Granite Island, OC-228

Although Granite Island is not a Conservation Park, nor a National Park (it is a Recreation & Nature Park), I decided to have a bit of fun and do an Islands on the Air (IOTA activation) whilst I was staying at Victor Harbor.  I have activated an IOTA reference before as part of the International Lighthouse & Lightship Weekend, when I travel to Kangaroo Island.  But this was the first time I would be operating truly portable from an island.

Granite Island is a Recreation & Nature Park under the control of National Parks South Australia.  It lies just off the coast of Victor Harbor, about 100 km south of Adelaide.  It is joined to the mainland by a 60 metre long wooden causeway.  The island is characterised by its huge granite boulders.  Many of which are coloured orange and green with lichen.  I have been over to the island dozens of times as both a child and an adult.  Victor Harbor is a real tourist mecca, as it is in close proximity to Adelaide.  And in fact between 1986-1988 I lived and worked at Victor Harbor.  It has undergone a huge amount of change since that time.

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Prior to 1994, Granite Island was designated as Crown land and was managed by the local Victor Harbor District Council.  In 1994 the island received a major facelift, courtesy of the Greater Granite Island Development Company.  Stage one of an 11 million dollar development commenced.  By January 1995, the cafe, kiosk, souvenir shop and a Penguin Centre were opened on the island.  By mid 1998, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Aboriginal Affairs took control of the island.

The history of this area is very interesting.  In 1802, British explorer, Matthew Flinders, met (completely by chance) with French explorer Nicholas Baudin in what is now known as Encounter Bay at Victor Harbor.  England and France were war war at the time.  Flinders describes in his journal, how he prepared the crew of his ship, Investigator, for action.  Flinders instructed his crew to hoist a white flag of truce.  Whilst on the French ship, Le Geographe, Baudin also hoped for a peaceful encounter and hoisted the French and English flags.

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Fortunately the chance meeting was friendly and peaceful.  Flinders boarded the French ship and the two captains exchanged information about their explorations. They learned that they had been given the same task by their respective Governments, to chart the ‘unknown coast’ of Terra Australis. As a result of this meeting, Flinders named the area Encounter Bay.

Following the meeting between Flinders and Baudin, Victor Harbor became recognised for its potential for whaling and sealing.  During the early nineteenth century, Encounter Bay attracted large numbers of whales and seals, and whaling stations were established on Granite Island and the nearby Bluff (Rosetta Head) to pursue the Southern Right Whale.   The local Ramindjeri aboriginal  people were regarded as competent whalers and were employed as harpooners and whale spotters.

The whaling industry at Victor Harbor produced whale oil, which was one of South Australia’s first exports.  Encounter Bay became the most productive of the colony of South Australia’s whaling stations.  However, whale numbers dramatically decreased and during the last years, whalers were only harpooning two to three whales each winter.   By 872 the whale industry and ceased.

Although there were other harbours in the colony of South Australia, Victor Harbor was seen to be better than the other harbours.  For one, it was conveniently located to the mighty River Murray trade.  In fact there was a bid for Victor Harbor to become South Australia’s capital.  This saw the construction of Granite Island’s causeway, jetties and breakwater.  Sadly, Victor Harbor was unsuccessful in its bid to be the colony’s capital.

Shipping thrived however, with products such as wool and wheat being ferried down the River Murray by boat, and then by steam train to Victor Harbor and across to Granite Island by the horse-drawn tram, which was then loaded onto the ships bound for ports around the world.

The Granite Island causeway was constructed originally in 1864 by the South Australian Railways and was extended in 1867 to reach Granite Island.  The railway across the The Causeway continued around the northern edge of Granite Island to where the jetty was constructed.  It was not until 1894 that a passenger service was offered.

The tramway still operates today as a tourist tram and is one of the very few horse drawn tram routes remaining in public transit service anywhere in the world.  The tramway almost ceased however.  From c. 1900, the horse tramway was operated by private contractors.  But by the 1950’s the Cuaseway was in desperate need of repair.  However a dispute between the operators and the local Council saw the Causeway reconstructed in 1954 without rail tracks.   By 1956, the rail cars were disposed of, and between 1956 to 1986, a rubber tyres train provided service to the island.  I remember travelling on this.


