Ultimate Limestone Coast Roadtrip
Bowmans Scenic Drive, Beachport (Adam Bruzzone/SATC)

Ultimate Limestone Coast Roadtrip

Last Updated April 23, 2024

Phew. So the kids have finally left home...You’ve officially made new adults!

Now you’ve inherited an energetic posse of grandkids to keep you on your toes, and while ferrying them between sports practice and babysitting on weekends was (perhaps still is) the stuff of family dreams, your heart longs for those wide-open roads and a bit of good old-fashioned adventure.

You deserve a break, right? After a life spent working and procreating (hey, perhaps you still are?) those meat and three veg TV dinners are starting to get old and Pilates class on Tuesdays is about as crazy as life gets. It’s time to plan your great escape! Whether you’re dusting off that caravan or looking for some pampering, we're here to help you savour that fresh country air,  explore new horizons and feed your soul along the way. Here’s a few things to keep in mind for your next Limestone Coast sojourn…

When was the last time?

Remember that epic road trip you took as a kid? How long has it been since you last laid eyes on our most famous icons? Whether it’s a long-overdue refresher or something totally new, one thing’s certain – it’s not just you that’s stood the test of time…

Is the legendary Blue Lake/Warwar still blue? You bet! Some things never change, unless it’s by the season... If you’re in Mount Gambier from November to March, you’ll find the luminescent water inside this extinct volcano is just as vivid as ever! Taking a stroll around the rim is an absolute must (allow an hour to do the whole 4-kilometre trail).

Nearby, Engelbrecht Cave offers a fascinating glimpse into the subterranean world beneath streets of Mount Gambier, with guided tours between two stunning caverns lasting between 45 to 60 minutes. Tours run on the hour, with times varying by season, and if you need to rest your weary legs, it’s always worth hitting up the in-house café for a cuppa.

Of course, the spectacular Umpherston Sinkhole/Balumbul is still exactly that! Formed by millions of years’ limestone corrosion, this masterpiece of Mother Nature not only offers a sweet little sanctuary right in the heart of town, but is also home to a stunning flower display that’ll have your inner green thumb raving.

Out of ‘The Mount’ and into the honeycombed landscape of Naracoorte, the World Heritage-Listed Naracoorte Caves National Park is loaded with awe-inspiring relics. With giant caverns draped in stalagmites and stalactites, you’ll not only find an ancient predator den that’s littered with skeletons of 500,000 year-old megafauna, but a vast underground world that time seemingly forgot.

A good place to start is the one-hour guided tour of Victoria Cave, where you’ll walk through a magnificent underground cathedral to the ancient Fossil Chamber. After being stumbled upon by two curious locals back in 1969, this working palaeontological dig provides a 200,000-odd year window back in time, with skeletons of giant kangaroos, marsupial lions and enormous wombat-like Diprotodons making this one of science’s greatest discoveries.

Cape Northumberland, Port MacDonnell
Cape Northumberland, Port MacDonnell (Adam Bruzzone/SATC)

Take me home, country roads.

Is there anything like the feeling of wind in your hair (yes, all three of them!) as you drift off into that vast blue horizon? The Limestone Coast is home to some of the most scenic drives in South Australia, from rolling country hills and plains to our craggy coast and beaches - and taking them at your own pace is always par for the course.

Heading across from Victoria, it’s well worth a look around the lobster loving township of Port MacDonnell, where a pop-in to Port MacDonnell Maritime Museum will school you up on some of the area’s most infamous local shipwrecks.

Celebrating the area’s rich seafaring history, expect lots of barnacle-encrusted bells and cannons to curious treasures from other parts of town. A little further down the road you’ll also find ‘Dingley Dell’, the cottage of famous 19th century poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon before venturing off into the ruins and ramparts of Cape Northumberland.

The wild, windswept panoramas of Cape Northumberland are untouched, untamed and unbelievable. Here at the Southernmost point of South Australia, waves crash into tortured limestone cliffs, with the ruins of the old lighthouse standing testament to the forces of nature. This place packs more drama than your teenage granddaughter, with steep rock stacks isolated in their beauty holding court in the ocean’s cauldron. As well as being a stunning spot for a sunset, it’s also the jump off point to a couple of great little drives that’ll get your camera clicking – try rolling along the coast to Finger Point to see some of the area’s most stunning beaches.

If you’ve got more time up your sleeve it’s also well worth picking up the five-hour Admella Discovery Trail from around here. Unravelling the story of the area’s most famous shipwreck across 21 maritime themed interpretive markers, this amazing self-drive extends from all the way across the border in Portland to Robe.

Following the stiff southerly breeze inland, a drive through Woakwine Range Wind Farm is something just a little bit different. Weaving it’s way past dozens of giant turbines, this incredible route skirts the largest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere, while connecting local icons including Lake Bonney (South Australia’s largest freshwater lake), the Tantanoola Caves (where you can also meet the resident ‘tiger’) and the stunning Canunda National Park, which is a nature-lover’s paradise.

