Adelaide and the Fleurieu Peninsula

Plenty of attitude, Fairy Penguins at the Granite Island Penguin Centre

We had recently visited South Australia’s Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas, so it seemed only fair to visit the Fleurieu Peninsula next, to complete the set.  To be honest, we had several other reasons to visit as well; we were getting some maintenance done on our camper trailer with its manufacturer in Adelaide, we couldn’t resist another visit to the McLaren Vale region and its wineries, and we were heading towards Kangaroo Island, and the mainland ferry terminal is at Cape Jervis on the south western tip of the Fleurieu.

The Fleurieu Peninsula extends from Adelaide southwards, and is much more highly populated than the other two peninsulas.  Apart from Adelaide itself , the Fleurieu is dotted with thriving rural and coastal towns and villages. The entire peninsula was in gorgeous condition for our visit and the greenery had us wondering whether we’d taken a wrong turn and somehow landed in Ireland instead.


We arrived in Adelaide, booked the camper in for some work, and realised we had a day to spend in the city while that was done.  So…what to do?  We’d been in the bush for months, mainly on wildlife-related pursuits, where we had few facilities, so the lure of civilised comforts was strong.  Would we go to galleries?  Shops? Cafes and restaurants?   No way….we went to the zoo. 

When you spend as much time as we do sneaking around in the bush looking at wildlife and trying not to scare away the animals, the captive audience of a zoo takes a little getting used to, as does the fact that the animals are in cages.  But we appreciate the work zoos do, through their breeding programs, to help save many species disappearing in the wild.  A zoo like Adelaide’s also allows us to see many beautiful exotic species – the big cats, Giant Pandas, hippos and others. 

We had a ball.  It was a perfect day, sunny and warm. Really one day was barely enough to see everything, but we gave it our best shot.   The animals are housed within the beautiful old gardens of the zoo, next to the Torrens River.  It is a gorgeous place for animals and visitors alike, in arguably the loveliest part of Adelaide.

Ring-Tailed Lemur, Adelaide Zoo

Mandarin Duck, Adelaide Zoo

The eyes of a Lioness, Adelaide Zoo

Baby Baboon, Adelaide Zoo

Jenny Craig where are you? Hippo at Adelaide Zoo

A young Siamang, native to the forests of South East Asia, demonstrates its strength and agility at Adelaide Zoo

Yes, they are adorable.  Giant Panda, Adelaide Zoo

All the towers. Giraffe & Cathedral from Adelaide Zoo

To view a short video we shot of the Giant Panda feeding, click on the following link:

and to see a short video of Hippos feeding, click the following:


From Adelaide we headed south to McLaren Vale, one of our favourite wine districts.  The wineries of McLaren Vale are smaller than those of that more famous wine district north-east of Adelaide, but we believe they are friendlier and their wines of equal quality.  With an eye on our budget, we called in to only three of our favourite wineries while we were there – D’Arenberg’s, Kay Brothers and Primo Estate.  We weren’t disappointed, and now have a small travelling cellar to draw upon as the occasion demands!  

McLaren Vale vineyards seen from Kay Brothers

Nirbeeja warms up with a hot cuppa. Sheltering from the wild weather of Victor Harbour

Our arrival in McLaren Vale was greeted with perfect weather, but the following day brought a wet and windy change.  We initially planned to sit out the weather before heading further south to the coast, but realised that such a wait could see us there for the long term. With so many wineries around, and with me mentioning a few others we could visit, Nirbeeja grew nervous.  So, off we headed to Victor Harbour, on the south coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula, where we got to experience some really wet and windy conditions!

We have never been in a place where the weather changes so quickly.  Forget Melbourne, Victor Harbour wins hands down. One minute we’d be in bright sunshine, contemplating a change to shorts and tee-shirt, then a sudden wild squall would come through and in the blink of an eye drench us and our plans.  The wind was constantly changing direction, and the ocean dramatic.  At times the Southern Ocean pounded the shore, then the bay would appear benign and placid.  It was wild, but full of energy and drama.  And for the first time in two years we had our full camper trailer set-up in place – with all its canvas walls and panels protecting us from the brunt of the elements.

The wild Southern Ocean pounds the exposed side of Granite Island

View of the causeway from Granite Island

Victor Harbour viewed across the causeway from Granite Island

The causeway linking Granite Island and Victor Harbour

Looking towards Victor Harbour from Granite Island

Norfolk Island Pines & sunset, Victor Harbour

Inman River, Victor Harbour, late afternoon

Encounter Bay, Victor Harbour, at dusk, 2

View west from the Bluff, near Victor Harbour


Granite Island sits off shore from the town of Victor Harbour, and is reached by a causeway several hundred metres long.  The island is best known for its resident population of Fairy Penguins, sometimes also called Little Penguins.  These penguins, at around 30-40 centimetres “tall”, are the smallest in the world.  When the first full census was done in 2001, around 1000 Fairy Penguins called Granite Island home.  Unfortunately, last year’s census recorded only 149 penguins on the island, a dramatic decline. 

Local and interstate experts are working to understand the problem, though it seems most likely a combination of factors, all human related.  Fairy Penguins live on a diet of bait-fish, and fish numbers are in decline due to trawling off the coast.  This has two effects – the penguins themselves have less food on which to survive and breed, and New Zealand Fur Seals, normally found on Kangaroo Island, have moved to Granite Island in search of food and prey upon the penguins.  The Fur Seals prefer fish to penguins, but will eat the penguins if hungry enough.

And, unfortunately, direct human interference kills penguins.  Some penguin chicks are blinded or have limbs broken by people trying to pry them out of their nests using sticks.  Other people kill the penguins for “sport”, or to barbeque them on the beach.

