highway between Adelaide and Melbourne, Robe has nonetheless become a popular seaside town, with enough trade and industry to allow it to survive and thrive into the twenty first century. It still maintains a fleet of fishing boats and is relies heavily on the local crayfishing.
There are several beautiful beaches around Robe, all boasting the finest white sand and crystal clear, deep turquoise water. The front beach is perfect for paddling and sandcastles, with rocky outcrops for aspiring mountain goats. At the back end of town, West Beach as rock pools and huge, rolling sand dunes. This beach is not recommended for swimming. The surf is fierce, as several shipwrecks will testify, but it is a stunning sweep of steep, empty, windblown beach, perfect to blow away the cobwebs and appreciate the grandeur of nature. A similar beach can be found at Nora Creina Bay, if you are prepared for a bumpy ride down rutted dirt tracks to the Little Dip Conservation Park. At the north end of Robe you can even drive along the aptly named Long Beach that runs up the coast for seventeen kilometres.
Over the years I have watched Robe expand and evolve. When we were teenagers, Robe consisted of a couple of pubs, a small supermarket, a petrol station and a fish and chip shop. Today a growing number of cafés, restaurants and boutiques adorn the main street, and an array of carefully preserved heritage buildings add charm and character to this peaceful coastal town.
When our children were small, there was only one café, The Wild Mulberry Café . An old stone building on the main street, it also provided a wide lawn where the kids could play, while we relaxed in the shade with coffee and raisin toast. Today there are plenty more choices. Restaurants such as Sails and The Providore, The Union Café and Vic Street Pizzeria. A new favourite of mine is The Whistling Fish, a bookshop-cum-coffee-shop, housed in a heritage listed wool shed. In winter there are small, cosy tables inside by the fire, amongst the books. In summer there is seating in the pretty, overgrown garden.
Townies from Adelaide and Melbourne, and farmers from the South East have snapped up many of the older shacks or stone cottages to convert into beach houses. Others have built modern designer homes that can sleep entire armies of family and friends. There are rentals available for every budget, a campsite on the dunes above front beach, several motels and the nineteenth century Caledonian Inn.
For the wine lover, there is also a broad selection of Limestone Coast and Coonawarra wineries within easy driving distance.
Sporting enthusiasts can play golf, squash or tennis. They can learn to surf and sail, or water ski on Lake Fellmongery. Others head for the skate park or try their hand at fishing, either from the beach or off the jetty, or they can even charter a fishing boat.
There is plenty to do if you want activity, but it is also the perfect place to exhale: lazing on the beach; meandering down the coastal walking trails, or reading on the lawns along the seafront. The regional food is highly acclaimed, there are excellent local wines, and so much fresh air your lungs may go into shock. Picnic spots abound and the scenery is uniquely South Australia: saltbush scrub and dusty yellow paddocks line the back roads; the coast line is starkly, wildly beautiful. The magpies will wake you in the morning. The Milky Way frosts the sky at night.
So leave time and all worldly pursuits behind to relax and enjoy the solitude and the natural beauty of Robe.
See the official website: http://robe.com.au