When the navigator Matthew Flinders stopped by in 1802, he named this place in South Australia after the city of Lincoln, near where he grew up in England.
Port Lincoln opens onto Boston Bay, which is Australia’s largest natural harbour, and three times the size of Sydney Harbour.
There’s marine life aplenty in the huge recess of the Spencer Gulf, and the city duly claims the title of “Seafood Capital of Australia”. One offshore resident is the great white shark, and brave souls can go cage diving to see this monster up close.
The majestic coastline just out of Port Lincoln is conserved by two national parks, enriched with serene little bays, cliffs, granite headlands and immense dune-backed beaches.
1. Lincoln National Park
The Jussieu Peninsula, making up the southern flank of Boston Bay, is protected by the sumptuous Lincoln National Park.
This puts an overwhelming variety of coastal scenery within just a few minutes of the city.
On much of the peninsula you’ve got sturdy granite headlands, tranquil bays and views to a whole system of islands in the gulf.
The inward portions are ready to be explored paddling in a kayak or snorkelling from spots like Donington Beach.
Memory Cove is a completely secluded white sandy beach defended by mallee and granite rocks and limited to just 15 vehicles a day.
Then on the ocean side, the beaches are slammed by raging surf, and the immense dunes of the Sleaford-Wanna system are moulded by fierce winds.
As for wildlife, Lincoln National Park is impossibly rich, inhabited by emus, kangaroos and wallabies in big numbers.
Migratory birds like sandpipers and stints can be seen in summer, while Rosenberg’s goannas have made a comeback in the park in the last decade.
Port Lincoln’s status as “Seafood Capital of Australia” comes from the natural abundance of the Spencer Gulf, as well as on the west side of the Eyre Peninsula where Coffin Bay’s quiet waters are ripe for oyster farming.
The port has Australia’s largest fishing fleet, but there’s also a burgeoning aquaculture industry, with farms for oysters, mussels, abalone, yellowtail kingfish and southern bluefin tuna.
Among the many species caught nearby are southern rock lobster, squid and prawns (all seasonal), as well as snapper and King George whiting (year round). So this may be one of the best places in the world to order something delicious from the sea.
One of a raft of great places to go is the Fresh Fish Place on Proper Bay Road, combining wholesale with a consumer market and an ocean-to-plate cafe with an ever-changing, locally caught menu.
3. Great White Shark Cage Tours
There’s nothing like coming eye to eye with one of the world’s most feared predators to get the blood pumping.
So if you can psych yourself up, Port Lincoln is a jumping off point for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
There’s a One-Day diving experience available through the tour website GetYourGuide.com.
This is an Advance Eco Certified tour, taking you out to the Neptune Islands off the tip of the Eyre Peninsula.
There you’ll be given a thorough safety briefing, and once great whites are sighted you’ll plunge into a cage to view these beasts in their natural habitat.
The sharks will come extra close as the company, Calypso Star Charters, uses natural fish berley to attract them.
When you’re out of the water you’ll be free to photograph the sharks from the safety of the vessel, and before getting dressed and heading back to Port Lincoln you can take a hot shower.
No surprise then that Port Lincoln is up there with the best places in South Australia to drop a line.
Barring a state-wide closure from November to mid-December, a wealth of species can be caught all year.
These include salmon, trevally, whiting, garfish, snook, Australian herring and snapper, while kingfish and tuna are abundant in late-summer and autumn.
The simplest way to catch fish in Port Lincoln is from a jetty or a beach in a national park (entry permit required), but there’s also a healthy fishing charter industry (Port Lincoln fishing charters, Triple Bay, Tackle World) for convenience and local expertise.
Regulations, bag limits and size limits apply, so it’s a good idea to grab a fishing guide from the Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre.
5. Glen-Forest Tourist Park & Vineyard
A brief journey into Port Lincoln’s back country will bring you to a rural attraction with something for all the family.
The property encompasses 400 acres of pastoral scenery, just over a quarter of which is devoted to an animal park keeping kangaroos, koalas, sheep, dingoes, goats, ostriches and a host of bird species.
Every day you can see the koalas being fed at 13:00, and in season there are baby animals that kids can meet and cuddle.
Also geared towards families is a the 18-hole mini golf course, and you can pick up refreshments at the kiosk or make use of the free, shaded BBQ area.
For grownups, some 80 acres of this land is given over to a vineyard, growing Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Benefitting from a Mediterranean climate tempered by the fresh sea air, these wines are produced under the Lincoln Estate label and can be purchased on site.
6. Whalers Way
Some of the most spellbinding accessible coastline in South Australia lies not far from Port Lincoln on the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula.
Whalers Way is actually private land, so before making the drive you’ll need to get hold of a permit from the Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre.
With that you’ll be free to venture along an ancient coastline of lofty cliffs, headlands, caves, crevasses, blowholes and stupendous beaches with golden sand.
The Swimming Hole is a natural, crystal clear pool, enclosed by a reef, while Cape Carnot is a national geological monument and South Australia’s oldest rock, formed some 2.6 billion years ago.
