Born in the early 20th century near the head of the Spencer Gulf, Whyalla developed fast in the post-war years with an integrated steelworks and shipyard.
The Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP), the world’s largest mining group, was here at the very start.
They founded Whyalla’s first settlement in 1901, at the terminus for a tramway bringing iron ore down from the mines in the nearby Middleback Range.
Heavy industry is still a part of life in Whyalla, and you can tour the massive Whyalla Steelworks and the ore mines not far away at Iron Knob.
But there’s a softer side to Whyalla, at the peaceful lawns and gardens by the foreshore and in winter when migrating cuttlefish put on a dazzling display.
1. Whyalla Maritime Museum
The city’s historic relationship is explained at this museum that also holds the Visitor Information Centre, all dwarfed by a landlocked WWII warship.
You can find out about this and the three other corvettes constructed by BHP in Whyalla during the Second World War.
The BHP Shipbuilding Gallery documents Whyalla’s shipyards, from 1940 to 1978, during which time 66 vessels were constructed, including ferries, tankers, container ships and warships.
Singing to the Sharks goes into the Whyalla area’s indigenous history, explaining the relationship of the various cultural groups with the sea.
You can also view the 1814 edition of Matthew Flinders’ journals and charts, discover the marine life of the Spencer Gulf and check out one of the largest H0 gauge model railways in the country, with more than 400 metres of track.
2. HMAS Whyalla
Passing by on the Port Augusta Road, it’s hard to ignore the hulking Bathurst-class corvette stranded next to the maritime museum.
HMAS Whyalla was the first ship at BHP’s Whyalla Shipyards and was launched in 1941. This vessel spent the war escorting convoys along the south-eastern Australian coast, and later in New Guinea and Okinawa before ending the war in Hong Kong.
To avoid this vital piece of heritage being scrapped, it was bought by Whyalla in the 1980s and moved to its current landlocked location – you can even walk underneath the hull, which is raised two metres off the ground.
A complete tour of the ship is included in the museum admission price, embarking at 11:30 and 13:30.
3. Whyalla Marina
If you’re in need of a refreshing dip the best place to go in Whyalla is actually the marina.
There’s a swimming platform here in the southern nook of the breakwater, letting you bathe in the clear, sheltered waters, protected by a net.
And if you’re in luck you just might see Whyalla’s resident bottlenose dolphin pod within the breakwaters, though it’s important to keep your distance.
Pushing out into Spencer Gulf from the marina’s southern corner is the newly improved fishing jetty where you can try to catch blue swimmer crabs, squid, whiting, tommy ruff and garfish.
4. Whyalla Steelworks Tour
For those fascinated by how things get made, a tour of the Whyalla Steelworks is too good an opportunity to pass up.
More than 1.2 million tonnes of steel is produced at this 1,000-hectare site every year, and the process is fully integrated, beginning with mining at places like Iron Knob (more later) and departing via the railway and port.
The tour is as detailed as you’d hope, showing you every stage of production at the blast furnace, coke ovens, casting plant and rolling mills where steel is fabricated into anything from girders to railway tracks.
These 90-minute tours are provided by the Whyalla Visitor Information Centre and set off Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 09:30.
5. Ada Ryan Gardens
In from the foreshore zone, a brief walk from the marina is Whyalla’s favourite park.
Up to 1918 this was the setting for Whyalla’s first cemetery, and is now the prime place for residents and visitors to wander, take a picnic, play tennis or bring their children to the playground.
Ada Ryan Gardens blends tree-shaded lawns with formal flowerbeds, and is woven with accessible, paved footpaths that are lined with benches.
Kids will also adore the newly upgraded animal enclosures, home to kangaroos and an array of birdlife in the aviary.
6. Point Lowly Lighthouse
The oldest constructions in the Whyalla area can be found at Point Lowly, just around False Bay.
The conical lighthouse, just shy of 30 metres tall, is an icon of the Spencer Gulf and was raised in 1883. The beacon was manned until as recently as 1973 and has a range of 26 nautical miles.
There are information signs telling the lighthouse’s story, and near the tower’s foot are two keepers’ cottages, built at the same time and now rented out as holiday accommodation.
So if you fancy an overnight stay at a historic and spectacular location, you can enquire at the Whyalla Visitor Information Centre.
In the morning you can step out to kangaroos playing in the brush and dolphins leaping in the water.
In winter, migrating cuttlefish put on a kaleidoscopic show, as we’ll find out later.
7. Whyalla Conservation Park
Head up the Lincoln Highway to this protected area about ten minutes out of Whyalla proper.
There you can hike in the Western myall/chenopod woodland typical of this corner of the Eyre Peninsula.
But the main reason to make the trip is for Wild Dog Hill, climbing abruptly in the north west of the park.
This craggy sandstone mass can be climbed pretty easily, and will grant you super views from its summit.
The best time to do this is when the sun is low at dawn or dusk, when the landscape’s reddish stone is all aglow.
