There is a cool sea breeze wafting through the windows of the SUV as I push it through the last sand drift before reaching the beach. I can hear the calls of terns and gulls as they wheel in the sky above me, indicating the presence of bait fish in the shallows. On my right, the surf breaks for a hundred metres out to sea and to the left the dunes seem to stretch forever.
Goolwa beach runs from the mouth of the Murray towards Middleton and is easily accessed from Beach Road on the outskirts of Goolwa. This historic township with its river wharf, paddle steamers and country ambience is a worthwhile destination for any day trip. But for those with an eye for wildlife or the urge to cast a line, a 4WD drive along the beach to the river mouth is a must.
As I reach the beach I turn left and drive slowly between dunes and sea. Wading birds are common along this stretch of coast. They feed on the tidal fringe foraging for a range of tiny invertebrates ranging from worms to shellfish. My first encounter is with a pair of pied oyster catchers working the tidal break in tandem. They delicately probe the soft sand for cockles which they prise open with their chisel-like bills.
A little further down the beach, I stop and watch an angler reeling in his catch. Although the mulloway appears quite large it is below legal size and he returns it to the water unharmed. Fish well over a metre long are not uncommon here.
As I round a slight curve in the beach and catch my first glimpse of the Murray mouth, a flock of tiny sanderlings land in the shallows. They look like little wind-up toys scooting ahead of the waves to hunt in the soft, wet sand.
Sometimes it is hard to reach the mouth of the Murray but today both tide and the condition of the beach are in my favour. As I arrive on the sand spit, a sizeable touring boat from Goolwa swings round into the channel on its way to explore the start of the Coorong. This long system of saltwater lagoons and wetlands stretches many kilometres behind the dunes and it is one of South Australia's truly unique natural treasures.
Dropping the vehicle into low gear I stop close to the dunes away from the incoming tide. There are obviously fish congregating in the calm water behind the surf-break as I can see a New Zealand fur seal and pelicans hunting close to shore.
The drive back is equally rewarding with significant numbers of terns and Pacific gulls feeding along the shoreline and a stingray patrolling so close to the shore that the tips of its wings break the surface. More than satisfied with my drive along the beach I make one final stop at Cafe Bombora for a well earned burger, a cool drink and one last look at the ocean as the late afternoon light softens the raw power of this magnificent surf beach.