South Australia’s second most populous city is built right on top of the crater.
The breathtaking landforms are part of the urban landscape, with volcanic rims, crater lakes, cave systems and two sinkholes that were turned into gardens at the end of the 19th century.
During the summer, people flock to Mount Gambier for a glimpse of the Blue Lagoon, which takes on a stunning cobalt blue a few weeks later.
Due to its natural prominence, Mount Gambier was the first place in South Australia to be identified and named by Europeans in 1800, and a 120-year-old tower on the summit of the volcano commemorates the occasion.
1. Amverston Sinkhole
In the 1880s James Umpherston (1812-1900), a member of the Adelaide Agricultural and Horticultural Society and a resident of Mount Gambier, transformed a sinkhole in the east of the town into an exquisite sunken garden .
The landform is a limestone cave with a collapsed roof, leaving a deep depression in the landscape, with towering walls.
There are platforms at the top where you can admire the kaleidoscopic colors of the garden and the vines hanging on the walls, then descend the stairs to the floor of the sinkhole to peruse the hydrangea, tree ferns and fountains.
A group of possums make their home in the sinkhole and come out at night, and you can feed them healthy food (no bread or junk food!).
2. Blue Lake
In the middle of summer in December, the vast crater lake south of Mount Gambier suddenly changes from a greyish blue to a stunning cobalt blue.
The phenomenon is thought to be caused by a chemical reaction when the lake’s waters rise to 20°C, and persisted for about three months before the Blue Lake returned to its softer shade.
There is a walking trail along the crater, and you can stop at the lookouts on the north and west sides, where you can gaze in awe at this unforgettable sight.
However, if you want to get even closer, Aquifer Tours will take you in the elevator down the old well of the lake.
During this 45-minute experience, your guide will introduce you to the lake’s place in Aboriginal culture and share interesting anecdotes about its modern history.
3. Cave Garden
Once a source of water for early European settlers on Mount Gambier, this sinkhole in the heart of the city was landscaped and turned into a garden in the late 19th century.
The sinkhole is about 30 meters deep, and its steep sides are accessible via walkways and lookouts overhanging the fissures.
The gardens are also prized for their rose beds, and if you visit after rain, there is a stunning waterfall.
After sunset, a wonderful evening light show tells Aboriginal dreamtime stories related to Mount Gambier and its volcanic landscape.
4. Engelbrecht Cave
In this limestone cave west of the CBD, there is another opportunity to go deep into the face of Mount Gambier.
The Engelbrecht Cave was discovered by Europeans in 1864, but will be used as a dump by its owners for the next century! The dry part of the cave system is now a tourist attraction, illuminated and fitted with stairs and viewing platforms.
You will descend with a guide who will tell you all about its formation and history.
Much of the Engelbrecht Cave is flooded, which is a big draw for cave divers.
If you want to explore the submerged parts, you will need the CDAA cave rating of the Eastern Pass and the CDAA Advanced Cave Rating of the Western Pass.
The Cave Divers Association provides free maps.
5. Centennial Building
On top of the volcano, west of the two crater lakes of Mount Gambier, stands the castle-like Centennial Tower.
This dolomite structure is an icon of the city’s skyline and rises 190 meters above sea level.
It began in 1900 on the centenary of the discovery of Mount Gambier by Lieutenant James Grant on the HMS Lady Nelson, and received its first visitors in 1904. There’s no better place to survey the unique volcanic landscape of Mount Gambier, with a direction on the platform below that points to various landmarks in the distance.
One way to get to the Centennial Tower is via the Mountain Trail, which follows the edge above Valley Lake.
6. Valley Lake
The lake in the crater below the Centennial Tower has the same volcanic origin as the Blue Lake, but is still far from the tourist route.
Before you reach the Centenary Tower, there is another great viewpoint with views over the lake, Mount Gambier and the surrounding Potters Point Lookout.
On the shores of West Lake is a wildlife park with trails and boardwalks where you can spot kangaroos, wallabies, emus, koalas and wombats.
Close to the water, there is a children’s playground, a BBQ area, shelter and sports facilities such as cricket nets.
7. Shank Mountain
Follow the Riddoch Highway south of Mount Gambier and you’ll soon come to another dormant volcano that dominates the otherwise flat landscape.
The mountain is 100 meters high and has two overlapping craters in the north and south, with diameters of 300 meters and 200 meters respectively.
The volcano is believed to have last erupted 5,000 years ago, and its prehistoric activity is intertwined with local Aboriginal Dreamtime stories of the giant Craitbul (more on this later). You can park off the highway and follow the 2km trail all the way to the edge, staring at the cider cone, mostly untouched, and seeing Mount Gambier on the northern horizon.
