Port Willunga is described by Wikipedia as a semi-rural suburb of Adelaide, and in some ways I think that sums up its charms rather well. It's only 40 minutes south of Adelaide by car on the Fleurieu Peninsular, but it feels a world away from the city.
Once described by Travel & Leisure magazine as one of the top 20 worldwide destinations, Port Willunga has an atmosphere of serenity and natural beauty while being close to the buzz of McLaren Vale and the rural areas bordering Willunga.
Historically Port Willunga was important as a working port but now its main attraction is as an unspoilt holiday destination. It makes a very enjoyable day trip with plenty of things to do for children too, but is also perfect as a base for a longer holiday stay.
There are a range of accommodation options from cottages to a pet friendly caravan park which should suit most budgets.
Port Willunga can be reached via the Southern Expressway of Main South Road. After passing through Aldinga you will enter the town through a wonderful avenue of hundred year old Aleppo pines casting a thick shady canopy over the road. It's believed that these were planted by school children in the early years of the 20th century as a memorial to our diggers.
Beaches Walking on the beach at Port Willunga I was struck by its cleanliness and natural beauty. The white sand of the beach was offset by the yellow-gold of the cliffs and the rich blue of the sea. This far south of Adelaide I imagine that the water may be a bit colder than in metropolitan waters.
Cars are not permitted on the beach, and it was only lightly used on a sunny winter day. Fishermen were ankle deep in water while children played in the sand with small family groups. There was also the occasional dog walker, most with dogs restrained on leash.
There was little noise other than the waves lapping the beach, while occasional sea birds called overhead.
For the more daring swimmers, one of Australia's most popular nudist beaches is a short way north of Port Willunga at Maslins Beach.
A couple of hundred metres south of the Port Willunga car park you will see the ruins of a jetty on the beach. These relics of its maritime past date back to 1868 when the second jetty was built to service the port. There are few traces of the first jetty built in 1853 at the end of Port Road.
The wooden piles on the beach are a stark contrast on the landscape, and now attract children who enjoy climbing over them.
Walking the other direction along the beach from the car park brings you to the Port Willunga Linear Park, with a board walk allowing visitors to exit the beach without damaging fragile dunes. There are lots of green coastal native plants, many planted by the Friends of Port Willunga who do a brilliant job of beautifying the area.
I had seen ruins of a building from the car park, but it took a few moment to find it in the bushland. The ruins are the remains of the old Harbour Master's cottage, built around 1880 and occupied until 1966.
The ruins are one of several in the area, and were the subject of a fascinating publication by Aidan Ash and Flinders University - The Maritime Cultural Landscape of Port Willunga. It makes compelling reading for anyone with an interest in Port Willunga.
The best known shipwreck in the area is the Star of Greece, which can be seen at low tide. It was built in 1868 in Belfast and was blown onto a reef at Port Willunga in 1888 with some loss of life.
Just near the old jetty ruins, you can find several caves hewn into the cliff face. These were used by fishermen to store their boats and nets while in Port. Cutting out the rock must have been hard work.
Star of Greece Early Afternoon - An Hour Later It Was Packed!
While it is the only place for food in Port Willunga, the Star of Greece has two flavours - a restaurant specialising in seafood and other local produce, and a kiosk serving cheaper more casual fare. I've heard many say that the fish and chips from the kiosk is great value, especially if you're on a budget.
However you're not restricted to this choice - Aldinga is only a few minutes drive away and boasts some startlingly innovative food for such a small town. I owe my thanks to the person who left a comment on my article about unusual pie flavours, and was ready for something quite out of the ordinary.
Once at McLaren Vale you are really spoilt for choice by Fleurieu Peninsular attractions. I once counted 45 wineries in the area (although not after I had visited them), and the quality of their reds is legendary. Match that with a delicious range of regional produce designed to tempt tourists, and you may not be able to ride back to Willunga.