GSA tours SA Limestone Coast and finds world class attractions
Surf fishing on the flood
GoSeeAustralia visited South Australia’s Limestone Coast in August and found the region has pristine beaches, world-heritage listed caves, award winning wine districts and some of the nation’s best fresh water diving.
GoSeeAustralia took a close look at getting the best out of touring time spent in the area.
Terra Rossa topsoil is one of the most important features of the Coonawarra region – it’s the reason the area’s wines are so exceptional.
Coonawarra reds are remarkable
The red strip of earth has helped the region to dominate Cabernet Sauvignon classes in wine shows. However, there is a rekindled interest in Shiraz which laid the foundations of Coonawarra right until the 1950s, when a national acceptance of wines led to a surge in demand for Cabernet Sauvignon.
There are more than 20 cellar doors along the narrow strip of red soil that makes up the Coonawarra, most open seven days a week.
Coonawarra is among the nation’s finest, multi-award winning wine districts. Its secret is the combination of rich red terra rossa soil over limestone, pure underground water and a long, cool ripening season for the grapes – in addition to talented winemakers.
The Coonawarra Fruit Colony was established in 1890 and John Riddoch's winery (which became Wynns Coonawarra Estate) is now more than a century old.
North of Penola, visitors can taste and buy wines which leading wine critics rank with the world’s best.
The township of Coonawarra is self-contained with a post office, general store and liquor outlet while a great selection of tourism accommodation and restaurants is available among vineyards.
Several key events are held in Coonawarra during the year. Contact the Visitor Information Centre at 27 Arthur Street, Penola, on (08) 8737 2855 for more details.
Cyclists enjoy interesting bike trails
Find treasure in Naracoorte Caves World Heritage Site
The Naracoorte Caves World-Heritage Site features at least 26 limestone caves in which the remains of 98 extinct species of prehistoric animals have been unearthed, including the marsupial lion and giant leaf-eating kangaroo.
Southern Australia’s only World Heritage site, is the only place on the planet that has a continuous fossil history dating back 500,000 years. Guests do not have to go under ground to experience the World Heritage site, with the feature of the site being the recreated ‘mega fauna’ that are recreated through the excellent Wonambi Fossil Centre.
Five of the caves are open for daily tours, with enthusiastic staff teaching visitors about fossils and exquisite cave formations.
Mt Gambier's Blue Lake really is
In a world first, the Bat Teleview Centre uses infrared cameras, microphones and televisions to look deep into the caves without disturbing inhabitants, such as the Southern Bentwing Bat.
It is possible to see the birth and suckling of bat “pups” and watch the adults returning from their feeding forays – where they consume half their body weight in insects each night. .
Torchlight tours of Cathedral Cave are available on weekends and during school holidays. For the more adventurous, several adventure-caving experiences are on offer.
Flourmill pays tribute to wool wealth
Above ground, Naracoorte's Sheep's Back Museum tells the story of the wool industry. This 1870 flourmill has been transformed into a four-level tribute to the wool industry and is filled with models, implements, pictures and memorabilia.
Just sittin in the sun
The Sheep’s Back also houses a fine craft shop and Visitor Information Centre.
Birds flock in thousands to the Bool
Bool Lagoon a RAMSAR Convention international site of significance, is a seasonal wetland near Naracoorte. During a wet year, water birds flock in their thousands to breed and can be viewed via boardwalks and hides.
Migratory birds from as far away as Siberia come to visit Bool Lagoon each year. Even in drier times, 30-50 species of birds can be spotted in a day’s visit.
Interpretive tours and a close up look at the local birds are available at Bourne’s Bird Museum, just 10 kilometres from Bool Lagoon.
Southern Ports Linked By Highway Journey
The regions quaint coastal ports can be explored by following the Southern Ports Highway. Starting at Kingston travellers can follow a journey that explores the current outstanding fishing industry based around Southern Rock Lobster, and details the historic nature of this coastal area.
GoSeeAustralia takes a ferry ride over the Murray Wellington
Kingston has a lighthouse in town
Kingston is lobster country, right down to pâté (in season). There is even a giant local lobster called Larry greeting visitors at the northern entrance to the relaxed town.
With its fine beaches on the edge of Lacepede Bay, Cape Jaffa lighthouse is also a major attraction in Kingston.
Built on the treacherous Margaret Brock Reef and opened in 1872 it was dismantled a century later and rebuilt in Kingston to allow visitors to explore the light that shone to keep seafarers safe for a hundred years.
