Twenty-six million years in the making, this ancient coastal region offers today’s tourist a treasure chest of options. Its natural assets shine brightest: the wild and windswept Coorong, megafauna fossils, age-old caves and the Blue Lake. Contemporary gems include holiday resorts, genial winemakers and receptive restaurateurs.
The Blue Lake
Why is it blue, why does it change colour, how deep is the lake? These are just some of the mysteries of this ancient lake near Mt Gambier, South Australia’s second largest city.
The Blue Lake in Mount Gambier occupies one of the craters of the extinct volcano after which the city has been named.
Early each November, the lake's sombre blue, which is in evidence during the winter months, mysteriously changes to an intense deep turquoise blue almost overnight. The colouring remains until late February, when it gradually changes. From late March, it returns to a distinct sombre blue colouring that remains until the following November.
The 3.6 kilometre road and walking track around the circumference of the Blue Lake provides access to many viewing points, the most popular being the underpass between the Blue Lake and the Leg of Mutton Lake.
Aquifer Tours operate a fascinating 45 minute tour which takes visitors in a glass panelled lift down the original dolomite well shaft, from which water was originally extracted, through a tunnel to see the Blue Lake at close proximity. Learn about the hydrology of Mount Gambier's water supply and the aquifer system. Hear the interesting stories of local history, European settlement, folklore and Aboriginal legend.
Daily tours are available, contact The Lady Nelson Visitor and Discovery Centre for further information on 1800 087 187.
These huge limestone caverns, yet another wonderful natural feature of the region, actually run under the city of Mt Gambier.
Engelbrecht Cave is one of the Limestone Coasts fascinating cave sites. Inside the cave you will find a viewing platform and much of the cave is accessible to divers.
The Cave Divers Association has surveyed and mapped the cave system and you'll find maps, videos and other information in the visitors hut.
After decades of use as a rubbish dump by private owners, in 1979 the Lions Club of Mount Gambier decide to make it their project of beautifying the cave. After much time and effort, the project was completed and the cave handed over to the local council.
Today, Engelbrecht Cave is well worth a visit for both cave divers and for those who simply wish to enjoy the beauty of the caves. Fully guided tours of two caves are available, lasting between 45 to 60 minutes.
Mary MacKillop Penola Centre
Mary MacKillop was canonised on 17 October 2010 in Rome. She became Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Australia’s first saint of the Catholic Church. She met Father Julian Tenison Woods in Penola in 1860 and their dream began to found a new religious order to meet the educational needs of isolated and disadvantaged children. She started teaching in a stable and then moved to the Schoolhouse, which today is a heritage building that people can visit.
At the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre there is an interpretive centre with major exhibitions explaining the lives of Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods, priest and scientist. An exhibition in the Schoolhouse explains the early teaching methods of the Sisters of Saint Joseph that they co-founded in Penola.
Saint Joseph's Catholic Church is also on the site.
Australia’s “other red centre”
If you like rich, colourful wines, you’ll love Coonawarra. Coonawarra is the Limestone Coast’s main wine region. Often called Australia’s “other red centre”, its premium red wines have won many awards. Its Cabernet Sauvignon is internationally renowned and its Shiraz isn’t far behind. The region’s terra rossa soil (red soil found on limestone) is perfect for grape growing.
Coonawarra is a small region, only 20 kilometres in length and two kilometres in diameter. Despite this, it is home to more than 24 cellar doors. They’re close together and well signposted, so you’ll find them easily.
Naracoorte Caves National Park
A trip to the Limestone Coast wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Naracoorte Caves. Recognised as one of the world's most important fossil sites, the caves offer experiences for all ages.
For more than 500,000 years giant animals roamed the Naracoorte area. Falling into well hidden pitfall caves, their fossilised skeletons were left behind, giving scientists a rare glimpse of long extinct animal life.
Giant marsupials such as the wombat-like Diprotodon, Thylacoleo the marsupial lion and giant kangaroos lived in the area. These animals, along with others, have been recreated into life-sized models at the renowned Wonambi Fossil Centre.
The park's tourist caves boast a glorious display of stalagmites and stalactites. A variety of tours are on offer, showcasing amazing fossil and limestone formations. Adventure caving, allowing you to crawl, slide and squeeze through tight tunnels and chambers, is also available. The is also an on-site cafe and camp sites available.
