Things to do in Port Elliot & Middleton | Visitor Guide

What are the best things to do in Port Elliot and Middleton? Read why travellers fall in love with these South Australian seaside towns. Between them they count galleries and cafes, white sandy beaches and whale watching amongst their many attractions. Smaller than neighbouring Victor Harbor and Goolwa, Port Elliot and Middleton have a relaxed vibe making them a perfect day trip from Adelaide or summer holiday escape.

Featured Image Horseshoe Bay © Graham Scheer

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How to get to Port Elliot & Middleton

From Adelaide there are a couple routes to Port Elliot and Middleton. The quickest way is via the Southern Express way which takes about 70 minutes.

If time is not an issue and you want a more scenic drive, you can take 90 minutes to get to Victor Harbor through the Adelaide Hills and the historic town of Strathalbyn. This is a lovely drive, in autumn check out the colourful leaves in Stirling and Hahndorf. In spring, the flowering canola crops between Strathalbyn and Goolwa glow bright yellow and look spectacular under a blue sky.

Where can you swim?

Where can you swim?

The safest swimming is in the sheltered waters of Horseshoe Bay. The beach is patrolled on weekends and public holidays in summer. The more exposed beach at Middleton is great for boogie borders and surfers but the rips and waves make it less suitable for little swimmers.

Free Things to Do

Free Things to Do in Port Elliot

Swim, fish or surf at Horseshoe Bay or Middleton Beach, explore the cliffs on the harbourmasters walk, learn some local history on the two Port Elliot Heritage trails

Best Time to Visit

Best time to visit Port Elliot

While summer is the best time to enjoy the water, any time of year is good to take in the clifftop views around Port Elliot and Middleton. In winter you can also go whale watching at Basham Beach.

Crows Nest Road Lookout

Crows Nest Road Lookout

If you want to get a bird’s eye view of Port Elliot, Middleton, Goolwa and the coastline, take Crows Nest Road for 5.5km out of Port Elliot and look for the small parking area on your right, the views are amazing.

Things to do in Port Elliot

The first stop as you travel from Victor Harbor to Goolwa is Port Elliot. It is on the Encounter Bikeway and Cockle Train line.

Horseshoe Bay

Spend a day at Horseshoe Bay

Although devotees of the local bakery might disagree, the centrepiece of Port Elliot is Horseshoe Bay. The protected crescent shaped beach is a wonderful place to spend the day. There is plenty of sand and rock pools to explore. There is a small jetty at one end of the bay which is a popular fishing spot.

If you want a break from feeling the sand between your toes, right behind the beach is a grass reserve, chairs tables and picnic facilities. The views are beautiful. From Horseshoe Bay you can also enjoy a few of Port Elliot’s other attractions.

Things to do in Port Elliot - Flying Fish Cafe

Flying Fish Café

Located at Horseshoe Bay, the Flying Fish Café is a Port Elliot institution. Named after a boat that came to grief in the bay in 1860, the café serves everything from coffee, ice creams and fish and chips to restaurant quality food. With its views across the picturesque bay, you can understand why it is such a popular spot.

Boomer Beach Port Elliot

Boomer Beach

From Freeman Lookout, the long stretch of sand you see is Boomer beach. Its name comes from the sound of the big dumping waves that can roll in here. If you are after a family friendly beach, this probably isn’t it. Popular with surfers, one description of ‘Boomers’ on a surf forecast website says to be careful of rocks, rips and sharks. Maybe stick to making sandcastles rather than venturing too far into the water!

Harbour Masters Walking Trail

Freeman Lookout – Horseshoe Bay Shipwreck locations

This easy access lookout has fantastic views across Horseshoe Bay, Lady Bay, Freeman Nob and distant Basham Beach. Besides the great view, there is also a guide to the Horseshoe Bay shipwreck locations. From the big carpark near the historic obelisk, it is a short walk to the viewing area. Freeman Lookout is also right in the middle of the Harbourmasters Walking Trail. Once you have taken in the view from the lookout, there are several access points to this spectacular 1.8km loop trail.

