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A quiet suburb in the historic river port of Goolwa, Goolwa Beach faces the wild Southern Ocean on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula. The namesake surf beach is just one of a long line of beaches stretching far into the distance, interrupted only by the opening of the Murray River to the ocean. Goolwa Beach is a maze of residential streets bordered by coastal scrub to the west and the town’s riverside golf course to the east. You’ll walk from your stay to the beach via tracks leading through the coastal dunes, or down Beach Road to swim at a patrolled strip of sand.
Inland from the beach, the town of Goolwa lines the final bend in the Murray River before it reaches the ocean. The port thrived as a shipbuilding centre and the terminal for the paddle steamers and barges plying the mighty river in the 19th century, and many sandstone buildings from that era are still standing in the heritage-listed old centre of town. Across the bridge from the old part of town, Hindmarsh Island is just one of a handful of islands to explore between the river and the water sports haven of Lake Alexandrina.
From Adelaide Airport (ADL), the nearest international and domestic hub, it’s a 90-minute drive to Goolwa Beach. Rent a car at the airport and you’ll be able to stop off at the renowned wine region of McLaren Vale on the way. You’ll probably want to have your own car to explore the rest of the coast and inland towns, otherwise you can book a shuttle service from the airport. Alternatively, you can make your way into central Adelaide from the airport to take a train and then a coach to Goolwa; the journey takes just over two hours from the city centre. Steam- and diesel-powered heritage trains also run from Goolwa to Victor Harbor a few days a week.
The beaches of the Fleurieu Peninsula and the waters of Lake Alexandrina are best enjoyed in summer, with dry, hot days from around November to March. In April, Goolwa hosts Aquafest, a popular festival of speed boat racing and a celebration of classic sailboats. And every other April, the charming South Australian Wooden Boat Festival features vintage yacht races on the river. There’s nothing but ocean between the Goolwa Beach coastline and the Antarctic, so you can experience chilly days even at the height of summer, when an offshore wind picks up. You’ll experience more rain from late autumn to early spring, but winter days are generally mild, while nighttime temperatures occasionally hover around freezing.
The focal point of the river port, Goolwa Wharf is one of only two places in the world where you can step off a steam locomotive and onto a steam-powered paddleboat. (The other place is in the Scottish Highlands.) Take a cruise to the mouth of the Murray before sampling the wares at the winery cellar door, brewery, and whisky distillery on the wharf.
The old part of Goolwa runs a few blocks inland from the town’s timber wharf to the 1860 Council Chambers. In this compact heritage area, you find the Goolwa National Trust Museum, which houses what may well be the first motorhome ever built in the country, as well as grand timber hotels and venerable sandstone buildings.
Bring your own bicycles, or hire e-bikes in Goolwa, to take advantage of the Encounter Bikeway, which runs more than 31 kilometres from Goolwa along the coast to the towns of Middleton, Port Elliot, and Victor Harbor. As soon as you leave Goolwa Beach you’ll pass through the melaleuca forest and dunes of Tokuremoar Reserve, a site of great significance for the local Ramindjeri and Ngarrindjeri peoples.