When people asked where we were spending the holidays, there was no simple answer. We were headed to Baird Bay, which few people have heard of, and we were driving there from Port Lincoln, which is another place that most people haven’t heard of. My most common response was, “go to Adelaide, then fly an hour west, then drive another hour west – in the Bight, you know, the bottom of Australia.”
We’ve been to Port Lincoln several times (in 2015, 2017, and in January of 2019). It is fairly easy to get to (quick flight from Adelaide) and the sea lions never disappoint. On our last visit we learned about Baird Bay, which is a three hour drive west of Port Lincoln.
A surprise night in Adelaide
We didn’t plan to overnight in Adelaide, but our flight out of Sydney was delayed due to bushfire smoke and we missed the connection. As it was the last flight of the day, Qantas arranged accommodation at the Stamford Glenelg and even gave us $100 for dinner.
A quick stop in Port Lincoln
We didn’t see sharks the last time we were in Port Lincoln, so we had a voucher to return and figured this would break up the travel to Baird Bay. We had a buffer day in the itinerary, so we didn’t miss anything due to the overnight in Adelaide.
We booked a Standard Waterfront Apartment at the Marina Hotel via AirBNB. Oddly, it is cheaper than booking direct, and we get Qantas points (technically double points because we pay with the Qantas American Express). We’d stayed there before – the units are clean and you can’t beat the location, which is just steps from where the charters depart.
Because we needed to take food with us to Baird Bay, we pre-ordered click and collect from Woolworths. We also made a quick stop at Target Country, because it was a lot colder than expected (19c / 66f in the morning) and neither of us brought pants. Target in Australia is not the same as Target in the US, and Target Country is like a sad cousin of Target Australia. This is the backstory on how I would up with these pink camouflage fleece pants (which are so wrong that they are almost right).
Shark cage diving with Calypso Charters
We’re pros at the shark cage dive by now. It’s a three-hour boat ride to the Neptune Islands, and it is usually a bit choppy. We’ve learned not to eat, to stay in the fresh air, and not to suit up until the sharks arrive. We also try to stay away from people who don’t follow these rules and spend the day clutching disposable hork bags. There was a white shark in the area when we arrived, but unfortunately it didn’t stick around. Oh well, another voucher for a return trip.
We also did a sea lion swim, and while the visibility wasn’t stellar, the sea lions were still fun.
Getting to Baird Bay
Next, we headed to Baird Bay. The drive from Port Lincoln to Baird Bay is pretty simple – you just head east on the Flinders Highway.
We made a detour to drive around Coffin Bay, and also made a quick stop in Elliston to stretch our legs.
About an hour past Elliston, there is a sign for “Sea lion colony”. From there on, it is an unsealed road with very little signage (and no phone signal). It’s about 15 kilometres to Baird Bay Road, and then another 15 kilometres to Baird Bay.
Baird Bay has a few houses, a campground, a boat ramp, and a Telstra phone booth. It’s not one of those fancy phone booths that is also a wifi hotspot though.
Where to Stay
There are few accommodation options in this part of the country. Most people we met didn’t stay overnight, and drove from Port Lincoln. We planned multiple days of swimming with the sea lions though, so that wasn’t a practical option. Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience has lovely accommodations, however it was already booked. We found one place on AirBNB. It didn’t look great, but how bad could it be? It was bad.
Luckily, we had a few bars of 3G signal so were able to search for an alternative. We checked every caravan park within an hours drive but everything was booked. As a last resort, I started to call around, hoping that they had a cancellation. By the third call I had scored a cabin at a caravan park in Streaky Bay (about 30 minutes North). Phew !
Swimming with sea lions and dolphins
We were here for the sea lions and dolphins, and they far exceeded our expectations. Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience is the only operator. They’ve been running these tours since 1992, and are very respectful of the animals. The boat holds 14 swimmers, and at this time of the year all tours are full and they run two tours a day.
We did the morning tour three days in a row. The sea lion colony is a fifteen minute ride from the departure point. There are several areas where the sea lions hang out, and most are well protected from wind and swell. It was weird to swim without fins, but it is very shallow so no fins kept the water clearer. Swims lasted about an hour.
After some much needed hot chocolate, we’d head 10 minutes across the bay to look for dolphins. I was shocked when we found them, and completely amazed when they stuck around when we jumped in the water to swim with them.
Baird Bay – definitely worth the drive !