May through August the Australian giant cuttlefish migrates to shallow, inshore rocky reef areas in the Spencer Gulf.
This is the largest cuttlefish species in the world, growing to half a metre and 10.5 kg.
They also use pigment-changing chromatophores to change colour in the blink of an eye.
To recognise this annual spectacle, the local tourist organisation has launched Cuttlefest, taking place in June, July and August.
There’s lots happening on land, from a lantern parade to art trail, but the best bit is seeing these amazing molluscs on a snorkel or dive.
This could hardly be easier, as the cuttlefish come to within a few metres of the shore, and the most popular location is Stony Point, close to the lighthouse at Point Lowly.
9. Mount Laura Homestead Museum
This volunteer-run National Trust Museum documents early European life in the Whyalla area.
One building standing here since 1922 is the nine-room Station Homestead, packed with interesting artefacts and with each room devoted to a different aspect of Whyalla’s past, from industry to education.
Some of the historic buildings relocated to Mount Laura include the gaol from 1914, a harness shed holding a display of horse-drawn carriages, a working blacksmith shop and a cottage/washhouse painting a picture of local domestic life in the early 20th century.
Added to all this there’s the Nicholson and Lions Engine Sheds, filled with historic machinery, the old steam train and ore truck that worked the Iron Knob Mines, and finally the Telecommunications Museum charting the progress of the Overland and East West Telegraph between 1872 and 1877.
10. Hummock Hill Lookout
Right above the marina is the hilltop that was the site of Whyalla’s first European settlement at the turn of the 20th century.
The lookout was created by BHP in 1986 to mark the company’s centenary, turning old WWII gun emplacements into observation platforms.
There’s a restored anti-aircraft gun, as well as a sheltered viewing area, interpretive boards and a space for picnics.
The scenery is striking, and you’ll get a 350° panorama over Whyalla and its steelworks and port, out across the Southern Ocean and inland to the iron-rich peaks of the Middleback Range.
11. Whyalla Foreshore
The Foreshore zone continues west from the marina along the seafront and is an inviting place to spend a few hours on a sunny day.
The east end of the white sandy beach here is less affected by tides and so more suitable for swimming, as an alternative to the swimming platform at the marina.
And behind the beach you’ve got Ada Ryan Gardens, as well as wide open lawns, a shaded children’s playground, free electric barbecues, a cafe, toilets and change rooms.
12. Iron Knob
The cradle of Australia’s steel industry sits about 40 minutes north west in the Middleback Range.
Iron Knob gets its name from the rich iron ore deposits surrounding the town, and the first mineral claim here was made by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company in the late-19th century.
Iron Knob’s population dwindled after mining activity stopped in 1998, but since 2015 work has restarted at the immense tiers of the Iron Monarch mine.
This ore is either exported or smelted at the Whyalla Steelworks.
Make for the town’s visitor centre, which has a great little museum full of antique equipment, mineral specimens, photographs and interpretive boards, along with a theatrette screening interesting presentations.
This is also the place to book a minibus tour, for panoramas of the first Iron Knob pit and the Iron Princess and Iron Monarch mines.
13. Flinders & Freycinet Lookout
At this vantage point you can take in a big tranche of the upper Spencer Gulf, backed by the southern Flinders Ranges to the east, while the last humps of the Middleback Range are visible some 20 kilometres to the south-west.
The Flinders & Freycinet Lookout is named for Matthew Flinders (1774-1814), the first European to chart this coastline in 1802, but also French cartographer Louis-Claude de Freycinet (1779-1841), who navigated the Spencer Gulf in 1803 and moored for a night off what is now Whyalla.
Amid the lookout’s neat landscaping there’s a pair of stylised statues of the two explorers, over a set of information boards about their careers and Whyalla’s early history.
14. Wilson Park
Close to the Maritime Museum and Visitor Information Centre there’s an urban park with views east across the bay to Port Bonython and Point Lowly.
North of Wilson Park is the unmistakeable outline of the Whyalla Steelworks, and on the grass here there’s a monument to the city’s industrial heritage.
The upturned ship’s rudder was unveiled in 1974 to mark the jubilee of the naming of the township of Whyalla.
Close by there’s also a Kedge anchor, 2.5 metres high and cast in the 1950s.
For families with restless children, Wilson Park has a playground, as well as picnic tables, a shelter and barbecue facilities.
15. Whyalla Wetlands
There’s a system of artificial lakes attracting rich birdlife in the south of Whyalla.
Up to 1951 this was the location for the Whyalla Aerodrome, and the wetlands here now have an important water conservation purpose.
The lakes are replenished by a mix of storm water runoff and underground seepage, and a lot of investment has gone into their surroundings, planting lawns and setting up picnic benches, barbecues, a playground, information boards and eco-friendly hybrid toilets.
Over time, birds not normally recorded in Whyalla have made an appearance at the wetlands.
Muscovy ducks are most at home at the site, and can be fed birdseed, rice or sweetcorn.