Beautiful Robe is rock lobster heaven
The charming fishing village of Robe is a popular weekend getaway with its magnificent coastline and historic charm.
Explorer Nicholas Baudin discovered and named Guichen Bay in 1802. From 1846 onwards, Robe became South Australia's third most important port exporting wool and horses.
From the 1850's, about 16,500 Chinese landed at Robe to walk to the Victorian goldfields in order to avoid the Victorian poll tax.
Now Robe is a coastal resort and favourite tourist destination all year round. A lobster fishing fleet operates from the sheltered Lake Butler boat haven and from October to April, visitors can buy fresh fish and freshly cooked lobster.
The beaches surrounding Robe offer a variety of experiences - swimming, surfing, windsurfing, sailing and relaxation. Little Dip National Park and the southern coastline offer many opportunities for 4WD enthusiasts.
Ewen Ponds. Great diving
Beachport makes a splash with water sports
Beachport has a salt and fresh water approach to life that makes it a natural aquatic attraction.
The Southern Ocean is at the front door and Lake George is on the inland side, providing an ideal venue for water sports that range from sailing and sailboarding, through to diving and surfing. The stunning trip along Bowman’s Scenic Drive and a dip in the Pool of Siloam, seven times saltier than the sea, is not to be missed. The Pool of Siloam is 4km west of the town. The Beachport Jetty is the second longest in South Australia
Bompa’s is the name of Beachport’s original hotel built on the foreshore in 1876.
The old Wool and Grain Store is a National Trust Museum and houses an insight into the district’s past, which includes whaling.
Nearby Woakwine Cutting, viewed from the grandstand of the observation platform, is a practical statement on the amazing ability of country people to get things done.
The kilometre-long cutting is up to 28.34m deep and represents the removal of 276,000 cubic metres of soil and rock. Local grazier Murray McCourt opened up rich, mixed farming lands in 1960 by draining swampland through the cutting.
Murray River ferry link to Langhorne Creek
Port MacDonnell – Home of the Fleet
The entrance feature to the town gives you a feel for the mood of this southern coastal village. Made of the largest single piece of limestone ever to be quarried it has been turned into a classic wave rolling into the shore. Local artists completed the feature that was funded by local community groups.
This southern port is home to the largest fleet of southern rock lobster boats. Explore the harbour area, take a drive along the coastal features and make sure you drop in a get a feed of fish and chips at one of several shops stocked with some of the local catch.
Port MacDonnell wears a “salty” face
“Port Mac” is a popular destination for surfers, anglers, swimmers and beachcombers.
Its Maritime Museum has an interesting display, which includes artefacts from shipwrecks.
The restored Dingley Dell, poet Adam Lindsay Gordon’s pretty cottage now a museum, is a local attraction 2km west of the town. The works of the eccentric, talented Gordon are part of Australia’s literary heritage. Much of the inspiration for his writing came from the natural beauty of the area
East of Port MacDonnell, the crystal waters of Piccaninnie and Ewen Ponds conservation park sinkholes attract experienced divers to this unique, fragile environment. Permits are required.
At Piccaninnie Ponds, diving permits are only issued to financial members of the Cave Divers Association of Australia who are rated at sinkhole category. Snorkel permits are issued to any individual on an annual or single snorkel basis. An indemnity must be signed with National Parks and Wildlife SA to dive and snorkel the ponds.
Kingston. Yes you can have it with chips
There are dive and snorkel time slots. Only two dives or snorkels are allowed per person per day.
At Ewen Ponds, the minimum qualification for all divers is Open Water. No qualifications are required for snorkelling.
Tatiara draws travellers
Bordertown and Keith, on the Dukes Highway, have been a stopping place for travellers from Melbourne and Adelaide since the mid 19th century.
Bordertown, Keith and the smaller townships of Mundulla, Padthaway and Wolseley are linked within the Tatiara District, a diverse farming area which includes various crops, canola, wheat and lucerne, wool, lamb and beef; grapes, vegetables and cut flowers and lavender.
The Tolmer Park Centre welcomes visitors to Bordertown. An interpretive walk provides an understanding of the history and the Old Gaol cells offer an insight into prison life as well as providing a dunny with a difference. Locally, take a 42km historic drive from the Visitor Information Centre and travel to 11 places of both Aboriginal and early pioneer settlement heritage, including Poocher Swamp Conservation Area, Clayton Farm and Bordertown’s Wildlife Park with white kangaroos, emus wallabies and waterbirds.
