South Australia has some incredible and unique experiences, and this is one of them. Each winter, Giant Cuttlefish converge on the top of the Spencer Gulf for breeding. Here is how you can see the Giant Cuttlefish at Whyalla for yourself.
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TL;DR? Here's the outline
Featured image photo credit: Victoria Kronsell, Eyre Peninsula
So Why are the Giant Cuttlefish at Whyalla?
The Australian Giant Cuttlefish have always come to this part of South Australia to breed. The traditional landowners, the Barngarla people, call the cuttlefish “Yaryardloo”, and their appearance was an important signal of the change of season.
The cuttlefish arrive in Spencer Gulf around May each year, waiting until the water temperature drops below 16°C. Conditions need to be perfect for the female cuttlefish to lay their eggs.
They like to congregate in the small gulf to the west of Point Lowly, where the sea bottom is littered with large flat rocks, creating ledges under which the cuttlefish attack the eggs.
By August they leave the area, feeding out in the ocean until their return.
About thirty years ago it would have been difficult to find cuttlefish in this area as commercial fishing almost wiped them out, but since its ban, the cuttlefish population has thankfully recovered into something that is incredible to see.
Today, around 250 000 cuttlefish congregate for the breeding season, from May to August.
Where Exactly are the Giant Cuttlefish
In absence of a better map, this photo taken of a sign at Stony Point will give you an idea where you can find the cuttlefish.
At both Stony Point and Black Point (not to be confused with the better-known Black Point on Yorke Peninsula), the cuttlefish can be found in only a metre or two of water, usually within 100m of the shore.
Point Lowly is around 35km, or 25 minutes north of Whyalla. It is well signposted on the highway between Whyalla and Port Augusta. Allow at least an hour if coming from Port Augusta.
How to See the Giant Cuttlefish
In the last few years, word of the cuttlefish migration has got out, and it have become a drawcard in the region as visitors come to see these colourful and strange creatures. Here are the best ways to do so.
Snorkel with the Giant Cuttlefish
To be perfectly honest, I believe this is the best way to see the Whyalla cuttlefish, it just has one big downside – that icy water! If you are a much braver person than me, the solution is to don a nice thick wetsuit and get in the water anyway.
Whether you snorkel or scuba dive, the view underwater of the cuttlefish looks incredible. You can really experience the cuttlefish up close and at your own pace.
There is no charge to swim with the cuttlefish, you simply suit up, navigate the rocky entry points and walk into the water.
Don’t expect a huge amount of facilities where you start your dive – although there are toilets and change rooms available at Stony Point.
If you don’t happen to have a 7mm wetsuit handy, you can hire one locally at Whyalla Diving Services, with all the extras for your experience too. They also offer a range of tours for snorkelling, scuba diving, and even a non-swimmers tour to help you get the most out of the swim.
You can see the cuttlefish with a three-day tour from Adelaide with PureSA, check out all the details on their website.
Take a Cutty’s Glass Bottom Boat Tour
If you are like me, and the thought of that cold water is just too much, there is now another option! You can do what I did, and book a glass bottom boat tour with Cutty’s.
I was so excited when I saw this option as I had been wanting to see the cuttlefish for years, but just couldn’t bring myself to get in that water.
Within minutes of discovering the tour existed, I had booked and was planning my trip. This was going to be the first time I had been on a glass-bottomed boat, and the first time a tour of this type has been offered in South Australia.
He has lived on the Eyre Peninsula for most of his life and has been working in the tourism and fishing/diving industries for more than twenty years.
He saw the opportunity to showcase the cuttlefish here at Whyalla and has put together this brand new tour, never offered before.
On the morning of the tour, we made our way to Point Lowly. The instructions were to look out for the Cutty’s signs on the road into Point Lowly as they would direct us to where the boat was launching.
Depending on the weather, two different sites are used. For us, it was Stony Point, right next to the fence line with SANTOS.
It is recommended to arrive half an hour before the tour, and in our experience, that was heaps of time.
For us the weather was just perfect, so we could look around a little, take some photos, and then get a coffee at the coffee van also set up by Cutty’s to help keep visitors warm.
There is a shelter with some picnic tables that will help if it’s raining, but if it’s really cold and windy, waiting in your car will be the best option.