In Beachport, the salty air and wild seascapes along the Bowman Scenic Drive are enough to get anyone’s motor running. Linking some of the area’s most stunning coastal sights, this rambling road takes you past the famous Salmon Hole beach, the curious Pool of Siloam and rugged Post Office Rock, among other points of interest. With plenty of signage and pull-off points, you’ll find ample time to stretch your legs and have that well-earned cuppa en route.

A hearty serve of history.

No doubt about it, the Limestone Coast is steeped in history, with our unique pioneering heritage, culture and traditions having shaped us every step of the way. From sheep to saints and agriculture to art, here’s a few spots you’ll be waxing on about at your next dinner party!

Glencoe Woolshed
Glencoe Woolshed

If you didn’t know it already, we’re known for our sheep farming, and as you pull on that woollen jumper, or fire up a lamb roast in the depths of winter there’s a pretty good chance its origins are local.

The Sheep’s Back Museum in Naracoorte unearths the history of the Aussie wool industry, with displays across a collection of old buildings shining a light on our early settlers who took to the land in droves. Complementing its pastoral focus, you’ll also find a good amount of geographical and geological information here to help set the scene.

At Glencoe Woolshed near Mount Gambier, it’s those age-old blackwood beams and piercing slivers of light... That deliciously muggy waft of sheep and sweat, and cathedral-like arches that have stood guard over ringers and rouseabouts since 1863. Now a museum, this spot holds a unique place in Australian history, never having been converted to mechanised shearing. While these days you’ll only see shearers here for the annual Blades Of Glencoe event, take a stroll along those creaking wooden floorboards and you’ll soon find yourself wandering back to a picture of early pioneering.

In the heart of the legendary Coonawarra, you’ll need to pay a visit to Mary MacKillop Centre and Petticoat Lane in Penola. 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. Take time to check out the exhibits in the interpretive centre before grabbing the cottage keys and strolling into the old part of town.

Of course, former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke may not have qualified as a Saint, but this lovable larrikin of politics never strayed too far from his country roots, having been born and raised in Bordertown.

Brushing your way past his bronze bust and venturing into the Bob Hawke Gallery unveils a treasure trove of memorabilia, from historic photographs and paintings to the legendary 1939 British Panther model 100 motorbike he famously crashed as a teenager.

Join the culture club.

Of course, not everyone’s a history buff and if your idea of culture is a little more high-brow, you’ll also find a few spots to tap that creative vein.

While you’re still in Bordertown, walk straight to Walkway Gallery, where you’ll find culture with a capital ‘C’. One of the few regional galleries to attract both national and state touring exhibitions, artists come from near and far to exhibit here, with household names taking centre stage amidst local legends.

In Mount Gambier, a visit to the Riddoch Arts and Cultural Centre is an absolute must, with an ever-changing calendar of local artists exhibiting alongside works of serious national importance. Here in the State’s foremost regional collection you’ll find over 1500 items, from paintings and prints depicting the people and history of the Limestone Coast to a significant collection of Aboriginal and 20th Century Australian art.

For something totally different, you’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for public art in Millicent, where a walk along George Street is a kaleidoscope of colour. With a series of murals painted on some of the town’s most historic buildings, new works appear almost constantly, decking out anything from bank buildings to skate parks.

Millicent Street Art (Lachlan Swan Photography)
Millicent Street Art (Lachlan Swan Photography)
Cape Jaffa Wines Table (@mcfuzzlebutts.manchen)
Cape Jaffa Wines Table (@mcfuzzlebutts.manchen)

The glass is half-full.

Okay, raise your hand if you’re thirsty... Around here all roads lead to wine, and with local foodies working hand-in-hand with our vignerons, you’ll never go hungry either. Here’s a few cellar doors that take the cellar door experience just as seriously as views and vino. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes. It’s always wine ‘o clock somewhere, so park your conscience at home…

Famous for producing rich Cabernet Sauvignons, the legendary Coonawarra is a global icon in wine, and with the very first vines planted at Wynns Coonawarra Estate back in 1890 it’s a pretty good place to start. Sure, you can taste the whole range in the cellar door, but how about delving a little deeper? Book in for one of their cellar door experiences to learn of the stories behind the families, vines and Coonawarra's winemaking heritage.

In case you didn’t know, Gin’s a thing and all the young pretty things can’t get enough of it. As they slink down into their cramped underground bars, St. Mary’s Wines in Penola has been busy transforming their age-old vineyard into a spirit-lover’s sanctuary, away from the city hustle. Putting it's wine heritage aside, this family-owned boutique winery recently caught the judges’ eye at the 2021 GinNation Awards, and in their famous show garden outside you’ll also find local art dotted between roses and greenery, along with a menagerie of wildlife and birds. Once you're done tasting, stumble your way to the stylish Must at Coonawarra to rest your head.

