As this action-packed three-day itinerary around Mount Gambier shows, there’s unlimited experiences to be had in the one location.
Mount Gambier is the sort of place where young adventurers, craggy outdoorsmen, family road trippers and intrepid explorers all have an equally great old time. Residents of the Mount Gambier region have the place wired, which is why our three-day itinerary allows visitors to experience the region as locals do.
Located almost smack-bang between Adelaide and Melbourne on South Australia’s Limestone Coast, Mount Gambier has got it all: caves, volcanoes, lakes, ocean, wildlife, quirky accommodation, fantastic food and world-class wineries. We suggest you pick and choose and wander at your own pace.
Friday itinerary: from coffee to caves and a cultural bonanza
The Bay Blue Espresso Bar is a specialty espresso bar located on the main drag to the Blue Lake. The Scandi-styled space is the perfect place to fuel up on coffee and a toastie dubbed ‘The Mostie’ stuffed with house-crumbed chicken, crispy bacon, tomato, cheese and lettuce.
Ask one of the friendly Lycra-clad locals for the lowdown on the Blue Lake Circuit and they’ll probably tell you to start the 40 minute 3.6km hike at Pioneer Memorial and to stop at Rotary Lookout. The wide crater lake turns a brilliant sapphire blue over the warmer months, resembling a precious gem set into the landscape.
Continue your exploration of Mount Gambier’s natural attractions at Kilsby Sinkhole. Rated as one of the best sinkhole dive sites in the world, this spectacular hole in the ground welcomes free divers, snorkellers and scuba divers. The crystal-clear waters inspired the creation of Sinkhole Gin, which you can sample in situ, after deep-diving in the limestone-clad chamber.
Loved by arty locals, the architecturally inspired Riddoch centre includes a large collection of 20th century Australian art. Don’t miss the daily screenings of Volcano, The story of Earth, Fire and Water, about how the elements helped shape the Kanawinka region. The art gallery’s shop is also worth a squiz.
Taste some of the best ingredients the Mount Gambier region has to offer (Robe Dairy Labneh; Rise of Robe Sourdough; The Splendid Egg) at Presto Eatery, housed in a refreshed heritage shopfront in the centre of the city. If you’re here for one of the cult favourites, you will be forced to choose between bacon benedict or avocado smash.
One of the star attractions at the family-friendly Mount Gambier Visitor Centre is the life-size replica of the 60-tonne sailing vessel, the Lady Nelson, which was commissioned in 1799 to sail along the coastline of SA. In addition to discovering the fate of the tall ship, visitors to the centre learn about local geology and Indigenous history.
Charlicks Bazaar in Margaret St is a great place to forage for treasures. The antique store housed in a rustic, old shed sells everything old, new and unusual: think vintage platters, ’70s lampshades, kitsch coffee pots and creepy ceramic clowns. On a weekender with the girls? Bounce between the boutiques along Commercial Street East.
It’s time to check in: go directly to Gaol. Pass through the forbidding gates of the Old Mount Gambier Gaol and you will be relieved to find a friendly atmosphere at this former prison. If you don’t’ want to be confined to a double cell, posh it up at The Cottage where the prison warden once lived. And forget about eating prison slop; the former gaol has its own BBQ facilities and is a short walk from Commercial Street.
Spot the giant G emblazoned on the side of the Mount Gambier Hotel and then follow the lines of locals to the pub that has been a perennial favourite since it was established in 1862. With its warm wooden floors, and off-white interiors, the revitalised pub, known as ‘the G’ is an excellent place to sequester yourself for a few hours. Order the wagyu beef schnitzel served with a baked spud and salad.
The air is cooler near the Cave Garden, which is an altogether surreal place that is equally as striking as the big and little blue lakes, but with a tonal shift toward crayon green on the colour scale. At night, coloured lights make the eerily haunting cave formations shimmer and shift and the cave becomes a flowing narrative about the Indigenous Dreamtime.
Saturday itinerary: embrace your inner adventurer
Join locals jogging and cycling along the Mount Gambier Rail Trail that runs like a parallelogram to the former railway line that slices through the centre of the City of Mount Gambier. Chug along the family-friendly 7.42 km path to the nature play area, wetlands and picnic area.
After burning off a few calories along the Rail Trail, roll into ScRoll Queen for a Tim Tam Scroll or cream-filled Lamington Scroll. Wash these sticky temptations down with a cup of coffee from Badenochs Deli next door. Savoury tooths will lean toward the BBQ salami scroll from ScRoll Queen or bacon and egg roll from Badenochs.