7. Winter Hill Lookout
With grazing sheep on its slopes, the rounded mass of Winter Hill dominates the horizon north-west of Port Lincoln.
And from the top you can enjoy what is probably the best panorama of the city.
Within a five-minute drive of the CBD you can gaze over Port Lincoln and Boston Island, and see the many little islands of the Spencer Gulf when the weather’s clear.
Looking south you can also trace the rugged coastline along Whalers Way, while Coffin Bay is visible back across the southern tip of the peninsula.
8. Axel Stenross Maritime Museum
To immerse yourself in Port Lincoln’s seafaring heritage there’s a first-rate maritime museum right on the water by the Lincoln Highway.
There you’ll get to know the story of Axel Stenross, a Finnish ships’ carpenter who arrived in Port Lincoln in 1927 aboard the windjammer sv Olivebank and decided to stay for good.
The museum shows off Steinross’s preserved living quarters, and the boatbuilding workshops and slipway that continue to function to this day.
There’s a great collection of historic vessels in varying stages of restoration, as well as maritime artefacts to paint a picture of the historic fishing and cargo industries that were vital to Port Lincoln.
9. Mikkira Station
For a taste of rural life on the southern Eyre Peninsula there’s a restored historic stone homestead nor far out of Port Lincoln.
This wonderfully secluded escape is embraced by stands of mature manna gum trees, home to koalas, emus and kangaroos, while rare orchids and all manner of unusual native plants can be admired.
You can contact the Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre for a guided tour all year.
Between May and October, when the station is at its greenest, you can also visit for camping and picnics, with permits available from the visitor information centre’s accommodation booking desk.
10. Koppio Smithy Museum
Head north into the Koppio Hills for this fantastic outdoor museum with a little townscape of colonial-era buildings.
The Koppio Smithy Museum is managed by the National Trust of South Australia and is anchored by a blacksmith cottage and accompanying two-bedroom cottage built in 1905. You can also poke around a variety of old buildings relocated here from across the Eyre Peninsula, like a one-teacher schoolhouse, “Glenleigh” that cottage (1890), the Port Lincoln tailor shop, the tiny White Flat Post Office and a Bank of Adelaide building.
The entire museum is packed with original artefacts fleshing out daily life on the peninsula more than a century ago, and there are display sheds for tractors and other farm machinery, from shears to stationary engines.
One unexpected find is a replica WWI tank, recovered from an old set for the 1987 movie, The Lighthorsemen, filmed in the dunes at Coffin Bay.
11. The Old Mill Lookout
The oldest surviving structure in Port Lincoln is a flour windmill, completed in 1846 but never used for its intended purpose.
The tower remains, in a scenic and elevated position at Dorset Place, surrounded by a lawn and fronted by a rose garden.
The mill has been turned into a lookout with a steep metallic stairway spiralling up the outside.
From the top you can survey Port Lincoln, Boston Bay and the islands sprinkled around the Spencer Gulf.
12. Coffin Bay National Park
If you’re hungry for more remote and awe-inspiring coastal scenery you can go west to Coffin Bay National Park.
Extending on a finger of land is an area of high cliffs, enormous sand dunes and amazing beaches, some pummelled by ocean waves and others in peaceful bays.
The more sheltered southern end of the park at Yangie Bay is ideal for kayaking and canoeing, and on land you can set off for a picnic in the bush.
For gorgeous vistas on the south side there’s Golden Island Lookout, accessed via sealed road with near-constant ocean views.
The beaches in the park’s very north are extraordinary but seldom visited, and you’ll need a high clearance 4WD to get there, crossing epic dunescapes on the way.
13. Parnkalla Walking Trail
To appreciate the full beauty of Boston Harbour you could walk a portion of this trail that runs through Port Lincoln and tracks the shoreline of the harbour for 35 kilometres.
Being low on the coast, the walk is always light and suitable for families, while the central section on the Port Lincoln waterfront is paved with bitumen.
On your way you’ll have lots of opportunities to watch the marine traffic passing by and venture down to a beach to feel the sand between your toes or have a paddle.
The Parkalla Walking Trail is fully signposted, with occasional maps and interpretive boards.
14. Port Lincoln Visitor Information
We’ve mentioned the local visitor information centre a few times in this list.
More than a place to get an armful of leaflets, this is a key resource, opening up the Eyre Peninsula and its myriad attractions and national parks to travellers.
You can book tours here, and come for permits to places like Whalers Way, while the helpful staff will also help you track down the ideal accommodation if you haven’t had much luck online.
The centre has free Wi-Fi, as well as a big selection of souvenirs and postcards.
For three days over the long weekend in January, Port Lincoln cuts loose in a celebration that goes back six decades.
Of course, Tunarama is rooted in the city’s fishing heritage and is an event to whet the tastebuds, with some of the freshest seafood you could hope to taste.
Along with market stalls, cultural displays and live music, there’s a big serving of craziness and fun at all sorts of competitive events, in and out of the water.
The signature is the hotly contested Tuna Toss, which is like a hammer throw in athletics…but with a whole tuna.
Plus, every year there’s a children’s area, packed with free things to keep the young ones entertained.