Camera at the ready, eyes peeled for the sign as we cruised down the road…surely we were getting close? We were carefully watching Google Maps, but the kilometres kept ticking over, until we called it…there would be no welcome sign to South Australia on the road we were driving on. Just like that we had left Victoria, our home state for so many years, and crossed the border into South Australia. A bit anticlimactic, but oh well!
Our first stop of South Australia was Naracoorte, partly for convenience of location and partly for the heritage listed caves. Originally discovered in the mid-1800s, Naracoorte Caves really came on the scene in 1994 when it achieved World Heritage status for its extensive fossil record. There are several options for tours, from basic self-guided to informative guided tours, including adventure caving. At the very least, a visit to the information centre is worthwhile to see a small sample of the fossils they have collected over the years.
From Naracoorte, we headed to an area know for one of our favourite things, red wine: the Coonawarra region. Coonawarra’s famed “terra rossa” (red soil) produces some amazing red wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. We based ourselves at a free camp just south of the main town of Penola at a dried up lake, and spent the next couple of days enjoying the Coonawarra wineries. It is all fairly accessible by bicycle, which you can hire from one of the local suites, but it’s not the most scenic route as you will be predominantly riding along the main highway that passes through the region.
After we had collected a satisfactory amount of wine to tide us over for a bit, we continued on to Mount Gambier, our main purpose for visiting being the ponds in the area. We first realised the existence of freshwater ponds that you can snorkel and scuba dive in during our South Australia road trip back in December 2016. Having never dived in freshwater, we were intrigued by the idea. However, being unprepared in that we hadn’t made a booking (which is required for snorkelling) combined with the weather being cold and rainy and therefore completely unappealing for swimming meant we were going to give it a miss that day, but we didn’t forget about it. Being much more ready this time, we had booked in a double dive in Kilsby’s sinkhole and Ewens Pond with Reef 2 Ridge, as well as an independent snorkel time for Picanniny Ponds (which can booked here). Mount Gambier had been hit with a bit of a cold snap when we arrived, so we weren’t particularly looking forward being submersed in 16 degree water, but nice thick wetsuits courtesy of the diving company made a big difference. Our favourite of the three was Ewens Ponds. Ewens Ponds consists of numerous basins, three of which you can dive/snorkel, connected by channels which you can simply drift through. The crystal clear water combined with “fields” of greenery make for a surreal and beautiful experience. Just make sure you have somewhere to warm yourself up after!
After a bit of exploring around Mount Gambier (the mysterious Blue Lake is a must see in the warmer months!), we started to head up the southeast coastline, or the Southern Ocean Drive as it’s now known. As we had been through Robe on our 2016 road trip, we only stopped for lunch but would highly recommend a visit, especially for the Robe to Beachport drive for 4WD enthusiasts. We stopped overnight at Pinks Beach near Kingston SE, a basic but good free camp next to the beach. Our planned stop for the next day was Narrung but these plans were quickly derailed when we heard from fellow campers that the site had been overtaken by trigger-happy duck hunters, and A) we would be unlikely to find a spot to fit our van and B) the hunters seemed intent on shooting anything that moved. Neither wanting to be crammed in nor be shot at, we decided instead to stay in Coorong National Park, an extensive stretch of saltwater lagoons and sand dunes along the coast. On our previous SA road trip, we had skipped Coorong due to lack of time and being intent on reaching Robe, and we were almost going to miss it again on this trip. We stayed at Pelican Point near Parnka Point, and for the sunset alone it was worth the stay.
From there we continued on to Pink Gum campground, which is conveniently located near the southern Adelaide beaches and McLaren Vale, a wine region we had first visited in 2016. One of our favourite wineries in the region is Wirra Wirra, who have done a great job of taking themselves less seriously (they have a catapult for watermelons on their grounds which says it all) but still make some fantastic wines. We also had the great pleasure of meeting Dave, one of our favourite winery dogs, at Kangarilla Road Winery.
After a couple days there and stocking up our wine stores a bit (as much as you can when you have a weight limit), we made one final stop in Rapid Bay, a lovely grassy campground by the beach, before jumping on the ferry to Kangaroo Island.