South Australia’s Eyre peninsula is invariably one of the highlights of a grey nomad trip … and sensational little townships like Cowell are a very big part of the reason why.
Perched on Franklin Harbour, the scenic settlement offers great fishing, and boasts a museum, a couple of great pubs, a jade factory, two caravan parks … and a unique ‘black stump’ attraction in the main street. What else could a traveller possibly want?
With a population of just over 1,000, Cowell is on the Lincoln Highway on the eastern side of the Eyre Peninsula, some 500 kilometres from Adelaide.
Unlike other communities on the peninsula, it is not blessed with glorious sandy beaches, and its shoreline is instead defined by mud and mangroves.
For disappointed would-be swimmers though, there is an enclosed tidal aquatic area next to the jetty in which to take a dip. The 146-metre-long jetty itself is a favourite place for grey nomads and others to throw in a line, and they may catch whiting, snapper, salmon, tommy ruff, mullet, flathead, or garfish.
A foreshore and mangrove boardwalk has recently been developed and this offers a delightful way to spy more of Cowell’s marine and bird life.
The township was originally settled in the 1850s as wheat and sheep farmers moved into the area, and tourism, commercial fishing and oyster farming are now also key industries.
Back in the 1960s, the local economy was given a major boost when significant deposits of nephrite jade were found in a 10 sq km area now known as the Cowell Jade Province. The high quality jade is exported all over the world, and visitors can take a closer look at places such as the Cowell Jade Factory.
The attractive township boasts some superb examples of turn-of-the-century architecture, including the two welcoming pubs on pine tree-lined Main Street. The stylish Franklin Harbour Hotel was originally built in 1881, with the equally stylish Commercial Hotel built in 1910.
The rivalry between the two hotels was actually responsible for the arrival of Cowell’s most unique attraction … the Black Stump. Back in 1972, pranksters placed a large stump between the pubs with signs reading: ‘Best pub this side of the black stump’. After the original stump was stolen, the current larger stump – weighing a whopping 2060kg – was erected in its place.
The best place to learn about the township’s history is at the excellent National Trust Folk Museum, which is housed in the old Post Office, built in 1882. Several rooms are furnished in the style of the late 1800s, and there are many artefacts on display.
Short drives out of Cowell will uncover more of the area’s historical secrets, including the ruins of Wangaraleednie Station where the original settlers – the McKechnie brothers – built their home, and the Middlecamp Shearing Shed and Crofter’s Cottage.
While reminders of its frontier past are never far away, Cowell’s quiet confidence, impressive facilities, and country ambience suggest that, in terms of attracting grey nomads at least, its best days lie very much ahead.
There are some great caravan parks in Cowell and the surrounding area, as well asa very well thought of budget camping area at Point Gibbon, 20 kilometres or so to the south.