A Day at Victor Harbor

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Victor Harbor is a small coastal town, 71km south of Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula. It has a long history as a popular holiday destination for many South Australian families and it holds a special place in the hearts of my family. Back in the 1930’s, when my grandmother was a young woman, she enjoyed holidays at Victor Harbor with her friends and family. Later, when she was married and had a family of her own, she continued to enjoy the time they spent every summer at Victor Harbor. My mum and aunty remember these holidays with great fondness: building sandcastles on the beach, eating fish and chips on the grass under the tall Norfolk Pines, and going for a drive around to see the Bluff. As one of the next generation, I also have fond memories of summer holidays at Victor Harbor with my grandparents and cousins. 

 It’s funny how place becomes important to us as we grow older. Victor Harbor was a favourite place for my grandmother because it held so many memories for her. Even in her old age, she still liked to go there, to sit on a bench overlooking the sea, and remember. My grandmother passed away quite a few years ago now, but still Victor Harbor remains a special place for the rest of her family. We are all scattered across Australia, but when we do get together in South Australia, Victor Harbor is always at the top of our list. We remember the family holidays, but most of all, we remember my grandmother and we always feel close to her in Victor Harbor. 

Before we even left Queensland for our recent trip to South Australia, I knew that I wanted to visit Victor Harbor. It’s such a special place for all of us, that when my aunty learned we were all going for a day trip, she burst into tears. Living in Queensland too, she doesn’t get down to South Australia very often either, and given the circumstances of our trip, she didn’t expect she would have the opportunity for a visit to Victor Harbor. I knew then, that come what may – wind, hail, or even snow, we had to go to Victor Harbor.

  Even at the height of summer, the weather in Victor Harbor can be cool. In the middle of winter, it can be downright cold, wet and windy. And that was exactly what I was expecting. But I didn’t care. We were going to Victor Harbor, whatever the weather. Fortunately, it turned out to be a beautiful day – cool, overcast but fine. In the summer you would hardly be able to move for the crowds, but if you don’t mind the cold, blustery weather of a southern winter, then July is a good time to go.

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Looking back towards the mainland

One of the major attractions of Victor Harbor is Granite Island, which is connected to the mainland by a pedestrian causeway. After crossing the causeway, visitors can follow a walking path around the island and take in the beautiful ocean views. I don’t know how many times I have walked around Granite Island but I never get tired of the view. I love the ocean. It’s the one thing I miss living in Toowoomba. This time there was something new. Some very interesting and sometimes quite unusual modern sculptures had been erected around the island, complete with signs not to climb on them, which of course is a direct invitation for any child! 

Granite Island used to be home to a large colony of Fairy Penguins. In past years, if you were there at the right time, you could spot them making their way back to their burrows. Sadly, the penguins have fallen victim to fur seals and worst of all, local vandals. In 2012 the colony was numbered at just 7 penguins! You can still take a penguin tour at dusk but otherwise access to the island is restricted at night in order to protect the penguins. We didn’t see any penguins but we did see this sign! 

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One of my favourite attractions at Victor Harbor is the horse drawn tram. It is one of only two horse drawn trams in the world that still maintains a daily schedule. The tram is drawn by one of six clydesdales and carries visitors out to the island and back again along the causeway.  The tram began operating as a tourist attraction way back in 1894. Over the years there have been a number of different trams but sadly the service came to an end in the mid 1950s. However it was never forgotten by the many South Australians who holidayed at Victor Harbor. For them, Victor Harbour was never quite the same without the horse drawn tram.

In 1986 South Australia celebrated it’s 150th Jubilee and as part of the celebrations, a number of community projects came into being, including the reprisal of the Victor Harbor horse drawn tram service . Unfortunately the old trams were long gone. One ended up in the US in a museum; the other in the sea after years of deterioration and vandalism. So they had to build them from scratch based on the original designs.  In June 1986 the Victor Harbor horse drawn tram service had a grand re-opening and since then has continued to cart visitors back and forth over the causeway. After all my visits to Victor Harbor over the years, this was the first time that I finally got to have a ride on the tram!

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The day would not have been complete, of course, without fish and chips. In the summer there are plenty of lovely spots to throw out a picnic rug under the Norfolk Pines, but in the middle of winter we had to be content with the foreshore cafe. This was our last day in South Australia, so it was so lovely to spend it with our family in a place that means so much to all of us.

 If you ever visit South Australia, a trip to Victor Harbor is a must. Stroll around the island, enjoy a relaxed ride on the horse drawn tram and have fish and chips on the grass under the pines. And if you have time, take a penguin tour at dusk. I don’t know when my next trip to South Australia will be, but you can bet it will include a trip to Victor Harbor.

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