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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Volcanos, craters and lakes of Mt Gambier, South Australia

On my roadtrip from Western Australia to Tasmania, I had the joy of visiting a friend in Mt Gambier and enjoyed exploring the dormant volcanos, craters and lakes of the local area. Halfway between the capital cities of Adelaide, South Australia and Melbourne, Victoria is Mt Gambier. The Mount (as locals refer to it) is the second most populated city in South Australia population of just over 29,000. It is about 450 kms from Adelaide and 17kms from the Victorian border. This city is one of the few in the world that is located on the slopes of a dormant volcano. The whole area is known as the Limestone Coast and it is believed that there are over 50 sinkholes in this south-eastern corner of South Australia that contain water.

Blue Lake

The most well-known of the lakes and volcanic craters in the area is the Blue Lake. With several viewing platforms and paved footpaths it takes around 45 minutes to walk the 3.6km circular rim. I rode my bike around the path as did several others. Mothers pushed prams and even skateboarders joined in the circuit. The colour of the lake water changes as the seasons do. From a dazzling cobalt blue in November to a steely blue in winter, divers have descended 72 metres (236 feet) deep in the waters. The surface of the lake is 17metres (56 feet) below street level. This is Mt Gambier’s water supply.

Leg of Mutton Lake Crater

Falling water levels in the last century have meant the lake shaped like a leg of mutton has disappeared, however the name has stayed. There are two walking trails here, one an easy grade 1.6km walk that leads you through unsealed paths for around 50 minutes, the other is a 1 hour walk that takes you 1.7km around the crater rim.

The Valley Lakes recreation area

Less than ten minutes away are the valley lakes with picturesque grassy picnic and barbeque areas. This was the site of the original Mt Gambier botanical gardens. The stunning grassy parks host open spaces and glorious surrounds. Covered shelters and 16 free gas barbeques are here for everyone to enjoy.

Umpherston Sinkhole Cave Garden

This beautiful sunken garden was a limestone cave until the roof collapsed and it became a sinkhole. James Umpherston made it into an amazing garden in 1884 as a “pleasant resort in the heat of summer.” Over the years it fell into a state of disrepair. The city of Mt Gambier purchased it in 1994 and is now responsible for all maintenance. A ramp takes you down to a series of steps with various viewing areas on the way down. The gardens are terraces and surrounded by flowing waters. Hydrangeas and tree-ferns thrive here. As the sun sets possums emerge and many visitors bring along food to feed them.

Surrounding the sinkhole are beautiful scenic spots with shady trees, manicured green lawns and seating areas to spend time sitting and enjoying the views.

An impressive sculpture welcomes you near the carpark into the gardens. Created in 1997 by local artist Ivo Tadic, it represents the geological processes which create the sinkholes and caves of the region. The sculptures at Umpherston Sinkhole are inspired by the geological processes of the region that resulted in the formation of sinkholes. The top represents sinkholes that are open to the sky. The middle represents hidden fissures in the limestone. The lower section represents the limestone before any solution activity. All the limestone blocks used in the sculpture are from local quarries.

Cave Gardens

Right in the centre of town are the 30m deep Cave Gardens. This historic garden is a sinkhole, and has steps leaving down to several viewing platforms.

The surrounding rose gardens were first planted over one hundred ago when local residents used the cave to source their drinking water. I found it easy to get around town using my ebike. Parking is rarely a problem and it is a slow way to see and enjoy the city.

Mount Schank

A 15 minute drive from the city will bring you to the youngest volcano in Australia, at 5000 years old. At100m (330feet) high, the 900m (2,953ft) walk up the well carved steps brings you to the top of the crater. Sweeping 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape are simply splendid. The 2km (1.2mile) walk around the rim of the volcano will have you assessing your level of fitness – mine was not that high on my trek, I was huffing and puffing slightly. It was well worth the effort though and only truly appreciated my accomplishment once back down on the ground.

This volcano is not filled with water and trails down the inside slopes and a fire pit at the base show that some fitter souls than I have ventured down and camped there previously.


For caravanners there are two caravan parks in Mt Gambier, as well as 8 spots at the showgrounds that must be prebooked. I stayed two nights at the Blue Lake caravan park which was a short bike ride from the lakes of the area and the town centre. Then for peace and relaxation, I drove out to the free camping site at Eight Mile Creek. This was a superb spot with just a sand dune between the grassed camping area and the beach. Falling asleep at night to the sound of the waves was very soothing. Other campers were there when I arrived and invited me to join them at their very welcoming fire. All campers must be self contained to visit here.

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