Fleurieu Peninsula – Cockle Train and Granite Island

One of the beautiful Clydesdale horses pulling the Victor Harbor Horse Drawn Tram back from Granite Island


01 November 2017

This is our last full day in Victor Harbor and we have chosen to spend the morning taking the Cockle Train that travels from Victor Harbor, stopping at Port Elliott and Middleton before arrival at Goolwa where the Murray River meets the sea.  Why is this iconic journey called the “Cockle Train”? In early days of settlement the local residents would take a horse drawn train to Goolwa to collect Cockles from the sandy beaches near the Murray mouth. It was a great day’s outing and thus gained its name.

After a 30 minute journey the train edges into Goolwa station (above right), in the centre of the town. Here, the locomotive is detached from the carriages and turned on a specially retained 30m long electric turntable before rejoining the carriages for the return journey to Victor Harbor.








A boat being restored (left) and the boardwalk (right) along the Murray River


We had the opportunity of looking through a craft shop situated at the end of the station, then a walk on the boardwalk along the river side.  Although the wind was cool, the sun was shining and the sky was blue, so it was a very pleasant time looking at the river, some of the old boats, and of course the pelicans who took up residence along the boardwalk.

We returned on the next Cockle Train to Victor Harbor in time to organise some lunch before we boarded the only horse-drawn tramway in Australia and one of the few services to run throughout the year worldwide.  Magnificent Clydesdale horses draw the tram along the causeway from seaside Victor Harbor to Granite Island.

The tram travels across the 630 metre causeway throughout the day taking passengers to picturesque Granite Island. Approximately 100,000 visitors annually enjoy this experience. It has carried more than 2 million passengers since 1986.

Commencing in 1894 by the South Australian Railways, the service attracts visitors from all parts of the globe. Whether it is the experience of travelling on heritage transport, travelling across the sea, going to the Island and experiencing the nature walks, the opportunity of seeing marine life in their environment or the joy of meeting one of our Clydesdales, the tram caters for all.

We were able to have a “chat” with the horses before we boarded the tram, they are such strong animals and seem to have little trouble pulling the tram along the rails.  Granite Island, characterised by its huge granite boulders tinged with orange and green lichen, has a uniquely distinctive history. The island has a cultural history based on the beliefs of the Ramindjeri group dating back countless generations, as well as a European history dating back to 1802 when Englishman Captain Matthew Flinders on the Investigator and Captain Nicolas Baudin on Le Geographé discovered the area.

Granite Island is part of the local Ramindjeri Aboriginal landscape, and is identified as Kaiki rather than Granite Island. The island has always been of great importance to this indigenous group, as the male Supreme Creator Ngurunderi is believed to have created the island by throwing a spear into the sea. The Ngurunderi Dreaming extends from the upper reaches of the River Murray, to Kangaroo Island.

Victor Harbor became recognised for its whaling and sealing opportunities. In the early nineteenth century, Encounter Bay attracted large numbers of whales and seals. Whaling stations were erected on Granite Island and the Bluff to pursue the Southern Right Whale. The Ramindjeri people were regarded as competent whalers and were employed as harpooners and whale spotters.

Whaling at Victor Harbor produced whale oil, one of South Australia’s first exports. Business was good and Encounter Bay was the most productive of the colony’s whaling stations. However, by the last years, whalers were only finding two to three whales each winter. In 1872 the industry closed down.

Victor Harbor was thought to be better than other harbors in the colony. It was also conveniently close to the River Murray trade. For this reason, Victor Harbor was considered to be South Australia’s capital city. The town’s bid to become the capital city saw the construction of Granite Island’s causeway, jetties and breakwater. Victor Harbor was unsuccessful in this bid. Shipping continued successfully, however. Products like wool and wheat traveled down the River Murray by boat, then by steam train to Victor Harbor and across to Granite Island by horse-drawn tram. They were loaded onto the ships bound for ports around the world. By the end of the century, the railways were rapidly expanding and the need for shipping was reduced.

We had the opportunity of walking a part of the way around the island, but the  strong wind coming off the Southern Ocean made it a little unpleasant, so we decided about walking all around the island, and made our way back to catch the next tram back to the mainland.

Tonight we had dinner at the Beach House Restaurant near our accommodation, and both had Indian Curries with Naan Bread and Rice – rather delicious.  Tomorrow we head for the last stages of our holiday, to the Barossa Valley.



Our trusty steed after bringing us back from Granite Island to the mainland, he must have been tired!

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