The Ultimate Beginners Guide to the Limestone Coast – Part ONE
Wild rocky coastline littered with lighthouses and shipwrecks; dormant volcanoes, jewel-like caves and craters; oddly coloured lakes, mysterious pools and deep sinkholes; long, deserted beaches full of fishing spots, surf breaks and secluded bays; spectacular coastal scenery and the Southern Rock Lobster Capital of Australia – if not, the WORLD!
And not many travellers even know it’s there!
It’s South Australia’s SUPER Cool Limestone Coast and it’s a nature-lovers paradise; an unspoilt scenic sensation and an awesome outdoor adventureland.
It’s so cool, it’s HOT!
But with so much to see and do, how does a Limestone Coast beginner know where to start?
Take my two-part beginners guide and I’ll show enough RED HOT Limestone Coast things to do that’ll keep you busy for at least a week.
In Part One (just keep on reading below) I’ll show you 6 amazing things to do mostly around Mount Gambier and the southern end of the Limestone Coast (see the fast facts at the end of the post). And in Part Two (take the link below!) we’ll see more of the coast and head further north.
But for now relax, grab a drink and discover some awesome Limestone Coast things to do!
1 Go Caving!
The hardest part of going underground on the Limestone Coast is choosing which of its 800 cool caves to explore first! They’re all part of the Kanawinka Geopark – the remnants of volcanic activity in the dim, distant past – at least I hope so!
Not all the caves are accessible though, so here are FOUR (entry fees apply) to get you started!
Take a 45 minute guided tour of the Engelbrecht Cave system right underneath Mount Gambier – if you do, then tell me what it’s like! I didn’t have time to take the tour myself on this visit!
Then head north along the Princes Highway towards Millicent for a self-guided tour of the Tantanoola Cave and its spectacular formations
If I hadn’t already seen the awesome Marsupial Lion at the World Heritage listed Naracoorte Caves on a guided tour – which included a trip to the Bat Cave – from Wonambi Fossil Centre just out of Naracoorte, it would have been first on my list.
But instead, I crossed the border into Victoria to take a 45 minute tour 14 metres underground into the fantastic
otherworldly splendour of the Princess Margaret Rose Cave, named for Princess Margaret by a woman born on the same day! There’s a superb range of veil and wedding cake formations, stalactites, stalagmites, helictites – and even a newish stalagmite the same age as me!
But I’ll leave you to visit the caves yourself if you want to find out how old it is – and I am!
Above ground, the Lower Glenelg National Park surrounding the cave complex is pretty awesome too with a picnic and campground, walks and a lookout over the Glenelg River.
For a great day out, take a return 3½ hour cruise up the river from Nelson to the cave for the tour (PS – there’s a LOT to do at Nelson, too)!
(BONUS: Read about my Naracoorte Caves adventure HERE!)
This killer cave collection has something for everyone! That’s if you’re not claustrophobic, afraid of dark, enclosed spaces or bats, or full of pointless fears about that unsupported roof right above you crashing down!!
2 See Scenic Sinkholes!
Ever wondered if the roof of a cave could ever collapse? Check out EXACTLY what happens at FOUR of the Limestone Coast’s biggest Sinkholes (all with FREE entry)!
Every night, the FREE sound and light show in Mount Gambier’s Cave Garden fires up the caverns as well as giving the indigenous history of the area – it’s an awesome view from the lookouts suspended high above the sinkhole.
By day, it’s good, but not as impressive as the Umpherston Sinkhole Gardens, a magical below-ground-level open-air experience where the rugged limestone walls are hidden behind a beautiful garden.
But sinkholes are more impressive in the wild – if you can find Caroline Sinkhole in Penambol Conservation Park just out of Mt Gambier, you’ll see what these massive circular depressions actually look like in their natural state. The above-ground walking trail from the car park through the forest is pretty too!
It’s even harder to find Hells Hole – apparently the sign keeps getting pinched! I get that – it’d probably look cool at the front gate or in the garden!! Hells Hole is at the end of a pleasant walk through the pine forest, and a scary suspended walkway 30 metres above the water level, with a sign telling (omigod-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding) divers to close the gate behind them!
I SO didn’t bother getting a diving permit 😀
3 Experience Life on the Ponds
A much smaller (but WAY more picturesque) version of the sinkholes are TWO limestone karst wetlands full of clear water freshly filtered through the limestone from the aquifer beneath.
