Mount Gambier is one of South Australia’s largest regional towns, located just inland from the beautiful Limestone Coast and almost halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. This makes it a great place to stop en route between the two states or as a base for exploring the surrounding coastal region.
However, Mt Gambier is also known for its own unique attractions, including sinkholes, caves and crater lakes. The town is right at the centre of an ancient volcanic landscape with plenty of things to see and do that you won’t find anywhere else in Australia. It’s the perfect place to spend a few days on your journey between Melbourne and Adelaide, which is exactly why I stopped here after exploring the Great Ocean Road.
If you’re heading to South Australia, here are my top 10 things to do in Mount Gambier.
How to get to Mount Gambier
Mount Gambier is nicely located halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne. This makes it a great place to stop on the way to explore the area, relax and restock supplies. From Mount Gambier, you can either take coastal routes or inland routes east to Melbourne or west to Adelaide.
Melbourne to Mount Gambier | 423km or 5.5 hour drive via the most direct inland route, longer if you take the coast.
Adelaide to Mount Gambier | 435km or 5 hour drive via the most direct inland route, longer if you take the coast.
Hire a Jucy van for your road trip here!
How long to spend in Mount Gambier
While there’s plenty of things to do in Mt Gambier, many of them are relatively close together so it’s perfect if you’re short on time. You can realistically see a few of the main sights within a day, if you’re just passing through. However, it’s ideal if you can spend a couple of nights in town.
You can easily spend a full day exploring the town and immediate attractions, including the Blue Lake, Umpherston Sinkhole, Cave Garden, Centenary Tower and Engelbrecht Cave. Then another full day driving around to the Little Blue Lake, Mount Schank, Hells Hole and Caroline Sinkhole and Point MacDonnell. Read more about these places below!
Best things to do in Mount Gambier
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Mount Gambier, here’s where I recommend you spend your time.
This sinkhole just east of town hides an incredibly beautiful sunken garden that is one of the best things to see in Mount Gambier. It’s definitely one of the most visited places in town and is just on your left if you’re coming into Mount Gambier from the Victorian border.
It was masterly developed into a vibrant garden by James Umpherston in 1886 and has been considered as one of the most beautiful gardens in Australia ever since. There are a set of concrete steps making their way down to the bottom of the sinkhole from where you can appreciate its full size and depth, as well as wander through the garden.
If you’re staying nearby, you can also enjoy the resident possums which come out at night looking for food. You’re allowed to feed them fruit and vegetables but remember that they are still wild animals. Otherwise, I was even lucky enough to see one in the sinkhole during the middle of the day!
Another pretty little underground garden, the cave garden is literally located right in the middle of town. You can head down some steps to a viewing platform inside the cave or walk around the top. It’s not as big as Umpherston Sinkhole, but it’s an easy place to wander past as you explore the main street of Mount Gambier.
This geological wonder is an incredible network of caves and underground water system in Mount Gambier. Qualified divers often come here to explore the secret tunnels and underwater passages. However, you can also explore the caves on foot to appreciate what’s underneath the town, with a lot of steps and viewing platforms to wander along.
This was unfortunately closed for a few days while I was in town, but it’s widely considered to be the one of the best things to do in Mt Gambier. It’s also one of the only paid attractions in Mt Gambier, which makes the town a pretty nice budget destination. Tickets for the cave tour cost $14.50 per adult and it’s open every day except Wednesdays.
The Blue Lake
You literally can’t miss this lake as you drive through town. The Blue Lake is inside the crater of one of the three extinct volcanoes around Mount Gambier. The crystal-clear water inside the huge crater turns a brilliant blue colour, particularly in the summer months. It’s just to the south of the town centre, next to the Valley Lake Area, with the road heading to the coast passing right by it.
You can drive right around the Blue Lake, with a few viewpoints along the way which you can easily see by car. Otherwise, there’s also a 3.6km footpath around the rim which makes for a great walk or run.
While it’s usually at its bluest in summer, it was still an impressive sight in May when I was there. Once the sun comes out, you’ll be able to admire the colour at any time of year, even if it’s not as bright.
If you want to get the best view over the town and surrounding area including the Blue Lake, a steep walk up to the Centenary Tower is worth the effort. The old tower sits above the Valley Lake area providing the best panoramic viewpoint in Mount Gambier.
If you want to climb the tower itself, it’s only open when the flag is flying so you’ll have to keep an eye out. There’s no set timetable but generally it’s open more often in summer, from around 10am until 3pm. There’s also a small fee to pay if you wish to go inside the tower.
However, in my opinion, the view is just as good from the bottom of the tower, from where you can still admire the incredible views without worrying about whether it’s open or not. To reach it, you have to enter the Valley Lake area and then turn left up Elliott Drive to a small carpark. From there, it’s a steep 600m walk up a concrete path to the tower. It’s best at sunrise or sunset of course.
