So you’ve convinced your tweens to take a holiday with you. Go you!
After all the eye-rolling and separation anxiety about those lost hours on the PlayStation, you’re finally ready to pull out of the garage for that epic family road trip. Then it dawns on you… How to keep them entertained for the next week?
Truth is, as the kids get older, hitting the road comes with a few speed bumps, and while the flash and dazzle of theme parks might be enough to divert their attention for a nanosecond (okay, maybe less), you’ve got other priorities… Perhaps a healthy dose of fresh air, a bit of nature, some decent food and wine, and, God forbid… maybe even some culture.
The good news is the Limestone Coast has plenty of options to keep the whole fam-bam happy. Here’s our tips for keeping your tweenies and teenies entertained on your next holiday.
Keep them fed.
First up, food… Let’s face it, our kids’ appetite for technology is only surpassed by whatever’s in the fridge, and with growing bodies and minds this is one thing you need to get right for everyone’s sanity. Luckily, there’s a swathe of amazing country pubs and bakeries across the region that not only dish up hearty (read: big) meals, but can also sweeten the deal with some seriously sugary bribes when the pressure’s really on.
Check out Scroll Queen in Mount Gambier to load up on deliciously carby and delectable scrolls, with flavours including anything from classic Cinnamon to Tim Tam, Mint Slice, Oreo, Reece's Peanut Butter and Salted Rosemary and Cheese.
In Beachport, call into The Lobster Pot, where this town’s famous local crustaceans are either fresh-cooked, live, snap frozen or made into something else equally delicious. Try the Build-Your-Own Lobster sandwich or Lobster Picnic Box for a take-away option with a difference.
In nearby Robe, you’ll also want to ‘do as the Robans do’ and visit Sky Seafoods for a hefty haul of seafood, including the best fish and chips in town, or grab a takeaway pizza from Olive's Robe. More on our best seafood experiences here!
Sure, there’s nothing tougher to budge than a teen with a full tummy. But after all those sugary and carb-laden treats they’ll need to burn off steam somehow! Here’s a few ideas to get their engines running smoothly.
Pedal to the metal.
Both Robe and Mount Gambier are a cyclist’s paradise, and with a labyrinth of MTB trails to explore there’s really something for everyone – from sleepy Sunday riders to downhill daredevils.
Tracx Robe Adventure Tours offer customized guided MTB tours for all fitness levels across the area’s spectacular coastline and bush land, with 1.5-2hr tours that are long enough to take in some of the most iconic beaches and landmarks, but short enough to hold your kids’ attention. Expect knowledgeable guides, quality bikes and all the trimmings including helmets, gloves, and even a take-home drink bottle, with plenty of Instagrammable stops along the way.
If taking a tour isn’t your bag, you can also go your own way and hire a bike before hitting the trails around beautiful Beacon Hill, which also delivers some of the best views in town.
In cycle-mad Mount Gambier, you’ll be spoiled for choice, with a Red Bull Pump Track in the heart of town, as well as some fantastic MTB loops in and around the Crater Lakes precinct. Start your adventures at Mark’s Lookout, where you’ll make best use of gravity with a cruisy ride that’s mostly downhill. There’s also a range of other moderate trails that are well signed and worth a pedal, while adrenaline junkies can try the black runs to really get their blood pumping (not for the faint-hearted, Daddio).
Hit the waves in Robe with Charlie’s Surf School’s learn to surf lessons, held every day in summer.
Not only do they supply all the gear, including wetsuits, they’ll also leave your grommets beaming from ear to ear after hanging ten with the best in the business.
You’ll also find a number of safe beaches suitable for boogie boarding, with gentle waves and sandy bottoms. Try Long Beach in Robe and Surf Beach in Beachport if you're in town.
Also in Beachport, Stillwater Paddleboards offer SUP fun for the whole family, either in scheduled group sessions, guided tours or one-on-one. If anyone’s doubting their abilities, fear not... Nearly everyone on their Learn to SUP class stands upright within the first 10-15 minutes, making for a cruisy day on the water. The nearby Beachport Conservation Park is also chock-full of towering sand dunes that are perfect for four-wheel-driving and sandboarding.
Keen anglers will find superb fishing all along our coastline, with over 400 kilometres of Southern Ocean frontage delivering some of the best hauls in the country. Some of the best catches can be found off the boat ramps and jetties of Cape Jaffa, Beachport and Port MacDonnell with Donovan’s Landing on the Glenelg River another hotspot.
Depending on the season you can expect to pull in anything from Tuna and Albacore to Snapper, sharks Ling, Trevalla and more. With ‘Port Mac’ being home to South Australia’s largest lobster fishing fleet, you might also try pulling up a pot for an extra special prize.
Or if you'd prefer to just cruise on the water without getting your hands dirty, Limestone Coast Boat Tours in Robe is the ultimate adventure experience. These tours cover everything from spotting sea lions and dolphins, to learning the history of the Cape Jaffa and Robe coastlines and even include a touch of high-speed action. It's a win for the entire family.
Hit the trail.
Of course, nothing’s cooler than peering into an ancient volcano, and while you’re in ‘The Mount’ taking a stroll around the legendary Blue Lake/Warwar (at its bluest Nov-Mar) is an absolute must, while nearby Mount Schank has a fantastic 2-kilometre trail around the crater with awesome views of Mount Gambier. Follow the signposts from the car park to the top of the cone via a series of limestone steps that make this walk totally do-able for all ages.
