Blessed with geological marvels such as sinkholes and jewel-like crater lakes, Mount Gambier is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway, according to local Kim Simpson.
Along with her husband Charlie, Kim has run Avis at Mount Gambier Airport for 24 years and she can’t believe her luck. “Mount Gambier’s magnificent Blue Lake still amazes me when I drive past it,” she says. “You need at least a long weekend to see and do everything in Mount Gambier and its surrounds, from the Coonawarra wine region to the Shipwreck Coast.”
With so many things to see in the Mount Gambier region, you’ll want to set your own pace. Hire a car from Avis and you can make it up as you go along. Settle into a comfortable recent-model car, connect your smartphone to play your road-trip playlist, and switch to holiday-mode. Plus, you'll find Avis in the arrivals hall at Mount Gambier airport, making it fast and easy to fly in, pick-up your keys and head off at your own pace.
Here, Kim shares her top tips for exploring the region.
See and do
Frolic in an enchanting garden
Mount Gambier has more than 50 sinkholes but its most spectacular is Umpherston Sinkhole/Balumbul, in the heart of the city. Once a cave, its roof fell inwards, creating a limestone crater 20 metres deep and 50 metres across.
In 1886, farmer James Umpherston created a fairytale garden within the crater and now, amid curtains of hanging ivy, outstretched ferns and blooming agapanthus and hydrangeas, there are barbecue facilities, sheltered picnic areas and paved pathways to stroll along.
Hike around a local gem
Blue Lake/Warwar, located on the edge of town, is thought to be 75 metres deep and more than 1000 metres long, and is named for the brilliant cerulean hue it turns during the summer months – the reason for which is still a matter of conjecture among scientists. This calm expanse supplies Mount Gambier’s water, so swimming and sailing is forbidden, but the 3.6-kilometre Blue Lake Circuit walk is an excellent way to see it.
Take a dip in a sinkhole
There are plenty of opportunities for sinkhole paddling. Kim says locals love Little Blue Lake, a swimming hole that’s 25 metres deep at its shallowest and surrounded by eight-metre-high walls, located within a paddock in the Kanawinka volcanic area. There are stairs and a pontoon for easy access to the pristine water.
Drive south to the Shipwreck Coast
“Port MacDonnell is the southernmost town in South Australia and the journey there will take you through the stunning scenery of the Shipwreck Coast,” says Kim. The sleepy fishing village, 20 minutes’ drive south of Mount Gambier, comes alive during lobster season from October to May.
She recommends sitting on the waterfront with a crayfish pizza from The Bay Pizzaria & Cafe, sticky date hotcakes with a view of the breakwater from Tide Espresso, or grilled southern rock lobster with garlic butter while watching the lobster fishing fleet at Periwinkles Cafe.
A grand country manor dating to 1902, Delgattie Estate is now Mount Gambier’s finest boutique hotel. Open to guests since 2020, Delgattie’s accommodation comprises just three guest suites, each with its own sitting area and private entrance. Earmark the Frew Suite, with its cosy fireplace, antique decor, sunny sitting room and views of Frew Park. All rooms come with Bose speakers, Appelles Apothecary Lab toiletries, a minibar stacked with local wine and snacks, as well as a Nespresso machine.
Amid acres of English-style gardens, The Barn offers a variety of rooms, from the luxurious Premier King Suite with Spa, which includes a private patio, to the self-contained family-sized cabin-style Apartment with Two Bedrooms. Onsite is the popular Barn Steakhouse as well as a tennis court, fitness centre and Piano Bar.
A country style B‘n’B, Colhurst House is an 1878 mansion transformed into plush guest suites. It’s mere steps from the centre of town but is a world unto itself, with manicured gardens, original fireplaces and an ornate staircase. There are four suites to choose from with the Tartan Suite coming with a clawfoot tub, verandah and panoramic views.
Blue Fin Holiday Homes
Kim’s very own Blue Fin Holiday Homes are an excellent choice for families to stay in Port MacDonnell. “We have three houses down there for guests,” she says. Horizons, right on the beachfront, offers views over the water from the open-plan kitchen/living area, and sleeps up to 11 in four bedrooms.
Eat and Drink
Explore the Coonawarra
Take a daytrip to the Coonawarra, just a 45 minute drive from Mount Gambier. It’s a compact region – 20 kilometres long and two kilometres wide – but there are more than 24 wineries where cellar doors, restaurants and big, bold reds await.
Join the Coonawarra Wineries Walking Trail, an easy five-kilometre stroll that swings through six wineries, including Brand’s Laira, Ottelia (stop here for lunch – the Italian-style menu changes daily but expect the fruits of the region: blue swimmer crab, local fish and produce from the kitchen garden) and Wynns Coonawarra Estate.
On the return journey to Mount Gambier, visit Koonara Wines’ cellar door in Penola to taste the family-run winery’s organic, small-batch wines such as A Song For Alice Riesling (just 120 bottles were made) and The Head Honcho Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon (1200 bottles).
Sample fine steaks
Book a four-course set menu based on magnificent Wagyu cuts at Mayura Station’s The Tasting Room, located on the farm at Millicent, about 45 minutes’ drive from Mount Gambier, for a true paddock-to-plate experience.
…and more steaks
The Barn Steakhouse is a local favourite for its perfectly cooked steaks, which come from the owners’ own herd of Hereford cattle. The meat is aged in-house and the vegie-based accompaniments come from the restaurant’s kitchen gardens.
“My favourite thing to order is filet mignon,” says Kim. “They do it the old-fashioned way, with the crouton beneath the filet to soak up all the butter.”
The wine list is equally impressive, a 750-bottle strong ode to the Limestone Coast’s best drops.
Drink coffee like a local
“Mount Gambier is like little Melbourne,” says Kim. “There’s a coffee shop on every corner, but Metro Bakery & Cafe on the main street is a standout for coffee, Italian-style cakes and artisan bread.”
Make sure not to miss…
“Just outside Mount Gambier, on the way to Port MacDonnell, there’s a little place called Badenoch’s Deli,” says Kim. “It's been there forever. It prides itself on giving customers the best and biggest ice-creams in the region.”
If that isn’t enticing enough, right next door is the Scroll Queen. This pastry-maker is famous for its variety of delicious scrolls, from coffee-walnut to Tim Tam.
Book your car hire with Avis to explore Mount Gambier today. Plus, you’ll earn double Qantas Points – that’s 8 points per $1 spent – when you book a car before 1 January 2024, for travel in 2024. Visit qantas.com/avis
You must be a member of the Qantas Frequent Flyer program to earn Qantas Points. A joining fee may apply. Membership and points are subject to the Qantas Frequent Flyer program Terms and Conditions.
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