Jack promised his Californian belle she’d taste every part of Australia. True to his word, he whisked her away to the seafood frontier of Australia — South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. His chariot for this romantic mission is the appropriately palatial Whittley SL25 Coast Tourer. This one is fully set up for both whiting-whacking and cozy nights under the doona.
We’re on the Eyre Peninsula and I’d love to tell you we’re here to explore a mosaic of pristine shoreline, endless sandy beaches and coastal towns overflowing with succulent seafood, mouth-watering wine and seaside charm. But I’d be talking shit. I actually read all that in an SA tourism brochure.
We’re really here to fillet as many King George whiting as possible, burn a bunch of fuel and bludge as many free oysters as we can eat. I’m already off to a flying start on the scam-o-meter since I got my girlfriend, Alli, to sweet-talk Alan Whittley into giving us the keys to a boat, his tow vehicle and his fuel card. Winning.
EYRE TO THE THRONE
I’ve always wanted to explore the Eyre Peninsula. They reckon this is the seafood frontier of Australia, with two thirds of the state’s commercial catch coming into its ports. The place is famous for green-lipped abalone, scallops, prawns, oysters and tuna. But all I need are 100-odd whiting and a few Coffin Bay oysters to get Alli in the mood for lurve. Did I mention the Whittley has a seriously comfy double bed? More about the Whittley later… This place does have amazing natural beauty — countless red dirt roads lead down to large white sand dunes that roll forever before cascading into the Southern Ocean.
There are coastal townships, some booming with busloads of tourists clambering onto eco boats. Other towns rust slowly away on the side of the highway. Don’t be deceived by the beauty. This strip of coastline has claimed hundreds of boats and sailors over the years. Matthew Flinders, the second bloke to navigate his way around Australia, named an entire group of islands here after several of his seamen lost their lives exploring the local waters. (Note to Alli: no sleeping on watch!)
Our SA adventure starts on a gloomy Adelaide winter’s day. The SL25 is hitched to the Whittley company car — a LandCruiser with 660,000 clicks on the dial. Our destination is Tumby Bay, eight hours’ drive away. There’s nothing to make you hit the handbrake as the landscape changes from desert to bushland to coastal in a matter of kilometres. After the long drive, we finally arrive at Tumby Bay. The township nestles in a large open bay and boasts a 300m jetty reaching out into the blue. There are only 1500 people living here, but the bloke we’re most interested in meeting is the one they call Tumby Tom. His claim to fame is extracting whiting from the ocean at will.
Tumby Tom doesn’t have a fancy website or brochure — just the way The Captain likes it. We’re not the first to court Tom’s services. All the big TV fisho personalities pop in to see him when they need help getting onto the bite. Everyone from Rex Hunt, Lee Rayner and Paul Worsteling to the Hook, Line and Sinker team have fished with Tom, so we’re eager to compare our angling skills against the greats.
We meet up with Tom as the sun stretches across the ramp, the SL25 standing proud. “This is a fancy lookin’ boat,” Tom remarks, heaving a commercial fish tub of burley over the gunwales. Today we’ll be heading to the “Groups”, which is what the locals call the chain of islands scattered off the coast. They’re officially called the Sir Joseph Banks Group, named by Matthew Flinders in homage to Captain Cook’s botanist.
We launch the SL25 and make our way out of a narrow channel, fringed by canal houses. Tom explains there are lots of dangerous bommies and to be careful on the way out. Considering the Whittley is only fitted with a tiny Garmin display that has no detailed chart maps, we hand Tom the helm. Bristling with excitement, he guides us skillfully through the channel. Privately, we reckon Paul Worsteling never let him have the wheel.
As we approach the fishing grounds, Tom whips out an antique handheld GPS. “I bet a few locals would give their left nut to have 10 minutes alone with that thing?” I quiz Tom. “You’re not wrong,” he says, tapping the black-and-white screen. “This little baby is the key to the city.” It’s more than just good GPS marks, though, as the fish move around to different spots at different times, Tom explains. “This time of year, the fish are on the hard bottom, on clumps of rock that hold corkweed and berry weed. Usually, you’re fishing where you can see them along the sand edges. Best bait is pipi or cockle, but it’s good to have some options. If you’re serious, you catch fresh squid or cuttlefish, then tenderise it and cut it into thin strips.