In 1986, South Australia celebrated its 150th Jubilee.  Prior to this, a fund was established for special projects to mark the Jubilee.  Reinstatement of the horse tram was nominated as such a project, and the bid for the return of the horse tram was successful.   Replica tram cars were built, tracks were relaid and on the 14th June, 1986, the horse tram service from Victor Harbor to Granite Island, recommenced.

Granite Island Recreation & Nature Park is open daily between sunrise to sunset.  The park is home to a colony of about 150 Little Penguins.  Guided tours take place each evening at dusk.  Due to recent issues with people disturbing the penguin colony, the park closes at sunset.  Believe it or not, some penguins have even been beaten to death or left severely injured by vandals on the island.  What possess some people, I do not know !

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There are a number of walks around the island, including the interpretative Kaiki Walk where you can see some of the spectacular coastline of the island.  You can also try your hand at fishing off the jetty, the breakwater or the causeway.  And if it is a hot day, like it was when we visited the island, there is an assortment of cold drinks, ice cream and food at the cafe and restaurant.  There is also the Penguin Centre, which unfortunately we did not get to see due to time constraints.

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Marija and I set up the gear right on the top of the island, overlooking Victor Harbor to our north and the Southern Ocean to our south.  There was a slight breeze, but it had been a very hot day and was still warm.  Our operating position was off the main tourist track, so there was plenty of room to stretch out the legs of the 20m/40m linked dipole.

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My first contact was with Graham VK5KGP who is a resident of beautiful Victor Harbor.  As was to be expected, Graham was extremely strong, and almost knocked me off the top of the island.  This was followed by Larry VK5LY in the Riverland, Stu VK5STU, and then Basil VK5BK.  Craig VK5CE who is located at nearby Middleton then called in and was kind enough to spot me on the DX cluster.

I also spoke with Andy VK5AKH and Theo VK5MTM who were operating portable at Myponga.

After working 22 VK’s on 40m SSB, I decided to QSY to 20m SSB and try my luck.  Craig VK5CE was my first contact and kindly spotted me again on the DX cluster.  I managed to squeeze in just a few DX contacts….I1BSN, EA3NW, UA3AKO, and ZL3LF.  But it was really hard going.  I had to pedal really fast…..I will definitely bring the bigger Yaesu & bigger battery next time, so I can run more power !

So after a little bit of disappointment, I then went back to 40m SSB and worked Joe VK3YSP and Julie VK3FOWL who were portable in the Port Campbell National Park.  They were on their Christmas trip around Victoria, activating multiple National Parks as part of the Keith Roget Memorial National Parks Award (KRMNPA) and WorldWide Flora & Fauna (WFF).  I went on to work a further 15 stations in VK & ZL on 40m SSB.

I was going to check into the 7.130 DX Net, but the Chinese ? Over the Horizon radar was 5/9 + and it was just not worth the heartache.

After 2 & 1/2 hours in the sun, I had a total of 47 QSO’s in the log and I had pushed my luck enough with the XYL and it was approaching sunset, so it was time to pack up and head back to Victor Harbor for dinner.  I made 39 contacts on 40m SSB and 8 contacts on 20m SSB.

I worked the following stations on 40m SSB:-

Graham VK5KGP; Larry VK5LY; Stu VK5STU; Basil VK5BK; Craig VK5CE; Nev VK5WG; John VK5DJ; Andy VK5AKH/p; Bernard VK3AMB; Theo VKMTM/p; Ian VK5CZ; Steve VK3SN; Luke VK3HJ; Brian VK5FMID; Shaun VK5FAKV; Tom VK5EE; Allen VK3HRA; Adam VK2YK/3; Frank VK3GFS; Peter VK3TQ; Nick VK2DX; Matt VK2DAG; Joe VK3YSP/p; Julie VK3FOWL/p; Tim VK5AV; Rod VK5VRB; Tom VK5FTRG; Peter VK3PAH; Graham VK5WK; Craig VK3NCR/p; James VK1DR; Peter VK5NAQ; Paul VK7CC; Marshall VK3MRG/p; Don VK7DON; David VK5DGR; Mal VK5MJ; Brian ZL2ASH; and Colin VK4FAAS.

I worked the following stations on 20m SSB:-

Craig VK5CE; Matt VK2DAG; I1BSN; EA3WN; UK3AKO; ZL3LF; Andy VK5AKH/p; and Mark VK6AR.

I have posted a video of the activation on You Tube…..

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