The three ponds connected by Eight Mile Creek (and a walking track) that make up the Ewens Ponds Conservation Park are generally open for swimming, snorkelling and diving. It’s a pretty spot even without going in the water!
Permits are required for cave diving in the 110 metre deep ponds in the Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park, but the walking track through the coastal scrub, then along a magnificent stretch of beach to the Outlet Creek and boardwalk is a varied and interesting hike.
4 Look out for the Lakes!
It’s pretty hard to miss Mount Gambier’s famous four Crater Lakes (all with FREE activities) – especially from the vantage point of Centenary Tower (see last photo), a steep climb along the network of mountain bike and walking trails, lookouts and rest areas linking the Lakes to the Mount’s highest point.
It’s also got excellent views over Mount Gambier, South Australia’s 2nd largest city, and over to Mount Schank (see #6 below), an extinct volcano on the Kanawinka Geotrail, Australia’s biggest volcanic province. Then it’s all downhill – praise be!
The Leg of Mutton Lake was dry on our visit – but there’s a walking trail around it! In autumn, the deciduous trees once part of a nursery on the site make a fine display of colour.
Browne’s Lake was also dry on our visit, but can be seen from the road through the lake complex.
Have a picnic down at Valley Lake (yes, it’s down in the valley at the bottom of the crater) and take a walk through the Valley Lake Conservation Park. On our walk, we saw koalas, kangaroos, lizards, Cape Barren Geese, manic Blue Wrens – but thankfully no snakes! Barbecues and boat ramps make it easy to spend the whole day here.
The famous Blue Lake reaches its bluest blue from November to March – see it up close on an Aquifer tour (fees apply) down the old well shaft to the water level, or just admire it from the walk around the rim.
But for an even closer look at that famous blue water take a drive out along the Port MacDonnell road to Little Blue Lake. It’s a micro-mini version of its bigger, more famous buddy, but it’s actually got a swimming platform and rails so you can take a dip! For FREE!
5 Walk on the WILD Side at Canunda National Park
Take a 4WD drive along Canunda National Park‘s 40 km of rugged coastline between Southend and Carpenter Rocks and discover rocky cliffs, surfing breaks, sandstone formations, rock stacks beaches, fishing spots, massive dunes and camping spots.
No 4WD? No problem! Drive to Cape Buffon at the northern end of the park for walking tracks, lookout points and the beautiful beaches and bays of Southend. 2WD roads from Millicent and Carpenter Rocks give access to other areas of the park, including the toxic orange Cape Banks Lighthouse!
Yes, with FREE entry, this is one of the best places to see exactly why this stretch of the Limestone Coast is also known as the Shipwreck Coast!
6 Climb an Extinct Volcano!
Mount Schank and Mount Gambier (the mountain, not the city) were Australia’s most recent eruptions – recently enough to be recorded in the area’s Indigenous history. It’s also re-enacted on the big screen (for FREE) every day at the Main Corner Dress Circle in Mount Gambier (the city, not the mountain).
But without any eruptions in a VERY long time, Mount Schank is now considered extinct. Let’s hope it stays that way!!
It’s also been a VERY long time since I climbed Mount Schank, about 15 km south of Mount Gambier. But not long enough to forget the awesome landscape all around this 158 metre high mountain – and the fantastic view below me in the crater.
Experience life in a volcano by continuing the walk around the rim and down a VERY steep trail into the crater!
(BONUS: Read about my other adventures on the Kanawinka GeoTrail HERE)
Like what you’ve seen so far?
Then go straight to Part Two of The Ultimate Beginners Guide to the Limestone Coast – Link BELOW!!
Limestone Coast FAST FACTS:
- WHERE: South East South Australia, from Meningie and the Coorong National Park at its northern tip to Port MacDonnell in the south. Mount Gambier is the largest centre.
- HOW to get there: Self-drive from Adelaide to Mount Gambier (~450 km); or Melbourne to Mount Gambier (~450-550 km) – distances vary depending on route taken. Coach from Adelaide or Melbourne. Fly from Adelaide or Melbourne. Hire cars available.
- WHEN: All year round. Average maximum temperatures range from 14°C in winter to 30°C in summer.
- WHERE to stay: There’s a range of accommodation throughout the Limestone Coast – campgrounds, caravan parks, motels, apartments, B&Bs etc.We stayed in Mount Gambier, Port MacDonnell and Robe which were central to the attractions we wanted to see.
- Limestone Coast, South Australia
- Kanawinka Geopark and Geotrail
- More Limestone Coast Photos on Flickr HERE
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