Mt Gambier, regional centre of the Limestone Coast in South Australia and second largest city in the state, is a unique holiday destination if ever there was one. It is set in an ancient volcanic landscape of lakes, sinkholes, underground waterways and other amazing limestone features which provides ample fodder for a driving holiday through the region. You dont have to travel far from Mt Gambier to see these limestone wonders, in fact the city is built on top of a large tract of limestone that extends out to the sea so caves and sinkholes are present even in the city centre! The mountain from which it takes its name, Mt Gambier, is in fact Australia's youngest volcano and the volcanic activity over time helped form the geological features of the region.
The attraction that really pulls in the tourists and gets people talking is the awe-inspiring Blue Lake. One of three lakes that make up the Mt Gambier Crater Lakes complex (the others are Valley Lake and Leg of Mutton Lake), Blue Lake lives up to its name in late November, when its water turn a dazzling turquoise blue- the result of a chemical equation and the refraction of light. This is an amazing wonder of nature that has to be seen to be believed- it is particularly impressive on a sunny day. The lake fills the crater of Mt Gambier volcano, and is 1 kilometre wide at the widest point. There is a 4 kilometre long road and walking track that goes around its circumference that will take you to the best lookouts and viewing points on the banks of the lake. You are also able to go down the original dolomite well shaft where water used to be draws from in the early days. This is done in a glass panelled lift which gives impressive all round views as you descend and ascend.
Another attraction within the town is the Umpherston Sinkhole. This was once an underground cave, but the top caved in and left a large depression. It 1886 James Umpherston converted it into a lush garden, which over time has been looked after and added to to become the attraction it is today. Floodlit at night, large numbers of possums come out and feed, to the delight of watching visitors.
Beneath the city lies a huge complex of limestone caves that promise adventure and discovery for experienced scuba divers. They enter the water in one of two chambers within Engelbrecht Cave, and from there head off to explore the underground system- a system they have been succesful in mapping over the years. Those of us who cannot dive will have to make do with a 45 minute tour of Engelbrecht Cave, where you can view the underground water that in about five hundred years will have filtered through to the ocean.
Further inland from Mt Gambier lies another impressive cave system, one that has made its way onto the World Heritage List- the only place in South Australia to do so. Naracoorte Caves National Park consists of 26 caves that have formed in the malleable limestone landscape, each containing dazzling displays of stalagmites and stalactites. Over time these caves have acted as pitfall traps, and any unfortunate animals that wandered too close have fallen in to their deaths. This has been happening for 500 000 years, and as a result the in the caves was preserved one of the most comprehensive fossil records we have ever found, containing important clues to the evolutionary history of Australia. It is this fact which led to the caves being placed on the World Heritage List.
One of the caves here is home to the endangered Southern Bent-winged Bat- in fact thousands of the little creatures return in spring each year to raise their young here. Modern technology has allowed us to witness this spectacle without getting in the way of the bats- infra red cameras video the bats and transfer the images to an observation room where humans observe them on screens. This alone is a sight worth making the drive to Naracoorte for.
So with so many geological attractions in and around Mt Gambier you wont run out of ideas on places to visit. The city itself is small and friendly, with that hospitable 'country town' feel to it, and there is a myriad of accommodation options available. The shopping facilities are renowned as being very classy, and there is a rich sense of culture and heritage in the architecture, buildings and the society of Mt Gambier. Remember that a hire car will give you the freedom to explore the region to your hearts content!
Gavin Wyatt is a journalist with a passion for travel. originally from Zambia he has traveled around the world to end up on the sunny shores of Australia. For more of his articles visit South Australian Car Hire