Port Wakefield, S.A.

An historic port at the head of Gulf St Vincent which has been bypassed by the main road to Port Pirie. One a major port in the export of copper and then wool and wheat, today it is a small centre which is primarily driven by the traffic which passes on its way north. With mangroves growing on the far side of the narrow channel it is now obvious that the port can only be used for small fishing boats.

Where is it?: 99 km north west of Adelaide.

Port Wakefield is a major stop on the Adelaide - Yorke Peninsula and Adelaide - Port Augusta road routes. Just north of the township there is a major forked intersection where the Yorke Peninsula traffic diverges west from the main highway.

Heritage features: Port Wakefield Historic Walk; Police Station (1858); former Commercial Bank building (c.1877); Clinton Conservation Park (10 km west).

Brief History

A monument in town recalls the area's first contact with Europeans. "Captain Flinders of HMS Investigator, discovered, and on 30th March, 1802 at the head of the Gulf, named it Gulf of St. Vincent after Admiral Lord St Vincent (John Jervis)". Port Wakefield can claim to be the first town to be established north of Adelaide in the infant colony of South Australia. It was named after the River Wakefield which was located in 1838 by William Hill who named it after Edward Wakefield, the person whose vision of colonisation had been largely responsible for the establishment of South Australia.

Port Wakefield developed as the main port for the shipment of copper ore from the mines of Burra and Kooringa. A large number of bullock and mule teams travelled the gulf road between Burra and Port Wakefield, carting copper ore from the Burra copper works to the port, returning with coal and other requirements. When the township was surveyed by the government the settlement's name was changed from Port Henry to Wakefield. Small sailing barges landed cargoes of coal on the shore, and carried copper ore to Port Adelaide, or to large sailing ships anchored off shore.

Between 1850 and 1877, when the mine at Burra stopped sending copper to the coast, Port Wakefield was a prosperous and important seaport. The port had to be dredged as Port Wakefield was never a wonderful port. Today, if you arrive at low tide, you'll wonder how any vessel managed to get into the port. Consequently with the decline in copper the port declined although it did remain as a port for wool and wheat well into this century. In 1909 300,000 bags of wheat were exported through the port. The wheat was taken to the port by a tramway which was built over a length of 45 km. Horses were used to pull the carriages up to a higher point where the wheat was loaded on the tram. Then, with the horses loaded on the back, the tram used gravity to take itself back to the port.

Origin of name: the name is taken from the nearby River Wakefield. It was first located in 1838 by William Hill who named it after Edward Wakefield, the person whose vision of colonisation had been largely responsible for the establishment of South Australia.

Port Arthur

Most people don't know it but there are two Port Arthurs in Australia - the well known historic convict settlement in Tasmania, and the lesser known locality at the head of Gulf St Vincent. To travellers who do know it, South Australia's Port Arthur is a shady, no-frills rest area is close to mangrove flats where you might see wading birds at low tide, just off the Port Wakefield Yorketown Rd, 9 km north of Port Clinton and the same distance north west of Port Wakefield. When a town existed here, it was used (from 1861 to 1863) as a minor port for an enterprise moving passengers between Port Adelaide and the towns of Moonta and Wallaroo using the steam tug, Eleanor, and coach services operated by two locals. All that remains are the gaol building and some dams.

The locality's position on Gulf St Vincent also means it is in one of only three zones in the world (along with the Torres Strait and Gulf of Mexico) to experience the Dodge Tide phenomenon. A Dodge Tide is a neap tide with minimal rise and fall over the course of a day or two - in other words there is little or no difference between high and low tide. So if you come to Clinton to watch the Dodge Tide you'll see no change in the tide, you've seen it!

Walk The Yorke

Offering over 500km of continuous walking around the coast of Yorke Peninsula, it's longer than the Larapinta, The Great Ocean Walk and the Katoomba-Mittagong Trail combined. The local council saw its potential as an interesting walking trail, so they combined a number of existing walks with a slew of new ones to form a single walking experience.

One section of the trail links Port Wakefield to Port Clinton (32.8km; 8 hours 15 minutes) through a less-known yet exceptionally important ecosystem. The mangroves of the Samphire Coast curving around the head of the Gulf are something of a creche where fish, crab and migratory bird species breed and thrive. The walk starts at Port Wakefield Caravan Park, before doing a long straight on a disused railway line then edging around the 369ha Clinton Conservation Park.

The path winds inland through country with both European and Aboriginal Narungga significance  from Port Arthur and uphill into the evocative Hummocks where you can enjoy views down to the Gulf and the mangroves  what the Narungga people called "the forests of the sea".

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