Harbour Masters Walking Trail
Harbour Masters Walking Trail

Harbourmasters Walking Trail

Walking this easy 1.8km loop trail is one of the best things to do in Port Elliot, the scenery is beautiful. The Harbourmasters Walking Trail officially starts at a small carpark off The Strand at the top of the cliffs overlooking Horseshoe Bay. You can however get to the trail from the beach at Horseshoe Bay although there is a short steep walk to get from the beach to the trail, kids find the cliff walk a lot of fun. You can also get to the trail from the big carpark near Freemans Lookout.

The trail takes you along the coast above Horseshoe Bay, Lady Bay, Freemans Nob, Green Bay and Knights Beach and has views of Boomer Beach and Pullen Island. The trail then loops back around Continental Park where you’ll see the Obelisk and get a great introduction to the history of the area. The remains of the harbourmaster’s cottage, built in 1852, are still there. There are plenty of seats along the way if you want to stop and take in the views, keep an eye out for sea eagles, dolphins, seals and whales in winter.

Read More : Spend the day in Goolwa

Port Elliot Coastal Walk
Port Elliot to Middleton Coastal Walk

Port Elliot to Middleton Coast Walk

If you have the time, this 4.2km one-way easy walk has some great views along the coast. The trail starts at the Ladies Beach/Commodore Point end of Horseshoe Bay. From there it goes along the edge of the caravan park to Crockery Bay where there is a viewing platform.

The next part of the walk features the pink granite that you see along the coast in the area. You then get to Sandy Bay, Fisherman Bay and Basham Beach. From here, if you want to get off the sand you can get on to the Encounter Bikeway that takes you into Middleton.

Encounter Bikeway
Encounter Bikeway © South Australian Tourism Commission

Walk or Ride along the Encounter Bike Way

The Encounter Bikeway is a 30km long on-road and shared path between Victor Harbor and Goolwa. Port Elliot and Middleton are right in the middle of it, the 4km stretch between the two towns has some lovely coastal scenery. From Port Elliot it is a 15km ride to the heart of Goolwa or 7km to Granite Island in Victor Harbor – although the path does continue beyond Granite Island to the Bluff.

Port Elliot Bakery

Port Elliot Bakery

We have never seen queues at a bakery like those at the Port Elliot Bakery. It is a credit to the staff that you never seem to have to wait too long. On our most recent visit the line was only to the front door, but we have seen it stretch out the door and some way down the street.

Pies, cakes, coffee, vegan or gluten free, there is something for everyone. Keep an eye out for their doughnut of the month. At the time of writing, it is a key lime cheesecake theme but check their Facebook page for the latest creation.

Read More :  Spend the day exploring Victor Harbor

Port Elliot Historic Buildings

Port Elliot’s Historic Main Street

The main street and side streets of Port Elliot are full of historic buildings, quirky shops and eateries. You can follow two heritage trails around the town – the red walk and the blue walk – that both begin near the Port Elliot train station.

As a nod to the town’s retro vibe, in 2017 Port Elliot was transformed into 1950s Goolwa for the remake of the classic Australian film Storm Boy.

Port Elliot Heritage Trail
Port Elliot Heritage Trail

Port Elliot Heritage Trail

The main street and side streets of Port Elliot are full of historic buildings. You can follow two heritage trails around the town – the red walk and the blue walk – that both begin near the Port Elliot train station. Each of the walks takes 30 – 60 minutes depending on how many of the sites you stop at. The Red Walk has 17 stops and the Blue Walk 13. The Blue takes you through Port Elliot’s backstreets, the Red Walk goes from the main street towards the coast.

As a nod to the town’s retro vibe, in 2017 Port Elliot was transformed into 1950s Goolwa for the remake of the classic Australian film Storm Boy.

Port Elliot Maritime Heritage Trail

This gentle walk takes you along the coast, focuses on the area around Horseshoe Bay. There is signage along the way that tells you about the maritime history of Port Elliot paying particular attention to the many shipwrecks in the area. The sign boards look at 7 wrecks, 5 are in Horseshoe Bay and the other 2 just north of there. At Low tide, the remains of the Harry, Josephine Loizeau, Lapwing and Flying Fish wrecks can be spotted.

Whether you see the remains of the ships or not, the signage tells great stories, and you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful coastline as you contemplate the areas maritime history. As a bonus, you might spot dolphins, whales or seals as you look out to sea. 

