Activities - Explore
- Mount Gambier
- Coonawarra Wine Region
- Country Towns
- Coastal Towns
- Food Trail
- Naracoorte Caves National Park
- Coorong National Park
- Parks and Four Wheel Driving
Located roughly midway between Adelaide and Melbourne, Mount Gambier is positioned 15 km inland, just west of the Victorian border. It is South Australia’s second biggest city and is known for its interesting geography, particularly its volcanic features and Blue Lake. It is built on the slopes of an extinct volcano, and as such caves and sinkholes have formed right beneath the city streets!
The Blue Lake sits in a volcanic crater and is the main source of water for the city. During December to March, the lake turns to a vibrant cobalt blue colour, returning to a colder steel grey colour for April to November. The exact cause of this phenomenon is still a matter of conjecture, but it is generally considered likely that it revolves around the warming of the surface layers producing a natural chemical effect.
The Blue Lake is one of three crater lakes located on the southern edge of the city: the others are the large Valley Lake and the small oddly shaped Leg of Mutton Lake. There are picnic grounds and some easy climbing trails at both, with Valley Lake being a popular boating and water-skiing site.
Mt Schank is an extinct volcano and perfectly formed crater, accessible from the Mount Gambier-Port MacDonnell Road (Riddoch Hwy) about 12 km south of Mount Gambier. There is a small carpark and picnic table, and steps have been placed to facilitate the short but very steep walk to the rim. It is a fairly simple walk to traverse the rim, though the exposed situation can be treacherous in gusty weather. The Aboriginal story for the presence of volcanoes in the area tells the tale of Craitbul, a giant, who was looking for a place to live with his wife and two sons. They camped at Mount Muirhead and Mount Schank, but were scared away from both these camps by a moaning bird spirit. They fled to Mount Gambier, leaving their camp ovens (the volcanoes) burning.
Limestone Caves & Sinkholes
This entire region has gained fame for its abundant, and somewhat treacherous, sinkholes. For the extraordinarily adventurous, underwater scuba dives into vast, blue caverns take place in some of these sinkholes. If you intend to dive a permit is required as some of the caves contain noxious fumes, and have unfortunately claimed lives as recently as 2011!
- Ewens Ponds A series of three shallow, interconnected limestone sinkholes. They are popular with snorkellers with underwater visibility of up to 80 metres and a large fish population, including the endangered Golden Pygmy Perch. Grab a wetsuit and book in a time to snorkel.
- Piccaninnie Ponds Located 30 km south-east of Mount Gambier and also popular for scuba and snorkelling, a little more adventurous than Ewens though, with underwater caves and chasms up to100 m deep!
- Umpherston Sinkhole This sinkhole is considerable drier, being the site of a beautifully landscaped, well tended garden in the Mount Gambier township! A good time to visit is in the evening to watch the fat possums who live there. It's okay to feed them things like apple slices, they are very tame and will enjoy the convenient meal. No cuddling or patting though, possums don’t care for such displays of affection.
If you need some extra help, visit the Lady Nelson Visitor and Discovery Centre for more information when you’re in town - just look for the big ship!
Coonawarra Wine Region
One of the finest wine regions in Australia and the world, Coonawarra is also possibly one of the smallest. The secret to its quality wines, particularly the Cabernet Sauvignon, is a combination of the limestone-rich, deeply red terra rossa soil in which the vines are grown, the pure underground (artesian) water system and the long cool ripening season the grapes receive. This patch of soil is highly prized being only 12 km long and 2 km wide, and 24 wineries call this cigar shaped strip home. A visit to their cellar doors will not only ensure samples of some fine reds and tasty food, but you’ll also be warmly welcomed with that special type of country hospitality.
A good time to visit is in October when the wineries submit their best Cabernet for a charity auction as part of the Coonawarra Cabernet Celebration Weekend. Another rewarding time to drop in, particularly because it's low season and accommodation will be cheaper, is in July during the Cellar Dwellers event, when the wine makers dig out some treasures from their cellars to offer visitors a rare opportunity to taste and buy aged wines. Coonawarra is not the only wine region in the area, but it is the most famous, with Mount Gambier, Mount Benson, Padthaway, Wrattonbully and the Robe Ranges all supporting vines.
Here are some of the standout wineries in the region:
- Wynns Coonawarra Estate The largest and oldest winery in the region; this is where it all began. The grounds are neat and scenic, and the wines, well, there's a reason they're so well known! They produce mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz with some Merlot and Chardonnay.
- Majella Wines This winery produces some of the best and most consistent reds in Australia - they’ve won over 660 awards and you’ll understand why with one taste.
- Zema Estate Specialising in Cabernet Sauvignon, this family-run winery prides itself on its hand produced wines that typify the unique Coonawarra flavour. It's a great place to visit and holds concerts and events throughout the year.
- Rymill Coonawarra Winery A very modern, but picturesque, winery where wine tasting and art come together.
