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Published January 1st 2022
South Australia's Tourist Hotspot
South Australia's Limestone Coast extends from the Coorong National Park in the north to Port MacDonnell in the south. Along with its stunning coastal vistas, the region encompasses villages and towns like Beachport, Southend, Robe and Kingston SE. It has a rich maritime heritage and is home to a Southern Rock Lobster fishery worth $250 million annually to the South Australian economy.
Southend is a picturesque hide-away on the Limestone Coast, at the southern end of Rivoli Bay and not far from Beachport. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Starting at the southern end of the coast, Port MacDonnell is an easy 25-minute drive south of Mount Gambier. During the 1880s, it was the second busiest seaport in South Australia transporting wool and wheat to Europe. It currently boasts the largest lobster fishing fleet in South Australia.
Opposite the town's jetty, the dominant foreshore feature is the imposing public buildings complex. Housing the Police Station, Courthouse, Customs House and Telegraph Station, the impressive stone building was constructed over a 13-year period between 1862 and 1875.
Beachport's World War 2 Memorial commemorates the loss of the first Australian servicemen killed in action on home soil during WW2. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
There's also a Maritime Museum in nearby Meylin Street established in 1990 and well worth a visit. At nearby Cape Northumberland, you'll find spectacular coastal scenery and a signpost denoting the southernmost point in South Australia.
After a short stay at Port MacDonnell, we were headed for the coastal village of Beachport where a mate had recommended a local caravan park as a great base camp. He was spot on. With lovely grassed sites right on the edge of town, some elevated and overlooking picturesque Rivoli Bay, this was the perfect spot from which to explore the region's attractions.
Beachport Jetty was completed in 1882. Today it's a little more than half its original length but can still lay claim to being the second longest in South Australia. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
First populated by whalers in the early 19th Century Beachport became a prominent port with the arrival of the railway and the building of a large wool and grain store in 1879.
Today it's probably best known as home to the magnificent Beachport Jetty, which once extended 1.2 kilometres into the by but is now just over 770 metres long. The jetty is very popular with local and visiting fishermen and there's a great view from the far end back towards town.
Just south of Beachport, you'll find a memorial to the first Australian servicemen lost in action on Australian soil during World War 2, two Able Seamen killed as they attempted to make safe a German sea mine that had been towed inshore by a fisherman.
Cape Jaffa Lighthouse stood on Margaret Brock reef near Cape Jaffa from 1872 until its decommissioning in 1973. It was moved to Kingston SE in 1976 and is now a major exhibit at the town's maritime museum. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
North of Beachport, be sure to take the Bowman Scenic Drive for some truly spectacular coastal views.
The unofficial capital of the Limestone Coast is Robe. Another former busy port, it's now a picturesque and popular holiday destination situated on the southern shore of Guichen Bay. Highly regarded for its combination of history, spectacular coastal scenery, laidback lifestyle and the opportunity to wine & dine on fabulous seafood and great local wines, Robe is the jewel in the Limestone Coast crown.
Your first stop here should be the Visitor Information Centre, home to an outstanding little historical display and a wealth of local information.
The southernmost point in South Australia is found at Cape Northumberland near Port MacDonnell. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Robe's old port holds a unique place in Australian history. In the mid-1850s, the Victorian Government imposed a tax on Chinese migrants arriving to work on the incredibly rich Central Victorian goldfields. To avoid the tax, the Chinese would land at Robe and trek overland to the diggings more than 400 kilometres away. In one year alone, 1857, it's estimated about 15,000 Chinese undertook this gruelling journey.
There's plenty more history to be had here with Robe boasting more than 80 historic buildings, the ruins of the town's early gaol circa 1860 and a stone obelisk built on Cape Dombey in 1852 which, although in danger of crashing into the sea due to ongoing coastal erosion, still assists vessels to safely enter the bay.
The stunning coastline and pristine waters of the Limestone Coast are just two of the region's top drawcards. Photo's: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
To the north of Robe, you'll find Kingston South East or Kingston SE as it's referred to, another town established as a safe harbour in the mid-19th Century. Today it's another popular holiday destination along this stretch of coast, home to the 'Big Lobster' monument and the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse Museum on Marine Parade.
Originally located on Margaret Brock Reef near Cape Jaffa, the imposing lighthouse was replaced by an automated light in 1970 and the tower moved to Kingston where it opened as a museum in 1976. While you're in town, don't miss the opportunity to complete the Kingston Historical Walk taking in more than 20 locations of interest.
Home to a large part of SA's lobster fishing fleet Port MacDonnell is a popular holiday and fishing destination. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
A short drive inland from the Limestone Coast, you'll find Penola, at the centre of the Coonawarra wine-growing district but probably best known as the home of Mary MacKillop and the site of the country's first free Catholic school.