Cockle train

Cockle Train

When most people think of the Cockle Train, they think of the steam train ride between Victor Harbor and Goolwa. But there are stations at Port Elliot and Middleton too. Running along the oldest steel railway in Australia, you not only get to enjoy the character of the old carriages, but there is wonderful scenery as you make your way along the coast and through farmland. The highlight is the beach section near Victor Harbor. Get yourself on the left side of the train as you head away from Goolwa for the best sea views.

Things to do in Middleton

Middleton is only 10 minutes down the road from Port Elliot towards Goolwa, yet has quite a different feel. Besides driving there, you can also walk or ride along the Encounter Bikeway or get off the Cockle train at the Middleton Train station.

Bashams Beach Whale Watching Platform

Whale Watching at Basham Beach

Between June and September, Middleton is a prime location on the Fleurieu Peninsula for whale watching. Basham Beach and Middleton Point are both great spots for seeing adult southern right whales with their calves.

There is a purpose-built viewing area at Basham Beach with tiered platforms, information and binoculars. There is also plenty of parking. If the whales are about, there is also great viewing from the beach. Keep in touch with the South Australian Whale Centre in Victor Harbor on Facebook or their website for the latest news on whale sightings.

Surfing Lessons

Surfing at Middleton Beach

Middleton Beach is a popular spot for surfing. If you don’t have your own gear, you can hire it at the beach. Lessons are also available. Check out the team at Kombi Surf if you want to hit waves. Boomer Beach, around the corner from Port Elliot towards Victor Harbor is also a popular surfing spot. Best leave Boomer Beach to the surfers as currents, rips and strong surf make this don’t make this a family friendly swimming spot. That said, the sand dunes and cliffs around here make for a great beach walk.

Middleton Art Gallery

Art & Craft Galleries

If it isn’t beach weather, one of the best things to do in Port Elliot and Middleton is check out the local art galleries. Looking through Blue Temper Iron Works, Artworx gallery, Ocean Street Art Gallery, Gunther George Paukner gallery, and Kiri Kiri Aboriginal Art Gallery is a fun way to fill in a wintery day.

Southern Fleurieu Historical Museum

Created and run by volunteers, the Southern Fleurieu Historical Museum features a range of agricultural, transport, farm tool and clothing displays. There is also an enormous range of paraphernalia from a bygone era. Best check their website for opening hours, at the time of writing the museum was open on Thursdays and Sundays from 10.00 to 3.00 and there is a small admission fee that helps keep the museum going. If you enjoy local history, it is a fascinating place to wander around. You’ll find the museum on one side of the Port Elliot Show Grounds.

Places to eat in Port Elliot + Middleton

Cockles Cafe

Cockles Café

In the main street of Port Elliot, dog friendly Cockles Café has a fantastic brunch menu and an equally good range of burgers. True to their name, you can everything from cockles benedict to a cockle burger.

The Retro Vibe

The Retro Vibe

If you have soft spot for the 60s, this is the place for you. From record players to vinyl lounges, the only thing more fun than the décor is the quality of the food. They do a great coffee and brunch.

Yeo Haus

Yeo Haus Coffee Hole

If you like your coffee, then the coffee specialists at Yeo Haus are a must visit when you are in Port Elliot. Just off the mainstreet their fresh brews are popular with both tourists and locals.

Middleton Beach Huts
Middleton Beach Huts  © Heidi Who Photography

Accommodation in Port Elliot + Middleton

Granite Island Boardwalk
Granite Island Boardwalk

Nearby Attractions

While you could spend a weekend seeing all of Port Elliot’s attractions, there are a couple of other fun towns within 15 minutes of Port Elliot and Middleton. Nearby Victor Harbor and Goolwa are great day trips on their own, but if you are spending a few days in the area, you should check out some of the things to do in these towns too. Here are the highlights:

  • Goolwa – Spend a day walking, swimming, surfing or fishing at Goolwa Beach, wine dine and relax at the Goolwa Wharf Precinct, Goolwa Markets every other Sunday, drive to Hindmarsh Island to see the mouth of the Murray – Read our full guide to things to do in Goolwa.
  • Victor Harbor – walk or take the horse drawn tram to Granite Island, go whale watching in winter, catch the Cockle Train to Goolwa and back, visit Urimbirra Wildlife Park. Read our full guide to things to do in Victor Harbor.

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