With the whiting tips coming in thick and fast, it’s time to get amongst the action. Tom busts out the burley, transforming the sparkling-clean SL25 bait board into the horror scene from Saw IV. Then, down goes the burley pot full of pilchards, with the addition of a large squid head (Tom’s secret tip).
It only takes 30 seconds for the first hook-up. Tom and his long floppy rod are buckled in the back corner of the Whittley.
Alli’s rod is bent over like a banana too. Yep, we’re into a serious whiting session. After 20 minutes of some of the most incredible King George action I’ve experienced, Tom calls a halt to the whiting whacking. “If we keep fishing here, we’re going to bag out in about five minutes (the limit is 30 for the boat).
So how about we move to another spot where we probably won’t catch as many fish, but the ones we do catch will be much bigger?”
We prep the Whittley for a move. With the press of a button the anchor is hauled off the sandy bottom and Tom is back at the wheel with his ancient GPS. We move out to deeper grounds where Tom reckons we’ll also have a chance at some monster trevally. Like clockwork, down goes the burley pot and up come the whiting. Tom’s not wrong — this time we’re snagging them up to 45cm, plus a few big trevs.
With our bag limit maxed out, Tom offers to show us around a few of the 21 beautiful islands in the group. Alli fantasises about sunbaking on white sand beaches with her favourite book while turquoise waters lap softly against her toes.
That’s until Tom explains the islands are notoriously thick with native death adders and tiger snakes. Raincheck on the sunbaking.
After an action-packed afternoon, it’s back to Tumby Bay. Tom suggests we get the beers while he cleans the whiting — fair deal — and we meet up later for dinner at his place. His wife, Judy, puts on an incredible feed and we score a ziplock bag of perfectly filleted whiting to take on our travels.
It’ll prove handy for bartering. We only met Tom 12 hours earlier, but we now feel like part of the family. The Captain dips his lid to old Tumby Tom.
SA is famous for its oysters, so I get on the blower to Chris Hank from Pure Coffin Bay Oysters. He offers to take us out on one of his tours in exchange for a few whiting fillets.
We opt for the one-hour session (which will set you back $65 per person if you don’t have anything to trade). It’s an awesome little on-water aphrodisiac adventure and you get to check out the Coffin Bay waterway, Kellidie Bay oyster farms, the original farm — and slurp down some delicious oysters, after you’ve learned how to shuck ’em.
While we’re in the area, we have to visit Coffin Bay National Park, where we attempt to wrangle some wild emus. Failing miserably, we opt for a swim at insanely picturesque Almonta Beach.
Port Lincoln, home to the country’s largest commercial fishing fleet, is next on the agenda. We catch up with local legend Jamie Crawford, who builds fish farms and shark cages.
He takes us out for another session on the whiting off Port Lincoln National Park.
We also hook into some massive morwong on the light gear. They look like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Some of the prettiest fish in the ocean, I reckon they’d even give Angelina Jolie’s lips a run for their money.
From Port Lincoln, we work our way along the west coast, stopping in at popular spots like Woolshed Cave and Talia Beach. People come to see the caves, but we’re more interested in the naturally forming rock pools. We strip down to sample the nipple-stiffening Southern Ocean in Mother Nature’s jacuzzi.
Further along the road, we stumble into a dusty old gem called the Sheringa Roadhouse for a couple of burgers. The joint is owned by a crazy cat lady — unfortunately, I hate cats. On the upside, she has some Halco metal slugs for sale, so I pocket a few for later.
Turning down a dusty road, we make our way down to a remote spot known as Mount Camel Beach. It’s the perfect spot to throw slugs in the surf as the sun goes down. We get stuck into a huge school of Australian salmon on ultra-light gear and follow it up with a bonfire on the beach. It’s an ideal Corona moment, except we don’t have any.
Instead, we neck a bottle of rose, then test some of the creature comforts in the Whittley’s cabin.
