Discover interesting geological formations as you tour the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide, SA
Many travellers take the route south from Adelaide down the Fleurieu Peninsula to Cape Jervis for the ferry to Kangaroo Island. It’s an easy two-hour drive if you don’t make any stops along the way. But if you hurry through this area, you miss out on some unspoilt beaches, magnificent coastal scenery and hidden sites that Adelaide people like to think they are keeping to themselves.
Only 75km south of Adelaide are the twin towns of Yankalilla and Normanville, which make a great base for exploring Yankalilla Bay and the inland hamlets to the south and east. All those bays and headlands are well worth exploring. For instance, if you turn off the main road at Normanville and drive through the town centre you come to the beach, with panoramic views of the spectacular coastline to the south. Normanville has plenty of cafes and restaurants and two caravan parks. A one or two-night stopover here will give you a chance to explore the area.
The beach at Normanville has sand dunes that were formed 6000 years ago, which is just yesterday in the geological time frame. These heritage-listed dunes are the last major remnant of similar dunes that once existed behind many beaches along the Gulf of St Vincent.
Just 3km south of Normanville, where the main road becomes hemmed in between towering cliffs and the rocky shoreline, you could easily miss the turn-off for Lady Bay. A short side road goes down to the beach where ancient, weathered rocks are exposed at low tide. These so-called basement rocks were formed around two billion years ago and are the oldest rocks on the peninsula.
One kilometre further south, where the road curves up onto the clifftop, is an interesting scenic lookout. Beside the car park, an anchor from the naval destroyer HMAS Hobart has been turned into a memorial. After being decommissioned, the ship was scuttled offshore and is now a popular diving site.
As you continue down the coast, you can’t miss the broken chimney of historic Leonards Mill, an old flour mill that is now a restaurant. Turn off here for Second Valley, where high rocky cliffs surround a small natural harbour. Across this sheltered bay you can see the remains of old fishermen’s shacks next to a shingle beach. The path from the jetty towards these shacks skirts around the base of dramatic cliffs. The layers of slate and marble were buckled during a geological upheaval 500 million years ago.
Next stop on the route is Rapid Bay, a few kilometres off the main road. Colonel William Light, surveyor-general of SA, sailed into the bay in 1836 during his voyage to find an appropriate location for the future capital of the colony of South Australia. Opposite the beachside camping area is a memorial anchor commemorating his arrival. Light surveyed the area and named the bay after his vessel, the Rapid.
The campsite is a large, flat, grassed area that is suitable for caravans and motorhomes. Very basic facilities are provided – toilets, outdoor cold-water shower, and barbecues – but the campsite fee is only $6 per night. The long jetty at Rapid Bay is a famous diving spot, and the interesting buildings perched on the hillside belong to a limestone quarry.
The road south ends at Cape Jervis with sweeping views across the bay to Kangaroo Island. The channel between the peninsula and the island is called Backstairs Passage. It is sobering to think that this huge channel was probably gouged out by a glacier during an ice age that occurred 300 million years ago.
On the return trip to Normanville, it’s worth turning off the main road 6km east of Cape Jervis at the telecommunications tower to explore the ruins of the Talisker Silver Mine. Follow the signs along an unsealed road. After entering the Talisker Conservation Park, the first car park on the right is for a picnic area. Continue on down a steep incline to a second car park on the left, where a track through the bush leads to the mine. The extensive ruins provide a remarkable insight into the courage, determination and perhaps sheer greed of the Cornish miners who worked at the mine from 1862 until it closed in 1872. All the equipment, including steam engines, boilers and an ore crusher had to be transported to the site on bullock wagons over long distances of rough terrain.
If this tour has whetted your appetite for geological wonders, then head out from Normanville on the road through Yankalilla towards Victor Harbor on the other side of the peninsula. About 23km along this road you will find Glacier Rock, next to a cafe of the same name. This flat rock has clearly visible grooves across its surface, scraped out by a glacier around 250 million years ago when much of SA was covered in ice. It attracts geologists from all over the world.
For more information on caravan parks and holiday accommodation along the Fleurieu Peninsula, visit our Fleurieu Peninsula region guide.