- The Blok Estate Top notch wines in a beautiful old country-style homestead with home made scones and Cabernet jam all year round. Perfect!
- Katnook Estate Apart from tasty wines, they also have very helpful staff and a terrific historic cellar door building. Visit for a taste of the Founder's Block Cabernet, a very famous Australian wine.
Penola lies between Naracoorte and Mount Gambier on the A66 Highway which runs north to south between the two towns. It is just south of the Coonawarra wine region and is an excellent base from which to visit the area's renowned wineries and cellar doors. A pretty little town, its main attractions are mostly historical and can be appreciated by the visitors trail, 'Take a Walk with History in Penola', which begins at the John Riddoch Centre (in the same building as the Visitor Centre) and takes in the Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre and School House, Petticoat Lane and many historic buildings, cottages and churches. You can have a coffee along its charming main strip and peruse the local art galleries, and you’ll dine very well in some of the regions best restaurants. As well as this guide, the Penola Coonawarra Visitor Information Centre can guide you towards the regions best cellar doors, accommodation and places for sumptuous degustation!
Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre
You know a town's pretty short of action when this is one of its main highlights, but still, it's an interesting place and worth a visit. Mary MacKillop (1842–1909) was an Australian Roman Catholic nun who founded a number of schools and welfare institutions throughout Australasia, with an emphasis on education for the poor, particularly in rural areas. Since her death she has attracted much veneration and was canonised in 2010 during a public ceremony in St Peter's Square at the Vatican. She is the only Australian to be recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint. The Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre encompasses the quaint stone schoolhouse where this very special Australian taught from 1867, and includes moving exhibits on her life and work.
Robe is a small fishing port town on the south-east Limestone Coast with a population of around 1,300 people. The town's distinctive combination of historical buildings, ocean, fishing fleets, lakes and dense bush make it the most popular coastal holiday town on the coast - spend some time in Robe and you’ll see why it’s gained such a ripping reputation for beach holiday fun! Apart from its long white beaches, it has access to National Parks, historic interests, bright beachfront cafes, chic shopping and the best of food and produce in the area, particularly famous for its crayfish.
You can take some time and play a round of golf at the 14-hole Robe Golf Course, go surfing at Long Beach or Stoney Rise, or visit Lake Fellmongery for a picnic and a variety of water sports, including water skiing, canoeing and sailing. Anglers will delight at the quality and choice of fishing locations, whether rock fishing, surf fishing, boat fishing or fishing off the wharf. So much fishing! And one you’ve worked up an appetite, feast on the local barramundi or salmon, as well as the other fine regional harvests of vegetables, berries, herbs and almonds.
In Winter stay at one of the romantic B&Bs, or take the family in Summer and stay at one of the beachside motels or apartments. Robe is just south of Kingston SE off the B1 Highway, a three and a half hour and 340 km drive from Adelaide and a seven hour and 500 km drive from Melbourne. If you need a helping hand when you get there, pop in at the Robe Visitors Centre in the Robe Library.
As described, the Limestone Coast region covers more than just seaside destinations and if you venture inland you’ll pass through some beautiful historic towns brimming with country hospitality. The hills range from rolling green to golden yellow, the undulating countryside playing host to a range of produce growers and graziers, as well as the regions many vineyards.
Other than the aforementioned Mount Gambier, Penola and the Coonawarra region, check out:
- Lucindale A very small town with a population of only 300 people located 345 km south-east of Adelaide. It is best known for hosting the annual South East Field Days, an agricultural trade show which attracts over 26,000 visitors every March. Passing through you can visit Avenue Emus, a working emu farm where you can taste emu mettwurst (salami) or even bottle feed newborn lambs and kids (not human ones) in the sheep and goat birthing season.
- Bordertown Aptly, though fairly dully, named for its position straddling the Victorian and South Australian border, this small regional town mostly servers as a stopover for people driving from Melbourne to Adelaide. It's home to the historic Clayton Farm Heritage Museum and is famous for the only known colony of white kangaroos which call the town and surrounds home!
- Millicent A large regional centre 399 km south-east of Adelaide, and 50 km north of Mount Gambier with a population of around 4,700 people. You can take a scenic drive through the winding Woakwine Wind Farm (say that three times), visit the award winning Millicent Living History Museum or have a picnic on the gentle tree lined shores of Lake McIntyre.
- Tantanoola A tiny town 425 km south-east of Adelaide, just north-west of Mount Gambier, and home to the infamous Tantanoola Tiger. This phantom cat terrorised the region in the late 1800’s, killing many sheep before being shot in 1895, and was originally thought to be an escaped circus tiger. You’ll have to visit the Tantanoola Tiger Pub where it has been carefully preserved and placed on display to find out what this "cat" was later identified as! The Tantanoola Caves Conservation Park, featuring a spectacular dolomite cave, is located nearby.
