On South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, David Doudle shows me the door. 

But rather than kicking me out, he opens the portal to some place new in Australia — South Australia’s otherworldly Eyre, a cache of remote, unspoiled terrain that Doudle calls home. A shark-tooth chunk of land that protrudes into the unbridled waves of the Southern Ocean, the Eyre lies along Australia’s most down under frontiers.  Undeveloped and timeless, wedged far between university-chic Adelaide and the infinity-evoking Great Bight, this spine-tingling wilderness is composed of soaring, seaside cliffs — best known as primary breeding ground for the endangered southern right whale. Founder and supreme guide for Australian Coastal Safaris, Doudle, affectionately nicknamed “Lunch,” revels in this opportunity to cast open his metaphorical back door, showcasing one of Australia’s lesser-traveled landscapes. 

Koala bear on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula
Courtesy of South Australia Tourism Commission

A native of the rugged expanse, Doudle made his career as a fourth-generation wheat farmer on the peninsula, before deciding to share the fruits of his immense backyard with visitors. Plying the largesse of his home turf as only a homeboy can, Lunch knows this kangaroo, emu, and reptile-rich vastness from the inside out. Like a modern-day, Australian Huckleberry Finn, he fishes it, sows it, hikes it, swims it, flies over it, and generally celebrates its bounty — as if it were the last parcel of dirt on earth. 

Bespoke Tour

Eyre Peninsula coastline in South Australia
Courtesy of South Australia Tourism Commission

Sign up for one of Lunch’s bespoke Eyre Peninsula (and beyond) safaris to gain the right to tag along with him and wallow in the shadows of his contagious enthusiasm. “There’s so much I want to show you,” he says. With his hat set at a rakish angle, a mischievous grin in place, a brain full of stories and facts, he leads us to a four-wheel drive vehicle loaded with everything from fishing poles to locally made sparkling wine. Purposefully, he steers us down a bumpy, dusty road that leads away from the Lilliputian airport to what seems like the middle of nowhere. Watching for kangaroos and other street-crossing critters, we discover a hands-on version of Lunch’s Eyre Peninsula. It’s his “Little Black Book.” Every moment he regales us with stories, anecdotes, facts, and jokes.

Lunch either knows everybody we meet — or gets to know them in five seconds. This open-hearted trait, wholly South Australian, is mastered by Lunch. His immense curiosity and sincere fondness for people spellbinds and engages us. We want to know everybody too. Besides people (or characters as I come to think of them), Lunch knows restaurants, fishing holes, backroads, secret vista points, and unsullied silver moons of beach. Under his tutelage, we experience his world, like members of his own family. At one point, we even picnic with his kids. I can’t think of a better way to spend a week in Australia. 

The Eyre Peninsula 

Harvesting oysters on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula
Courtesy of South Australia Tourism Commission

The Eyre Peninsula, home first to Aboriginal people, then documented by European Matthew Flinders in the 19th-century, hasn’t changed too much over the years. A cranky, breathtaking landscape, defined by nature and fueled by a palpable survivor’s spirit, the peninsula would seem vast and unnavigable without a guide. Yet, people live here — and they thrive, proud of the way their world marches to its own drum. Many itinerant seniors (Lunch respectfully calls them the “grey tinnies” for the fact that they perambulate by trailer or RV), set up temporary homes in caravan camps, their penchant for fishing for snapper, salmon, tuna, King George whiting, blue swimmer crabs (and more) the object of their passion. As we drive past their campsites, I notice each space has an idyllic aura, as if they’ve left every care behind, and enwrapped themselves in a positive vibe of centered contentment. Varied, the peninsula seizes the attention with ancient giant outcroppings, rugged ridges and crags, and treeless or verdant expanses in turn. Bone-colored sand dunes seem to stretch to the sky. Quieter bays and lagoons abound, but also inaccessible beaches, pummeled by angry waves. Giant cuttlefish occupy some waters, but sea lions and bottlenose dolphins flit through other shores, and great white sharks, ever ominous, lord over every corner of the sea.

