It’s been a while since the last time I posted something here. This time I want write about Mt. Gambier. Some would call it a city, but I prefer a town because it feels like a town to me.
Located next to the border of South Australia and Victoria in Australia, Mt. Gambier is the first town in South Australia named by European explorer in 18th century and has a unique and amazing landscape, thanks to its geological features. Mt. Gambier, practically, is a town sitting on a string of caverns created by after the eruption of a volcano (Mount Gambier), one of the youngest volcanoes in Australia. Pre-history noted how the town and its surrounding area were formed after volcanic eruptions created four crater lakes on the limestone terrain. Over the years, only two lakes survived of drying up, Blue Lake and Valley Lake. Water erosion on mineral-rich land created caverns. Later on, some roofs of these caverns collapsed and formed sinkholes.
Unlike Melbourne or Adelaide, two big cities in the south region of Australia, Mt. Gambier is not a popular destination among foreigners coming to Australia. It is off-the-track destination. Most visitors coming to this town is locals. Thus, it is easy to live like local during your stay in town.
How to get there
Mt. Gambier can be reached by plane, train or bus from Adelaide or Melbourne. The best way, however, is by driving from Melbourne to Adelaide along the south coast of Australia. This way, you can stop at many interesting towns and places along the famous and historic the Great Ocean Road such as Torquay (the birthplace of Rip Curl and Quicksilver), Angelsea, Lorne, Apollo Bay, Cape Otway, Port Cambell (highly recommend to stop here for the Twelve Apostles), Warnambool, Port Fairy and Portland.
My friend and I went there by train-connected-bus from Melbourne for a short stay during semester break because I was really curious about Blue Lake and the town. And it did not disappoint me at all. After taking early morning train bound to Ballarat, we changed to interstate bus that was waiting in the parking lot of Ballarat station. The bus took us for almost 4 hours to Mt. Gambier with some stops at small towns like Streatham, Dunkeld, Hamilton, Coleraine, and Casterton. It arrived few minutes before 2 pm in the parking lot next to Mt. Gambier Visitor Center.
Mt. Gambier was rainy when we arrived, with a storm was predicted hitting the south coast of Australia that night. But we were too excited to care about that. After a quick visit to bathroom available in the Center and talk with pleasant ladies in there, we walked about two blocks to our accommodation, Mt. Gambier Central Caravan Park.
Best Things about Mt. Gambier
Since we were living as students, free attractions were very appealing to us especially if it is outdoors (meaning nature-made and beautiful architectures). And guess what? It is the best thing about Mt. Gambier. Major attractions like the famous Blue Lake, the sinkholes and the cave gardens, light show, and beautiful old buildings are FREE!!
It gets better because all of it is located close to each other, you can just walk or ride a bike to get there. Even the bike is free to borrow. You only need to come to visitor center at The Lady Nelson Discovery Centre and talk to friendly staffs there. The visitor center is easy to locate, just look for a big ship, replica of HMS Lady Nelson Ship, that park in front of a building. So, here are some free attractions in Mt. Gambier.
1. Blue Lake
True icon of Mt. Gambier.
The stunning Blue Lake is a crater lake located just few kilometers from downtown. What makes Blue Lake unique is it changes color regularly from vibrant cobalt blue during summer to steel grey on the other seasons. I was there in late April and the lake was steel grey with green pine trees surrounding it.
There is a 3.6 km walking trail that directs visitors to spots for best views of this 75m deep lake. To get there, you only need to walk up the hill in the south of the city and follow the signs. On the way up there, you also can see the old Pioneer Park Cemetery dated back to the 1850s.
2. Cave Garden and Light Show
A mystical cave garden right in downtown.
This beautiful Cave Garden is located downtown next to The Main Corner and Riddoch Art Gallery. At day, you will see the lush plants cover almost all the surface of this sinkhole. There is a tiny waterfall that functions as excess drain of storm water and is quite an awesome sight after rain when water rush into the sinkhole. There are steps leading to the viewing platform if you want to get a stunning view of the sinkhole but it could also be viewed from the rim of the cave garden.
At night, the cave garden turns into a stage for light and sound show. The garden is illuminated by colorful laser lighting coming from the cave, and old images of Aboriginal people tells story about Aboriginal Dream of the Cave Garden. The dark sinkhole combines with sound of water rushing into it, colorful lights and the shadowlike image from the show create a mystical and eerie atmosphere.
3. Umpherston Sinkhole
A magnificent sinkhole-turned-garden that come with possums.
The Umpherston Sinkhole is located just 5 minutes drives from Cave Garden to the east. It was formed when the roof fell to the floor of the cave. The inspiring James Umpherston then started planting ferns, bushes, and trees on the floor of this sinkhole to create a Victorian garden. In later restoration after his death, the garden was landscaped beautifully by adding lawned terrace covered by ferns, various leafy bushes, colorful hydrangeas, and draped vines that cover the tall wall of the sinkhole. All of this turns into a breathtaking view in summer when all those colors are mixed together.
After you see the size and the depth of Umpherston Sinkhole from the platform on top of the sinkhole, follow the steps leading to the floor of the cave to get close-up view of the garden and plants, walk along the terrace and behind the draped vines. Sometimes at dusk, you will also see not-so-shy-colony of possum showing up to greet visitors and hoping to be fed fresh fruit.
4. The Main Corner and Riddoch Art Gallery
Both places are free or charge too!
Located in the very center of Mt. Gambier town, it is not hard to find both buildings which stood next to each other. Riddoch Art Gallery, the largest and oldest regional gallery in South Australia, exhibits artwork collections from major cultural institutions in Australia.
In The Main Corner, you can watch big screen cinema telling the story of the region’s geological history of volcanoes, underground caves, and crater lakes. I will suggest you watch this cinema first before exploring Mt. Gambier region. This way, you will have ideas about how magnificent were nature power in creating this beautiful town. I came to see the cinema few hours before driving back home and regret it because I just realize how many things I could see if I came to see it first.
Mt. Gambier is also the birthplace of the famous Haigh’s Chocolates and there is a mini outlet of it in The Main Corner right where it all began a century ago.
5. Strolling around the Old Town
Mt. Gambier has many old and historic buildings. Strolling along main streets is one of my favorite things to do in this town, especially at night. This small town is quite faster deserted at night, leaving empty streets and illuminated old buildings like Jens Hotel, Mt. Gambier Hotel, Riddoch Art Gallery, Old Mt. Gambier Gaol and many others just for you to enjoy.
With many things to do in Mt. Gambier, your stay will definitely not be a bored one. So, next time you plan on driving between Melbourne and Adelaide, why not swing by Mt. Gambier and enjoy it for free!