Okay, we’ve all been to or heard about Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne, but I have an Australian vacation suggestion you may have never considered: the Limestone Coast. Oh, yeah! It’s a region in South Australia, just a stone’s throw away from Adelaide and Melbourne.
Did you know that the Limestone coast is home to dozens of vineyards and wineries that are just waiting for you to taste their delicious wines? Or that there are gorgeous national parks, caves, and pristine lakes to explore?
Now that I’ve caught your attention, let’s dive into everything the region has to offer. Consider this your Limestone Coast travel guide. We’re going to take a look at the best times to visit, where to go, and what to do. So, pack your bags and put on your travel shoes because we’re heading down south. Let’s go!
(Just a note: We most recently travelled to the Limestone Coast during border closures, when our trip to Western Australia had to be cancelled. Because the trip was last minute in the July school holidays, the weather was not ideal. This is reflected in the photos we took – but I promise the Limestone Coast really turns it up during summer!)
We acknowledge the traditional owners of the area referred to here as the Limestone Coast: the Boandik, Bindjali, and Ngarrindjeri peoples, and pay our respects to elders past, present, and emerging.
When to Visit the Limestone Coast
The Limestone Coast generally has agreeable weather conditions, but there are a few things to consider. I recommend visiting the area in Autumn or Spring (March to May or September to November). These seasons don’t see a lot of rain, and you won’t have to experience our blazing hot summer days. Not to mention, there will be fewer tourists, which means lower accommodation prices and more space for yourself–yes, please! However, availability in the shoulder season isn’t a dealbreaker.
Summer brings in the tourists, and you’ll have to deal with hiked-up prices and crowded destinations. But the hot, sunny weather will be perfect for beach days and swimming at the lakes. If the summer is your only opportunity to travel, don’t let the crowds deter you. There’s plenty of space for everyone! This is probably my favourite time honestly, as the sunshine is reliable and I’m an absolute sun-chaser. (Australia breeds people who like the heat!)
Traveling to the Limestone Coast in the winter is ideal for budget travelers. The months from June to August are considered the low season, so you should be able to book your trip at an outstanding rate. Keep in mind the temperature will be a bit chilly, and it’s the wettest time of the year. If you can handle all that, then go for it!
Main Towns to Visit
The Limestone Coast covers more than 20,000 square kilometers. Within that territory are quaint little towns worth stopping by or staying in. If you’re a lover of boutique hotels, cozy coffee shops, and quiet roads, well, then you’re going to feel right at home at these destinations.
Robe is a fishing town located on the south side of Guichen Bay. The long stretches of white sand beaches have made it a hotspot for travelers looking to lay out and drink in the stunning scenery. You can drive your car straight onto the sand and set up a little homebase for your day under the sun. When you’re ready to brush off the sand and head into town, there are delicious restaurants to chow down on fresh seafood (the area is known for its locally caught crayfish). Your trip to Robe won’t be complete without visiting Robe Town Brewery, where you can sip on brews, chat with your friends, and play a few card games.
About 90 minutes south of Robe is Mount Gambier. It’s the largest town in the Limestone Coast area with 27,000 residents. Of all the main towns to visit, Mount Gambier is hands down the most popular, and for good reasons! From the town, you’ll have access to top attractions like swimming in the Little Blue Lake and exploring the Umpherston Sinkhole (more details on these activities below). The great accommodation options also make it a wonderful jump-off point to other nearby towns and attractions.
Penola is a bit inland, but it’s a must-visit destination for wine enthusiasts. The town is riddled with top vineyards and wineries, like Whistle Post Estate and The Blok, where you can go wine tasting and enjoy a nice meal with a drop-dead gorgeous view of the landscape. In the center of town, there are a number of great shops and cafes to pop in and out of. By the end of your trip out there, I guarantee you’ll be glad you stopped by.
Oh! I almost forgot to mention that Penola was the home to Australia’s first saint–who would’ve guessed, right?
Things to Do on the Limestone Coast
Have I mentioned you can go wine tasting yet? Well, let me further explain how rich of a wine country it is and recommend a few places to visit. The Limestone Coast includes five wine regions: Coonawarra, Mount Gambier, Wrattonbully, Mount Benson, and Padthaway. I, of course, recommend visiting each region and trying all the different wines–obviously–but the Coonawarra wineries are by far the most popular.
Head over to Balnaves of Coonawarra, which you can walk to from the center of Penola, to dive into award-winning wines. It’s a family-operated company that has made quite a name for itself in the region, which is saying a lot considering the stiff competition nearby.
If you’re interested in having a glass of wine closer to the coast, check out Governor Robe Estate in Robe or Cape Jaffa Wines in Cape Jaffa. Two outstanding establishments you may find yourself coming back to a second time.
Little Blue Lake and Blue Lake
Outside the town of Mount Gambier is the Little Blue Lake. It’s one of the most popular naturally made sinkholes in the area where you can float or swim around the pristine water. A flight of stairs will safely lead you down the 8-meter cliffs that encircle the Little Blue Lake. On less crowded days, it will feel like you have your own personal oasis to relax and recharge–doesn’t get much better than that. So, if you want a bit of privacy, try going early in the morning to beat the crowds.
