If you’re looking for the best things to do in Mount Gambier this is the travel guide for you. We recently spent time in the Limestone Coast Region of South Australia. In this post we highlight the best things to do in Mount Gambier – the main town in the area.
Mount Gambier is a small city with a population of 30,000. It is unique in Australia as it is located right on the site of a dormant volcano. The volcano erupted 4,600 years ago and apparently a volcano is not considered extinct until 5,000 years after its last eruption.
The area around Mt Gambier and the Limestone Coast is home to some really interesting geological features. You’ll see sinkholes (cenotes), volcanic craters, and caves. Checking out these natural features is a great way to spend a couple of days.
We recently visited Mount Gambier on our South Australia Road Trip in our self-converted campervan. We loved checking out this area, and think its the perfect place to stop for a few days, especially if your doing a road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide.
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Things to do in Mount Gambier
The Blue Lake is probably the best-known natural feature around Mt Gambier. This lake was formed when a volcano erupted, and the ash and lava solidified, forming the “hill” that the town is situated on. The blue lake is inside the crater of the volcano.
The tourist brochures and lucky visitors will show the lake looking an incredible vibrant blue. However, while the lake really is that blue, you need to have the right conditions. If you visit in the warm summer months from December to February, and see the lake on a sunny day, you too will see the lake looking bright royal blue.
If, like us, you visit in early spring on a cloudy day you won’t see the same effect. We could see tinges of the blue around the edges of the lake, but that was all. I’m thinking it might be worth a return visit on a good day…
There is a 3.6km walking trail around the Lake which stops off at several lookouts along the way. We found this a great way to see the lake from all angles. Don’t miss the lookout on the western side of the lake. You’ll need to walk through a tunnel under the road and then up a series of steep steps.
We were really surprised to find that this sinkhole is right in the town. Umpherston sinkhole is one of the larger cenotes in the area. What makes this sinkhole particularly famous is the gardens inside the sinkhole. James Umpherston owned the land surrounding the sinkhole and planted the gardens in the nineteenth century.
The gardens remain and there is now a staircase you can walk down to visit the gardens. There’s even a bbq and picnic table down there! We visited on a Sunday so it was fairly busy and we had to wait a while to get our shots.
Umpherston Sinkhole is open 24 hours a day and is free to enter.
TIP: You’ll need a wide angle lens (or put your iPhone on 0.5) to get the best shots of the Umperston Sinkhole.
Engelbrecht Cave has an interesting history. The land was once owned by Johan Carl Engelbrecht who was an entrepreneur who distilled whisky. He emptied the nasty smelling by-product of his whisky straight into the sinkhole. He also collected waste from local butchers (for a fee) which he dumped into the sinkhole.
In fact, from 1850 to 1950 the sinkhole was used as the city dump. So as you can imagine it was pretty nasty down there after 100+ years of being used as a waste disposal site.
In the 1980s a group of volunteers decided to clean out the cave so it could be explored. It took them many years to clean out the opening, and much of the rubbish was left there.
Fortunately, before the 1950s plastic wasn’t a thing, so most of the garbage had rotted away to soil. There have been many bones, horseshoes, glass bottles and other similar items found down in the cave.
Nowadays, you can visit the cave on a guided tour which takes you down 30 metres below the ground level to see the beginning of the underground lake. The tour cost $15 per adult and lasts 45 minutes. You will need to walk down stairs into the sinkhole and then into the caves. We visited the opening of both the west and the east caves.
Cave Diving at Englebrecht Cave
Before we came to the Engelbrecht Cave, we watched a video at the Visitor Centre of a group of cave divers exploring the cave systems under Mt Gambier. These cave divers have spent the last few years exploring the different passages trying to link them together.
When we arrived to do the tour of Englebrecht Cave, we met the same cave divers getting ready to do some further exploration in the caves. We were really interested to learn about what they are finding.
Josh told us that water almost certainly through all the way from Engelbrecht to the Cave Gardens, but he’s not sure if the passages will be large enough for people to get through.