Taste premium wines
Padthaway is the centre of one of Australia’s premium wine areas.
Padthaway Homestead was built in 1882 by Scots pioneer, Robert Lawson. Is currently closed.The nearby stables provide Padthaway Cellar Door wine tasting of a variety of local wines.
Stonehaven Winery, just a few kilometres down the road is a striking modern alternative to the heritage Padthaway Estate, providing tastings, luncheons on weekends and a function centre.
Henry’s Drive is the new kid on the cellar door block, and provides and excellent environment to enjoy a sample of the regions finest drop.
There are notable conservation parks in the area, including Padthaway, Jip Jip, and further north, Mount Monster, near Keith. The Ngarkat Group of Conservation Parks offers camping hiking and rugged 4WD experiences.
The Early Settler’s Cottage and Memorial to the AMP Land Scheme at Keith can be visited for a glimpse of life in earlier days on the edge of the old 90 Mile Desert.
The Mundulla Hotel, built in 1884, offers a bistro and watering hole for locals and visitors seven days a week.
Penola – a cultural experience of arts, roses and history
The region has a rich pioneering history that includes Penola's Mother Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre, a tribute to the woman who has become Australia's first saint.
Penola's history is peopled with writers, thinkers and achievers.
The most famous, the Blessed Mary MacKillop, converted a stable into a school for poor children in 1866 and, with Father Julian Tenison Woods, founded the teaching order the Sisters of St Joseph.
The original school site is now the Mother Mary MacKillop Gardens and the 1867 stone school, which followed it, is Woods-MacKillop Schoolhouse in Petticoat Lane.
Tall timber on a Limestone Coast walk
Millicent opens up park options
On the coast Canunda National Park, stretches for 40km. It offers limestone cliffs, massive sand dunes, foaming surf beaches and a fresh-water lake.
It is just 15km from Millicent, a pastoral and timber town on the Princes Highway central to Tantanoola Caves. The caves have access for people with disabilities.
The Living History Museum in the Millicent Tourist Complex offers an extensive collection of horse drawn vehicles, a maritime room, a T-class locomotive, farm machinery, Aboriginal ice age cave art and history of the drainage of the region.
More to Mount Gambier than a lake
In Mount Gambier, take a guided tour down to the famous volcanic crater lake which turns a startling cobalt blue each November.
For travellers on the Princes Highway, Mt Gambier is not just the Blue Lake; it also offers some of Australia's most interesting attractions as well as being South Australia’s largest regional centre.
Centrally located between Melbourne and Adelaide, the city of more than 28,000 people has many quality motels, hotels and caravan parks welcoming travellers.
The award winning Lady Nelson Visitor Information Centre is an excellent starting point for visitors.
Its displays provide an insight into the 1800s, through the "impressions" of Lieutenant James Grant who first sighted the area from his tiny brig the Lady Nelson.
A scale replica of the brig stands outside the centre.
Port MacDonnell Adam Lindsay Gordon's cottage
The quality of local produce is reflected in restaurant menus that offer crayfish from Robe, Beachport and Port MacDonnell, wines from the Limestone Coast and meats and cheese produced from lush local pastures.
Mt Gambier is committed to heritage and the establishment of public gardens.
Commercial Street, Mount Gambier’s main street, boasts classic architecture in buildings like the Old Town Hall while the Cave Gardens in the heart of the city is a beautiful place to spend time.
The Crater Lakes precinct that incorporates volcanic craters like the famous Blue Lake are essential viewing for visitors. Take the walk to the peak of Mount Gambier and have a chat to the “man in the tower’ who can supply you with binoculars to take in the views.
The Valley Lake Wildlife Sancturary provides an excellent environment to stroll around the lakes edge. Kangaroos, koalas and emu and other native birdlife are always in the area.
Umpherston Sinkhole, on the east side of town , is a striking sight by day and a place to feed possums at night.
Places to stay:
Limestone Coast Tourist Park is located just off the Jubilee highway coming into Mount Gambier. The park is on a hill which is terraced at several levels to give magnificent views over the town. All sites are grassed and have their own ensuite bathroom. The park also has well equipped and comfortable family cabins and motel type units.
Pets are welcome and there is a large area at the top of the park where you can exercise your dog.
Mount Gambier Central Caravan Park is located right in the heart of the shopping precinct on both sides of Krummel street, and so is very popular with overseas tourists. The park offers excellent cabins and spacious sites for motorhomes.