Down by the sea, the low-key village of Cape Jaffa is not only home to a laid-back beach vibe but is also within striking distance of a number of Mount Benson wine region cellar doors. Try Cape Jaffa Wines for delicious local produce platters overlooking the vines. Keen gardeners will also enjoy a walk through the veggie patch, where you’ll likely meet more of your kind. Oh, and beer lovers, don’t stress. If you’re looking for a loophole you’ve just found it, with Loophole Brewing Co. also pouring onsite.

Loosen your belt buckle (okay, throw it away!)

Sure, after all this touring you’re entitled to get a little hungry around dinner time. The good news is whatever your taste and budget, there’s a chair and plate with your name on it if you’re looking for quality local grub, with all sorts of dietaries catered to.

In Penola, hit up the Royal Oak Hotel for a seasonal menu with all the classics, plus an extensive local wine list that can be added to by grabbing one from the cellar and plonking it on the table for a small corkage fee.

The Caledonian Inn, Jordan Kelly Studio
The Caledonian Inn, Jordan Kelly Studio

What’s a world-renowned wine region without a world-class restaurant? At Pipers of Penola you’ll not only find delicious meals made from fresh, local produce but also some of the best chefs in the country. Housed in a renovated Methodist church, this place is a mecca for foodies nationwide, dishing up anything from local lamb and roast Jerusalem artichoke tortellini to seared whiting and Coffin Bay oysters.

Down by the coast you’ll find plenty of fishy goodness, and Sails Restaurant in Robe dishes it up in spades. Specialising in fresh local seafood, if you’re after a Southern Rock Lobster caught just this morning, this is the spot to do it. With some excellent gluten-free options for wheat starved wanderers, this is one of those signature dining experiences you just don’t want to miss. For something more low-key, stroll across the road to the Caledonian Inn (a.k.a The Cally) for it’s awesome in-house restaurant and lively beer garden.

Back in the big smoke of Mount Gambier you’ll be spoiled by choice, but a few local spots really take it to the next level… Try Thyme at The Lakes (at the Comfort Inn) to sample prime local fare in a modern menu while devouring some of the best views in the city. At The Barn Steakhouse just out of town, carnivores can wash down a paddock of grain-fed goodness (plus alternatives for others) with over 700 wines on the list. When you’ve finished your decadent feast, rest your head on a pillow next door in some of the most stylish accommodation in the region.

If staying local is as important as being well fed, you’ll also want to check out the amazing Commodore on the Park for it’s extensive menu, awesome cocktails and top-quality rooms fronting the lush surrounds of Frew Park. A short stagger to the room? Yes please.

In Naracoorte, hit up The Highlander at the award-winning William MacIntosh Motor Lodge to dine with the locals as they tuck into a careful selection of South Australian wines and produce, from local oysters, mussels and fish to farm-fresh chicken, beef and greens.

Oh, and vegos aside, you can’t lob into this neighbourhood without a visit to the world-renowned Mayura Station. Home to the only full-blood Wagyu beef in Australia, this place knows beef like no other, feeding cattle a high-fat diet of chocolate and jellybeans to lollies and biscuits. The result? Well... step into the Tasting Room and you'll soon be back for seconds!

Blue Lake/Warwar (Mark Fitzgerald)
Blue Lake/Warwar (Mark Fitzgerald)

A home on the road.

We’ve already flagged a few of our favourite places to stay - but what if you’re towing, and are there other options?

All major centres have at least one caravan park in town, with most having multiple accommodation types from on-site vans and cabins to glamping and more.

No matter how big your rig, how tight your budget, or how special the occasion, there’s always something to suit.

In Mount Gambier, the Blue Lake Holiday Park sits right beside its namesake, with Mount Gambier Central also nearby and Pine Country Caravan Park just out of town.  Southgate Motel and Motel Mount Gambier also offer good facilities if you’re not keen on parks, while for something a bit fancy, try Aloha Central Luxury Apartments and Delgattie Estate.

In Robe, try Sea Vu Caravan Park for direct access to Guichen Bay, with Lakeside Tourist Park on the shores of Lake Fellmongery. You’ll also find Discovery Parks Robe and Robe Holiday Park offer a good range of options, with a range of motels including Lakeview Motel & Apartments, Robe Harbour View Motel, Guichen Bay Motel and Robetown Motor Inn and Apartments. If you’re after something more self-contained, Robe Lifestyle Properties are a popular option, with a large selection of holiday houses ranging from total beachfront luxury to quirky little retreats.

In wine country, Coonawarra Bush Holiday Park sits pretty in nature, with Penola Caravan Park just down the road, while Padthaway Caravan Park is set between towering gums and beautiful green gardens overlooking the historic homestead. Away from the parks, try the Alexander Cameron Suites right in the heart of Penola, and for something nice and cushy by the vines, try The Menzies Vineyard Retreat to dial up those creature comforts.

In Naracoorte, the Big 4 Holiday Park is a great base to explore the wider region, with anything from cabins to powered and unpowered sites and camping in a variety of settings. For a stylish motel in the heart of town, try The Avenue Inn with café and restaurant conveniently located on site.

Of course, if you're keen on staying somewhere a little more luxurious, check out our guide to luxury accommodation on the Limestone Coast right here.

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