Mind-blowing nature is what to expect from Mount Gambier on the Limestone Coast in South Australia, halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. Surrounding a dormant volcano that erupted only 5,000 years ago, the city – the second-largest in South Australia with a population of roughly 26,000 – is home to hundreds of craters, sinkholes and caves, as well as a Blue Lake that turns a mesmerising cobalt blue in summer.
During the day, discover its natural wonders and learn its fascinating history dating back to even before its European settlers arrived, when the Boandik peoples still lived on its lands. At night, settle into one of its 10 historic pubs for a fresh, local produce meal and a frothy pint (or three).
Curiously, Mount Gambier feels like both a bustling city with plenty to do and see and a small country town where locals remember you. Add its surreal sights into the mix and you’ve got an Aussie destination seriously worth travelling for.
Get here via a direct, hour-long flight from Adelaide or Melbourne. Or hop in the car to drive four hours and 45 minutes from Adelaide or five hours from Melbourne. Prefer not to drive yourself? Book a coach bus journey from Adelaide via Stateliner. Or, from Melbourne, book a train or bus via Geelong via V/Line.
Mount Gambier has a Mediterranean climate with warm-to-hot, dry summers and mild-to-cool, wet winters. The best time to visit is between November and April when the weather is warmer and the Blue Lake switches from steel grey to dazzling blue. It’s also then that the area experiences less rainfall. The wettest month is July, while February typically records the lowest rainforest.
Lakes, caves, volcanoes and sinkholes – the list of things to do in Mount Gambier is as unique as they come. Don’t miss these highlights…
There are roughly 800 caves in the Limestone Coast, a handful of which are open to the public. In Mount Gambier, Engelbrecht Cave, in the centre of a mountain, can be visited by experienced divers. An hour-long drive north and accessible by foot is Naracoorte Caves National Park, one of South Australia’s only World-Heritage sites, containing incredible fossil records of ancient animals that once roamed the area. Tantanoola Caves Conservation Park are spectacular caves set into a cliff face.
The area is also home to roughly 50 sinkholes. Kilsby Sinkhole is known as one of the best sinkhole dive sites in the world (you can snorkel here too), while Cave Gardens, the Umpherston Sinkhole, Blanche Cave and Hells Hole are other sinkholes also worth visiting.
The Boandik people lived in the Mount Gambier region for at least 50,000 years until European settlers invaded their lands in 1840. Learn the stories of these traditional custodians of the land through an evening light show at the Cave Gardens precinct that sees images projected onto buildings. Or do a 4.5-kilometre-long self-guided walk passing various heritage buildings. Download a map online or pick one up at the Lady Nelson Visitor & Discovery Centre.
You can’t visit Mount Gambier and not see the Blue Lake. One of four crater lakes around the city, it stretches over 1000 metres wide, is thought to be on average 72 metres deep and in summer, turns a jaw-dropping cobalt blue. And while you can’t swim in it (you can swim in nearby Little Blue Lake), you can do a 3.6-kilometre-long walk around it, admiring it from all angles. Another sight not to miss is the Piccaninnie Ponds. Snorkel or dive it. Or stroll alongside it to see its freshwater springs bubbling up onto the sand. Keen to feed pigs, emu, sheep, chicken and geese? Take a self-guided walk at Echo Farm, a 10-minute drive from town.
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Mount Gambier has no shortage of hotels and motels scattered around the city, ranging from affordable to premium. Comfort Inn The Lakes has a spa and heated pool and is just a five-minute walk from the Blue Lake. Park Hotel, along the city’s main street, offers boutique accommodation including three luxurious suites. Mid City Motel is also in the centre of town. The Henty is a motel a five-minute drive from town. After somewhere inexpensive, yet quirky? Book into a dorm room or double cell with en suite at hostel The Old Mount Gaol.
Like its hotels and motels, Mount Gambier has a considerable amount of caravan parks. Mount Gambier Central Caravan Park boasts a convenient central location, steps from many of the city’s cafés, restaurants and shops. Set on eight acres of parkland three kilometres from town, Limestone Coast Tourist Park is a quiet escape, a short drive away from the area’s sights. Blue Lake Holiday Park is set on a whopping 27 acres of landscaped gardens and surrounding valley. Pine Country Caravan Park, a 30-minute walk from Blue Lake, prides itself on its clean and modern facilities.
In addition to the parks mentioned above, you can also camp at Kalganyi Holiday Park, conveniently located next to Mount Gambier Market Place Shopping Centre; Mount Gambier Showgrounds, ideal for couples or small groups; and beachfront Port MacDonnell Foreshore Tourist Park, which has 120 campsites.
Mount Gambier has roughly 10 historic pubs. Open since 1862 and affectionately called ‘The G’, Mount Gambier Hotel is an institution in the heart of the city. Here, you’ll find seasonal fare as well as a wide variety of local beers, wines and spirits. Mac’s Hotel, Federal Hotel and The South Eastern Hotel are other popular options for classic Aussie pubs.
The area has also developed a reputation for its premium wine with most of their grapes grown on vineyards that were once cheese and butter factories, up until the late 1970s. Get a taste of it at cellars for Haig Vineyard, Herbert Vineyard and Whispering Vines.
Food-wise, Natural Born Grillers has developed a cult-following for its American-style burgers, shakes and loaded fries. For a big breakfast, visit Café Melzar, Confession Café or Limestone Coast Pantry. And for a fine dining option, look no further than steakhouse The Barn or Thyme @ The Lakes at the edge of the Valley Lake Crater, known for its steaks, beef tenderloin and cheesecakes. Sorrentos Café is a casual, local spot. The city is also home to dozens of eateries serving Thai, Indian and Chinese cuisines.
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While all of Mount Gambier’s sinkholes and caves can be explored on your own, many of them can also be experienced by tour. Umpherston Sinkhole Walking Tour will not only see a guide pointing out its highlights, but it’ll also have you understanding the sinkhole’s history with the help of relayed stories, as well as black-and-white images. For a one-of-a-kind experience, book into Meet Umpherston Possums at Night, a one-hour adventure that will see you venturing into a cenote to find friendly possums. Understand the area’s unique geology and how it shaped everything from its farms to forests on the Crater Lakes Walking Tour.
Connect with vast World Heritage-listed beauty, tour the land and soak in the sea with a 3-day K’gari (Fraser Island) Getaway!
Pamper yourself at a stunningly restored former Chaff Mill and save 30% -living history amongst organic shiraz vineyards.
Hire a RedSands Camper for your ultimate self-drive adventure and memories that last forever. There is still time to book this year!
Experience Armidale’s Big Chill Festival with craft beer, local wine, BBQ fare and fire pits to keep you toasty warm! Enjoy live music featuring Birds of Tokyo, Dragon, Lisa Hunt and more! Big Chill 13-14 May.
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Enjoy a night’s accommodation, two-course dinner full of fresh, local Rick Stein seafood dishes & continental breakfast.
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