If it’s your life’s dream to see a sinkhole, Mount Gambier is your town. They are everywhere. South Australia’s Limestone Coast has over 50 water-filled sinkholes and more than 800 caves. These fascinating features are a product of the area’s volcanic activity around 5000 years ago.
A self-drive Mount Gambier sinkhole tour is a fun way to explore the region. The sinkhole trail takes you to everything from pine forests and wetlands to stands of native scrub and the chance to climb a dormant volcano. Also known as cenotes or dolines, there are both dry and water-filled sinkholes to check out.
If you want to go underground, we have thrown in a few of the most popular caves around Mount Gambier too. The caves have everything from ornate features to underground lakes and fossil remains.
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The Blue Lake
For the record, Mount Gambier’s stunning Blue Lake sits in the crater of a dormant volcano, so it is not a sinkhole. But if you are fortunate enough to visit Mount Gambier between November and late February when the water turns an iridescent blue, it is a must see. You can walk around the lake and take in the views from a variety of lookouts. But, if you are on the hunt for sinkholes, a walk around the lake will have to wait.
Read More : Things to do in Mount Gambier
Little Blue Lake
Now this is a sinkhole, and it is a popular one. Locals flock here over summer to cool off. As a result, the Little Blue Lake is one of the more accessible water-filled sinkholes around Mount Gambier. Unfortunately, because it is so accessible, impurities in the water mean it now doesn’t turn as bright blue as the Blue Lake does.
Stairs and ramps make it possible to get down to the water’s edge which is hard to do at many of the other sinkholes. If you do want to go for a dip, keep in mind the water is up to 45m deep and has a temperature in the low teens. The lake is a near perfect circle and with Mount Schank in the background it is an impressive sight.
Image Credit: Kilsby Sinkhole
Recently, you haven’t been able to scroll through Facebook or watch a travel show without seeing something about the Kilsby Sinkhole. It is on private land and the owners have opened it up to the sinkhole-loving public – especially those who like to dive or snorkel.
Despite Kilsby’s recent rise to prominence, the Defence Department and police cave divers have used the site for decades. Now, you can pay to tour the crystal clear, 60m deep sinkhole. If you don’t want to free dive, snorkel, or scuba dive you can still look around the site. You can also sample some of the gin distilled on the property made with the beautiful water.
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This sunken garden is a magic spot to visit day or night. There’s no water in the Umpherston sinkhole but you get a stunning garden. Curtains of vines cover the walls and there is a terraced garden at the base of the sinkhole that you can access by stairs. If the Blue Lake is the most photogenic place in Mount Gambier, the Umpherston Sinkhole is a close runner up.
The gardens also look amazing at night, but you have the bonus of getting to feed the resident brush tail possums. They emerge from hollows in the rock and nests in the vines to try whatever fruit you brought along for them. Our strawberries and bananas went down very well. We also saw them gobbling up grapes and rose petals.
Caroline Sinkhole is in the Penambol Conservation Park. From the car park, it is a short walk along a path through the scrub to get there. This sinkhole is above the water table so has no water in it but even in the middle of summer the vegetation at the bottom of the hole was green. Where plants weren’t spilling down the sides of the hole, it was interesting to see the how water had shaped the walls of the sinkhole.
You get a great view from a long metal viewing platform that extends beyond the edge of the sinkhole. You can explore the park more on either the Wombat or Butterfly trails that run through the area.
STAY AT PINE COUNTRY CARAVAN PARK
We loved our stay at Pine Country Caravan Park. If you are looking for a relaxed country vibe - this is the place for you. Choose from Glamping, Cabins, Ensuite Sites, Powered or Unpowered Sites. Facilities are clean and the park is well maintained. During winter sit around the communal campfire or in summer grab one of the outdoor bean bags and enjoy the sun.
This area had recently received new signage and had work done on the paths and car park, so it looked neat and tidy for our visit. The sinkhole is about halfway along a 750 metre loop trail through the Hells Hole Forest Reserve. It is a fun little walk that has great views across the surrounding plantations. The Sinkhole is pretty impressive too.
A viewing platform sets you almost 40m above the sinkhole, so you get a great view of it. The 25m deep water is very clear. As if cave diving wasn’t adventurous enough, here divers need to abseil down to the water. We were happy to leave that to a different breed of person and instead settle for the great view from the lookout.
This is another sinkhole you’ll find in the vicinity of Mount Schank. It is off the main road and the best clue you’re getting close to it is the bend in the road taken to go around it. Gouldens Sinkhole has a kind of backyard feel to it. There is no special signage, from the carpark a short track takes you past a rusty old shed to a small platform.
This is also a popular diving spot. A cave drops down almost 30m beyond the edge of the sinkhole on the opposite side to the viewing platform. While this isn’t one of the most eye catching sinkholes, it has an eeriness to it, and you find yourself staring into the water pondering what lies beneath…
There are more spectacular sinkholes on the Mount Gambier sinkhole trail, but Fossil Cave is still worth a look. It is alongside the Princess Highway on your left if you are heading from Mount Gambier to the Tantanoola Caves. Look for a turn off onto a short dirt road that goes into the car park.
There is water here, but you will need to climb down the metal ladder into the sinkhole and walk to one of the edges to see it. Advanced cave divers can explore a network of hidden lakes, air pockets, caves and features like The letterbox and The Pit.
We were lucky when we turned up here to meet a couple of divers preparing to go underground. In the middle of a pine plantation, the Pines Sinkhole is a pretty spot and has plenty of clear water in it. You can view it either from the top of the sinkhole or climb the ladder to a platform at water level.