Right on time we were taken down to the boat to begin our tour.
Be aware the access here is over rocks and there is a small chance you will need to remove your shoes and wade through shallow water if the tides are not in your favour, but they are hoping that will not occur too often.
The tours can take 26 people at a time. We had 18 on our tour, so there was plenty of room to spread out. Matt ran through a quick safety briefing, and we were off.
Since the cuttlefish are found in shallow water right near the shore, it was only seconds before we were spotting them.
I won’t tell you too much about the cuttlefish, Matt does a fantastic job of that on the tour, but I will tell you that they can be much bigger than expected, the big males reaching up to one metre in length.
They are also colour-changing, so all sorts of colours appear. These photos give you an idea of what they will look like through the glass bottom boat.
The tour lasts for 45 minutes and goes fast! I couldn’t believe it when we were pulling back into the rocks after what felt like only a few minutes had passed. I had been totally engrossed by the underwater world I had been watching.
There are almost always cuttlefish to be seen, but if not, there is still a lot of fascinating life on the sea floor, such as huge round sponges the size of footballs and all colours of the rainbow, spiky sea urchins, pufferfish, skates and plenty more.
Cutty’s Glass Bottom Boat Tours are offered multiple times each day over the season, mostly in the mornings, so there are plenty of opportunities to fit this tour into your itinerary.
We were only the 22nd group of people to have been on the tour, so it’s still quite new and evolving, but it’s only going to get better.
Need an accessible tour? Cutty’s has a second boat that can be booked for people with mobility issues. See the website for details.
A Postscript to Our Tour
As we were sitting down to dinner that night at my parents’ place the local nightly news came on TV.
Little did we realise at the time that some of the other people on the tour with us were local politicians and that guy with the fancy camera was filming for this.
It’s mostly a political point-scoring piece, but it is good to hear the protection zone has been extended. There is some good underwater footage here too. It can be seen in the first 2.5 minutes of this report.
Another project by AusOcean, in conjunction with local high school students, has a live stream set up at Stony Point to see the cuttlefish. You can see some of the footage on their Youtube site here.
While at Point Lowly
Since you are here, you should take a look around the area. Point Lowly is best known for it’s lighthouse that can be found on the point. It was originally put into service in 1883 and is still in operation today.
During our visit, the lighthouse was barricaded, and it looks as though there is restoration work underway.
The best known walking trail in the area is the Freycinet Trail, which follows the coast north from Point Lowly for 12km.
The trail is named after the French navigator Louis Claude de Freycinet who did a lot of exploring along this part of the South Australian coast.
Signs explain the Aboriginal & European history of the area, and show some of the local flora and fauna. Apparently there are also hundreds of Geocaches around the area to search out and log too.
Afterwards, if you haven’t already been into Whyalla, drive the 25 minutes into town and take a look around there too. See all the things to do in Whyalla here.
Where to Stay
There is the option for accomodation right here at Point Lowly, at a council-run low cost camping and caravan site. It’s fairly basic, but for $10/night you can stay right here.
There are toilets and (paid) showers available for campers, a playground for kids and picnic tables available. It looked like some more facilities were in the process of being added too.
You can also find a four-bedroom holiday home available. The house is absolute beachfront and offers great views over the Spencer Gulf. It’s pet friendly too. Take a look here for all the details.
If you are not camping or caravanning, then the closest place to stay is at Whyalla. Accommodation in Whyalla tends to be comfortable and functional rather than luxurious.
There are also plenty of budget places to stay in Whyalla, with multiple tourist and caravan parks in Whyalla. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
- Quest Whyalla – an aparthotel where all rooms have a kitchen, living and dining area. Apartments range from studio to three-bedroom to suit families. There is an outdoor swimming pool and a BBQ area on site too. The pick (but also the most expensive) of the accommodation Whyalla has to offer.
- Sundowner Motel Hotel – basic motel-style accommodation. No frills, but clean and neat. Breakfast is included and there is a bar and restaurant on site too.
- Discovery Parks Whyalla Foreshore – a well-rated tourist park that provides a variety of cabin accommodation.
- Whyalla Country Inn Motel – motel-style accommodation that offers single rooms for a cheaper option as well as standard double, twin and family rooms.
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