10 am Follow the sinkhole trail
Whether you’re donning a wetsuit for a dive in Engelbrecht Cave, leaping in for a swim at the Little Blue Lake, or admiring nature’s vertical gardens clinging to the walls of Umpherston Sinkhole, the subterranean network of lava caves, array of sinkholes and lakes are a must see in Mount Gambier. Click here to personalise your own tour of these geological wonders.
Garlic prawns, pumpkin, BBQ chicken and bacon are among the creative pizza toppings at Nalou Kitchen, which also pairs pizza with garlic. The lunch menu is also dominated by burgers, sangas and wraps. Our pick: the pork belly sandwich with baby spinach and sautéed red cabbage and onion. Check out the drool-worthy images on Insta.
Hike or bike through spectacular scenery along the rim of the high plateau that peers into the gaping mouths of craters that have been carved out in slow motion by the elements. Trace the curves of the crater in an anti-clockwise direction from Mark’s Lookout, Lions Lookout or Rotary Clubs Lookout along the Crater Lakes Trail. Note: the 4.2 km track is not a defined path and includes steep inclines and stairs. It can take about 1.5 hours to complete.
One of the favourite local meditative pastimes in the Mount Gambier region is surf fishing at Port MacDonnell at the jetty, break water or boat ramp. Expect to haul in everything from King George whiting and squid to tommy ruff and silver trevally. Young adventurers or intrepid explorers can also take a 4WD to Browns Beach, which is another hotspot for surf fishing. Get the heads-up about where to cast out a line from the plaid-clad lads at Spot On Fishing in Mount Gambier.
Energetic types might just be able to squeeze in a cheeky round of nine holes before twilight at the Mount Gambier Golf Club or Blue Lakes Public Golf Links, where the only downside is the fact the scenic surrounds might put you off your putting. The golf courses around Mount Gambier take advantage of the undulating landscape, and are challenging for both novices and gun golfers.
After checking into your executive spa suite at the Commodore on the Park, you can sashay down to the hotel restaurant that keeps its food miles to a minimum, sourcing most of its produce from the Limestone Coast and wines from the Coonawarra. Before retiring to your room, check out what’s on offer at the hotel’s whisky bar.
Sunday itinerary: shall we snorkel or hike? Or wine and dine?
8am Brekkie @ Metro Bakery and Cafe
A big day calls for a big breakfast and by big, we mean whopping. The Metro Big Breakfast comes with free-range eggs, bacon, beef sausages, baked lima beans, garlic buttered mushrooms, rosti and sourdough toast. Finish up with great coffee roasted by Melbourne’s Lygon St legend, Giancarlo Giusti at this sleek meeting place. http://www.metrobakeryandcafe.com.au/
9am Set off on a cellar door crawl
There are more than 40 cellar doors to choose from across the broader wine region of the Limestone Coast. Keep it simple and check off this convenient quadfecta: Noski Wines, Caroline Hills Winery, Haig Vineyard and the appointment only Herbert Vineyard.
Round up a group of 10 to gain access to the Mayura Station Tasting Room where you can enjoy a true taste of country life. Located 45 minutes away from Mount Gambier, Mayura Station offers a paddock-to-plate menu using the best cuts of Mayura Station’s wagyu beef available on the day. Groups of 10 can book a table in the Dry Age Room to complete the boutique on-farm experience.
3pm Snorkel at Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park
The locals in Mount Gambier are in tune with the moods of the city’s many sinkholes and lakes and often inaugurate a quick snorkel or swim into their weekend activities. Walk through the coastal wattle and beard heath to get to the ponds where you can dive down into the eerie 100m depths of The Chasm and enclosed Cathedral, which has a depth of 35 metres.
Pop into Five Star Seafood in Port MacDowell to pick up some seafood and a few beers and head to Valley Lakes, which has free gas barbecues and covered shelters. After an easy 1.6 kilometre- pre-prandial amble around Leg of Mutton Lake, visit the picturesque conservation park, which features native flora and fauna, before finding a patch of grass for your picnic.
The Macs Hotel, which was first licensed in 1864, is the place to go on a Sunday evening for happy chatter underscored by songs from the great Australian songbook. Expect a bit of Chisel and some theatrical percussion from the cocktail shaker when you pull up at the bar and ask for something chilled. Stay overnight so you are right in position for posh pub grub and a cold pint for lunch the next day.