Located just 52 miles (84km) from Adelaide, Victor Harbor, on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, was originally a whaling station. While the whaling days have finished, Victor Harbor’s whale watching days are in full swing. The months of June and July are the peak whale watching season in Victor Harbor. The lure of the whales is the magnet that attracts many visitors to the Fleurieu Peninsula, but it is the many other attractions that draw them back during the summer months.
From 1837 to the mid-1860s, Southern Right Whales were so extensively hunted, their numbers dwindled from an estimated 200,000 to just a handful. They got their unusual name because these slow moving whales, who feed close to shore, were the "right" whales to kill. Their numbers were decimated so quickly, whaling was no longer a viable industry and the few remaining whales migrated to safer waters to breed and feed.
Fortunately, they are now a protected species and their numbers have been steadily increasing. It is estimated that there are now as many as 7000 or more and they are multiplying rapidly. Since the 1990s, they have been coming back to Victor Harbor on their migratory circuit from the sub-Antarctic. They have been coming in ever increasing numbers, too and with each passing year they can be seen more frequently from the same place on the Bluff where the old whalers used to raise a red flag to alert the ships in harbour of their arrival.
Another "Must See" Victor Harbor attraction is the horse drawn tram that runs across a long wooden causeway out to nearby Granite Island. Many people think this colourful tram is just a tourist attraction, but in fact it has a proud place in Victor Harbor history as part of the first public railway line in Australia. Originally, the railway ran from the Murray River port of Goolwa and Port Eliot, 11 kilometres (6 miles) away. Horses were used instead of coal because they were more cost effective. The line was extended to Victor Harbor and from there out to Granite Island.
The Causeway tram is such a popular Victor Harbor attraction, it runs every 20 minutes. The ride across the Causeway on a horse drawn tram is worth doing for its own sake, but you will also want to spend time exploring Granite Island. It is also home to a large colony of the world’s smallest species of penguin. In order not to upset them or their natural habitat, you have to stay at least 5 metres away from them and not disturb them in any way. The best way to see them is on a guided night tour.
You can’t miss the Bluff when you visit Victor Harbor. Even if you go in the summer, when the whales cannot be viewed, you will be swept away by the stunning vistas you see from its prominent summit. Look for the plaque commemorating the encounter between Victor Harbor’s discoverer, Mathew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin, the French explorer, in 1802.
Victor Harbor is the largest community on the Fleurieu Peninsula and its biggest tourist centre, so there are plenty of Victor Harbor accommodation options to be had. Transportation to and from Adelaide includes regular bus and air services, so there is no excuse not to spend a weekend or a week exploring Victor Harbor and the rest of the Fleurieu Peninsula.