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The Limestone Coast is one of the popular South Australian regions for tourism. Formerly known as the South East, it attracts thousands of interstate tourists as they travel about Australia. Locals also come in droves to visit the fabulous Limestone Coast wineries at Coonawarra and Padthaway, the Naracoorte Caves, and Mount Gambier's Blue Lake.
I recently took a short break for a road trip from Adelaide to Mount Gambier, travelling out through Murray Bridge and Tailem Bend then taking the inland route along the Dukes Highway.
Some towns are so small that you would barely notice them if you didn't have to slow down to pass through. But often it's the smaller places that have more to see, and my first stop at Coomandook didn't disappoint - I found a large ex-army tank was parked near the main street. Interestingly Wikipedia calls Coomandook a settlement rather than a town.
Passing through Coonalpyn ( I forced myself to bypass its bakery), and Tintinara (where there are walking trails to explore), I pressed on to Keith for lunch. As I enjoyed a pie from the bakery, I had a quick look at the National Trust Museum. Even though it wasn't attended, I could look through a wire cage and see some of the exhibits.
As I arrived at Naracoorte I saw some of the pine forests that are the life blood for much of the state's south east. There are many tree plantations supporting forestry workers, while pulp mills also bring employment to locals. The railways of the Limestone Coast also thrived in the past, but have now been mostly replaced by road transport.
I didn't visit the Naracoorte Caves this time as I have been there previously, but called in at the Sheep's Back Museum where a helpful woman talked to me about the railway history of Naracoorte. If you haven't been to the Naracoorte Caves you should go - they are currently South Australia's only World heritage listed place.
Naracoorte is a good sized town with a population of around 5,000, and one of the favourite activities for kids is climbing on the steam engine in Pioneer Park. On a Saturday afternoon the main street was very quiet, and I think many the locals were probably enjoying a footy match somewhere close by.
Most travellers to these South Australian regions would have their eyes firmly set on the Limestone Coast wineries just down the road at Coonawarra, but I recently lost my ability to smell wine so reluctantly bypassed the wineries. At the leafy Coonawarra Memorial Park I found quite a few sculptures commemorating the pioneers who helped to put Coonawarra on the map, and it is a good spot to sit down with a picnic lunch to enjoy a bottle that you've bought nearby.
After nearly running dry I stopped only for petrol in Penola and pressed on the final leg of the journey from Adelaide to Mount Gambier. I was beginning to regret my rashness in not booking accommodation, as the tourist information office was already closed. Luckily a motel room was easy to find, and I was ready to look around South Australia's second largest city.
Umpherston Sinkhole, One of Many Mount Gambier Attractions
There are so many things to see and do in Mount Gambier that I have covered them in a separate article here. Although I only spent a day in the Mount, you could easily spend a few days leisurely exploring the attractions. The Old Mount Gambier Gaol offers budget accommodation in a unique environment, but you should book ahead as it can get very busy.
On the return journey I planned to leave the Dukes Highway and take the coastal road to explore the scenic towns of Beachport and Robe, and the ruggedly attractive Coorong National Park.
While driving from Mount Gambier to Millicent I stopped briefly for some urban exploration at a disused pulp mill. Built in 1938 it was once a bustling plant of 300 employees, but today it is a collection of rusting buildings used in part as a truck depot.
A Studebaker Hawk Displayed at the Geltwood Festival in Millicent
The Geltwood Festival was in full swing in Millicent when I arrived, celebrating the fabric of life on the Limestone Coast. The main street was packed with people browsing the food stalls, listening to the music, and enjoying the displays of vintage vehicles.
Beachport was once a busy port connected by a railway to Mount Gambier, with the train line ending at the Beachport jetty. Now the former railway station is the bowling club, although you can still see a railway water tower on the main street.
I had lunch by the Beachport jetty - one of the longest in South Australia. It is a very pretty town and popular with tourists, with many attractions including a museum run by the Beachport National Trust, the quaint Beachport Hotel, and the popular Bompas Restaurant.
A short distance from Beachport is the Pool of Siloam with water seven times saltier than the sea. Apart from helping swimmers to float more easily the water is said to be therapeutic, but on an autumn day I wasn't tempted to try the experience. For other Beachport attractions, read here.
As there a plenty of things to do in Robe I decided to stay the night there, and had a pleasant afternoon exploring town and the walking trails which lead to the Robe Gaol ruins and the Obelisk. The former Customs House was built to deal with some 16,000 Chinese immigrants who landed at Robe to avoid an arrival tax and then walked 400km to the Victorian goldfields in the 1860's. It is now a museum.
As I sat on the beach outside the Robe Hotel the sunset was absolutely breathtaking, and I was glad that I had chosen to stay in Robe. Its beautiful beaches are popular for swimming and surfing, fishing and fabulous fresh seafood to enjoy. and there are many quaint heritage buildings from the 19th century within easy walking distance around the town. For more ideas of things to do in Robe see the town website and also this list of suggestions.
The Big Lobster, South Australia's Famous Crustacean at Kingston SE
My next stop on the way to the Coorong National Park was at Kingston SE, home to the famed Big Lobster. While the Big Lobster is still holding on, unfortunately its adjacent restaurant did not and is for sale. Other Kingston SE attractions include some the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse and some great 19th century heritage buildings.
A Dry Salt Water Lagoon in the Coorong National Park
The tiny township of Salt Creek on the edge of the Coorong National Park provides access to a number of walking trails in the park including the Ngrugie Ngoppun Walk. It's quite an isolated area so be sure to take precautions as recommended on the website.
Shelter in Coorong National Park With Interpretive Signage
If you'd like to stay a while camping is permitted in the Coorong National Park on payment of a small fee. Bird watchers will be delighted by the enormous variety of migratory birds found here, but a four wheel drive vehicle is needed to access many areas of the park.
The road from Salt Creek continues along the Coorong through Policeman's Point to Meningie, then via Tailem Bend and Murray Bridge back to Adelaide.
The first bakery at Coonalpyn (there is now a waffle café further on) as one comes from Adelaide is worth an article by itself - I can't pass it. Ploughmans' pasty.... best ever pasty. Some of the pine forests are great for mushrooms in Autumn. But my main comment is.... how did you come to miss the Mount Monster walk?