8. Riddoch & Main Corner Complex
Overlooking the Cave Gardens from the north is the Mount Gambier Civic Centre, home to the Riddoch Art Gallery and Protagonist, which features engaging and interactive exhibits on the region’s volcanic landscape.
The complex combines the Romanesque Revival Town Hall (1882) built in Dolomite with a new building completed in 2011. As for the Riddoch Art Gallery, this is South Australia’s oldest regional gallery with a permanent collection of over 2,000 works.
You can check out exhibitions from the collection, as well as leading touring exhibitions from major institutions such as the Art Gallery of South Australia and the National Gallery of Australia.
9. Volcanoes – A Story of Earth, Fire and Water
For an eye-opening look at the Aboriginal origin stories and turbulent natural history of the Kanawenka region, there are regular big-screen screenings at Main Corner.
The first is an Aboriginal dream-age story about a volcanic landscape, centered on the giant Craitbul and his giant camping oven.
Then, you’ll learn about the eight giant eruptions that formed Mount Gambier, and how volcanic activity defines the Kanawinga region.
You can watch this audiovisual experience at 13:00 and 15:00 on weekdays and at 11:00 and 13:00 on weekends.
10. Railway Land
In 2015, the closed old industrial rail corridor of Mount Gambier Station was transformed into a vibrant and award-winning public space.
On Rail Land, you’ll find lawns, amphitheaters, expansive event plazas and nature-oriented elevated play areas, BBQ facilities, labyrinths, ponds with creeks and sheltered market platforms.
It’s a venue for countless public events, from fitness classes to outdoor film screenings, concerts, markets and art installations.
Meanwhile, the 5.5km old line has been turned into a multi-purpose railway through the old station.
11. Mrs Nelson Visitor Centre
Naturally, this complex just east of the CBD is the perfect place to get brochures and flyers and discuss accommodation, attractions, tours and events across South Australia with knowledgeable staff.
You can also buy locally made souvenirs, buy soft drinks and use public toilets.
But the Lady Nelson Visitor Centre is an attraction in itself.
On the one hand, there is a full-scale replica of the HMS Lady Nelson, the survey vessel from which Europeans first saw the dormant crater of Mount Gambier in 1800. Inside the centre, the documentary “Crossing the Green Triangle” showcases the history and development of nature’s Mount Gambier and its surrounding areas.
Also on display is the ossified skull of the Pleistocene kangaroo ancestor simosthenurus.
Finally, there is a glass floor suspended from a series of fossils, and a series of interactive displays dedicated to marine life off the coast of South Australia.
12. Echo Farm
This attraction just minutes from town is a place to reconnect with agriculture on a self-guided tour.
Throughout Echo Farm there are historical exhibits from the 1890s to the 1950s revealing past livelihoods, and you can hang out around the old farmhouse, which retains the look of the 1940s.
Children will be delighted to meet Echo Farm’s animals, including donkeys, sheep, horses, goats, ducks, pigs, emus, geese, chickens and cats, many of which can be petted.
Refreshments are sold on site, or you can bring your own food and drinks for a peaceful picnic.
13. Fansita Park
A quieter urban park in the heart of Mount Gambier is Vansitart Park on the west side of the CBD and dates back to the 1880s.
The green space surrounds an oval-shaped home ground and is home to North Gambier Football Club, which competes in the Western Frontier Football League.
Meanwhile, Vansittart Park is well-appointed and well-tended, with walking and jogging tracks, vibrant botanical gardens, fenced picnic areas and a beautiful rotunda built in 1913. The children’s playground is also top-notch, with a variety of safety bedding equipment and wood chips.
14. Mount Gambier Public Library
About this multi-million dollar facility, located just south of Cave Garden.
Shortly after opening in 2010, it was claimed that Mount Gambier had the best small public library in the world.
For over a decade, it remains the benchmark for its bold, future-proof architecture and comprehensive services.
Travelers who need to stay connected or plan their next move will be pleased with computer access, free Wi-Fi and a Bookmark Cafe.
But what really stands out is the children’s area, inspired by the caves, sinkholes and lakes of Mount Gambier and incorporating a play area.
15. Mount Gambier RSL War Museum
If you still have time to spare, head to the Diversion Museum in the Mount Gambier RSL (Returning Services League) club building, just around the corner from Cave Gardens.
Display cases on the walls display a wide variety of military artifacts, including uniforms, flags, weapons, ammunition, documents, medals, gas masks, helmets, and various other equipment.
The items cover every conflict Australia has been involved in, from World War I to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Mount Gambier, Australia
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