There are still a few areas of South Australia that I have not spent a lot of time in, and the Coorong is one of them. So when some friends asked if I would like to join them kayaking the Coorong for a day, I jumped at the opportunity.
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Where is the Coorong?
The Coorong is a long thin area made up of the Younghusband Peninsula, the waterway and nearby narrow section of the mainland behind it. The Coorong begins around 80km from the centre of Adelaide and runs for 140km along the coast to just north of the town of Kingston. Almost all of the Coorong is part of the Coorong National Park, which was formed in 1967 to protect the wetland environment of the area, home to millions of local and migratory bird that visit from all over the world.
The Coorong is largely uninhabited, with only about 50 people permanently living in the region. There are a scattering of holiday homes that were all built before the national park came into effect. While those houses are allowed to remain, new ones cannot be built so as to preserve the environment.
Kayaking the Coorong
We chose to do a full day kayak tour of the Coorong with Canoe the Coorong. The company has been running kayak tours of the Coorong for 11 years now. The owner, Brenton, started the business after spending time in the area during a university project. There is a huge focus on using local products and promoting local businesses throughout the tour.
While we chose the full day Coorong Tour, Canoe the Coorong also offer an overnight tour and an evening sunset tour. During winter there is a shorter, modified tour to suit the colder conditions. There are also other custom tour options such as one inspired by the iconic Australian film “Storm Boy” that was set and filmed in the area. Brenton takes many of the tours himself, but we had James as our guide as Brenton was already doing another tour the same day.
We met our guide James on Hindmarsh Island, right at the end of Mundoo Channel Drive. We had a group of ten people, which was a great size for this type of tour. We all helped unload all the equipment, from the kayaks, paddles and lifejackets, to lunch and extra water. We then all did a “car shuffle” and moved the cars to where the tour would end. It was only a few minutes walking away, but we had to drive out and around to the other side of the little peninsula.
Once back to the kayaks we all jumped in while still on dry land to adjust the footrests so that we were comfortable, and to learn how to work the rudders as these are sea kayaks. The kayaks are all double, so I would suggest taking a friend along on this tour. Back out of the kayaks, James took us through how to effectively paddle the kayaks and other safety considerations.
Finally it was time to carry the kayaks to the water, jump in and get started! Our first session of paddling was the longest – around an hour. As we kayaked James told us about the various birdlife we could see in the lagoon, and he talked about the environmental protection the area has. We learnt about the Ramsar Convention which protects areas that are seasonal homes to migratory birds all over the world.
We made our way towards a section of the Younghusband Peninsula with a large sandhill. We jumped out of our kayaks and were given a few minutes to explore while James put together our morning tea. We made our way to the top of the sandhill to enjoy the view over the surrounding waterways, sandbars and islands.
Morning tea consisted of fruit and biscuits, which sounds pretty standard until you hear that the fruit is all sourced in South Australia, most of it from the nearby Fleurieu Peninsula. The biscuits have an even better story. I won’t tell the whole story now so that you can enjoy it during your tour, but the biscuits are also very local. So great to hear that an effort is made to buy local products rather than taking the easier option and grabbing the most popular ones on the shelf.
We took a short walk along the beach to Godfreys Landing. This is where we started to learn about some of the bush tucker in the area. We tried all sorts of edible plants as we followed the path across the dunes to the seaward side of the peninsula. Some we tried were Pigface, Samphire and Boobialla amongst others.
After the calm waters of the Coorong, the contrast with the pounding waves of the Southern Ocean was stark. We enjoyed noticing the tiny Hooded Plovers darting along the high water line, before having a lesson in how to catch the local Goolwa cockles. We all got our feet wet as we tried, with only a few of us successfully finding the shellfish. As this is part of the National Park, we could not keep the cockles, but released them again, noticing the incredible way they work themselves back into the sand.
Back on the inner side of the peninsula, James prepared lunch. He cooked up a local Coorong Mulloway, serving the fish in a roll with salad, with a garnish made of Samphire and a local version of native spinach for a nice, salty tang. The Mulloway was caught the day before by Brenton, so it was local and fresh.
Another short paddle took us along the Younghusband Peninsula, past some of the shacks remaining in the National Park, to the area near the Murray Mouth. The Murray River is the largest water system in Australia, but the entrance to the sea is not as impressive as might be expected. It’s important to learn about why, and James talked to us about the environmentally impacts of the way the water is being used upstream, and the work that needs to be done to stop the month of the river silting up altogether.
We had afternoon tea consisting of the leftover fruit and biscuits along with iced coffee or chocolate milk before jumping back into the kayaks for the last leg. We kayaked past the Murray Mouth and across the Coorong back to Hindmarsh Island to finish up near the Coorong Cafe. We were running a little late – about thirty minutes – but James had checked with us earlier to make sure no one had to leave exactly on time.
Thoughts About the Coorong Tour
Overall I really enjoyed the Coorong Tour. There was a nice balance between the amount of time spent in the kayaks and the amount of time spent on land. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn so much about this area. James was a great guide. He was friendly and knowledgable, running everything with just the right amount of control in terms of time we spent in each place. And he didn’t burn lunch! We were able to paddle at our own pace, with the next stop pointed out in advance. Those that wanted to take their time a little more could also do so. We had lots of opportunity to chat and to ask questions as we went too.
Tips for your Coorong Kayak
You do not need to be an experienced kayaker (I am not!), but you do need to be able to swim. Mostly the water is only a couple of feet deep, but there are some areas that are deeper.
Wear plenty of layers of clothing, then you can remove them as you get warm. Even if the sun is out, it can be windy and quite cool. The day I went I needed at least two layers for warmth, but I also got a touch of sunburn on the little skin I had exposed, my ankles. It therefore goes without saying that you need to take a hat and sunscreen, applying regularly through the day.
Please let them know in advance if you have any special dietary requirements. Most people can be catered for.
Be prepared that weather may play a part in your tour not going ahead. If it is particularly windy or rough, or raining, then the tour will be cancelled and an alternative offered.
You will be provided with a dry bag to store any items you have with you so that they don’t get wet. This goes into one of the hatches on the kayak while you are paddling.
Book the Coorong Tour
Note: I was not compensated in any way by Canoe the Coorong for this post. I went along because some friends suggested it and my review is completely independent. I paid full price for this tour and James was unaware that I may write about it until well into the day.
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Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred. She has lived in the state for almost her whole life, just one short stint away as a teenager with her family. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.