The Limestone Coast would not be much of a coast without its seaside towns. They are charming places where you can wander the streets admiring the historic buildings, grab a coffee in one of the foreshore cafes, tour regional galleries, dine on fresh ingredients in the restaurants or take to the jetties and beaches for a fish, swim or surf. Known for excellent seafood, particularly crayfish (lobster), even a trip to the local fish n’chip shop will be a culinary experience, or you can try the local barramundi or tackle a whole red rock lobster in one of the many great local pubs. Most of the towns celebrate their cuisine and culture with annual events and festivals like the Port MacDonnell Bayside Festival in January.
Other than the aforementioned Robe, check out:
- Kingston SE A beachside town 297 km south-east of Adelaide and 44 km north of Robe. It is at the south-eastern end of Encounter Bay and the Coorong with a population of around 1,443 people. It's main industries are fishing, winemaking, sheep and cattle farming and tourism, with the town population swelling in the holiday periods. It has a great many pubs, hotels, and shops, and even its own Big Lobster which guards the town's northern entrance, fondly named "Larry" by the locals!
- Beachport A small coastal fishing town 379 km south-east of Adelaide, known for its 772 metre long jetty (the second longest in SA) and its crayfish industry. It holds a particular highlight of the coast, the Pool of Siloam, a natural spring-fed pool seven times saltier than sea water! It’s open to swim in, or rather - float in, with swimming platforms around the edge and a picnic area.
- Port MacDonnell A small fishing village 477 km south-east of Adelaide and 28 km south of Mount Gambier, the southern-most town in South Australia. With a population of around 623 people, its main industry is Southern Rock Lobster fishing, and tourists flock to the town each year during season (November to April) to feast on this locally caught and cooked delicacy. For those who love water sports, it offers fishing, surfing, boating, snorkelling, sailing and diving, as well as walking trails, golf and good old fun on the beach!
For those not content to just sip their way around the region, the Limestone Coast Pies and Platter Trail allows you to nibble and crunch widely too. Participating venues can be restaurants, cafes, bakeries and even B&Bs, all which have have a focus on using the freshest local produce. You’ll taste gourmet pies and sumptuous platters featuring the hero ingredients of the region, beef, lamb, goat, duck, emu, rabbit, venison, lobster and barramundi! To get on the trail find a brochure and map at any of the Visitor Centres along the Limestone Coast.
Naracoorte Caves National Park
The Naracoorte Caves National Park is a World Heritage Listed area, one of only 18 in Australia, just south of the town of Naracoorte. You’ll enter the underground limestone world of stalactites and stalagmites formed over millions of years, and see fossils that have proved the existence of massive prehistoric animals known as as Mega-Fauna. The caves within the the park include the Victoria Fossil Cave, which holds lots of important fossils, Alexandra Cave, Bat Cave (yeah!), Fox Cave and the wonderfully named Stick-Tomato Cave.
Tours are available through all these caves and the price depends on how many you take and how adventurous you want to be (eg. crawling on your stomach is included in some of the crazier tours!) A single mildly adventurous tour is about $16 for an adult, but entry to the actual park is free. Also on site you’ll find the Wonambi Fossil Centre, which gives a fascinating insight into the huge fossils found in the caves; the Wirreanda Bunkhouse, which you can rent a bed in quite cheaply; and a campground with powered and unpowered sites.
Coorong National Park
Coorong National Park is located along the coast at the north-western tip of the Limestone Coast, south of the Murray River mouth in Meningie. In 1966, the 467 km square park was formed as a sanctuary for many species of birds, animals and fish, and forms one of the highlights of the region with its interconnected wetlands, water-surrounded isthmuses and broad beaches. It's an important area, teeming with life, and an absolute mecca for bird watching enthusiasts!
The Coorong supports coastal dune systems and many lagoons, with the freshwater habitats supporting the fauna of the area, and the seawater habitat supporting much of the birdlife. It attracts many migratory bird species considering its ability to provide refuge while other areas in Australia are under drought, and is home to the world’s largest breeding colony of Australian pelican. The 130 km beach that borders the park is an excellent hike and was the setting of the popular 1977 Australian film Storm Boy.
Fishing for the popular Coorong Mullet and School Mulloway in the waters of the Coorong is a regular activity, as is driving on one of the 4WD tracks throughout the park. You can visit the local Indigenous population, the Ngarrindjeri, at Camp Coorong on Lake Alexandrina and hear the history of the land, and caravan and camping sites are found throughout.
Parks and Four Wheel Driving
Head off-road on one of the countless four-wheel drive tracks along the Limestone Coast. It's often the best way to see the National Parks of the region, as many of them stretch for kilometres along the rugged and remote coast. You’ll come across stunning natural environments and bird life along the way, just be careful not to run them over and be respectful by sticking to the designated trails! Traveling this way gives you a chance to explore up-close the rugged environment of the coastal parks, their sand dunes, beaches and eroded cliffs, and allows you to throw in a spot of fishing along the way.
There are tracks in: