Mount Gambier in South Australia is a very unique place to explore, with lots of great things to see and do here. It makes a really nice overnight stop and is a must-see for those doing a road trip between Adelaide and Melbourne or vice versa. Here you’ll find enchanting sunken gardens, a magnificently blue crater lake and an impressive underground world of caves! Read on to discover why Mount Gambier deserves to be on your Australia bucket list, as well as all the information you need to know about visiting Mount Gambier!
Mount Gambier is a small city sitting just on the south east corner of South Australia on the Southern Ocean Drive – one of South Australia’s most beautiful roads. It is roughly halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne (about 500km from either city) on The Limestone Coast. Mount Gambier is actually the second biggest city in South Australia after Adelaide. This may make it sound like a big place, but bear in mind this is Australia and apart from the main capital cities of each state, Australian cities are actually quite small. With around 30,000 residents, Mount Gambier felt more like a town to me. It had so much to offer though and I’m so glad we stopped off here!
Adelaide to Melbourne Itinerary Summary
I advise to do the drive between Adelaide and Melbourne in 4 days, stopping overnight in the areas of Coorong National Park, Mount Gambier and Port Campbell on The Great Ocean Road. Whilst the Adelaide to Melbourne drive doesn’t look very far on a map, it still is a lot of driving (1,000km!) and there is a lot to see on the way. Mount Gambier should definitely be one of your stops as the scenery here is very different compared to what you will see on the rest of your Melbourne Adelaide roadtrip.
THINGS TO DO IN MOUNT GAMBIER
Mount Gambier is actually located on top of the extinct Mount Gambier volcano – one of Australia’s youngest volcanoes. There are lots of things to do here in Mount Gambier and I would allocate one day to see the sights here. Mount Gambier has lots of very unique things to visit specific to this area as the land is based on soft limestone, which means caves and sinkholes can easily develop here.
What is great about all the tourist attractions in Mount Gambier is that they are very close to each other – all if them are only a few kilometres apart so you can reach all of the sights very quickly in a car.
The Blue Lake is a vibrantly blue lake that fills one of the extinct volcano craters. It is one of the most famous landmarks in South Australia and is considered the best thing to see in Mount Gambier! And for good reason – it is truly stunning and very unique! The warmer summer months (December – March) are the best time to visit the stunning Blue Lake as the water turns cobalt blue during this time. During the rest of the year the lake turns a dark grey colour – thought to be because of the cooler temperatures.
The lake was formed around 4,800 years ago by a volcanic eruption. This is actually considered very recent in geological terms! It is free to visit and you can access it any time of the day.
There are lots of lookouts around the lake and you can even walk the 3.6k around the rim of the lake if you wish! The lake is roughly 80 metres deep, although in parts it is over 200 metres deep!
You can walk up the Blue Lake Scenic View Tower (free) to see the lake from higher up too (see below pictures). Next to the tower there are some parking spots and you can cross over to the lake by going down through the underpass to get to a really good viewing platform of the lake (Blue Lake Lookout).
You can also do guides of the Blue Lake. You walk to the pumping station and then a lift takes you down an 80 metre tunnel, from which you can go onto a viewing platform of the lake.
Umpherston Sink hole
The Umpherston sink hole was my favourite place in Mount Gambier! I have never seen anything like it before. It is just so unique, enchanting and mesmerisingly pretty! The natural sinkhole was originally a limestone cave, but was created when the roof collapsed, thus forming a sinkhole. It was then decorated into a beautiful private sunken garden by James Umpherston in 1886 for his family. There was even a little lake at the bottom with a small boat in it. Many years later, after the sinkhole fell into disuse, it was restored to it’s former glory, just without the lake. The Umpherston Sinkhole can be compared to the cenotes in Mexico, just without any water in.
The sinkhole is very deep and you can look down from the top. However to really appreciate the beauty and magnitude of the sinkhole, take the stairs down to the bottom to walk amongst the garden. You can also walk behind the greenery that overhangs the sides. Stroll around, sit on the benches and relax. There are also some little caves on the side where you will often see possums coming for food if you’re here towards the end of the day.
Entrance is free and the gardens are open from dawn until dusk. There are lots of information boards around to provide you with more information to read about the history of the sink hole.
There is another Cave Garden also set inside a sinkhole in Mount Gambier. However if you are short on time I would miss this one out. Unlike the Umpherston Sinkhole you can’t go down into the gardens – you just look down onto them from above. They also aren’t as pretty – but they do have a light show in the evenings!
In the middle of a residential street in Mount Gambier lies Engelbrecht Cave. The cave goes underground for several hundred metres, under several streets and there are incredible formations here. Like the other tourist attractions listed above, Engelbrecht Cave is a popular place for tourists to visit when they are in Mount Gambier. You can however only visit as part of a tour.
Engelbrecht Cave is open 7 days a week from 9.30am to 3.30pm. Guided tours happen every hour from 10-3, starting on the hour and lasting 45 minutes. Entrance is $14.50 for adults and $8.50 for children.
You can also visit Tantanoola Caves, about 12km before you get to Mount Gambier if coming from Adelaide. The 8 metre high and 30 metre wide cave is covered in stalactites and is also a popular place to visit by guided tour.
Valley Lake is another crater lake very close to The Blue Lake, though not quite as impressive, deep or as vibrantly colourful. You can go to the waters edge, do water sports or have a picnic here.
For the best views over Mount Gambier head to Centenary Tower, built in 1904. Centenary Tower is within walking distance to Valley lake and you can climb to the top to get lovely panoramic views of Mount Gambier, the lakes and the countryside.
It costs to go to the top, and due to weather conditions the tower may not always be open. Typically it is open daily from 10.30am to 3.30pm, and if the flag is flying at the top it means the tower is open.
How to get around Mount Gambier
Car is the quickest and most convenient way to get around Mount Gambier. The sights aren’t too far apart from each other, just a few kilometres away from each other.
Where to stay in Mount Gambier
Mount Gambier Prison – stay in old converted jail cells. This is a really unique and historic place to stay! Click here to book!
Blue Lake Holiday Park – very close to The Blue Lake. You can hire caravans or villas here. Click here to book.
Blue Lake Motel – we stayed here and there were kitchen facilities in the room which was great! It was also in a super convenient location and a very decent price.
Continuing your journey from Mount Gambier:
The Great Ocean Road
If you will be continuing your drive from Mount Gambier towards Melbourne, you will drive along The Great Ocean Road – one of Australia’s greatest coastal drives. The start of The Great Ocean Road is in Allansford, about a 200km drive east of Mount Gambier. Click here to discover all the must see places along The Great Ocean Road!
Coorong National Park
If you will be coming to Mount Gambier from Melbourne direction, make sure to visit Coorong National Park on your way to Adelaide. The Coorong National Park is full of sand dunes and impressive salt lakes!
Princes Highway is the main road going through Mount Gambier. Try to avoid driving along it one hour before and after sunrise and sunset. This is important as this is when kangaroos are most likely to jump across the highway. If you do see a kangaroo, your natural instinct will be to put on the breaks. But this can actually do a lot more harm than good.
When you brake, the car bonnet naturally goes down. This can make it very easy for the kangaroo to just go straight through your windscreen. Many people have fatal accidents like this every year. If you see a kangaroo, just take your foot off the brake, that way a kangaroo should bounce off your bonnet if you do hit it, and it won’t go through your windscreen. Do not swerve as you could cause a serious accident, especially if there are other cars on the road. Please drive carefully if you have to drive during these times, but try to avoid it if possible (like the locals do!).
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