Visit the Naracoorte Caves National Park website for all costs and tour times.
The fishing village of Robe is a perfect place for a stop over. Visit the Obelisk that ship captains used to navigate the dangerous entrance to Guichen Bay.
The Obelisk was erected on Cape Dombey in 1852, used to navigate entrance into Guichen Bay and to store rocket lifesaving equipment. The firing of rockets carrying baskets to distressed ships to bring passengers ashore saved many lives.
Later it assisted passing ships with navigation, standing at a height of 12 metres it is easily visible 20 kilometres out to sea. In 1862, after complaints by the Captains that the then white Obelisk was difficult to differentiate from Long Beach's white sand hills, it was repainted in alternate red and white bands.
An untamed ocean
Shaped by the untamed Southern Ocean, the Limestone Coast’s beaches are spectacular and seemingly endless. They also provide some of South Australia’s best fishing and surfing locations. From the Coorong’s Ninety Mile Beach to the tip of Cape Northumberland, you have more than 400 kilometres of beaches to explore.
Take a boat out from Beachport and hook a snapper or hire a charter to chase blue fin tuna. Fish for mullet in the upper reaches of the Coorong. The Glenelg River has lagoons which are great for catching mulloway.
You will need an amateur fishing licence to fish in some areas. They’re available at Visitor Information Centres, tackle stores and even some petrol stations.
The mix of the tall Norfolk pines, the clear blue water and white sands creates sophisticated Beachport’s appeal. A perfect stop over for a swim or a bit of fishing.
Beachport is an isthmus with the sea on two sides and Lake George beside it. Sandy beaches stretch around Rivoli Bay offering great surf and safe swimming, while Bowman Scenic Drive allows visitors to explore the coastal dunes offering spectacular views of the rugged coast of the Southern Ocean.
The Beachport jetty is the second longest in South Australia. The jetty reaches out into the bay and is a popular spot for local and visiting anglers of all ages.
For the more adventurous explore Beachport Conservation Park by four wheel drive. Take in the coastal scenery, escape to secluded beaches and see intriguing shell middens. Take some time to explore Lake George and the magnificent bird life. Be sure to call into the Beachport Visitor Information Centre and collect a copy of their new four wheel drive maps and for up to date information.
'The Old Wool and Grain Store' National Trust museum tells the story of the district's past and provides an insight into the whaling history.
Woakwine Cutting 10 kilometres north of Beachport is where you will find Australia's biggest one-man engineering feat. The Cutting was created to drain swampland for pastoral use. A viewing platform has been erected and the accomplishment documented for all visitors to read.
Beachport also boasts a number of walking trails offering uninterrupted views of the picturesque bay and rugged coastline. The walks around town including the popular Lighthouse walk and lookout, or the Lagoon walk, Lanky's Walk, Wendy's Walk and the Jack and Hilda McArthur Walk.
Play the excellent golf course, sample some fine fare at local eateries or simply float your cares away at the Pool of Siloam. The Pool of Siloam is fed by underground springs with the water seven times saltier than seawater which provides fantastic buoyancy. Swim pontoons are provided at the pool.
Beachport has a variety of excellent accommodation ranging from classic beach holiday houses to four-star bed and breakfasts and provides the perfect stopover destination or base for day trips with major attractions and towns all within a short drive.
Larry the Lobster
The Limestone Coast's many underwater rock ledges are teeming with prized lobster
Feel like lobster for lunch? You can't go past the thriving southern ports of Port MacDonnell, Kingston S.E and Beachport, which also boasts one of the world's longest jetties.
While you're there, check out the four tonne, 17 metre tall crustacean - Larry, the Big Lobster in Kingston S.E. It's a sight to behold.
If you enjoy Australian Poetry, a visit to Dingley Dell Conservation Park is a must. In this peaceful bushland setting lies the cottage of Adam Lindsay Gordon, one of Australia's famous poets. An eccentric and talented character, Gordon lived at Dingley Dell from 1864 until 1867 where he indulged in his two great passions, horses and writing. For an insight into his colourful life, take a stroll through his cottage (now a museum) where you can see some of Gordon’s personal belongings and read his lyrical works.
Tours of the cottage are available 10am to 4 pm every day (except July, August, Anzac Day and Christmas day). Group tours are available by prior arrangement.