Don’t feel too bad if you don’t know where Australia’s Limestone Coast is. Many Australians don’t either! Stretching south of Adelaide, towards the Victorian border, this unassuming corner of Downunder sees many self-drive travellers on their way to or from Melbourne. On that trip, the Coast’s unique sights are eclipsed by the famous Great Ocean Road that weaves along the Victorian coast.
Don’t be fooled! There’s a lot to see on this drive once you’ve snapped your photos of the Twelve Apostles and London Arch, and most of it is over the border in South Australia.
At barely 25,000 people, South Australia’s second biggest town is a baby, even by Australian standards. But good things come in small packages, and Mount Gambier is known for three natural ‘good things’ in particular, each of which shows off the Limestone Coast at its most dramatic. A first stop for many visitors is Blue Lake, where the waters have been turned a brilliant blue by underlying limestone deposits. Its unique cobalt colour and limestone erosion have made the lake a popular spot for cave diving, but even a few moments at the lookout is bound to impress. Back in town, Mount Gambier has turned two of its largest sinkholes into elaborate and beautiful public gardens. The Cave Garden offers a descent into another world, as vibrant as it is mysterious. You can also descend right to the floor of Umpherston Sinkhole, the perfect spot for a short picnic, or just a few moments of quiet reflection, admiring the terraced gardens around you, along with the hanging greenery above. It’s all made possible by the unique geology of this fascinating region.
A shortage of dinosaurs has seen Australia’s prehistoric past eclipsed by flashier rivals. But anyone visiting South Australia’s Naracoorte Caves will get an eyeful of just how big some of Australia’s native mammals once were! Meet the wombat-shaped, but hippo-sized Diprotodon, the Marsupial Lion, and others – or at least their remains – at this fascinating system of caves. Those on a camping holiday can overnight in the surrounding national park, though most of the caves themselves must be visited on a guided tour. Digital imaging technology also allows guests to get a look inside the elusive Bat Cave, where thousands of Southern Bent-wing Bats nest every year. Tours can be booked at the on-site Wonambi Fossil Centre, which also houses some of the Caves’ most interesting finds, along with an animatronic diorama of prehistoric life in the region – where its extinct stars come to life.
We’re not going to lie. The salty lagoons of Coorong National Park do not make for Australia’s prettiest coastal drive. In fact, a lot of travellers bypass them altogether in favour of the wineries and other attractions of the inland route. But it’s worth swinging back to the coast at the northern end to explore Victor Harbour. Blessed with a superb natural setting looking out towards Granite Island, this popular holiday spot offers a broad range of activities in addition to its fascinating history. A unique local attraction is the horse-drawn Granite Tram, which takes visitors out to Granite Island via the town’s causeway. The surrounding waters are also a haven for local sea life, including little penguins, New Zealand fur seals, dolphins, and even southern right whales, depending on the time of year. Boat expeditions take you in for a closer look, and are the best way to see the seal and sea lion colonies of Seal Island. Plus, if you’d like to extend your South Australian wildlife adventure, famous Kangaroo Island is just a few hours’ drive away.
The Tastes of McLaren Vale
While the Barossa might be South Australia’s household name when it comes to wine, McLaren Vale, just south of Adelaide, is a worthy alternative, boasting over 120 wineries. Many of them specialize in dry, strong reds including Australia’s favourite, Shiraz, although you can sample a wide range of whites here as well. For the ultimate wine-tasting day out, stop at the larger, more commercial wineries with boutique cellar doors – some of which have been bringing flavour to Australian tables since the mid 19th century.
The smallest of the country’s big five, South Australia’s capital city makes up for its modest scale by offering culture and quality of life. In fact, it pips Sydney on this year’s Economist list, to be the second most liveable city in Australia, right behind long-time favourite, Melbourne. It’s no wonder, given the similarities between the two. An innovative food scene, an insatiable cultural appetite, and creative approach to urban planning are hallmarks of both cities, but Adelaide still holds one over on its larger rival. In the month of May, Adelaide hosts the annual Tasting Australia. It’s a week-long food festival, where attendees learn how to cook from the best Aussie chefs, taste local produce, and take park in associated events.
Held every June, Adelaide Cabaret Festival is the largest of its type in the world, overshadowing the likes of London, New York, and indeed Melbourne (the world’s second largest). No visit to South Australia is complete without at least a night or two in the capital. Enjoy a delicious dinner with local wines before taking in a show. Then cap off the perfect evening with cocktails at one of the city’s innovative yet unpretentious underground cocktail bars.