Next day, the plan is to catch up with Justin Shepperd from EP Marine in Streaky Bay. Justin is keen to take us out for a fish, but we’re well and truly whitinged out. Instead, we settle for a couple of SA brews and an immaculately prepared Alli-platter out on the boat.
SA IN SUMMARY
The seafood was good, but we expected that. We didn’t expect the sheer size and isolation of Eyre Peninsula. I’d forgotten how good a deserted beach and good company feels. Every dusty road invites you to another coastal hideout and we were never disappointed at the end.
The National Parks are nature’s own adventure parks — just add a boat, a bottle of rose and some good company. And maybe Tumby Tom. But not all together. That’d just be weird.
WEAPON OF A WHITTLEY
The guys at Whittley may have been around for more than 60 years, but they’re not sitting around the lunchroom twiddling their moustaches. They noticed the influx of European boats with soft edges, plush seating arrangements and lock-up cabins — all the things that appeal to Mrs Captain — and decided they could up the bling level a little. So, they took one of their proven concepts, the Sea Legend, and gave it a makeover.
So, what’s special about the Coast Tourer Edition? There’s an awesome moulded hardtop, which we didn’t bump our heads on once. This leads down to a big windscreen with 360-degree visibility and wipers that actually work. Which is a must when tackling the wild southern seas. Another must is the lockable sliding door, which keeps you warm and snug when you’re on the water, and your fishing gear safe when you’re knocking back schooners at the pub after a day on the whiting.
There’s a well-appointed cabin with a wide aperture leading into the double bed. It’s great for access as well as getting your gear in and out easily. But it comes at a cost — there aren’t many grab rails in the cabin for your crew and it also means you lose a dash to put your phone and wallet on. The V-berth also has a dinette drop-in, which makes for killer on-water picnics.
The nice touches don’t end there, with rear-facing upholstered seats out in the cockpit and plush gunwale padding. Speaking of which, there is heaps of room out the back and an integrated rear deck. On the port side there’s a freshwater wash-down and sink; and on the starboard side, a live bait tank — in which we managed to keep 30 big King George whiting alive. No shit. Our only criticism would be the small drainage holes, which got clogged with scales.
Other fishy features include four rod holders on top of the gunwales, two rod holders in each side pocket, and six rocket launchers on the hardtop. This baby has also got outriggers, not that we needed them in whiting season. And it also has a commercial size underfloor kill tank.
For such a serious fishing boat, we were a little bit disappointed to see a pissy little Garmin unit in the dash. If I were dropping this much coin on a new boat, I’d definitely be spending a little bit extra on mega electronics. Ride and handling is what we’ve come to expect from the 23-degree Sea Legend marque, this one powered with a pair of Yamaha 150 outboards.
The twins were a game changer when it came to stability while underway, manoeuvrability in tight spaces and incredible grunt. We were clocking speeds over 75km/h.
Speaking of performance figures, the boat comes standard with a 240L fuel tank, which — unbelievably — we didn’t fill up once on the whole trip. The best part is it’s all legally towable at under 2.5m and just shy of 3.5 tonne fully loaded with all my Tiagras and Alli’s activewear.
So who would this boat suit? Everyone in South Australia it would seem, as this boat dropped jaws everywhere we went. They obviously don’t see much big deep-vee glass around these here parts. The SL25 would suit young couples, small families and grey nomads alike — whether they’re just taking it down to the local ramp on weekends, or on road trips around Australia.
The Coast Tourer lives up to its name — the SA coastline is some of the most rugged and remote we’ve come across, but the SL 25 was the perfect saltwater sled to attack it in.
– 23-degree hull sliced up the SA slop
– Twins get the grins — the F150 Yammies were amazing on this hull
– Insane fuel efficiency — didn’t have to top it up once
– Lock-up cab is a game changer when touring
– Great high hardtop design fits the proportions of the boat and doesn’t impede visibility
– Deep, comfortable and spacious cabin
– A boat the ladies will love
– If you tow an SL25 through SA, you’re going to make a lot of new friends
– Garmin electronics were a serious let-down
– Small drains in live well meant they got clogged with whiting scales
– No dash for phones and wallets
MORE INFORMATION: Whittley Marine Group