Spread out on the slopes of a dormant volcano on South Australia’s spectacular Limestone Coast, the small city of Mount Gambier is blowing up in all the right ways.
There’s no other place in Australia where you can swim in electric-blue natural sinkholes, wander sunken gardens, then explore one of the best wine regions in the world and a hip cafe and food scene all in one easy-paced long weekend. Here is what to see and where to eat, stay and wander…
Touch down on Friday evening and enjoy some well deserved rest. Start the next day bright and early and get your first caffeine hit at Bricks & Mortar, where the industrial-chic fit-out includes a large roaster that provides beans for some of the coast’s feistiest espresso, batch brew and pour-over coffees. Are sweets more your style? Get your day-starting sugar hit at ScRoll Queen, where the fluffy cinnamon rolls are the stuff dreams are made of.
Now you’re fired up, the best introduction to the natural splendours of Mount Gambier is a stroll around the lush sunken garden of the Umpherston Sinkhole. If you visit at dusk, watch for the local colony of possums that takes over the hydrangeas and tree ferns.
Continue your deep dive into the volcanic wonders that hide among pastures around town: the Little Blue Lake is a nature-made water park where whoops of joy fill the air as locals plunge into the cobalt blue water of a dramatic sinkhole ringed by eight-metre-high cliffs. The picture is more serene at Kilsby Sinkhole where you can snorkel above the entrances to a cathedral-like cavern or follow beams of sunlight on a guided scuba dive into the depths.
“The water’s so clear it feels like you’re diving in air — visibility can be 100 metres. There’s nowhere else in Australia like it,” says Dive Experience owner Darren Mitchell.
And you’re still only a 10-minute drive from the heart of Mount Gambier so it's time to hire a free bike from the Riddoch Arts and Cultural Centre and explore the heritage architecture around town before heading back. For dinner, the sleek Tasting Room at Mayura Station farm plates up four indulgent courses highlighting different cuts of the exquisitely marbled wagyu beef raised onsite. Even one would be worth the 40-minute drive into pasturelands.
If you’re here in May or June, pit stop on the drive back to town from dinner to join Walk The Limestone Coast on a journey into the magical Mushroom Lane of Glencoe. In this hidden patch of pine forest lie strange bioluminescent fungi that light up the dark with an eerie green glow.
Where to stay
It’s smack in the centre of town but you’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time at Delgattie Estate, a sprawling manor filled with heritage touches including leadlight windows and clawfoot bathtubs. Each of the three suites has its own sitting room, while the second storey billiard room opens out onto a roomy deck.
After brekkie at Limestone Coast Pantry, a scenic 35-minute drive from town brings you to Coonawarra wine country, land of prized reds and idyllic vine views. “With so many family run businesses, you can be sipping on a cabernet while talking to a fourth-generation winemaker,” says Simon Meares, who leads tours of the region with Coonawarra Experiences. “And because there are 20 cellar doors within a 15-minute drive, everything is at your fingertips once you arrive.”
This region’s famously unique terra rossa soil produces reds that are cellared and celebrated the world over and silky cabernet is undoubtedly the hero.
You’ll find some of the finest expressions at Wynns Coonawarra Estate’s pretty triple-gabled cellar door. DiGiorgio Family Wines adds spicy Mediterranean varietals such as montepulciano and tempranillo into the mix at their welcoming cellar door. The aromatic sauvignon blanc and oaked pinot gris at Raidis show the region’s versatility.
Fresh air makes you hungry? At Ottelia, sharing plates and woodfired pizzas are dressed with herbs and vegetables grown in a lovingly tended kitchen garden.
For something more swish, head to Upstairs at Hollick Estate for sumptuous mod Oz dishes like 36 Degrees South eye fillet with confit garlic potato mach, roast beets and mushroom truffle. Don’t miss the elegant cabernet drawn from the 40-year-old vines just below the restaurant.
Back in Mount Gambier if you still need dinner, top-shelf wines from around the world fill Barn Steakhouse’s 750-bottle cellar and tender cuts of local beef are aged for up to 120 days to concentrate flavour before being grilled over glowing mallee coals.