South Australia’s beautiful Limestone Coast is a geological delight, delivering incredible coastline, sunken gardens, mysterious caves, bold lakes and the terra rossa soils that give rise to Coonawarra’s famous red wines.
Paul Stone grows the best tomatoes in the Coonawarra, but no need to take our word for it. You can sink your teeth into the sweet, juicy, award-winning morsels at Fodder, where Stone is head chef. Located in the Coonawarra, Fodder doubles as the cellar door for Ottelia, the family-owned vineyard headed by Stone’s in-laws, John and Melissa Innes. And it’s a delicious match.
Stone’s share-plate menu is bursting with fresh, colourful produce sourced from the on-site garden. The wood-fired pizzas are particularly popular and the monthly(ish) Friday Night at Fodder events are consistently sold out. Otherwise, Fodder is a lunch-only affair.
Although it is heaving in the thick of summer, what with its sparkling coastline and picturesque township, the seaside town of Robe can get a little sleepy in the cooler months. But the new team behind Sails restaurant, located on the main drag, has ensured year-round success thanks to lip-smacking fare and warm, ‘small-town’ service.
For a long time, Sails was all about seafood, as the name might suggest. Now though, seafood shares the menu with all manner of protein, including the melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu the region is famous for. If it’s crayfish season, and you’re keen to indulge, call ahead (before 2pm is recommended) to avoid disappointment.
Still in Robe, set off the main street, Mahalia Coffee is the top spot to secure your caffeine fix. Namesake, owner and master roaster Mahalia Layzell is wonderfully passionate about coffee beans and roasting, and this enthusiasm translates to every cup.
A multi-award-winning roasting house, Mahalia Coffee is committed to its epicurean spirit, which means quality over quantity, and explains why it has been a Robe stalwart since opening to the public in 2003. While coffee takes centre stage, there is a light breakfast and lunch menu too, and a small but drool-worthy pastry display cabinet.
Established in 1858, the Caledonian Inn is an English-style pub with character to boot. As well as your standard front bar/back bar/beer garden combo, the inn has a few accommodation options including the charming Cottages by the Sea.
The self-contained cottages, featuring a loft bedroom big enough for four without squeezing, are clean and simple, but it’s the location that reigns. The cottages are tucked behind the inn and sit in pole position next to Town Beach, with water views and a Juliet balcony upstairs.
The Caledonian Inn is an English-style pub with plenty of charm
Set against the grandeur of centuries-old red gums, Bellwether Wines’ campsite has recently undergone a serious upgrade. The site now includes 10 bell tents, all just a short stroll from the cellar door and decked out with everything required for a cosy night, including a complimentary bottle of Coonawarra red.
Outdoor kitchen facilities are at your disposal, but for something really special, book in for the Table of Twelve experience. Hosted by winemaker Sue Bell, the six-course degustation with matched wines is a celebration of fine food and vibrant conversation, with the rustic beauty of a repurposed 1868 shearing shed as your backdrop.
Glamp under the stars
Expect some visitors
Labelled Australia’s ‘other Red Centre’, the Coonawarra wine region is at the heart of the Limestone Coast. The structure of the region’s lucrative terra rossa soils over limestone, combined with a moderate climate, deliver rich and complex red wines that are globally renowned, particularly cabernet sauvignons.
For cellar-door hopping, top picks include Rymill, Zema Estate, Wynns, Patrick of Coonawarra, Katnook Estate and The Blok. Hand the designated-drive role over to Coonawarra Experiences – Simon and Kerry offer bespoke tour options and the local insight is generous and enlightening.
Maris Biezaitis tries to live as self-sufficiently as possible. He built his house, he grows his food, but as his eco-efforts continued he realised he was drinking less-than-sustainable beer. So, he learnt to make his own.
The result is Robe Town Brewery, a small operation Maris owns and runs with his wife, Kristi. Custom-built wood-fired kettles are used in the brewing process and the result is a catalogue of around 20 beers, including a main range and seasonal and limited releases. The brewery itself is basic as can be, although relocation awaits, but it’s not decor you’re here for, right? A beer flight allows you to taste the intricacies of the Biezaitises’ unique methods and ingredients. Cheers to that!
Those viticulturally blessed soils aren’t the only natural wonders on the Limestone Coast. For those flying in to the region, Mount Gambier is your arrival destination, and the Umpherston Sinkhole and Blue Lake await.
The Umpherston sinkhole (Photo: Mike Haines)
Also known as the Sunken Garden, the sinkhole is a veritable Eden replete with hydrangea-filled terraces and hanging vines. To catch the Blue Lake in all its glory, the weather needs to be on your side, but if you’re travelling between December and March you should be greeted by mesmerisingly vibrant cobalt waters.
About one hour north of Mount Gambier, the Naracoorte Caves National Park is home to Australia’s most complete marsupial fossil record for the past 500,000 years. South Australia’s only World Heritage site, there are 28 known caves in the park and four are open to the public. Stalactites and stalagmites are just the beginning.