Qualified cave-divers are able to explore the cave systems around Englebrecht Cave – contact their office on (08) 8723 5552 for further details.
This sinkhole with gardens is located right in the middle of the city. This is where the cave divers are trying to find passages joining to Engelbrecht cave. You can view this sinkhole and the gardens from above or walk down steps to a viewing platform.
We were a bit sad to see rubbish in this sinkhole. We also learned that in years gone by this was where the towns waste water would flow. In the 1990s the sinkhole was cleaned up, the wastewater pipes were diverted or blocked off, and the gardens were replanted.
Things to do around Mount Gambier
Once you leave the town, there are so many things to see around Mount Gambier. The landscape is dotted with sinkholes, caves, crater lakes and even a dormant volcano.
The Centenary Tower was built to mark the centenary of the founding of Mt Gambier. The tower is located at the highest point in the town and looks over Valley Lake. There is a small carpark about halfway up the hill and from there you need to walk. This carpark is not suitable for caravans.
The walk up to the tower gets increasingly steep as you get closer to the top. If the flag is flying on the tower, that means it is open to visitors, and we paid $2 each to climb the very narrow spiral staircase to the balcony. You can see a tiny corner of the Blue Lake from the balcony.
We saw a snake on the way back down – there are signs around the Blue Lake warning of snakes too, so be aware.
Mt Schank Volcano
The Mt Schank Volcano is visible from the Centenery tower and also from parts of the walk around the Blue Lake.
This was the site of the most recent volcanic eruption in Australia, around 4,500 years ago. You can walk to the top of the volcano and around the crater rim. You will walk up 1038 steps which are the most unusual steps we’ve ever seen.
The views down into the crater are beautiful, and if you’re really fit and capable, you can walk down into the crater. (Although we didn’t). We walked around the rim, and would recommend wearing walking shoes with good grip, as we both slipped on the loose scoria gravel.
We loved the Mt Schank Volcano hike, and rate it as one of the best things to do around Mount Gambier.
Little Blue Lake
The Little Blue Lake is a cenote and is a popular swimming spot with Mt Gambier locals. Under the right conditions it has a similar blue colour to the “big” Blue Lake in town. Sadly, it looked pretty black the day we visited.
We spoke to a local lady who was Paddle Boarding there who told us people often jump off the cliffs into the water, and get shocked as it is so cold.
From the main Glenelg – Mount Gambier Road take Seacoast Hill Road towards Hell’s Hole. This road is in good condition. It’s a dirt road but you’ll have no problems driving or even towing a caravan down there.
From the carpark you take a little walk down into the pine plantation and you’ll see an area of native bush on your left-hand side. A small walking track goes up the hill and eventually brings you to the platform that looks out over Hells hole.
The platform is 38 m above the water and it’s all fenced so it’s a little bit hard to take photos. The water is around 20 m deep in the sinkhole.
You can continue on the path to do a 750 meter loop walk the remainder of it just takes you back through the plantation from Hells hole.
If you continue down the road from Hell’s Hole and turn right on Carba Road, this will take you to Caroline’s Sinkhole. However, don’t trust Google Maps and turn where it tells you. Keep going and you will see the sign for Penambol conservation Park.
There is a tiny little car park here, but if you’re towing or in a large vehicle we recommend just parking out on the main road. A short walk takes you to the viewing platform over Carolines Sinkhole.
This is a large sinkhole but there is no water in this one. It’s spectacular – we saw some beautiful birds there. We had the area or to ourselves. We think Caroline’s Sinkhole is well worth a visit.
TIP: If you are towing or concerned about driving on a rough road, when you leave Caroline’s Sinkhole return the way you came. If you continue down Carba Road you will eventually join back up with the main sealed road back to Mount Gambier however this road is quite rough.
Little Rippa Brewery
The Little Rippa Brewery a small batch brewery with a wood-fired restaurant. It is around 6km from the centre of town out in farming country. It’s a popular spot for locals and visitors so it’s a good idea to book a table.