The Big4 Blue Lake Holiday Park is located right at the magnificent Blue Lake, with excellent accommodation and facilities.
Things to see and do:
The famous Umpherston Sink Hole is just up the road towards the town, and is well worth a visit. Also known, as The Sunken Garden this was once a cave formed through dissolution of the limestone. The sinkhole was created when the top of the chamber collapsed downwards. Now the topsoil down on the floor of the cave forms the perfect environment for the sunken garden. Umpherston Sinkhole is open at all times and from dusk each evening the area comes alive with possums as they venture into the floodlit gardens to feed..
A visit to the Limestone Coast would not be complete without exploring the magnificent Caves.
The Princess Margaret Rose Cave is one of the most spectacular limestone caves in Australia and features an array of semi-translucent and back lit stalagmites and stalactites up to six metres long. You can drive to the caves, or Glenelg River Cruises in Nelson offer a leisurely cruise on the magnificent Glenelg River. They offer an optional Princess Margaret Rose Cave tour.
Days of operation vary seasonally so it is best to check in advance with the Nelson Visitors Centre on 08 8738 4051.
Engelbrecht Cave Tour (from Mt Gambier tourism). This huge complex of limestone caves under the city was first explored around 1884. Cave divers who have undertaken intense training regularly explore this site and have provided maps showing the extent of this underground cave system.
45 minute guided tours, take visitors down into two of the chambers where divers enter the water to dive under the city. See how caves are formed and how the underground water filters through the tour down into two of the chambers where the divers enter the water to dive under the city. Watch a short video on cave diving. Ph: 08 8723 5552
When shopping in the Limestone Coast and SA, you will need to bring your own shopping bags, or be prepared to purchase them at point of sale, as supermarkets and shops no longer provide plastic or other bags of any kind free of charge.
Coorong – where the pelican nests
A guided tour of Coorong National Park will help visitors identify the many shore bird species that migrate to shallow, linked lagoons that lie behind sand dunes, sheltered from South Ocean breakers.
The biggest breeding colony of Australian pelican nests in the Coorong, which stretches 145km from the mouth of the River Murray to just north of Kingston.
The 47,000-hectare park is home to about 90 species of waterbirds and shore birds, 21 species of seabirds, 33 species of birds that migrate annually from Siberia, Japan and China and 14 protected species.
Visitors can camp, canoe, sail, walking, 4WD or fish for mulloway, flounder, salmon and bream. A camping permit is required. Information on Aboriginal heritage is available through Camp Coorong, south of Meningie, from the Ngarrindjeri people.
Poltalloch Homestead, an 1876 Victorian historic mansion, located 37km south of Tailem Bend, still operates as a farming property, and is a well-known B&B with wonderful bird watching and other nature activities.
Tailem Bend on the Murray
Tailem Bend, on the Murray River, is often referred to as the northern gateway to the Limestone Coast. Originally a sheep run with railway marshalling yards, the town is now known as a popular tourist stopover. The pioneer village ‘Old Tailem Town’, just north of the town, is a must-see.
Must see and do
Suggested by Limestone Coast Tourism
World heritage listed Naracoorte Caves and other underground secrets at Tantanoola and Princess Margaret Rose Caves, about 18km south of Rennick on the Victorian side of the border. Princess Margaret Rose Caves tours start from 10 am Victorian time. There is also a sealed route from Mount Gambier via Main Rd.
Mount Gambier’s mysterious Blue Lake.
The Wonambi Fossil Centre at Naracoorte.
Aboriginal midden heaps in the Coorong National Park.
Bool Lagoon and the Coorong - both havens for migratory birds and home to a large number of native birds.
The Sheep’s Back Museum, Naracoorte, and Millicent Museum.
Padthaway – the centre of one of Australia’s premium wine areas.
Elegant mansions, old station homesteads, colonial and federation buildings and pioneer cottages.
Buy a fresh lobster straight off the boat at one of the region’s coastal ports.
Try superb wines grown in the terra rossa soil of Coonawarra or one of the other cellar doors of Mt Benson, Mount Gambier, Wrattonbully or Padthaway.
Australia’s only known colony of white kangaroos can be found at Bordertown.
Editor’s Note: GoSeeAustralia thanks Limestone Coast Tourism for their assistance with words and pictures for this feature.
For more information
contact: Garth Morrison
Editor Go See Australia Directory
Phone: 02 6294 1941
Fax: 02 6284 9275
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