Little Blue Lake
What used to be the local’s best kept secret is now Instagram’s favourite sinkhole around Mount Gambier. This picture-perfect natural swimming hole is best in summer when it’s warm enough to actually swim, but the temperature of the water actually remains relatively constant at around 12 degrees all year round. Otherwise, keen divers tend to head there at any time, with the clear water offering great views of the underwater world. The deepest point of the lake is over 45 metres, which is quite hard to believe considering its small size.
It’s located just a short 11km drive south of Mt Gambier, with the turnoff well signposted. It’s literally surrounded by farmland, making it quite a random but beautiful spot. There’s a carpark with stairs and a small pontoon down at the lake so you can either jump in or enjoy the view of this unique place in South Australia.
This is Australia’s youngest volcano, having last erupted just 4500 years ago. It appears like a small hill from a distance but has some nice walking tracks if you want to stretch your legs. If you head south from Mount Gambier, you’ll find the turnoff on your left down Post Office Road. Follow the signs to a small carpark from where the walking trail heads up to the crater rim.
You can take the walk right around the rim of the volcano for 360-degree views of the entire area, from Mt Gambier all the way down to the coast. If this 2km walk isn’t enough, you can also take the steep walk down to the bottom of the volcano floor for a different perspective.
It’s just a 10-minute drive from the Little Blue Lake, so they can easily be seen one after each other on your way down to Port MacDonnell.
Hells Hole and Caroline Sinkhole
If you have extra time and want to continue stumbling upon hidden holes in the ground, Hells Hole and Caroline Sinkhole are two spots you can combine together on a short drive out of town. They’re certainly far less visited than all the other places mentioned on this blog, but they can easily be visited after Mount Schank.
After Mount Schank, you can continue on Post Office Road heading east until you hit the Glenelg River Road. Turn right and then the next left onto Sea Coast Hill Road which is a dirt road passing through pine plantations.
You will come to Hells Hole first, which is just a short walk from the carpark on the side of the road. There’s a closed off viewing platform from where you can take a look down into the dark water of the sinkhole. Unfortunately, it’s not great for photos, but it’s still an interesting place to stop.
Then, continue driving down Sea Coast Hill Road for another 4.5km and then turn right down Carba Road, you will come to Caroline Sinkhole. It’s not signposted very well and Google Maps gets a little confused, but you need to head to the second road on your right which will lead to a carpark for the Penambol Conservation Park. From there, it’s just a 100m walk to this incredible natural crater. There’s a great viewing platform from where you can look down into the lush, grass filled sinkhole. The crumbling edges are overhanging with vines which makes it look like it belongs in a Jurassic Park film. The best part was I had it all to myself!
If you have an urge to hit the coast, then this small seaside town just 27km south of Mount Gambier is a great place to head. It’s known for its famous fishing industry, and particularly for being the Southern Rock Lobster Capital of Australia. The town is a popular summer destination, but when I was there in autumn it was just a very old, quiet town.
It has a nice promenade with a footpath along the coast if you feel like a walk. Or, you can drive out towards Cape Northumberland to admire the views or hit the surf. There’s also a Port MacDonnell Foreshore Caravan Park if you want to stay near the beach instead of in Mount Gambier town.
If you head to Port MacDonnell, you should definitely take the short 4km drive west to Cape Northumberland. This beautiful coastal area is also the southernmost point of South Australia. There’s a few short walks and carparks here to take in the spectacular views of the coast.
You can also park overnight here if you have a fully self-contained motorhome or caravan.
Where to stay in Mount Gambier
Mount Gambier is a popular place to head for those with caravans and campervans, so there’s plenty of caravan parks and campgrounds in town. However, you can also find other unique places to stay, if you’re just heading for a weekend break.
Pine Country Caravan Park | If you’re towing a caravan or travelling in a van, Pine Country is definitely my top recommendation. I stayed here for two nights on an unpowered site, and really liked the quiet setting just south of town. They also have bungalows and glamping tents for something different. Check prices here.
The Old Mount Gambier Gaol | Definitely one of the most unique places to stay in Mount Gambier, the accommodation at the Old Gaol is perfectly located right in town. They offer a range of accommodation options from dorm beds to double rooms and large family rooms for up to 6-8 people. You also get free Wi-Fi, a tour of the gaol and access to a shared kitchen and lounge room. Check prices here.
Mount Gambier Visitor Centre
This visitor centre in town is full of information and helpful staff. They have brochures and maps on every region of South Australia and can help you with virtually anything that you want to know.
It’s also home to the Discovery Centre which takes you through the history of the area including about Lady Nelson sailing boat and the geology of the volcanic landscape. It’s open seven days a week and also has drinking water, toilets and free Wi-Fi.
Where to next?
If you’re heading across to Victoria, the coastal route east of Mount Gambier takes you through Portland and Port Fairy and then along the Great Ocean Road.
Read next | 14 of the Best Campsites on the Great Ocean Road
If you’re continuing further into South Australia, you can take the coastal route to the Fleurieu Peninsula just south of Adelaide and then onto the Flinders Ranges.