Australia's first saint of the Catholic Church, Mother Mary MacKillop, was canonized on 17th October 2010, becoming Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, and the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre highlights the life and work of this fascinating woman.
Don't miss a visit to the Centre and the schoolhouse, circa 1867, where Mary taught. Also stroll down Petticoat Lane, a pretty heritage-listed site featuring a number of timber and stone cottages.
Penola is at the heart of the Coonawarra wine region, home to almost 6000 Hectares of vineyards producing about 25,000 tonnes of Cabernet, Shiraz, Merlot and Chardonnay grapes annually.
The first vines were planted here in 1891 by John Riddoch and the district named Coonawarra by him in 1897.
The tasting options here seem limitless but for something a little different try the Coonawarra Wineries Walking Trail, a 5-kilometre stretch that takes in Redman Wines, Brand's Laira, Zema Estate, Di Giorgio, Wynns and Ottelia. With a short stay at each winery, the trail takes between 3 and 4 hours to complete and you have the option of ordering a picnic basket from the Coonawarra Store to enjoy along the way.
Built in 1863 Robe's Customs House also served as the office of the Harbour Master and Receiver of Wrecks. Photo's: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Without a doubt, the Limestone Coast and nearby hinterland is tailor-made for a great getaway, home to some spectacular natural wonders and a few man-made ones as well. The whole area comes alive with holidaymakers throughout summer but to my mind, the best time to visit is autumn. From March to May, there's plenty of sunshine and the weather is generally warm and pleasant with daytime temperatures hovering around the low to mid-20s.
The Top-10 Things to do on South Australia's Limestone Coast
1 Be sure to seek out the history and heritage of coastal townships like Port MacDonnell, Beachport, Robe and Kingston SE.
2 Take the short trip inland to visit Penola and the Coonawarra wine region.
3 For history buffs, don't miss the Port MacDonnell Maritime Museum, Beachport's National Trust Museum, Robe Customs House Museum, the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse Museum at Kingston SE and the Kingston Pioneer National Trust Museum.
4 Head for the Pool of Siloam at Beachport, Australia's answer to the Dead Sea. With its salinity level seven times that of the ocean, it's a popular swimming hole and much sought after for the water's therapeutic properties.
5 Check out Robe's iconic obelisk – it might be your last chance before the cliffs crumble and the structure topples into the sea.
6 Take a selfie with Larry the Big Lobster at Kingston SE.
7 Enjoy a light lunch and something to drink at 'the Cally', the Caledonian Inn at Robe first licensed in 1858.
8 Trek to the top of Beacon Hill Lookout Tower for some great views across Robe and surrounds.
9 You can't come to the Limestone Coast without venturing onto some spectacular beaches. My favourites include Southend, Robe and Beachport.
10 Head for South Australia's most southerly point at Cape Northumberland near Port MacDonnell.
For more information, including contact details for Visitor Information Centres along the length of the Limestone Coast, go to www.visitlimestonecoast.com.au
Robe's old gaol ruins are all that remain of a substantial prison built in 1861. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Stay There …..
There are some great caravan parks along the length of the Limestone Coast, including Discovery Parks and Sea Vu Caravan Park in Robe. Big4's are available at nearby Mount Gambier & Naracoorte and Kingston has its Foreshore Caravan Park.
We chose to stay at Beachport Caravan Park, literally on the shores of Rivoli Bay. Brilliant location, modern clean amenities and a brand-new camp kitchen made this the preferred base camp for our Limestone Coast experience.
Free camping is allowed at Allandale East Memorial Park, 4 km north of Port MacDonnell. Toilets and water are available. Pets are allowed.
Greenrise Lake Campground is 1 km south of Penola on the western side of the Riddoch Highway. This free campsite has flush toilets, a dump point, bore water, barbecues and shelters.
Three Mile Bend camping area is off Five Mile road, 5-km north of Beachport. Toilets and water are available, pets are permitted and it's free.
Kotgee Camping Area is in the Canunda NP, 3-km southeast of Southend. Take the Boozie Gully Road then the Bevilaqua Ford Track. Toilets, water and fireplaces are available. Fees apply.
There are four free-camping sites in and around Kingston SE and a fifth at The Granites, 17-km north of Kingston at Long Beach. All are free of charge and administered by Kingston District Council. For more information, call the Council on (08) 8767 2033 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Robe obelisk was built on Cape Dombey in 1852 as a navigation aid for ships entering Guichen Bay. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Getting There …..
The Limestone Coast is in southeastern South Australia, extending from the Coorong National Park in the north to Port MacDonnell in the south. Beachport is 380-kilometres south of Adelaide, about a 4-hour drive via the Princes Highway and the B1. It's 508-kilometres west of Melbourne, just a bit less than a 6-hour drive via the Glenelg Highway and the B160.