Our intent was to stay a while in Mount Gambier. It is the first major city along the Limestone Coast and we were looking forward to rest and recuperation while checking out the attractions, including the famous Blue Lake. Of course, our first stop was the Lady Nelson Visitor and Discovery Centre to get some maps and brochures, and they also offer a tour to learn about the history and geology of the area for $10.
Mount Gambier was first sighted in 1800 by Lieutenant James Grant of HMS Lady Nelson, but it was officially discovered in 1839 by a guy from Portland. The first pub was located on the same site as Jen’s Hotel, but the oldest remaining pub is the South Australian, which was built in 1860.
After we settled in at Blue Lake Holiday Park, located snugly between the two crater lakes, we went for a stroll into town for a mini pub crawl, which ended up being quite a big night. We were putrid in the morning but still dragged ourselves out of the tent to go for a looooong walk/hike around the Valley Lake crater, and spent the day in the library, researching and writing at the air-conditioned library!
We loved Mount Gambier, its sinkholes and lakes, its friendly locals and health conscious community. We were happy to hear that they are starting a campaign to promote local and organic produce by starting up a farmers market every Saturday morning. To launch the campaign, the Main Corner was screening Food Matters, a documentary about how the quality of our food can either help us or hinder us.
PLACES OF INTEREST
The Lady Nelson Information Centre
This landmark should be the first stop for anyone passing through Mount Gambier. Collect a map of the town, information about local attractions and a few souvenirs after checking out the full size replica of HMS Lady Nelson, the first ship to sail eastward through Bass Strait. It was upon the Lady Nelson that Lieutenant James Grant sighted two mountains and named one Mount Schanck and the other Mount Gambier.
The Crater Lakes
What a sight! The beautiful lakes of Mount Gambier were formed by volcanic activity which left craters rimmed with ash and basalt.
Blue Lake provides the drinking water for the entire town and has a great walking trail around the rim that is 3.6km long. Each year in early November, the lake changes colour from dark blue to deep turqoiuse, which remains until February.
Next door is Valley Lake, which is guarded by the Centenary Tower – a monument that was built in 1900 to commemorate 100 years since the first sighting of Mount Gambier. It also has a walking trail that is a bit more challenging, but there were so many butterflies and cicadas around that we were too busy admiring our surroundings to notice the workout.
This great building at the corner of Commercial Road and Bay Road is a multipurpose space that provides documentary screenings and insight into the history of the area. It is the home of the Riddoch Art Gallery and there are spaces available for concerts, lectures and private functions.
Right in the centre of town, between the Main Corner and the Library is the Cave Gardens, a beautifully landscaped area surrounding a sinkhole. There are multiple viewing platforms and a nearby rose garden. The sinkhole used to be the original water source for the town.
We have nothing but praise for the Mount Gambier Library. It was awarded the best small city public library in the world and is a vibrant space that was built 3 years ago. It offers free internet via wifi and 18 public access computers, TV and video game access, and private room bookings, and has an onsite café. It also hosts craft markets seasonally on Sundays from 11am.
We spent a lot of time here, not only to escape the midday sun, but also to research the history of the area and write about our past adventures. The staff were super friendly, very accommodating and went above and beyond to show us around and ensure we were comfortable.
Another landscaped sinkhole to the east of town. The hole is filled with hydrangeas, with bees building their hives in the cavities and holes of the surrounding limestone. There was a very friendly possum that wasn’t afraid to come up to us for a sniff, and they even had an electric BBQ and picnic area at the bottom of the sinkhole, shaded by overhanging rock.
Caroline Sinkhole & Hells Hole
Just south of Mount Gambier is a pine forest that conceals two sinkholes – Caroline Sinkhole and Hells Hole.
Caroline Sinkhole was easy to find and after a quick walk from the car park, we were confronted with a breathtaking view. The sinkhole was formed by water erosion. Acidic rain water dissolved the limestone along weakness points, eventually developing vertical and horizontal caves that increased in size over time. The caves got bigger and bigger until the surrounding limestone collapses, leaving a sinkhole. The Bunganditj people of the region once used the sinkhole for shelter, and the European settlers used to pump water from the bottom for farming.
Hells Hole was a little more ominous. A locked fence prohibited us from driving closer so we parked at the edge of the pine forest and walked in. There was a clearing about 100 meters that featured a tiny forest. An overgrown walking path led us to the hole, which was full of dark, stagnant water. There was a gated platform for people who wanted to dive in, which we immediately thought was a silly idea.
One of the information plaques along the walk had a really great quote on it:
“Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.”
FOOD & ACCOMMODATION
Metro Bakery & Cafe
We were keen on second breakfast so we checked out Metro Bakery & Cafe. It was spacious and clean inside so we ordered a continental omelette with greek sausage, fetta and pumpkin, and eggs benedict.
Our food and coffee came out quickly. The eggs benedict was a little different than usual – it had bacon instead of ham. Dave got a little excited and inhaled it. The omelette was tasty but needed something refreshing in it like spring onion or spinach.
Overall, it was pretty good and we walked away will full bellies.
Bay Road – 08 8725 9856
This place was awesome. Only 2km from the center of town and right between Valley Lake and the beautiful Blue Lake, this BIG4 holiday park was the perfect place to spend our nights in Mount Gambier.
Check out our post on this great BIG4 Holiday Park.