Escape from Victoria, Exploring Mount Gambier

I’d like to say I had a restful night on the Spirit of Tasmania but that could not be further from the truth. Matt had a very nice sleep but I tossed and turned all night despite the relatively smooth crossing. Because of the lack of sleep I was more than happy to get up at 4.45am, shower and head out to the communal lounge area for a coffee and breakfast before getting back in our van and driving out of Melbourne.

Thanks to COVID our original plan to spend a month in Victoria, get a long range fuel tank installed, and catch up with family and friends had to be thrown out the window and we found ourselves on a 450km journey to the South Australian border with our fingers and toes crossed that they’d let us in. The drive wasn’t boring but it was frustrating to speed through places that we really would have liked to wander around. At lunch time we reached the check point, put on our masks, got our passes out, and hoped for the best. The police officer that questioned us was friendly enough but a couple of the questions caught us off guard like “will you be leaving South Australia in 15 days”…um probably not? I guess we did everything right because 5 minutes later we entered South Australia!

Just down the road we reached the town of Mt Gambier, a moderately large rural town with a population of around 30,000. Our first stop was Woolies where we stocked up on fresh food for the next few days and met another Delica enthusiast in the carpark. He was proud to show us that he owned a long wheelbase, manual, diesel – very rare! We drove around the corner to the visitor centre, hard to miss due to the massive possibly to scale replica of The Lady Nelson (a boat that is moored in Hobart). Despite the large amount of information about the ship and it’s journeys on displays within the building we couldn’t actually work out why Mount Gambier had a connection to the boat. The mystery ended up being solved by my mum who informed us that it was The Lady Nelson crew that first spotted Mount Gambier. The staff member in the centre gave us a map and highlighted the best tourist locations, we grabbed some brochures and then drove off to the caravan park where we spent the night.

The next morning the rain, sun, drizzle, was continuing and it was a bit hard to get out of the very snug van. I could not have wished for a better night after the boat and got a solid 11 hours of sleep. It made a big difference and both Matt and I were feeling very well rested for a day of exploring. We decided to be fair we would alternate “activities” with my choice of climbing Mount Schank up first. Mt Schank is Australia’s youngest volcano with it’s last eruption over 4,500 years ago. It is named after John Schank the designer of…you guessed it The Lady Nelson. We did both the 900m climb and 3km rim walk and very much enjoyed the views across the surrounding landscape and peeping into the crater. The highlight for me was the beautiful rainbow, the highlight for Matt was spotting a goat climbing on the cliff. When we got back to the van we were surprised to see that someone had left a small cardboard box balanced on the bonnet which we found was full of fresh egg! Some very kind person (we think maybe the guy that lives in the house near the carpark) had left us for them. What a lovely surprise on our first day.

We then began a tour of sink holes starting with Hell’s Hole. A bit off the beaten path this sink hole is frequented by divers. Second up was Caroline Sinkhole and the slightly underwhelming Penambol Conservation Area. If you have limited time we would suggest that you don’t bother with this one but there is a bit of fun to be had 4WDing around the reserve. Back on the main road we drove to Little Blue Lake which is one of the more photographed spots in the area. A small staircase lead to the waters edge and finished with a pontoon which we gingerly clambered onto. Matt tested the water, decided it would be ok, and with the added verbal encouragement from one of the locals changed into his bathers and jumped in. It was, in his words “a bit fresh”.

Once Matt had warmed up we drove back into town and had lunch next to Valley Lake surrounded by ducks, swamphens and coots. In between rain showers we ducked into the conservation park where I photographed a Cape Barren Goose, Crimson Rosella, and some ducks. Despite my best efforts the photography has not mixed well with the rain and I wasn’t happy with any of the images I took today. Our final stop in Mount Gambier was Umpherston Sinkhole. I was really surprised by the location smack bang between a sawmill and the main road but the garden was still very pretty with terraces and ivy hanging off the cliffs.

At 3pm we were both pooped and made our way back to the caravan park for the night. In the communal camp kitchen (because the weather continued to be miserable) we sat down and tried to nut out our plan for the next couple of days. The park manager popped his head in and with his guidance we’ve decided to drive north tomorrow towards Naracoorte and then on to perhaps Bordertown. All we know at the moment is we need to get to warmer climates as soon as possible as the rain and single digit temperatures are going to get very old very quickly.

Hopefully next time I write I wont be wearing my puffer jacket and be wrapped in a blanket (haha).

Campsite Review

Pine Country Caravan Park – Because of the bad weather we splashed out on our first caravan park. Pine Country was a great place to stay with a clean and well maintained camp kitchen, toilet block, hot showers, and large unpowered area. There were heaps of birds, the staff were friendly, and the site was quiet at night. $25 per night for both of us. 8/10.

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