Victor Harbor – The Seaside Playground


Honestly, I’m not really all that sure what he appeal with Victor Harbor actually is. Okay, I have probably been down here more times than I can count, and the place gets pretty packed during the summer. Okay, driving through the town isn’t as bad as it could be, and certainly isn’t like driving through a European City (I hate driving through European cities, but that has more to do with not knowing where I am going and not being able to refer to Google Maps while I am driving). However, I have found, or at least I discovered this time, that trying to get onto the main road can be a challenge in and of itself, especially if you are trying to beat the steam train out of the town to grab a decent video of it.

I eventually did, as the below shows you:

Anyway, as I normally do, I probably should let you know where you can find Victor Harbor, not that it is actually all that hard to find namely because all you need to do is to get onto South Road and head, well, south, and you will eventually get there if you follow the signs (or the traffic). However, I will still embed the map if only so you can see the layout of the town.

A Bit of Background

Apparently Adelaide was originally supposed to be established around here (or further to the East near the Murray Mouth) but for some reason they decided to pick its current location. Most likely this had to do with the ability of ships to be able to dock, and the waters of Gulf St Vincent tended to be much calmer than the waters of the Southern Ocean (thanks mostly to the shelter provided by Kangaroo Island). However, that didn’t necessarily stop settlements from being set up here, especially since Encounter Bay did provide shelter, and the Murray Mouth, in particular Goolwa, was the terminus of the riverboats the ploughed the Murray River (and the reason that they terminated there was because a sandbar at the Murray Mouth prevent ocean going ships from entering). In a way the train line that runs between Goolwa and Victor Harbor – touted as Australia’s first railway – was a means to moving goods from the river boats to the ocean going vessels. The railway originally terminated at Port Elliot, but since Granite Island provided better protection than the island at Port Elliot the railway line was eventually extended here.


Like a lot of towns along Australia’s South Coast, Victor Harbor’s original purpose was to support the whaling ships that would pass through here. Mind you, if you have read Moby Dick, you would probably be aware that these ships were designed to spend an extended period of time out on the ocean. In fact there is barely a mention of the whaling ports in Australia, though that may have more to do with Melville not actually knowing as much about whaling as he claims to know. Anyway, with the extension of the railway Victor suddenly went from being a whaling port to a reasonably major harbour, though you wouldn’t know it these days – there is barely a boat to be seen out on the water.

A Wander Around Town

After being convinced by my friends that I wasn’t going to catch up with the train and that I probably should wait for the next one (especially since they do run regularly during the holidays) we went to grab a coffee. Mind you, it ended up that it took them half-an-hour to make my coffee, something which didn’t particularly impress me, however it was enough time for the train to eventually return. Actually they have two trains that run the route, the Rx207 Dean Harvey (of which there is a video above) and the SAR 621 Duke of Edingburgh, the video which is below. Anyway, when the Dean Harvey arrived I rushed out and took a video of it, and then another one of it turning around, however I will leave the details for the post on my other blog.

Anyway, being a tourist town (and there are quite a few touristy things here, including both a horse drawn tram and the steam train – they did have an adventure park but that closed down a few years ago, something which really disappointed me), they do their best to talk up the history of the place. Actually, that is probably a good thing, especially since there are other tourist towns, such as Surfer’s Paradise, that are basically glass steel structures, shopping malls, artificial lakes, and beach houses. Okay, they do have a lot of beach houses around here, but the history is still very noticeable.

Okay, not so much in this picture

Actually, my friend was playing Pokemon Go at the time and he mentioned how all of the pokestops are at places of historical importance, or at least interest – though I must admit that he didn’t seem to be to interested in checking these buildings out, which seemed to defeat the whole purpose of the game. However, I was more than interested in checking out these buildings, though I have to admit that I didn’t get to see as many as I really wanted to. Also, I have the opportunity to visit the pubs once again.

However, since there is some focus on the buildings, I probably should mention a few of them, especially since I went to the effort to read (and record) the various plaques scattered about. Mind you, the one building that I didn’t check out the plaque for was the cinema, and while one might think that there couldn’t be anything all that historic about a cinema, when you consider that it is an art-deco building, and is still the original style of cinema, it does add a bit of flavour to the whole experience.

Telegraph Station: Actually, this was also the post office, but that came a little later – originally it was  telegraph station and was set up because it was a sea port (as opposed to the tourist town that it is now). The building was built in 1866, and the plaque also mentions the architects, but I won’t. The office is across the road from the original bank, but since I am not all that interested in banks I will jump to the town hall.


Town Hall: yep, it’s the town hall, the hall which is used by the town. At first I always thought that the town hall was where the council meets, and to an extent that is true, but it is also a hall for commemorative and other shows. In a way it is an all purpose building to be used for matters of civic importance. Mind you, you could also have concerts here, but as it turns out town halls tend to be a little to small for your typical concert, and too expensive for your local band.


Institute: So, the question is ‘what is an institute’. There happens to be one in Salisbury, and I believe you can still find them elsewhere, but their exact nature is a mystery to me. Well, the plaque came to the rescue because it told me that the institute was a place of learning, and it had a library as well as lectures. Mind you, these places have actually been replaced by, or melded into to, the modern library (if they still exist that is, though the fact that I spend most of my lunch times in the one in Melbourne indicates that they do).


