Moonta on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula is known as Australia’s Little Cornwall. This name was given due to the large number of Cornish miners that immigrated to Australia during the mid to late 19th century.
This is known as the Cornish diaspora. Today, you can see the results of this immigration in the Methodist churches in the district and also in the names of the local people of the district, generations later.
The Moonta Mines opened in 1861. The colony of South Australia had only been proclaimed and white settlement commenced 25 years earlier. In 1876 The Moonta Mining Company was the first company in Australia to pay over 1 million pounds in mining royalties.
As a free settlement South Australia had been settled to make a profit for the British Empire. Without this mining the settlement of the state would not have been a success The mine royalties were ploughed back into the colony and with that money, were then able to build the Adelaide University.
Within a few decades most of the ore had been extracted and Moonta Mines was closed in 1923. For a time Moonta was the 2nd largest town in SA and had its own tramway running through the town. Today the population numbers about 3,000-4,000.
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Things to See
Moonta today is a State heritage area and a number of buildings from the mining days remain. Buildings such as Richman’s Plant, Hughes’ Engine House, School of Mines and Moonta Mines Museum. To see these sights its imperative to have a car however you can see some of the Moonta Mines area on the local Tourist Railway.
More relevant to today’s visitor, the area has magnificent family friendly beaches. There is no surf and no crowds that you get at Adelaide metropolitan beaches. There is also a 9 hole Greg Norman designed golf course The Dunes at Port Hughes for those that love to golf. In true South Australian fashion the developer ran out of money before they could build the last 9 holes – Maybe one day!
For backpackers there are a couple campgrounds at Moonta Bay or Port Hughes. These are probably better accessed by those who have a car however you can get to Moonta. I’ve added a link below about how to get to Moonta Bay and Port Hughes by bus. The bus leaves from Adelaide at the Central Bus Station in Franklin St. At the time of writing there were 4 trips per week from Adelaide to Moonta Bay leaving Adelaide in the mid afternoon. Unfortunately there is no forward bus. This will mean having to return to Adelaide or Port Wakefield to board another bus headed north.
Yorke Peninsula Coaches – link to bus services and timetables.
While you are in Moonta try Moonta’s gift to the culinary world (well actually its Cornwall’s gift to the culinary world) the Cornish Pasty. Back in the mining days vegetables would be baked inside a pastry “bag” to keep the food clean in the mine and then the pastry was thrown away and the vegetables eaten. Now we eat the pastry too and it’s a pretty good lunch.
Moonta Bay and Port Hughes could be so much more than what they are but vested interests and NIMBY’s (Not in my Backyard) seem to do their best to stifle any meaningful development in the town and have done so for 40 years. With a beach that is equal to anything you will find in Europe or Asia the area should be a tourist paradise for 6 months of the year but what you will find is empty beaches and nothing much to do or see. So if you’re looking for a place to drive to, go camping in a caravan park, going fishing off the jetty and spend the day on a beautiful beach this is your place.
In January the population of the town dramatically increases with holiday home owners spending the school holidays in Moonta. On Christmas night you see a stream of cars towing boats driving through the town to caravan parks and holiday homes. This also applies to long weekends. You will find it very difficult to find a place to stay at these times.
Places to Stay in Moonta
Infrastructure for tourists is terrible in Moonta and the whole of the Yorke Peninsula. Government, councils and local business should collectively hang their heads in shame for the lack of tourist facilities in the region.
Today their incompetence is plain to see with historic churches falling down and being demolished, lack of accommodation and transport options. In the 1980’s the Moonta Mines tourism railway was created and 40 years later the area is very tired and nothing much has been done since then. The old Moonta Railway Station houses a Tourism Information Centre that you should visit.
Tourism in this area is generally looked at as people from Adelaide who own a holiday home. They come to the region on the weekends and school holidays to relax by the beach and fish. That is all!
Up until recently there wasn’t any place on the Yorke Peninsula that could cater for a full bus of people – so no tour groups could go there and stay overnight which is absolutely deplorable.
Here is a list of options that are available. For more details and customer reviews click the links and that will take you to TripAdvisor.
It is worthwhile to note that it will be virtually impossible to find a place to stay from December 26 to January 31. This is peak season, in the school holidays when people come from towns from all around and the city to spend the holidays by the beach. Many holiday houses will be booked out a year in advance at this time of year while the other 11 months during the week, other than in the caravan park, you will barely see a tourist. Weekends, especially long weekends, particularly Easter, also get very busy.
Motels and Caravan Parks
- Seagate Motel is a small motel that has fantastic views of Moonta Bay beach and jetty but also overlooks a large carpark. If fishing from the jetty is your thing then this motel is a very short walk.