We can highly recommend their craft beer tasting paddles (we especially enjoyed the stout) and the pizzas were delicious too. Nigel seemed equally impressed by the unique urinals and views from the men’s toilets!
Little Rippa is open Thursday evenings, Friday and Saturday from noon till 10pm, and Sunday from noon till 5pm. Check their Facebook Page for up to date opening hours and public holiday opening hours.
Best Walks around Mount Gambier
Blue Lake Loop trail
We did several walks around Mount Gambier. The 3.6km loop trail around the Blue Lake is close to town and very popular. While you ca’t see into the lake the whole way around, there are several lookouts. It was a really cool way to see the lake from different perspectives.
The Blue Lake loop trail is paved all the way, and we would class it a medium grade hike. There are a few hills, and steep steps if you climb to the Stephen Henty Lookout.
Mount Schank Crater Rim trail
Mount Schank is a dormant volcano around 18km from the centre of Mount Gambier. There is a 2.5km trail which takes you around the rim of the crater. You will enjoy beautiful views down into the crater (we saw kangaroos down in there) and also across to Mount Gambier town.
Getting to Mount Gambier
You can fly to Mount Gambier from either Melbourne or Adelaide with Rex Airways or QantasLink. The airport is located around 10km north of the city.
Mount Gambier is located 435km south east or 4.5 hrs drive from Adelaide. Take the Princes Highway via Murray Bridge . Alternatively, you can take the scenic coastal drive along the Limestone Coast, passing through Kingston SE, Robe and Beachport.
If you’re heading west Mount Gambier is about 5 hours drive west from Melbourne. You can either go via Ballarat or Geelong. If you have driven the Great Ocean Road, Mt Gambier is a logical next stop on your journey.
Getting Around Mount Gambier
There is a bus service around Mount Gambier which operates Monday to Friday. Timetables don’t seem to be available on the buslines website, but you can pick one up from the Visitor Centre.
The Visitor Centre also has free bike hire. They will give you a map with suggested routes to see the main attractions around town.
If you want to see some of the attractions outside the town, or visit the greater Limestone Coast area, you can hire a car from Mount Gambier.
Where to stay in Mount Gambier
The closest place for free camping at Mount Gambier is out in the pine forest at the Kromelite Road Rest Area. This rest area is right on the Princes Highway, so can be a little too noisy for some. There are no facilities here.
There are several caravan parks in and around Mount Gambier if you are travelling with your home on wheels, and there is also camping available at the showgrounds which is close to the centre of town. You’ll need cash to stay here, they don’t have eftpos facilities (rates are $30 per night)
If you’re looking for hotel or motel accommodation in Mount Gambier, check availability and pricing via booking.com
Best time to visit Mount Gambier
As we discovered, the best time to visit Mount Gambier is when the Blue Lake actually looks blue. This is in the summer months from December to February.
We visited in early October and the weather was quite chilly. I guess the bonus is that it wasn’t too crowded then.
What to pack for Mount Gambier
This will obviously depend on what time of year you are visiting. We were in Mount Gambier in the middle of spring (October) and it was quite cool so we definitely needed our layers and beanies.
We also recommend you wearing good walking shoes as there is plenty of opportunity to get your steps up around Mount Gambier.
Don’t forget your Travel Insurance!
Is Mount Gambier worth visiting?
Whether you are into nature, arts or food and wine, (or beer!!) you’ll find plenty to see and do in Mount Gambier for a couple of days.
How many days do you need to visit Mount Gambier?
A weekend in Mount Gambier would be a perfect getaway. One day to visit the sights in the city, and another day to road trip out to some of the nearby sights. We travelled through Mount Gambier from east to west on our South Australia Road Trip.
We visited Piccaninnie Ponds and Ewens Ponds on the way into Mount Gambier and then spent a full day checking out the sights in town.
Check out our Mount Gambier Travel Guide video
Need help planning your Mount Gambier trip?
We’d love to help you plan your trip. Drop your questions in the comment box below, or send us an email.
Where to next?
Check out South Australia’s Limestone Coast for beautiful beaches, great seafood and more.