If you long for a holiday that offers a diverse range of experiences for all age groups,the Limestone Coast region should be at the top of your list.
By Dave Brookes
If you long for a holiday that offers a diverse range of experiences for all age groups, beautiful and fragile coastal ecosystems, rich history, underground caves, a World Heritage site where you can walk in the foot prints of dinosaurs, laid-back coastal towns with stunning scenery and seafood, world renowned wine regions, a range of accommodation options and first-class dining options, South Australia’s Limestone Coast region should be at the top of your list.
Stretching down the state’s South-Western coast line from the Coorong National Park to the Victorian border, it not only encompasses some stunning coastal scenery and townships, but if you venture inland you can sample the wonders of South Australia’s only World Heritage site at Naracoorte and the wines of the world famous wine regions of Coonawarra, Wrattonbully, Mount Benson and Padthaway.
To the region’s north, the Coroong National Park stretches some 130km down the coast in a string of saltwater lagoons which are sheltered from the energetic Southern Ocean by the impressive sand dunes of the Younghusband Peninsula.
With its vibrant wetlands and archaeological sites, it is a brittle ecosystem that holds enormous cultural significance to the Ngarrindjeri people, the traditional landowners.
Australian film lovers will recognise it as the site where the wonderful Storm Boy was filmed with Mr Percival the pelican.
The Coorong is an important breeding site for these beautiful, lumbering birds as well as home to numerous species of ducks, swans, cormorants, grebes, terns and many species of migratory birds.
There are numerous walking trails within the National Park but what better way to learn a little more about this fragile environment than from the traditional landowners. Camp Coorong offers a variety of activities from guided tours and a cultural museum, through to indigenous arts & craft sessions.
If taking in the sights from the water is more your thing, Coorong Cruises offer some fantastic options and for those that would like to try their arm at kayaking Canoe the Coorong is the place to head for peaceful, environmentally aware adventures that include a bush tucker walk through the sand-dunes and cooking lessons.
The whole family will enjoy the World Heritage listed Naracoorte Caves National Park in Naracoorte Heading southwards, fans of Australia’s Big Things will stand in awe in front of the mighty Big Lobster.
Locally known as Larry the Lobster it has stood sentinel over this scenic seaside town since 1979.
After a visit to this cultural icon it would be amiss not to sample some of the local crayfish and the town features many restaurants and takeaways where you can indulge in your love of the spiny crustacean.
While you are in town, a visit to the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse is a must to learn a little about the noble art of living and working in a lighthouse.
Originally opened in 1872, the historic lighthouse is 41m high and features an eight room residence for the two lighthouse keepers and a lantern that can be seen up to 40km out to sea.
Continuing south, Cape Jaffa Wines in the Mount Benson wine region makes a perfect stop to stock up on some great wines.
The rustic cellar door offers panoramic views across the region and you will be able to sample a variety of cheeses from the Limestone Coast Cheese Co, indulge in a platter of local produce and of course sample the delicious offerings of Cape Jaffa Wines.
Robe is a delightful seaside town to while away a couple of days.
There are a number of museums to visit along with the touching Robe Fishermen’s Memorial, a monument to the dozen lives of local fishermen lost at sea.
Those seeking a caffeine fix should seek out the Mahalia Coffee HQ who not only roast and serve up the region’s best coffee, but also stock a range of china, ceramics, art works and souvenirs.
A wander around Robe’s harbour and beach does wonders for the soul and for those staying a little longer there are some wonderful restaurants in town such as the lovely Sails.
Those continuing down the coast will want to stop in at Beachport to have a peek at one of the longest jetties in Australia and take in the sites of this bucolic seaside town. Perhaps take the car for a spin on the Bowman Scenic Drive which provides several vantage points for viewing the passing Southern Right Whales that cruise this coast.
Robe and Beachport providing the perfect launching points to venture inland, cutting across to Naracoorte to visit South Australia’s only World Heritage list site, the Naracoorte Caves National Park.
They were officially recognised in 1994 because of the significance of the fossils in the caves.
There are 21 known fossil sites here preserving the bones of megafauna that became extinct approximately 60,000 years ago.
The caves acted as pitfalls for at least 500,000 years with animals tumbling in and perishing, their bones preserved underground.
In 1969, two explorers squeezed through a gap in Victoria Fossil Cave and discovered a massive chamber full of fossilised remains.
With many tour options through the caves, you will walk through magnificent chambers with illuminated stalactites and stalagmites and you’ll learn about the history of the caves, excavation techniques, current work and the World Heritage listing.
It’s a fascinating visit for all ages and there are adventure caving tours for those wanting to elevate the heart rate a little.
Those wishing to whet their whistle and sample some of one of the world’s most renowned wine regions would be well advised to drive south of Naracoorte in the direction of Coonawarra.
It’s home to some of the most famous names in Australian wine and the website lists all the cellar doors you can visit and believe me, you will be spoilt for quality and choice.
The gables at Wynns Coonawarra Estate will be instantly recognisable to anyone with a passing interest in wine as they feature prominently on the label of their famous wines.
The cellar door at Wynns features a stunning lineup of wines and those who fancy themselves as a winemaker can try their hand at the MYOB – make your own blend session in the laboratory, putting together their own wine from cabernet, shiraz and merlot to take home in a personalised bottle.
Make sure you ask the staff to point the way to the famous Coonawarra railing siding which is just up the road, one of the most photographed wine sights in Australia.
History lovers will want to visit Coonawarra’s main town of Penola, for this was the home of Australia’s first saint, Mary McKillop. The Mary McKillop Penola Centre houses an interpretive exhibition giving insight into the life and achievements of this remarkable Australian woman.
There are several memorial parks to wander and a visit to the 1867 schoolhouse, where Mary taught is a must.
You really need to spend at least a couple of days in Penola to do it justice.
There are just too many world class wineries to visit and sites to see. A visit to the fantastic Pipers of Penola, one of Australia’s great rural dining experiences with an à la carte menu that features the best of South Australian produce is a must.
Heading directly south, you will soon reach Mount Gambier.
The region is renowned for its mysterious Blue Lake , whose vivid colour changes in sync with the seasons.
The stunning volcanic landscape is home to many natural attractions such as the Umpherston Sinkhole and Tantanoola Caves Conservation Park.
Those who appreciate the finer things in life would be well advised to stay and dine at The Barn which has excellent accommodation, dining and one of the best rural wine lists in the country.
The adventurous should head further south to just shy of the Victorian border to visit the Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park which boasts some of the world’s best freshwater diving and snorkelling.
The crystal clear waters here have been filtering through limestone and forming the features of the ponds for thousands of years.
The water is chilly but the underwater visibility is stunning and a snorkel across the top of The Chasm, peering down into its depths is an otherworldly experience.
Permits are required to dive so visit the website for further details.
We’ve only scratched the surface of what the beautiful Limestone Coast has to offer here.
One thing is for sure. Once you have visited the Limestone Coast you will long to return.
Its natural beauty has a seemingly irresistible magnetic attraction.