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Piccaninnie Ponds

Southern Ocean Drive: Top ten things to do

The Southern Ocean Drive, extending some 450km from Adelaide to Mt Gambier, is one of Australia's great coastal boulevards taking in world famous wineries, extinct volcanoes, world heritage wetlands, the former home of Australia's only saint and astonishing wildlife – not to forget the extraordinary beaches and rugged coastline fronting the great Southern Ocean.

Roadtrip the Southern Ocean Drive

  1. Explore an unlikely garden

    Umpherston Sinkhole’s clunky name can be misleading. This former cave is in fact one of Mount Gambier’s prettiest gardens.

    The deep bowl in the ground, formed when the top of the chamber collapsed, was transformed into a meticulously landscaped sunken garden in 1884 by James Umpherston who owned the farmland.

    In the last few decades the descending terraces, hydrangeas and tree ferns established by Umpherston have been restored to their original splendour and there’s a fairy tale quality to this unusual space. At sunset it’s possum central, as hundreds of the marsupials emerge to enjoy fruit treats brought by visitors.

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    Umpherston Sinkhole

  2. Dive in an underwater cathedral

    The calm surface of Piccaninnie Ponds conceals an underwater wonderland that attracts divers from far and wide to its crystal clear waters and limestone caverns. Visibility is exceptional up to 40 metres, so you can fully appreciate the deep, dramatic Chasm and The Cathedral, a spectacular underwater chamber with almost pure white limestone walls.

    If you’re not a diver, snorkelling still provides impressive glimpses, and on the nearby shore, freshwater springs bubble up through the sand.

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    Piccaninnie Ponds

  3. Explore Naracoorte Caves

    The rare southern bent-wing bat is the precious inhabitant of this 800,000-year-old cave system, which is one of only two known breeding places for the critically endangered species. You’re permitted a careful glimpse on a Bat Tour and visit to the Blanche Cave, one of Naracoorte’s four out of 28 caves accessible to the public.

    Further wonders await in the Victoria Fossil Cave, a working paleontological dig with an extraordinary store of 200,000 years of animal remains, and the Alexandra Cave, filled with extravagant twists and needles of stalactites and stalagmites. From full-on adventure caving to self-guided walks, there are many ways to delve into this intriguing underground treasure.

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    Naracoorte Caves

  4. Be dazzled by the Blue Lake

    The clue’s in the name; this water-filled extinct volcanic crater is an astonishing, intense shade of sapphire blue from December through to March each year. It’s thought seasonal temperature increases cause the vivid hue, which your camera will love.

    A 3.6 kilometre walking trail takes you round all the viewing platforms, and you can branch out onto the other trails to explore further the craters, lakes, tunnels and valleys of the surrounding Mount Gambier volcanic landscape.

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    Blue Lake

  5. Cruise the Coorong

    The Coorong, a vast wetland ecosystem with ocean beach, freshwater lakes, estuaries, saline lagoon and the Murray River mouth, gives up its best secrets when explored by boat.

    A leisurely day cruise can take in the area’s seal colonies and seabirds, sites of Aboriginal significance and sands where you can dig for pipis, as well as providing a sense of the Coorong’s weird and wonderful geography – a long reservoir adjacent to lake, next to a river mouth beside an ocean.

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    Coorong Cruises

  6. Meet Kangaroo Island's wild locals

    Kangaroo Island, just a 45-minute ferry ride from the Fleurieu Peninsula, is a carefully tended wildlife sanctuary where kangaroos are just one of many native species that roam 4,416 square kilometres. A nocturnal tour of Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary introduces you to the rich nightlife of koalas, bats, possums, echidnas and more, and Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures provide close encounters with dolphins and seabirds.

    Feed the pelicans with Kingscote’s enduringly popular The Pelican Man, and take a tour right into the sandy beach, home of Kangaroo Island’s endangered sea lions at Seal Bay. Want more wildlife?

    There are penguins, as well as kangaroos to be discovered through the island’s many nature experiences, and migrating southern right whales come close to shore between June and early October.

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    Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

    Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures

  7. Live it up in a lighthouse

    Kangaroo Island has three heritage working lighthouses, and a stay in their keepers’ cottages  takes you into their storied maritime past. Cape Willoughby, on the island's east coast, was the first lighthouse in South Australia, dating back to 1852.

    Take a tour to the top for views out over the treacherous Backstairs Passage, before retiring to Thomas or Seymour Cottage, which both sleep nine. Cape Borda, on Kangaroo Island’s north-western corner, is Australia's only square lighthouse and South Australia's tallest lighthouse.

    Stay in its spacious limestone keeper’s cottage, which sleeps seven, or one of two cosy huts. Cape du Couedic Lighthouse perches atop a 90-metre high headland in the southwestern corner of the island, and its beam shines out into the vastness of the Southern Ocean. Each of its fully restored three stone cottages sleeps up to six.

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    Kangaroo Island lighthouses

  8. Get in the red in Coonawarra

    Coonawarra’s terra rossa is a stretch of Limestone Coast soil no more than 20 kilometres long, but this little patch of red earth is one of the New World’s most renowned terroirs, widely recognised as Australia’s best red wine region.

    A wander through the cellar doors on Riddoch Highway and its surrounds will introduce you to the sumptuous Cabernet Sauvignons that made Coonawarra famous, and the talents behind them. Just some of the acclaimed names to drop in on include: Katnook Estate, Leconfield, Penley Estate, Balnaves, Petaluma and the famous Wynns, the oldest operating winery in the region.

    Consider parking your car and booking a tour or stay a while in one of the many pretty cottages in Penola.

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    Coonawarra Discovery

    Penola

  9. Ride the horse drawn tram to Granite Island

    One of the Fleurieu Peninsula’s most enchanting attractions combines a 630-metre causeway between Victor Harbor Granite Island with an open-top double decker tram and its engine – a majestic Clydesdale horse. Commonplace transport in the nineteenth century, today it is the world’s only daily horse drawn tram service.

    A seat up top in the fresh air, with blue water all around and the steady clopping hoof beats below, will make you wish it were still the standard way to get around.

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    Granite Island tram

  10. Catapult into McLaren Vale

    The McMurtrie Mile, McLaren Vale’s winery trail, is home to the Wirra Wirra winery, where boisterous fun goes hand in hand with serious viticulture, biodynamic vines and famous drops such as the signature Church Block.

    A day tour combines tasting, a blending class, lunch with matched wines, and then less predictable frolics such as ringing the winery’s three-quarter-tonne Angelus bell and flinging watermelons across paddocks from a giant medieval trebuchet catapult. It’s safe to say there’s no other winery experience quite like it.

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    The McMurtrie Mile

  11. TRIP NOTES

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    South Australia 

    GETTING THERE

    Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are at Adelaide Airport.

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