The guided adventures on offer in the Limestone Coast give a fascinating insight into the area’s unique landscape. But it all depends how far you want to step – or crawl – out of your comfort zone.
Adventure caving deep underground at the World Heritage-listed Naracoorte Caves isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it’s the best way to experience this ancient time capsule of stalactites, stalagmites and precious fossils. “Some of our caves are quite squeezy in sections, and you need to tilt your head to the side and try to get as flat as you can,” advises site manager Thomas Shortt. “But it’s worth the effort as the caves are pretty spectacular.”
Mount Gambier’s iconic Blue Lake / Warwar offers a different window into the region’s geological past. Take a guided tour down the original well shaft in a glass-panelled lift to get a closer view of the limestone-filtered water before embarking on a 3.6-kilometre walk or jog around the crater rim. The cobalt water looks inviting, but as the regional city’s chief water supply, it’s a no-go zone for swimmers.
Scuba divers can explore the secret tunnels of Engelbrecht Cave, carefully weaving their way through a dazzling maze beneath Mount Gambier’s streets. Local company Dive Experience also offers a guided scuba dive in the privately-operated Kilsby Sinkhole located 15 kilometres south-west of the city. The 70-metre-deep chasm situated in the middle of a paddock on a working sheep farm is rated among the world’s best dive sites.
“The water clarity is exceptional and cave divers say it’s the closest thing to flying because it just feels like you’re suspended in air,” says owner Graham Kilsby. It’s also the perfect spot for novice snorkelers, with supervised sessions in the spectacular open lake section available for groups of up to eight. You can taste the famous Sinkhole Gin after you take the plunge, and soon you’ll be able to stay on-site, with four self-contained cabins due to open early next year.
At nearby Mount Schank, you’ll find more one-of-a-kind accommodation at the foot of the dormant volcano. The owners of eco-estate Mountain Path Meadows have constructed SA’s first timber geodesic dome, a unique spherical retreat situated on ancient lava flows that offers sweeping views of the starlit sky and surrounding woodland. A second larger communal geodome that sleeps 6-8 will also welcome guests from January 2023. “Our eco-friendly, off-grid experience gives adventurous wanderers the chance to reconnect with nature, disconnect from the hustle of everyday life, and enjoy a restorative retreat,” says owner and host Rachel Gerds.
Mount Schank itself makes for a fascinating hike; scale several hundred steps to enjoy sweeping 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape with its rich patchwork of fertile paddocks and the ocean beyond. A basic trail traces the rim of the crater and descends deep within the landmark that last erupted around 5000 years ago. Walk the Limestone Coast guide Natasha Dawson says the climb is one of the highlights of her multi-day group walking tours. “It’s steep, but it’s short and really rewarding – and the seated rest stops along the way mean that you can bite it off in chunks,” she says.
Continuing south to the coast, Port MacDonnell is widely referred to as the nation’s rock lobster capital but it’s also a sport fishing mecca that lures anglers from around the nation. The family-owned Port MacDonnell Fishing Charters knows all the good spots, with one passenger recently landing a 135kg southern blue fin tuna. Captain Jason Fulham also takes bird watchers 30km out to the continental shelf for pelagic tours. “On most trips we see around 20 species of birds, ranging from the wandering albatross with its enormous three metre-plus wingspan to small Wilson’s storm petrels, and there’s also different types of birds at different times of the year,” he says.
Back on dry land, trained ecologist Abigail Goodman invites small groups to ‘connect to the joy of nature’ on a South East Safari walking tour. The gentle meander through critical habitats like Bool Lagoon and the Coorong uncovers fascinating facts and stories about the wildlife spotted along the way, from the elusive Australasian bittern to the migratory waders that swoop in from Siberia.
For a shot of adrenalin, you can take the track less travelled on a guided mountain bike tour of the rugged Robe coastline. From photo opportunities at the iconic obelisk to afternoon tea stops, Tracx tours are the perfect way to experience this popular coastal village voted SA’s best small tourism town in 2021. If you’d rather kick back and let someone else do the hard work, Billy Bob’s 4×4 Tours take in the sandy dunes and lagoons of Little Dip Conservation Park and the sheltered bays of Nora Creina. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a wombat or two – the local guides know all the secret spots.
Where to refuel
After a big day of adventuring, try these exciting new (and new-look) Mount Gambier eateries: Little Rippa Brewery and Wood Fire Restaurant recently started pouring its small-batch beers at this family-friendly venue on the city’s outskirts at Yahl. Groovy bar and restaurant Noky is now open at The Henty. The Presidential has had an ultra-glam restaurant revamp, serving an authentic taste of the Limestone Coast with seriously good food and an extensive regional wine list. The historic Globe Hotel has reopened its doors; in addition to offering a bar, bistro and beer garden, it’s the city’s newest nightspot.
Want more to explore in South Australia? Check out camping and 4WDriving in Port Augusta.