- Moonta Bay Holiday Park – this is the old caravan park that has been there for years. It is absolutely beachfront, not the best beach around but still the beach. The holiday park has catered to many farming families over the years who take their caravans to Moonta Bay for the school holidays, hence it will be difficult to get in around those times (which is the best time to go to the beach – summer holidays). The park is a short walk to the jetty and the small general store. In the winter the beachfront is possibly not the best place to be, because it can be very windy and bad weather comes from the west, so the wind is the worst at the beachfront.
- BIG4 Breeze Holiday Parks – Port Hughes – another caravan park for camping this time at Port Hughes. This caravan park has been expanded so there is a large area that is sheltered from the beach with no views and a longer walk to South Beach plus there is the old caravan park right on the water and a short walk from the best beach in the area – South Beach. So in winter the new park that has more facilities would be the better option unless you really want to be on the beach or in this case the beach in front of the caravan park has rocks not sand.
- Cliff House Beachfront Villas is a historic property that has been turned into tourist villas. Cliff House is unsurprisingly at the top of the cliff at Moonta Bay and overlooks the Seagate Motel, Moonta Bay and with expansive views of the water. I’ve been in this property many times (before it was updated) and the sunset views most of the year are outstanding. There are steps down to the beach and jetty area.
- Royal Hotel – have one room on the second floor of the pub for visitors. Probably not the place to go if you want an early night but good if you want a place for a drink and something to eat close by. The Royal Hotel is in the township of Moonta on the main road.
- Moonta Bay Motel is a motel at Moonta Bay set back further from the beach than the Seagate Motel but only 100 meters away on the hill.
Redwing Shearers Quarters is an 1860’s cottage which has recently been fully restored. Situated on a working farm only ten minutes from Moonta on The Copper Coast, the Shearers Quarters is the perfect place to get away from it all and relax in your fully self contained cottage.
Holiday Homes at Moonta Bay
- The Boat House is perfectly & quietly located within the new Patrick’s View Estate, less than a 10 minute walk to Simms Cove Beach between the Pt Hughes & Moonta Bay jetty.
- Moontana is a 2010 built Rivergum home located a short 300m walk from the beautiful and secluded Simms Cove, Moonta Bay. Comprising of 4 bedrooms (see description below), large open plan kitchen/lounge area, 2 bathrooms, reading room and laundry with washing machine.
- The Boat House is a perfectly & quietly located within the new Patrick’s View Estate, less than a 10 minute walk to Simms Cove Beach between the Pt Hughes & Moonta Bay jetty.
Holiday Homes at Port Hughes
- Indulge at the Dunes is a 4 bedroom home in Port Hughes located near the Dunes Golf Club. The house can comfortably sleep 8 people.
- Seaglass is the ideal beach holiday accommodation for families, couples & small groups. It’s conveniently located in the Patrick’s Cove Residential Estate Port Hughes.
- Bunker Vista – relax and unwind in this beautifully appointed 3 bedroom 2 storey home, situated in one of SA’s favourite tourist destinations within the Copper Coast of the Yorke Peninsula. Built in 2014 this home features 2 king size bedrooms plus 2 bunks in the 3rd room allowing comfortable accommodation for up to 8 people. Large kitchen/dining area and lounge. See the sunrise over the world renowned Greg Norman designed golf course ‘The Dunes’ and watch the magnificent sunsets over Spencer Gulf.
Nightlife in Moonta
For nightlife there are a few pubs in Moonta but this is a town with mostly older people. 10 backpackers with beer on the beach will be more lively than anything you’ll find in Moonta.
Really, this area has very little tourist infrastructure. There are a lot of holiday homes owned by people in Adelaide but very little else.
So if you want to see Moonta and more of Yorke Peninsula you will need a car and be quite self sufficient. You can buy food at supermarkets, but you won’t find good nightlife or very good restaurants. So it’s camping or caravanning near the beach and enjoying beach life that will bring you to Yorke Peninsula.
Reading my article you would think that the area has nothing going for it – but No its a great area to visit with beaches better than anything I saw in Europe just no infrastructure for visitors almost to discourage people from visiting.
Some Facts about Moonta
- In 1875 Moonta was the second largest town in South Australia pop 12,000 due to the number of miners working at the local copper mines. Large scale mining in Moonta ceased in 1923.
- The name Moonta comes from the local Narungga word Moontera meaning impenetrable scrub land.
- It is believed that the concept of Carols by Candlelight originated in Moonta in the 19th Century when miners gathered on Christmas Eve to sing Christmas Carols with candles attached to the brims of their safety hats.