Arguably the best oysters in the world hail from these waters, and havens like Coffin Bay provide the opportunity to see how they’re grown — we taste them, just plucked from the water. The Gawler Ranges, a string of volcanic rock hills more than 1.5 billion years old, set a mood while feisty towns like Streaky Bay, Port Lincoln, and Coffin Bay feature teenagers doing the usual adolescent thing, as well as grizzled fishermen, jewel-clad tuna and oyster barons, and hearty farmers. Vineyards flourish, most notably Boston Bay, in Port Lincoln, which spreads out so close to the sea that vines must be pruned at high tide. 

Watery Sea Adventures

Sea lions abound on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula
Courtesy of Robert King

Our first adventure involves sea lions. Squeezed into wetsuits, we board a 40-foot vessel and waltz across a lagoon in normally limpid Baird Bay. Today, the water is a bit rougher, but we spy osprey and pelicans as we churn through the waves in search of a frisky sea lion colony that frolics here. Well known to the naturalists on board (Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience), the protected sea lions follow their whims, playful and inquisitive on their own terms, always happy to interact with humans. When we find them, the boat slows. They leap around us invitingly, poking their head from the water like be-whiskered mermaids who beckon us in. We leap into the water amid a veritable raft of fun-loving creatures. We’re told not to touch them, but apparently they know nothing of these rules, and they prod and poke us with their Golden Retriever faces, stare seductively into our eyes, and flit about as old friends. Like a layer of blubber the wet suits should keep us warm, but this time of year the ocean feels icy. That doesn’t stop us from staying in this watery playpen much longer than our bodies can handle. Eventually, we climb out reluctantly, but shivering, happy for the hot chocolate and biscuits that the captain passes around.

Remote and unspoiled, the coastline of Eyre Peninsula, Australia
Courtesy of Tourism Australia

Another day with Lunch, we board an R44 Chopper, a light-as-air, four-person helicopter, which looks more like a flying bug than a machine. In it, with the goal of going heli-fishing, we levitate over the bush-land, hovering at different times over Port Lincoln National Park and Coffin Bay National Park. We veer to the peninsula’s far southern point, before swooping along Wanna Beach and the pristine coastline. We fly down low over the bush. From the bubble of the copter, it feels like we’re galloping across the tree-tops on fairy feet. Kangaroos jump and scatter below amid the greenery. In the sea, we glimpse entire schools of salmon clustered together — they look like bunches of purple chrysanthemums that have been strewn from the heavens. At last our pilot glimpses a secluded beach, sequestered by soaring hills of sand, and the chopper lands right by the water in an instant. We clamber out and rush to the sea to cast with massive fishing poles. It isn’t easy — more than once I get drenched by powerful waves. I don’t catch a thing — but it’s fun, not to mention poetic to look about and see few humans, a handful of birds, and the (anachronistic in this setting) flying machine.

Kangaroos on Eyre Peninsula
Courtesy of BRZY PTY LTD

The day only gets better — if that’s possible. We tour the 1802 Oyster Lease in Coffin Bay, wading into the water, pulling the oysters from baskets, shucking them, then gobbling them up in all their briny glory. Then, we go koala spotting at Mikkira Station, finding marsupials aplenty festooning eucalyptus trees like baubles on a Christmas tree. I caress the backside of one, who bleats and coos with delight (I consider putting him into my suitcase to carry home, but Lunch advises against that). Finally, we picnic on an idyllic crescent of sand, where Lunch cooks King George Whiting with lemon and salt on a grill from the back of his car. On a white-clothed table in the sand, we sip bubbly, eat fish, slurp oysters brought from the lease, and tackle a salad of locally grown greens. Lunch’s kids race up and down the dunes, as he must have done before them. It’s their backyard, too. And maybe someday,  they’ll do like Lunch, and show visitors — like me — the door to this magical place. 

When you book a luxurious bespoke tour with David Doudle (Lunch) and Australian Coastal Safaris, activities can be geared to your interests. They  include shark cage diving (the only place in Australia this is allowed), swimming with sea lions, dolphins, or tuna in the wild, heli-fishing, trekking, massages, cooking classes, oyster farm tours — and much more. 

Cover photo is courtesy of Tourism Australia.