For generations, South Australians have been choosing Victor Harbor as their summer holiday retreat.
Facing the calm waters of Encounter Bay on the eastern side of South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, Victor Harbor has something to enthral every member of the family. Just over an hour from Adelaide by car, the old-world charm of this destination is realms away from the hustle and bustle of big city living. Get acquainted with the local sea life, meander along the coastal walkways, and ride some of Australia’s unique modes of transport!
Here are ten of the best things to do in Victor Harbor.
1. Visit Granite Island
Located just off the Victor Harbour coastline, Granite Island is well worth visiting. The famed granite boulders covered with orange-tinged lichen form the perfect backdrop to the public sculptures displayed around the island. Follow the three-kilometre Kaiki Walk to view the artworks, and pause atop the southern-facing viewing platform to take in the incredible views (between May and October, you may spot southern right whales). For those who enjoy a spot of fishing, the historic Screw Pile Jetty is the place to throw in a line.
2. Take a horse-drawn tram
There are a couple of ways you can reach Granite Island, but taking a horse-drawn tram with Victor Harbor Tramway across the historic 630-metre wooden causeway is unique. This is the only place in Australia where majestic Clydesdales haul such a tram. They work in teams of two — and while one horse is pulling the tram, you can meet the other resting in the stable adjacent to the tram platform.
3. Swim with the Ferraris of the sea
Get the heart racing by swimming with Australia’s fastest sea creature — the southern bluefin tuna. Located just a short distance from Granite Island by boat, Oceanic Victor is an in-sea aquarium packed with the fish nicknamed the ‘Ferrari of the sea’. Slip on a wet suit and dive in to meet these turbo-charged tuna as they dart through the water in search of food. Non-swimmers can hand-feed the fish from the pontoon. See other interesting sea creatures residing in the shallow tanks near the café, or head down to the underwater viewing area.
4. Have a whale of a time
When you get back to the mainland, follow the tram tracks past the Tram Barn to the South Australian Whale Centre. It’s housed in a heritage railway shed, complete with exposed soot-covered roof beams and a glass floor that reveals the old railway tracks below. Visitors can learn all about the massive marine mammals that inhabit these waters. See exhibits from various Sea Shepherd campaigns, and ask for a bucket and spade so the little ones can dig for hidden treasures in the sandpit.
5. Climb aboard a heritage steam train
Be wowed by the shimmering turquoise coastline as you ride the Steam Ranger Heritage Railway’s popular ‘Cockle Train’. Established in 1854, South Australia’s first railway line (and Australia’s first line with iron rails) connected Victor Harbor, Port Elliot, and the mouth of the Murray River at Goolwa. Originally, horse-drawn trains transported goods between the ports and Murray, and local residents would hitch a ride to Goolwa to collect cockles (which were used as fishing bait). Steam trains were introduced 30 years later, and a tourist service continues to operate on the line two or three times a week.
Disembark at Goolwa to shop for handmade arts and crafts on the station platform, sample a local ale or whiskey at the Steam Exchange Brewery, or enjoy a seaside lunch at the Goolwa Wharf precinct.
6. See the mouth of the Murray
It’s a short drive from Goolwa over to Hindmarsh Island to see where the mighty Murray River meets the sea. Having travelled some 2,500 kilometres from the Snowy Mountains, the river spills out into the Southern Ocean. The island is named after South Australia’s first Governor — Sir John Hindmarsh. The western reach of the Coorong National Park can be seen across the water, however you’ll need to go the long way around (via Lake Alexandrina) to explore it.
7. Ride along the Encounter Bikeway
The Encounter Bikeway also snakes its way along the coastline between Victor Harbor and Goolwa. The 30-kilometre bike path is enjoyed by cyclists and pedestrians alike. Hop on and off the pathway as you please to enjoy the inlets, coves, beaches, coastal playgrounds and ice-creameries along the way.
8. Scale The Bluff
Situated just west of Victor Harbor, The Bluff offers 360-degree views across the town, Encounter Bay, Granite Island and the lush farming landscape beyond. The shortest part of the steep walk to the summit is from the carpark — located about halfway up the mountain. Once you reach the summit, you’ll learn about the region’s early European seafaring explorers — England’s Matthew Flinders and France’s Nicolas Baudin, who met in the calm waters below in 1802 (hence the name ‘Encounter Bay’). The Bluff remains integral to the local Ngurunderri people’s Dreaming stories. Further west, a walking trail extends along the dramatic coastline.
9. Meet the local little penguins
Head back to Granite Island one evening to observe the resident little penguins coming ashore. After spending the day catching fish and dodging predators in the open waters of the Great Australian Bight, the determined penguins return to the island to feed their young and rest up for the next day’s fishing expedition. To protect the colony, access to the island at dusk is only possible on a guided penguin tour with Oceanic Victor. Please note: Penguin tours are not currently operating. Check the Encounter Victor Harbour website for an update.
10. Explore the historic city centre
Victor Harbor’s city centre oozes old-world charm. Watch a movie in the 95-year old Victa Cinema (which was recently restored to its former heritage glory) or browse the handmade wooden toys at the Encounter Centre toyshop — a charitable business helping local people with disabilities. Get even more nostalgic at All Sweets and Treats in the main street, which offers cobbers, musk sticks and boiled lollies.
Browse our full range of South Australia tours and experiences here.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Victor Harbor? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Graham Scheer. Additional images: Shutterstock/Bigstock
About the writer
Monica McInnes is a keen traveller and is always on the lookout for her next big adventure — even before the current one has concluded! Having recently returned from a three-month road trip with her young family through the Red Centre, the Kimberley, the Pilbara and along the Coral Coast, Monica is convinced that Australia is the most beautiful country on earth. She blogs about her travel exploits at Jiggety Jog.