The divers were happy to chat and explain where they would be heading and where in the area other less obvious cave openings were. It surprised us to hear the caverns extended under the road we drove in on and went some distance to the other side of the forest. It is amazing what’s below your feet!
We let them go and watched them get into the water, run through their checks and then disappear into what appeared to be a solid rock wall. After they left, we noticed a few yabbies on the rocks near the platform. It is a nice spot and worth having on your sinkhole itinerary.
If you’re not impressed by the sight of one water-filled sinkhole then try The Sisters. This pair of sinkholes are down the road from the Kilsby Sinkhole. While lacking the grandeur of Kilsby, the two sinkholes that make up the sisters are still worth walking around. If you get the chance, have a look at a map and the road the Sisters are on. It looks like the route for the road was set before realising the sinkholes were there.
There is a land bridge running between the two sinkholes from where you can get a nice view. The sinkholes are 20m deep and due to their accessibility are a popular training site for cave divers. The ground around the sinkholes is uneven and in summer there were prickly weeds about so take care when you go for a wander.
THERMAL COOKWARE SHUTTLE CHEF
The Shuttle Chef is the premium slow cooker option - perfect for on the road. Just bring your food to the boil on the stove in the inner pot, simmer for 10-15 minutes then turn it off and transfer it to the outer container, and the Shuttle Chef takes care of the rest - slow cooking your food while you travel!
MOUNT Schank Waterhole
There was a fair bit of debate in the car about whether this should be on the sinkhole list. We thought we had seen mention of a Mount Schank sinkhole somewhere but looking again we couldn’t find anything about it. There is, however, the Mount Schank waterhole near the car park – but it’s empty.
If nothing else, it is worth going to the waterhole so you can then do the walk to the top of Mount Schank. This young, dormant volcano last erupted around 5000 years ago. The 2.7km return hike to the crater rim and the views into the crater and of the surrounding area are fantastic.
Ewens and Piccaninnie Ponds
These are two of the best known sinkholes near Mount Gambier. Famous for the snorkelling and scuba diving experiences they offer, they are also quite impressive to look at if you want to stay dry. They are a must do on a sinkhole tour of the South East. Piccaninnie has the best views but at both sites you’ll have no trouble looking down 10m through the clear water to the bottom of the sinkhole.
These sinkholes are a great chance for people that don’t have a cave diving ticket to explore some sinkholes from in the water. You need to book a time to snorkel or dive and you must wear a full length wetsuit. We have snorkelled at both and it is a great experience.
Because of its name, Cave Garden is in the cave list, but it also has a sinkhole which used to be Mount Gambier’s water source. That is no longer the case and now this cave in the middle of Mount Gambier has a beautiful garden with several viewing platforms to take it all in. To top it off, after rain a waterfall cascades through the garden into the cave.
Cave Gardens come alive at night. Coloured lighting shines through the gardens and into the caves. On a wall next to cave there is a sound and lightshow that features the creation stories of the local Boandik people.
THE PERFECT GIFT IDEAS FOR CAMPERS
If you are looking for that perfect little gift for someone who loves caravanning and camping then look no further. From coffee cups, thermos, tea towels, laundry bags, log books & clotheslines - you are sure to find something. There is also plenty to keep the kids entertained with travel journals, sandcastle kits and coloured campfire flames! Check it out.
Tucked away in the backstreets of Mount Gambier, you’ll find Engelbrecht Cave fenced off in the middle of a park. The cave is privately managed so there is a fee to get in and see it which you can only do on a tour. Tours last about 40 minutes and take you via some stairs into a couple of chambers. Don’t let the entry cost put you off, it is an interesting tour.
Englebrecht is one of the caves that acts as a door-way to the cave diving network that runs under Mount Gambier’s streets. The cave is also home to a range of highly adapted creatures that live in the cold, dark environment. The tour gives you an insight into the world of cave diving and the creatures that live in the caves.
Not all the caves and sinkholes around Mount Gambier are full of water. The notable exception is Tantanoola Cave. If you want to see a cave with all those magical formations rising from the floor or hanging from the roof, this is the cave for you. Tantanoola Caves Conservation Park is a small area but features a stunning single chamber cave.
Managed by Parks SA, access to this beautiful cave is by tour only. We have done the tour and we felt it was worth doing. It only goes for 30 minutes but it leaves quite an impression.
Read More : What you’ll see at Tantanoola Caves
Obviously, the Naracoorte Caves are not in Mount Gambier. They are in Naracoorte. But, when you have a world heritage cave site in the neighbourhood, they are a must see on any trip to the south east. Although there are over 20 caves on the site, 3 are open to the public.
Stick-Tomato and Alexandra Cave are where to go if you want the wonder of ornate caves. You can do a tour of Blanche Cave on a bat tour. But what the Naracoorte Caves are famous for are fossils. Victoria Cave is where the public can see incredible displays of the region’s past fauna. There are more displays at the Wonambi Fossil Centre.
A visit to the Naracoorte Caves is a full day activity. There are the multi chamber caves, the fossil centre, and several walks around the park you can do. The park has a full range of facilities – even campsites. The cost for a day there depends on which activities you do as there are fees for each section. See the Naracoorte Caves website for all the details.
|Mount Gambier Accommodation||Type||Price||Location|
|Kennedy Executive Townhouse||Apartment||$$$||Mount Gambier|
|The Customs House||Bed & Breakfast||$$$||Port MacDonnell|
|Olive's Cottage||Entire Home||$$||Mount Gambier|
|The Old Mount Gambier Gaol||Unique Hotel||$||Mount Gambier|
|Pine Country Caravan Park||Caravan Park||$||Mount Gambier|
|Blue Lake Holiday Park||Caravan Park||$||Mount Gambier|