The Little Blue Lake got its name for its relatively small size and because the water used to turn a vibrant blue once a year. It doesn’t change colors these days, but the water is still a beautiful green. However, you can check out Blue Lake, also just outside Mount Gambier, which still changes colors. Since it’s the town’s water supply, you can’t swim in it, but both sites are worth visiting.
The Umpherston Sinkhole is stunning. You can find it about a mile away from the center of Mount Gambier, and I can’t recommend it enough. Unlike other sinkholes you may be familiar with, this one is not filled with water. The locals commonly refer to it as the sunken garden because, in 1886, James Umpherston planted native flora all throughout the sinkhole. Today, almost 140 years later, it’s teeming with beautiful greeneries, and you can walk along the paved paths to explore everything it has to offer, such as sculptures, a fountain, hydrangeas, and more.
Don’t worry about getting there early because the sinkhole is open 24 hours a day. When the lights come on, the area takes on a completely new appearance and really adds to the adventure element. At dusk, hundreds of possums are known to come to the garden to feed; and who doesn’t want to see cute little possums eat?
Who’s up for exploring some caves? The Naracoorte Caves National Park is South Australia’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and an incredible place to explore the subterranean world. These 28 caves, only four of which are open to the public, have been serving as pitfalls and dens to a wide range of species for 500,000 years–that’s a long time.
You’ll have multiple tours to choose from (self-guided and guided) that will take you to some of the most fascinating sections of the park. Of all your options, I highly suggest signing up for the Bat Tour for a chance to see the breeding place of the endangered southern bent-wing bat. In the summer, you can watch as they flock in and out of the caves at dawn and dusk. It’s an experience not many people have the opportunity to do, so don’t miss out!
When you get back above ground, make sure to check out the impressive Wonambi Fossil Centre. It will feel like you’re stepping back in time!
Coorong National Park
For an escape into nature, you can’t go wrong with a trip over to the Coorong National Park. It’s a protected area a couple of hours south of Adelaide and a wonderful place to go birdwatching. In fact, it’s the refuge for over 230 migratory birds from China, Japan, Alaska, and Siberia. So, it’s safe to say that you’ll at least see a few.
If you really want to experience everything the park has to offer, there are campgrounds where you can stay for a few nights. You’ll have the opportunity to go kayaking, fishing, walking along trails, or even taking a four-wheel drive vehicle around the sandy dunes.
4WD Adventures in Little Dip Conservation Park
Little Dip Conservation Park is located just outside Robe, and is a gorgeous spot for a bit of adventure if you have a decent 4WD.
Test the guts of your vehicle as you climb massive sand dunes to be rewarded with spectacular views and pristine beaches that you just might have all to yourself. If you have a surf rod, why not throw a line in? Mulloway and King George whiting are good targets in summer and autumn.
You can also camp in Little Dip for around $18AUD per night (this is “real” camping though, with few amenities).
Where to Stay
Mount Gambier Central Caravan Park
For those who want to stay close to the action, The BIG4 Blue Lake Holiday Park in Mount Gambier is an absolute favourite. The best part about the park is that there is an accommodation option for everyone – from gorgeous cabins (up to three bedrooms!) to powered and unpowered tent sites.
Wherever you choose to stay, you’ll have access to a kitchen (including a cooking area in the camping section), showers, and a laundry facility. It’s a nice and easy accommodation option that covers all the bases.
This option is also fabulous for the kids. The complex features a pool, jumping pillows, a playground, and a games room.
I love staying in quirky little places while traveling, and the Honeyfield Cottage checks all the boxes. The cottage is a quick drive outside Robe and the Mount Benson wine country, and you’ll have a serene plot of land to soak up the sun and natural bliss.
One look at the building, and you’ll see it’s not your average cottage. The structure was built with limestone, giving it a rustic, country look. Top it off with the cozy furniture inside, and you will not be disappointed when you take your first step into the cottage.
Keep in mind that there’s no Wi-Fi on the property, making it a great place to disconnect from the real world for a while. But if you know you’ll need to do a little work on your vacation, it might not be the property for you!
The Customs House Bed and Breakfast
In Port MacDonnell, you’ll find The Customs House–a top-notch bed and breakfast. The building was created in 1863 during the heyday of Port MacDonnell. It once housed important offices for officials, residences for teachers, and a police station.
Now the historical sections of the building offer accommodation options to travelers of the Limestone Coast. Needless to say, it’s one of the more unique places to stay in the region. The property can also be rented out for events, such as weddings or wine tastings, and its luxury apartments can host up to 11 people–breakfast included, of course.
People often overlook parts of South Australia, but the Limestone Coast is not a place to miss out on! Whether you want to get a group of friends together or get away with your special somebody, the region has plenty of opportunities to make new memories and take a break from the non-stop pace of the real world. As soon as you check into your accommodation and order your first glass of locally made wine, you’ll be head over heels for the Limestone Coast.