The Insta-famous Umpherston Sinkhole/Balumbul will have your kids reaching for their smartphones quicker than that sticky bun back at the bakery. Our tip: keep the details on the down-low (we can already hear the whining) before watching their jaws drop at the bottom. Stick around until Sun-down and they’ll also meet the locals, with possums emerging daily at dusk.
In winter, don’t miss a walk down Ghost Mushroom Lane. From May to June, you’ll find an army of fluorescent funghi littered through Glencoe Forest, with a free self-guided forest trail for all ages. Remember to wear sturdy shoes, and switch off your torch to let your eyes adjust before taking in the show.
Keep it fresh.
Please see park closures and alerts before planning your visit.
Away from the sand and surf, the Limestone Coast is well known for its freshwater lakes and sinkholes, and you’ll find some excellent options for a subterranean swim.
Ewens Ponds Conservation Park is one of the best freshwater dive sites in the nation with a series of three large springs delivering unbelievable clarity and colour. Book a one-hour snorkelling slot via National Parks South Australia before donning a wetsuit and dive gear at Allendale East General Store and Dive Shop (allow a few hours prior) before slipping into the water. Not only will you find underwater plants here that don’t grow anywhere else in the world, you’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for the elusive Ewens Pygmy Perch.
The crystal blue depths of Kilsby Sinkhole are always more than meets the eye. On a sunny day you’ll also find phenomenal water clarity as stunning light pierces the abyss, deep under soils of a working sheep farm.
The only site of its kind in Australia that welcomes snorkellers under the supervision of qualified guides (13yrs +), this giant chasm descends 65 metres and is bound to get your tribe talking all the way back home. Oh, and parents… grab a bottle of the Kilsby Sinkhole Gin while you’re in town! You’re welcome.
Just south of Mount Gambier, the Insta-famous Little Blue Lake is where all the cool kids hang out, and in the peak of summer you’ll find its cool waters (12C year-round) are about the perfect spot to beat the heat. At 40 metres wide and ringed by cliffs on all sides, taking the stairs into this cool little cauldron for a big bomb off the floating pontoon is a must. For the less-confident (or those that feel the cold), BYO wetsuit or lifejacket!
If all that sounds like a little too much hard work, perhaps a lazy day by the pool is more your (or their) thing. Plonk down your towels at Naracoorte Swimming Lake (1 Dec - 31 Mar) to dangle your toes or graze on the grass, with picnics and pool toys a must.
Cross the border by kayak.
If your crew are up for an interstate adventure, book a one-way vessel from Nelson Canoe Hire to paddle your way from Victoria into South Australia along the Glenelg River.
This estuarine beauty encompasses the Lower Glenelg National Park, straddling inland wilderness and the Southern Ocean downstream.
Home to a cacophony of birds, rich bushland and towering limestone cliffs, you’ll also find the tiny town of Donovans is a paddle back in time, with an eclectic collection of shacks spanning several generations.
Find ancient fossils (not you, Boomer).
There’s nothing like walking into a giant World Heritage-Listed cave to quell that road trip riot. The Naracoorte Caves have been dropping jaws for generations, and if the stalactites and stalagmites aren’t already cool enough, this ancient predator den is also littered with skeletons of 500,000 year-old megafauna (think: giant kangaroos, enormous wombat-like Diprotodons and marsupial lions).
A one-hour guided tour of Victoria Cave is a must, with Blanche Cave and The Bat Tour (a.k.a. The Bat Cave) giving a sneak-peek of its southern bent-wing bat population. For those after an unguided adventure, Stick-Tomato Cave is a great introduction to adventure caving with automated lights and two mysterious chambers to explore, and some fun little (optional) squeezes and challenges to try at your leisure.
Back in Mount Gambier, Engelbrecht Cave offers a fascinating glimpse into the subterranean world beneath the streets, with guided tours between two stunning caverns lasting between 45 to 60 minutes. Tours run on the hour, with times varying by season, while the café has a range of toasties, sweets, coffee and shakes to refuel between stops.
Cue the culture.
You’ve endured their incessant whining about homework, so a visit to Mary MacKillop Centre and Petticoat Lane in Penola is a handy reminder of just how good they’ve got it! Having been canonised in 2010, ‘Saint Mary of the Cross’ MacKillop forged her legacy of childhood education right here in the Schoolhouse, and from humble beginnings in the 1860’s her legend lives on today with the historic (and tiny!) timber and stone cottages of Petticoat Lane seemingly frozen in time.
If our pioneering past isn’t enough to float your brood’s boat, hop on board with Ken Jones’ Bush Repair Tours in Port MacDonnell for his two-hour Forage on the Coast excursion to dig deep on the local Boandik people’s language, stories and culture. Along the way Ken will also share his First Nations knowledge of bush foods, in nature’s very own supermarket.
Wine time. God knows you need it (especially with a full tribe in tow), but what’s the point if they’re in your ear the whole time? Thank goodness there’s a barrel-load of great wineries with spacious grass, outdoor games and picnic facilities to help you wine-down without the worries.
In the Coonawarra, try the ultra-roomy Raidis Estate for all forms of outdoor and indoor entertainment, while the big windows at Balnaves of Coonawarra are a prime spot to watch the kids run ragged on the grassed area outside. With an extensive produce garden and friendly farm animals, Bellwether Wines is always a hit, while the famed Brand’s Laira offers both outdoor fun and a picnic and BBQ area for good measure.
In Robe, take the opportunity to swirl without squabbles at Woodsoak Wines, where you can chill over Connect 4 or Backgammon with the kids, or fuel your competitive spirit in a Giant Jenga contest.
For more information on where to go with the family in-tow, check our our Best Scenic Drives on the Limestone Coast article.