Times Office: it seems that there are a number of names that newspapers use and they all seem to be similar to the others – in the case of Victor Harbor the name they selected was ‘The Times’ (okay, there are some non-standard names, but most newspapers seem to gravitate around a handful like The Post, The Times, The Herald, The Sun etc etc). Anyway, the building was originally down near the railway line but was since moved to it’s present location. The building was both the printing press and the home of the editor.


Railway Station:This is basically the end of the line, though the actually tracks do extend beyond the railway station all the way over to Granite Island. However, there are probably a couple of reasons that the trains stop at the station and don’t go over to the island: the Causeway wasn’t designed to carry trains and would probably break (though as it turns out it was designed to be able to hold the weight of a fully laden train), and the train can’t actually turn around once it is on the island. However the station itself is where you collect your tickets and then go for a trek to Goolwa and back again (or one of the stops in between, though I sort of wonder why anybody would get off at Middleton, that is until I remembered that it has a pretty awesome surf beach).


Warland Reserve: Warland reserve is named after Albert ‘Bert’ Warland, an influential citizen around the turn of the century. The reserve itself was a focal point of the town back in its industrial hey day as the train from Goolwa would bring the goods down here to where they would be loaded onto the ships. As it turned out, around the mid 1800s, the causeway out to Granite Island was completed and the goods were then taken out to the island where they would then be loaded onto the ships. Around the reserve you would find the old warehouse (which has now been converted into a Whale Museum), the customs house, and the police station among other buildings. However, when a train line to the riverside town of Morgan was completed the trade down the river to Victor Harbor was killed, leaving it to become the tourist spot that it is today.

Trek Out to Granite Island

A visit to Victor Harbor wouldn’t be complete without a trek out to Granite Island. There are three ways to get there: walk across the causeway, swim, or catch the horse drawn tram. Okay, while swimming is an option, it isn’t all that deep, which means that you can probably walk out there during low tide. However, as I think about it, I suspect that the reason that it isn’t all that deep is because of the causeway – if you head further out you will probably discover that it gets a lot deeper – it has to, particularly since Victor Harbor used to be a bustling sea port.


However, the old sea port is no more – in fact as I have mentioned I don’t even remember seeing any boats drifting around here and this is the high point of the holidays. However the horse tram still exists, and is more of a tourist thing than anything else. The original tram was drawn by a horse, however in 1956, due to deterioration of the trolleys, the horse was retired and one of the trams ended up in a museum (and later went over to the United States), while the other was dumped into the sea. For a time they kept the tram, but had it pulled by a tractor. They then decided to go back to the horse, since it was somewhat more traditional, and in reality there is nothing all that special about a tractor pulled tram.


Anyway, as I mentioned, most times that I have been down to Victor I have made the trek out to the island, and this time was no exception. Mind you, we ended up taking the horse drawn tram, and I did resist the temptation to complain about it being incredibly slow and that I could walk faster than the speed it was currently doing. I also wondered what the purpose of actually having a horse drawn tram when a wagon could do just as well. What I sort of worked out was that the rails create an environment where the friction is less meaning that the horse can pull greater loads. Secondly, the tracks were already there, having been laid back in the days when Victor was actually a seaport – it is just when it ceased being a seaport they decided to have a horse drawn tram as a local attraction.

I still wonder about the island though, particularly since there isn’t all that much on it. Okay, there is a path that goes around the island, but there isn’t all that much in the way of a beach, and definitely no beach on the side facing the Southern Ocean. I remember when I was a kid that there was a chairlift that went up from the causeway to the top of the island, but once again that was just a gimic because it isn’t as if the island is all that steep, and the hill all that high. Anyway, the chairlift has long gone. Other than that, all the island seems to do is just sit there and people seem to go over to it to simply clamber all over it, and the go back home.

My Time in Victor

As I have mentioned, I have a long history with the town going back to when I would come down here as a kid on the yearly church camps. Actually, I did a similar thing as a youth and a young adult – it seemed as if Victor Harbor was the place to go for Church camps. In particular I remember one place we stayed at – the Red Shield Centre – which was a camp site run by the Salvation Army. In fact, being a popular destination meant that there were a number of campsites – well, three to be precise. As well as the camps, there was also the Youth Convention, which ran for about three years before they ended up canning the whole idea.

Another thing about Victor is that it is the destination for the schoolies – that is teenagers who have just finished high school. Okay, the Gold Coast is the big destination, but for those who can’t afford the Gold Coast they all tend to come down here. Mind you, bringing a bunch of teenagers who are wanting to have some fun to a seaside town where there is basically little to nothing to actually do, then they are eventually going to cause trouble, which is why a friend of mine set up ‘Encounter Schoolies’, an festival that would run through schoolies week and provide something for the Schoolies to actually do.


I remember setting up a big tend in the middle of Warland Reserve, and doing a lot of behind the scenes work to keep the processes running. Mind you, being involved in such an activity meant that going to the pub for a few beers was definitely out of the question. However, that was left for another time, namely when I was older and on a church camp – which we ended up doing on the Saturday night. Actually, we also went down to the pubs on Saturday afternoon as well, but that was mainly to watch the football.

Yes those where the days, but still, it is Victor Harbor, and despite it holding some good memories, and also having a steam train and a horse drawn tram, I still consider the place pretty over-rated. However, I did mention that I would have a second train video, so here is the Duke of Edinburgh:

Creative Commons License
Victor Harbor – The Seaside Playground by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

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