Lakes, caves, volcanoes and sinkholes – Mount Gambier is the little city with a lot to offer.
Despite being the second-most populous city in South Australia, this Limestone Coast destination tends to slip under the radar – a great shame given the natural wonders and cultural attractions that it has to offer, many of which are free to visit. Here are some of the top things to do in Mount Gambier.
1. Blue Lake
Prepare to be floored by Mount Gambier’s Blue Lake. This sizable body of water, situated within a dormant volcanic crater, transforms from an otherwise pedestrian navy blue into a startling milky turquoise between November and March.
While you can’t swim in it, you can walk (or drive) around the lake’s rim, which measures some 3.6 kilometres, taking around 45 minutes to complete on foot. Or visit with Aquifer Tours, which takes visitors in a glass panelled lift down the original dolomite well shaft, through a tunnel to see the Blue Lake at close proximity. You’ll also hear yarns about local folklore and Aboriginal legend, as well as the lake’s history and European settlement.
2. Little Blue Lake
A volcanic sinkhole located in the middle of a paddock, about a 17-kilometre drive south of Mount Gambier, off an otherwise nondescript country road, Little Blue Lake has that wonderful air of chancing upon a secret local spot.
Walk down the stairs, cut into the side of the sinkhole’s cliff, and jump off the floating pontoon into the cool waters, which reach a depth of around 47 metres. Cave divers with a CDAA Deep Cavern grade certification can even dive here.
3. Umpherston Sinkhole
Positively dripping with greenery, this vast sunken garden is arguably Mount Gambier’s landmark attraction. Lying just on the edge of town, this sinkhole was first transformed into a garden in 1886, when local farmer and politician James Umpherston took it upon himself to plant a garden in the former cave.
Whether you’re looking down into it or taking a wide-angle picture from the floor of the 20-metre-deep, 50-metre-wide natural wonder, the views are something special. Follow the public park’s walking paths, admire the lush foliage from its viewing platforms and benches, and mosey past its sculptures and fountains. It’s the perfect place for a picnic. Umpherston Sinkhole is also home to a colony of common brushtail possums, which make an appearance every evening at dusk to feed.
4. Cave Garden
Much like its Mount Gambier cousin, the Umpherston Sinkhole, Cave Garden is an impossibly scenic spot, alive with greenery and tucked away right in the heart of the city. A much smaller wedge of a sinkhole, you can’t descend to the base of Cave Garden: instead, exploit the viewing platforms and peer down into the chasm. And if you visit during, or shortly after wet weather, you can even admire a waterfall pouring into it. It’s believed that this sinkhole was in fact the original water source for early settlers in the area.
Refusing to be beaten on night time draws by the Umpherston Sinkhole, Cave Garden also has its own after-dark attraction – a nightly light show that tells Aboriginal Dreamtime stories.
5. Mount Gambier caves
It’s estimated that there are a whopping 800 caves littered throughout the Limestone Coast region like honeycomb.
Experienced divers come from all over to take to the waters of Engelbrecht Cave, in the centre of Mount Gambier, with its secret, water-filled tunnels. But you don’t need to brandish a certificate just to gain entry to the cave: guided tours of two of Engelbrechts’ caverns are available, lasting around 40 minutes long.
Naracoorte Caves National Park
It’s a one-hour drive north of Mount Gambier to South Australia’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Naracoorte Caves National Park. Recognised for its extensive fossil record, which covers several ice ages and the arrival of humans in the area, it’s part of the 800,000-year-old Naracoorte East Range. Four caves are open to the public, and visitors can choose from a self-guided, guided or adventure caving tour, wandering through the warren of passages, festooned with stalactites and stalagmites.
Tantanoola Caves Conservation Park
Unlike many other caves in the region – or, in fact, many other caves in Australia – Tantanoola Caves Conservation Park is wheelchair-accessible. Just a 20-minute drive northwest of Mount Gambier, these vast, beautiful caverns are decorated with speleothems. Before your stroll freely through the subterranean wonder, each visit starts with an introduction from a guide, who will tell you the history and geology of the caves and explain how its formations have developed over thousands of years.
6. The Riddoch Art Gallery
The largest regional gallery in South Australia, the Riddoch plays host to a large collection of early 20th century Aboriginal art, interactive displays, free guided tours, and a daily screening of the documentary film Volcano, which chronicles Mount Gambier’s geological history and the Aboriginal Dreamtime story of the giant ancestor Craitbul.