With a population of just under 30,000 people, Mount Gambier is South Australia’s second largest city behind its capital, Adelaide. Mount Gambier is one of South Australia’s most visited destinations, and for many reasons. Not only is it a great mid-point when travelling between Melbourne and Adelaide, but it boasts some pretty interesting and spectacular natural attractions. In recent years, tourism has become a major industry bringing in lots of welcomed money to the local economy and is quickly becoming a choice for holiday makers wanting to experience something a little different.
One of the first stops to visit in Mount Gambier should be to the Lady Nelson Discovery Centre. Here you can grab some handy information on the local attractions, a map and again some local knowledge of upcoming events from the friendly staff. Whilst here, you may like to watch the free film screening of “Across the Green Triangle” on the theatre screen. A chance to learn a little more about the history of Mount Gambier.
The Lady Nelson Discovery Centre really is a lot more than your usual visitor info centre – there are numerous displays such as the interactive under-sea world display of marine creatures, fossilised rock exhibit and check out the ossified skull of an extinct species of kangaroo.
The discovery centre is pretty easy to find- its located at 35 Jubilee Highway East and has a rather noticeable sailing ship out the front. This ship is a full sized replica of the Lady Nelson that was built 1799 and was the first ship to sail the coastline of South Australia. A very important part of Australia’s history.
The Blue Lake
Probably one of Mount Gambier’s most notable attractions- The Blue Lake is a truly amazing sight. The lake is one of 4 volcanic crater lakes in the area, the Blue Lake is definitely the most significant and brings thousands of visitors to Mount Gambier each year. Due to the water table falling over the past few decades, 2 out of the 4 lakes have since dried up. The Blue Lake is a stunning deep blue colour from around December through to March (this is the best time to visit). The lake then changes to a more steely-grey colour. This colour changing phenomenon is said to have something to do with the temperature change having an effect on the minerals in the water.
A popular activity is to take a walk around the lake on the 3.6km walkway, stopping off at the many viewing platforms for great views from different angles. Of course, you can drive around most parts of the lake also – don’t forget your camera!
If you want to get more in-depth knowledge about the craters and lakes, then don’t forget to ask at the discovery centre about guided tours. A great way to really experience this natural marvel.
Umpherston Sinkhole & Sunken Garden
Now, this place just has to make it on to your ‘must visit’ list- Umpherston Sinkhole. What was once a limestone cave is now a tranquil garden setting. Over the years, erosion of the cave roof caused it to collapse, exposing the cave and creating what is known as a sinkhole. This was turned into gardens way back in 1886 by James Umpherston and today forms another one of Mount Gambier’s premier attractions.
Visitors come and enjoy their descent down to the floor of the sinkhole whilst admiring the terraced gardens, ferns and the fountain. There are areas to stop and rest or perhaps enjoy a picnic. Its considered by many to be quite a romantic place too, so you will often see couples enjoying a stroll and even choosing the Umpherston Sinkhole as a wedding venue.
The Umpherston Sinkhole is located on the Jubilee Highway and is open dawn till 1am. Night time visits are very special as the flood lights create a mystical atmosphere and the possums come out to play.
Valley Lake Wildlife & Conservation Park
Take a step sideways away from sinkholes for a moment and check out the Valley Lake Wildlife Park. This free natural attraction is particularly enjoyable if you are a family wanting to spend some time with nature watching and learning about native animals and various plant and trees species. There is also a great boardwalk which takes you along an enjoyable stroll to some pretty spectacular views.
There are numerous free BBQ’s and places to enjoy a picnic along with a pretty awesome playground for the kids. The birdlife is amazing too, so many species gather here.
Standing proudly at 190m above sea level, the Centenary Tower offers those who visit a fantastic view of the city and the volcanic landscape surrounding it. From here you can see the Blue Lake, the lush valleys and other craters such as the Little Blue Lake and Browne’s Lake. There is also a photo display at the tower with pictures of the area taken many decades ago. Keep an eye out for it at night as it gets illuminated and can be seen from various parts of the city.
There is a small entry fee and the tower is open most days (look for the flag flying at the top – this means they are open). The tower is located in Elliott drive.
Where to stay?
Mount Gambier offers a few choices when it comes to accommodation for visitors. Those seeking a holiday park for a cosy cabin or somewhere to park their van wont have to look too far.
The Blue Lake Holiday Park will have you closest to the popular Blue Lake itself (basically at your doorstep). The Mount Gambier Central caravan park is located close to the CBD and offers very comfy accommodation options. A little further out of town (but just as nice) is the Limestone Coast Tourist Park which has great views of the countryside.
Big4 Blue Lake Holiday Park
Mount Gambier Central Caravan Park
Limestone Coast Tourist Park
Article by Anthony Hayden Photos by J Archibald & South Australian Tourism Commision