At present, there is nothing preventing people from crossing the causeway to Granite Island at night and from harming these little birds.  However, the Penguin Centre on Granite Island is raising a petition to have the causeway closed at night, other than for approved tours to view the penguins, in order to offer some protection.  So far the town and its fishing lobby have resisted any moves to restrict night-time access to Granite Island, but we can only hope.  When the broader Victor Harbour community realises that many of the town’s visitors come specifically to see the penguins, perhaps the threat of losing these creatures and the tourist dollars they bring will galvanise more locals into action.   

The Penguin Centre is inspiring in its work.  The centre is staffed by volunteers and its main function is to rehabilitate injured Fairy Penguins for return to the wild, and to raise orphaned chicks for release.  The life of a penguin in the wild is full of danger – at their size all manner of sea-life view them as a good meal.  And the penguins, travelling out to sea up to 30 kilometres from the shore, face an exhausting time in the Southern Ocean. As a result, the Centre will only release penguins in tip-top condition, giving them their best chance for survival.  We visited the centre to watch the daily feeding ritual and were enthralled by the fourteen penguins currently being cared for.  They are absolute characters, full of attitude and life!

Of course, the Penguin Centre also serves to educate visitors, like us, about the fascinating lives of these little sea-birds and the challenges to their continued survival in the wild.

The little penguins are really quite remarkable birds.  They appear clumsy on land, but are able nevertheless to climb steep rock-faces to their hollows, and to come ashore in huge waves that would have us terrified.  They are flightless birds, in the air at least, but use their flipper-like wings to fly through the water at high speed and with great agility.  The deep blue feathers across the top of their body allow them to blend in with the oceans in which they swim.

We also went on a nocturnal guided tour to view the Fairy Penguins returning from the sea to their burrows.  We were thrilled to see eight penguins come in at night in heavy seas and cautiously waddle up through the boulders towards their hollows.  It was exciting for us to see eight wild birds, but we were saddened to hear of days past when the shores were alive with these little creatures.

It would be a tragedy if human interference and inaction led to the disappearance of the Fairy Penguins from Granite Island.

A Fairy Penguin safely back to shore.  Seen during nocturnal tour, Granite Island, Victor Harbour

Click on the following link to watch a short video of this Fairy Penguin:

Fairy Penguins eagerly await feeding time, at the Granite Island Penguin Centre.  Injured and orphaned penguins are cared for at the centre.

Fairy Penguins have amazing buoyancy.  Fairy Penguin Centre, Granite Island

The following links take you to short videos we shot of the Fairy Penguins at the Penguin Centre:


In December 2007 we were all set to travel across to Kangaroo Island. We were staying in McLaren Vale, making our plans, when we learned of the devastating bushfires on “KI”, as the locals know it.  So we put off our trip and headed north instead.

This time we were fortunate, our ferry ride booked, and no natural disasters intervened.  We were to catch the last ferry of the day from Cape Jervis, so we had a day to explore the coastline west of Victor Harbour.  As luck would have it, we had prefect sunny conditions, and encountered breathtaking coastal scenery and delightful rural vistas along the way.  We made quick visits to the Newland Head and Deep Creek Conservation Reserves, loved what we saw, and vowed to return!

The view along the Fleurieu coast from Tapanappa Lookout, Deep Creek Conservation Reserve

Peter, almost up (or was that over) the hill, near Tapanappa Lookout.

Next stop – Kangaroo Island.

Peter & Nirbeeja
22 April 2011

Monument to Aboriginal creator spirits Tjilbruke & Kulultuwi, Kingston Park South Australia

Sunset over the Gulf St Vincent, 2

  • Judy ( primo estate):

    Good Evening, Peter & Nirbeeja.
    How wonderful it was to meet you both today for your visit to Primo Estate Wines.
    Your photos are just amazing and I look forward to following your journey & also your new visit to our Cellar Door.
    All the very best for your travels around our most beautiful Fleurieu Peninsular.
    Kind Regards : )

    • admin:

      Thank you Judy! It was great meeting you too. Primo Estate is always top of our list when visiting McLaren Vale. We look forward to our next visit and, in the meantime, to enjoying the lovely wines we picked up yesterday.
      Thank you for taking the time to read our blog and for your kind comments on it.

  • Good morning Peter and Nirbeeja

    We met Peter at the Flinders Chase HQ when visiting the island over the last 5 days. Peter printed off a copy of the Pygmy Possum for me and mentioned he had also attended the talk on the tiny mammal at Kingscote Winery (as we did).
    Jacqui and I have visited/revisited Karta for over 52 years now. Our honeymoon was in a cottage at American River (Casuarina Cottages it’s called now, I think). We haven’t kept count, but it must be over a dozen times since. Partly, it was to introduce KI to our children. Eldest girl Ilona is 50 now. She and her social walking group have hiked the coast trail recently. Other visits were on business when we ran Blackwood Seeds in S.A.
    We’ve written poetry on many features of Karta, some award-winning. I’d like to share them if you’re interested.

    Here’s ‘Brown Beach”:

    The penguins came last night
    I heard them call above the squall
    as into bush they barrelled home
    beyond our arc of light.

    And now before the dawn
    from every den they call again
    like shift workers, arousing friends
    to retrace pathways worn

    by centuries of feet
    in endless quest, to seek and wrest
    through beach rock crumbling into sand
    which paves their ancient beat

    down into restless seas
    their bodies lunge and deftly plunge
    they’ll work the unforgiving depths
    of liquid factories

    they’re programmed to report
    no sick leave day nor double pay
    they’ll toil unthanked for families
    and salt no fish they’ve caught

    i ponder on their fate
    when aged and bent, when strength is spent
    without our social safety net
    provided by the State

    reality is stark
    perhaps they’ll be cast from the sea
    to starve ashore, or else in turn
    be taken by a shark.

    © max merckenschlager

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