Driving towards Melbourne from Adelaide along the Western Highway can be a quite boring route. It may be the quickest route to Melbourne, but it can also be quite boring. Endless paddocks of canola and vineyards, with very few larger towns along the way.
Whether you are heading the whole way to Melbourne, or wanting to explore the magnificent Limestone Coast, take the alternative route along the Riddoch Highway. This portion of the “Limestone Loop” from Penola to Adelaide makes for a great road trip.
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Limestone Loop- Penola to Adelaide
The “Limestone Loop” along the Riddoch Highway , will take you through the Coonawarra Region wineries, national parks and beautiful coastal towns at the beginning of the Great Ocean Road.
While this half of the “Limestone Loop” is only 382 kilometres, or four hours driving, you will probably find you want to spend a few days exploring the vineyards, national parks and historic towns along the way.
From Southend, travel through the pine plantations surrounding Millicent and Mount Burr to the historic town of Penola and the Coonawarra wineries.
Spend a day or two exploring the cellar doors and wineries in the surrounding region, as well as the town’s historic sites.
There are over 20 cellar doors to choose from, many of them also providing restaurants where you can enjoy a relaxing lunch with your chosen wine. Red wine lovers will enjoy sampling the excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz varieties. These have been produced here since the first vines were planted over 120 years ago.
The town of Penola is famously home to Australia’s first Saint “Mary MacKillop”, who established the Josephite order with the mission of bringing free education to working class families.
The Mary Mackillop Centre features the church and school house where Mary’s religious order worked. A museum is dedicated to the work of Mary Mackillop and her priest, Fr Woods.
Adjacent to the centre you will find “Petticoat Lane” a heritage listed laneway. Here visitors are welcome to stroll through the collection of stone and timber homes dating back to the 1850’s. Many of these are preserved as a living museum, including the heritage gardens which still grow the herbs, vegetables and lavender from that era.
A heritage walk takes you past the old churches, bond stores and Cobb and Co station which formed the region’s history.
The famous “Blue Lake” city of Mount Gambier is just a half hour drive from Penola. However you will also want to spend some time discovering the volcanic crater lakes.
The famous “Blue Lake” turns a vibrant cobalt blue when the temperature changes during the summer months. As the region’s water supply, access to the lake for recreational purposes is prohibited. You can however take a 3.6 kilometre walk around the lake, taking advantage of a number of viewing platforms.
The nearby Valley Lake offers scenic walks, swimming and picnic areas and a nature conservation area on the site of Mt Gambier’s original Botanical Gardens. From the scenic lakeside picnic areas a boardwalk takes you along natural bushland walking trails and the free wildlife conservation park.
From the lookout carpark, a short, but steep walk brings you to Centenary tower and spectacular views over the surrounding crater lakes.
Umpherstone Sinkhole, Mount Gambier
In the centre of town you will find the Umpherstone Sinkhole. This is an amazing garden which is a true collaboration between the forces of nature and human cultivation.
James Umpherstone cultivated the magnificent terraced gardens on his property in 1886. A limestone cave collapsed, forming a 40 metre diameter sinkhole, where natural foilage began sprouting. Umpherstone gave nature a helping hand, planting ferns, hydrangeas and colourful garden beds.
Take the stairs through the garden past cascading greenery to a cool secluded oasis where the only sound is the tinkle of the fountains.
At night the resident possums come out to play, undeterred by the floodlighting.
A short drive brings you to Naracoorte, which is a destination in itself on the Limestone Coast. The 19th century agricultural town has a number of Georgian buildings, including the Sheep’s Back wool museum, showcasing local wool production.
Bird watchers will enjoy a stroll along the boardwalks in the Bool Lagoon conservation reserve, home to a variety of wetland species.
The most famous attraction is the heritage listed fossil sites and limestone caves in the Naracoorte Caves National Park. Visitors can take a guided or self guided tour through one of the four caves which are open to the public.
Learn about the local geology at the Wonambi Fossil centre, or enjoy the many marked walking trails in the National Park.
Along the way you can get a peek inside the limestone caves below, witnessing the bats flying around their nocturnal homes in the caves.
Travelling through the rolling lucerne pastures and vineyards through Keith your next stop should be Murray Bridge.
Here you will cross the mighty Murray River, where paddle steamers once brought produce along the river to Port Adelaide. While the river today is greatly depleted, you can still can enjoy a river cruise, learning a little of the history of the Murray River. The town also has many great fishing and swimming spots, as well as many walking trails along the river.
German History in Hahndorf
Just half an hour brings you into the Adelaide Hills and the German settlement of Hahndorf. Here can see the heritage left by the original Lutheran immigrants in 1839. Browse the quaint historic buildings, and enjoy some authentic German food at the many cafe’s restaurants and bakeries.
Hahndorf is surrounded by over 90 cool climate wineries and 50 cellar doors, where you can enjoy the morning sampling the local produce. Strolling along the quaint main street you will find craft shops, micro breweries and cheese artisans.
This ends the final stretch of the “Limestone Loop”, with the city of Adelaide just half an hour away. If you are travelling at night, make sure to stop and take in the Adelaide lights from the hills.
If you are travelling from Adelaide to Melbourne, you can reverse the route. Travel either down the Great Ocean Road from Warrnambool, or continue along the scenic inland route to Melbourne.