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Traversing the coast from the land of natural wonders on the Limestone Coast, to the untouched wilderness of Kangaroo Island and the sea and vines of the Fleurieu Peninsula, there’s something to discover around every bend. Download the Southern Ocean Drive map, and hit the road to uncover some of Australia’s best wineries, most breathtaking beaches and jaw-dropping geological marvels. Here’s our guide to the best things to see and do along the Southern Ocean Drive.
Descend into an underwater oasis and explore crystal clear waters, lush underwater forests and serene grottos. Just 20 minutes’ drive from Mount Gambier, the otherworldly Piccaninnie Ponds are world-renowned by divers, with three unique diving hotspots all fed by freshwater natural springs. Plunge into the water and explore a surreal submerged forest where aquatic plants grow up to 15 metres below the surface and swim by majestic walls of white limestone carved out over thousands of years. Pack your wetsuit and dive in to explore the 10-metre-deep First Pond before venturing on to the breathtaking 35-metre-deep Cathedral and the gigantic 100-metre-deep Chasm. Divers are well catered for on the Limestone Coast with renowned dive-site, Kilsby Sinkhole, just half an hour away. Please note, you’ll need a diving licence to snorkel or scuba dive.
Mount Gambier is a geological wonderland, home to extinct volcanoes, dazzling sapphire waters and an underground Garden of Eden. The town’s crown jewel, the famed Blue Lake, was once an active volcano but today, molten rock has given way to a 72-metre-deep lake filled with cobalt water. It’s less-known little cousin, aptly named Little Blue Lake, is equally impressive, and better still you can dive right into its blue depths. A favourite with the locals, this impressive swimming amphitheatre is surrounded by breathtaking sheer 10-metre limestone walls and boasts crystal-clear fresh water to refresh you from the drive. Mount Gambier’s wonders continue underground in the centre of town where you can descend into a subterranean oasis at Umpherston Sinkhole. Here, you’ll discover a beautiful sunken garden set in a collapsed limestone cave now blanketed with flowers, plants and lush green grass thanks to a few local green thumbs. Check out our guide for more things to do in Mount Gambier.
Hidden beneath an unassuming cliff-face 20 minutes’ drive from Mount Gambier lies a magical cave dripping with glistening stalactites and stalagmites. Once an ancient shoreline, the sea has long since receded leaving behind a 30-metre-wide chamber adorned with pink and brown dolomite crystals. Tantanoola Cave’s impressive interior has been thousands of years in the making with countless hanging stalactites and floor-to-ceiling crystal columns making it one of Australia’s most beautiful caves. Learn about the history and geology of the cave from a local guide before donning your explorer’s hat and delving in to explore the underground wonderland for yourself. This cave is also one of Australia’s few wheelchair accessible caves.
Take a break from the road and spend a few days sipping your way around South Australia’s red centre, Coonawarra. The ultimate destination for lovers of bold red wine, the limestone-rich terra rossa soil of this picturesque part of South Australia produces world-famous Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. More than 24 cellar doors pack the relatively small region, so set up camp for the night at Bellwether and spend a day tasting your way around renowned wineries including Penley Estate, Brand’s Laira, Wynns Coonawarra Estate and Katnook Estate. Feeling hungry? Nestled among the sea of vines, Penola is a picture-perfect country town dishing up a smorgasbord of food and wine experiences. Enjoy a long lunch overlooking the vineyards at Hollick Estates, stop in at Koonara Wines in the main street to taste a local drop or two or venture further to Mayura Station and dine at The Tasting Room, the ultimate in paddock to plate experience featuring mutli-award winning Wagyu beef.
Pull up at Robe and throw down your towel to soak up the sun at one of South Australia’s chicest coastal destinations. Well-worth an overnight stop on the Southern Ocean Drive, here you’ll lounge on long sandy white beaches, kick back in cosmopolitan cafes and glam galleries and feast on some of South Australia’s best seafood. Stay the night at Horizons Robe and wake up with a morning stroll along Long Beach stretching 14km of sandy-white bliss or drive right on to the sand and spend the day enjoying the surf. Take a quick dip, then stroll along the beautiful Obelisk Coastal Trail, passing Robe’s historic old gaol ruins, jetty and marina. Sample the smorgasbord of local seafood on offer (Robe is famed for its crayfish) and wind down with a local brew at Robe Town Brewery.
Explore towering sand dunes, meander down quiet waterways and roam along snow-white sandy beaches. Nature lovers will be richly rewarded on the Southern Ocean Drive at Coroong National Park. Stretching some 130km down the coast from the Limestone Coast to the Fleurieu Peninsula, the ecological diversity of this important wetland system is staggering. Encompassing a string of saltwater lagoons and wetlands brimming with fish, spend a few days kayaking the tranquil waters, spotting abundant birdlife, lounging on picturesque beaches and discovering the important Aboriginal culture of the Ngarrindjeri people. Make sure you stick around for dusk – sunsets over the Coorong are a sight to behold. Australian film lovers will also recognise it as the site where Storm Boy was filmed.
Home to the oldest recorded Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world and fifth-generation winemaking families, Langhorne Creek is sprawling with vineyards and ancient gum trees lining lush river banks. Stop for the day and explore grand cellar doors at the beautiful Angas Plains Winery or immerse yourself in the stunningly renovated horse stable at Bremerton Wines. Indulge yourself at the Vineyard Road Cellar Door with their range of wines and skin care products or sample your way through award-winning wine labels at Winehouse. With the jaw-dropping Fleurieu Penisula coastline, world-famous McLaren Vale wines and lush Adelaide Hills right on Langhorne Creek’s doorstep, it’s the perfect base to explore the region.
Next stop is Victor Harbor, a holiday town known for its horse-drawn tram, penguin colony and surf beaches. If you happen to arrive between May and October you may be lucky enough to see southern right and humpback whales frolicking in the waters between Victor and Goolwa. A stone’s throw away is the neighbouring seaside town of Port Elliot where you’ll discover some of the best beaches in South Australia plus homewares shops, stylish cafes and chic, beachside cottages. Walk the trails along a dramatic coastline, wander through the charming streets admiring the town’s historical facades, stop for lunch at the Flying Fish Cafe or try the famous donut flavour of the month at Port Elliot Bakery (think flavours like Espresso Martini, lemon cheesecake and Tim Tam) before settling down at The Summer House or Mill Estate Cottage.
Only an hour’s drive south of Adelaide, Deep Creek Conservation Park is the perfect spot to stretch your legs after a day of driving. A popular hiking spot for locals, here you can wander more than 15 walking trails taking you through some of the most stunning bushland with dramatic coastal views, waterfalls, pristine beaches and lots of wildlife like Kangaroos and koalas along the way. Spend the night at Southern Ocean Retreats in the heart of the park and jump on a guided walk with Southern Ocean Walk to traverse the historic Heysen Trail through some of the most breathtaking sections of the park with the knowledge of an experienced local. For the ultimate luxury, settle down at Naiko Retreat and soak in views of the Southern Ocean from the tub of your own luxury beachside abode.
Home to pristine beaches, rugged wilderness, diverse wildlife and incredible produce, Kangaroo Island is the ultimate island escape and the epic finale to the Southern Ocean Drive. Separated from the mainland by a narrow strip of ocean, just drive your car onto the SeaLink Ferry from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw and start exploring. Get back to nature and swim with dolphins in crystal-clear water, kick back on the sandy-white shores of stunning beaches, traverse through sprawling national parks packed with wildlife and taste test your way through an impressive bounty of culinary experiences. With so much to see and do, you’ll want to set aside a few days to really experience island life so check out our guide to Kangaroo Island and start planning.