DRIVES AND ROAD TRIPS

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Adelaide to Mt Gambier road trip

This path blends a succession of small towns with bigger centres and includes a World Heritage site and a pair of premier wine regions among its goodies.

Wine lovers will be all starry-eyed in the Coonawarra. Credit: Ben Goode.


   
 
 

What: Adelaide to Mt Gambier

Distance (approx.): 435km

Driving time (approx.): 4hr 45min

Suggested time: 3-4 days

Summary: The route heads in a southeasterly direction along the South Eastern Freeway before joining the Dukes Highway and then descending via the Riddoch Highway. The journey is completed at the state’s most-populous regional city, Mt Gambier.

Mt Gambier has a mighty collection of attractions. Pictured: Umpherston Sinkhole. Credit: Offroad Images.

Highlights

  • The Bend Motorsport Park, Tailem Bend
  • Padthaway wine region
  • Naracoorte Caves National Park
  • Coonawarra wine region
  • Mary MacKillop Penola Centre
  • Blue Lake, Mt Gambier
  • Umpherston Sinkhole, Mt Gambier

The journey

For easy navigation, we’ve divided this route into three sections:

  • Adelaide to Tailem Bend
  • Tailem Bend to Naracoorte
  • Naracoorte to Mt Gambier

Adelaide to Tailem Bend

The road trip starts with a climb towards the famous Adelaide Hills, skirting past its much-loved towns and villages. A slight detour to open-range Monarto Safari Park soon beckons wildlife lovers.

Monarto Safari Park. Credit: Megan Crabb.

Otherwise, the journey continues in the direction of Murray Bridge. While the freeway bypasses that city, the obvious nature of its name is not lost on travellers. Just beyond here, a bridge – one of several overpasses in these parts – reveals the Murray River below it.

The famous waterway is always within reach as the road continues to the historical railway town of Tailem Bend. 

Railway bridge, Murray Bridge.

Here, leading attractions combine past and present. Firstly, step back in time at Old Tailem Town, billed as Australia's largest pioneer village.

Then, visit The Bend Motorsport Park, a new, world-class facility that’s home to leading racing events. Outside of race days, the action remains thanks to thrilling experiences like high-speed vehicle hot laps, go-karting, and more. 


BIG4 accommodation along this leg

The Bend Motorsport Park, Tailem Bend. 

Tailem Bend to Naracoorte

This leg follows the Dukes Highway and is dotted with small towns that suit pitstops. Coonalpyn stands out thanks to the striking murals that adorn its grain silos, which make for pretty pics.

Silo art, Coonalpyn.

Further along, after a fork in the road that diverts to join the Riddoch Highway, the town of Padthaway presents. It’s home to a wonderful wine region most noted for its reds – shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, in particular. 

Padthaway. Credit: John Montesi.

From here, the bitumen leads to the popular Limestone Coast town of Naracoorte, best known for what lies beneath it: captivating caves.

Naracoorte Caves are part of the World Heritage-listed Australian Fossil Mammal Sites. Joining a tour to explore these incredible natural creations and hear of their mind-boggling past is not to missed.

BIG4 accommodation along this leg

Naracoorte Caves. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission/Adam Bruzzone.

Naracoorte to Mt Gambier

Not far south of Naracoorte, and literally just on the side of the highway, is Father Woods Park. It includes beautiful wood-carved sculptures that depict the inspiring lives of Catholic priest, Father Julian Tenison Woods, and Australia’s first saint, Mary MacKillop.

Father Woods Park, between Naracoorte and Penola.

More of that line of history can be explored a tad further south at Penola. But before reaching that destination, this section reveals one of Australia’s most heavenly wine regions: the Coonawarra.

The area’s famed terra rossa soil creates distinctive and delicious reds, most notably cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. Wineries line the side of the highway – conveniently, the region extends in a long strip – which makes for hassle-free stops at cellar doors. 

Brand's Laira, Coonawarra. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission.

Not far beyond here is Penola, where the fascinating Mary MacKillop Penola Centre is among its best attractions.

Back on the road, the vibrant city of Mt Gambier awaits. It’s renowned for its ancient volcanic landscape and bursts with enchanting attractions that include iconic Blue Lake as well as Umpherston Sinkhole.

BIG4 accommodation along this leg

Umpherston Sinkhole. Credit: Offroad Images.

If you have more time…

Ngarkat Conservation Park: This huge area is home to 120-plus bird species and native wildlife, and various moderate walks are available. It’s 170km east of Tailem Bend, but the road loops back to rejoin the main path.

Bordertown: Birthplace of the late Bob Hawke with various attractions dedicated to the former Australian Prime Minister. This is another diversion that allows a simple return to the main route.

Wrattonbully wine region: Yet another great grape-growing region! Located off the main route between Padthaway and Coonawarra.

Tantanoola: More incredible caves to uncover, 30km northwest of Mt Gambier.

Port MacDonnell: The state’s southernmost town. Expect rugged but spectacular coastal scenery topped with engaging attractions. It’s reached 25km south of Mt Gambier.

Port MacDonnell. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission/Adam Bruzzone.

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