Turn Left For Naracoorte Caves

Another long weekend means another adventure in South Australia. This time we took a dérive in the direction of the Limestone Coast!

The Limestone Coast is a region to the east of Adelaide, bordering Victoria. Home to Coonawarra, the Naracoorte Caves, Mt Gambier’s Blue Lake and the SA area of the Great Ocean Rd, the Limestone Coast lives up to its name and provides some beautiful and amazing examples of rock formations and soil that are unique to the area and have preserved fossils over 800,000 years old (all that time working for Minerals at Primary Industry is paying off!). Heading east in the car, you get to pass through some of the most gorgeous and culturally significant areas of South Australia. There’s the hills, Murray Bridge and crossing the mighty Murray River; followed by rambling roads through vineyards of the Padthaway and Coonawarra areas. Along the way, grass and grapes give way to succulents and native flora, with scrub that I haven’t even really seen outside a landscaped backyard on an episode of Gardening Australia. Along the side of the road runs the main train line, with silos for storing and carting wheat and barley. You’ve also got the added bonus of being able to see a bit in the way of native animals. Unfortunately for us, the only one we managed to see was a fleeting glimpse of an echidna which was crossing the highway on the busiest day of the weekend. I don’t think it made it all the way over. Poor little thing. 😦

Probably the easiest way to give a run-down of the coast is to do the old-fashioned Aussie road trip tour. Without further ado, I give you:


First StopNaracoorte Caves. I’ve got a book of World Heritage sites that I love flicking through when I feel a bit bored. It’s inspiring to think I might be able to see some of them one day. Naracoorte Caves are one of Australia’s 19 WH sites; they have some of the most intact fossils of megafauna in the world and they date back as late as 800,000 years ago. They also house a colony of bats and people can wander through and look at stalactites and calcium deposits that have been there for hundreds of thousands of years. Caves aside, the funniest part of the experience is actually getting there.

The caves are approx 20kms from the town of Naracoorte, and not wanting to miss out on the action, they’ve hatched an ingenious plan to capture tourists. As you approach the town from the west, you’ll find the brown ‘historic’ sign posts directing you to ‘turn left to Naracoorte Caves’. Only after driving THROUGH the main centre of town, around back streets and back out on to the highway do you realise you’ve just fallen for a cheeky plan to get people into the town and spending money. We were laughing all the way to the caves when we realised we’d left the highway, followed signs, driven around Naracoorte and ended up on the very same highway 15mins later. Cheeky, but clever. Points for trying.

Next up: Penola!

A beautiful little town right next to the Coonawarra region, Penola offers accommodation and restaurants for people wanting to visit the region famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon. Due to my frequent wine tasting at the  National Wine Centre for Uncorked (plug plug plug!), I wasn’t necessarily keen on visiting cellar doors while we were in town. The only one we actually went to for the whole weekend was Koonara, which doubles as a homewares store. And the lovely ladies in there have the right idea: give the customers a glass of wine on the house as they browse through items. We went in there for a cheese grater, we came out with much more (and a bottle of the bubblies we were drinking!).

Penola is also home of the Best Regional Restaurant in South Australia: Pipers of Penola. Saturday evening, we decided on a three course meal and they were absolutely sensational. Great service, perfectly matched wine and food to rave about. And I got to start my evening with a glass of Eliza Pinot/Chardonnay bubbles from Padthaway, which was lovely because we’d driven past the vines the previous day and seen the old homestead on the estate. What a great way to experience all the parts of Coonawarra without too much hassle!

Back in the car we head to….Robe.

“Robe isn’t famous for robes!” I think Ross was getting a little bit sick of my attempts at replicating a cheese advertisement the whole weekend, because everytime I saw it on a signpost, that was what I cried. Robe is much more famous as a sleepy fishing town on the west coast of the peninsular. Heading up to the obelisk on the edge of town, views of Adelaide and as far west as the Yorke Peninsular are spectacularly offset by clear green ocean. Just off the edge of the rocks, we were treated to the sight of a sea lion rolling about, putting on a show! Dolphin schmolphin when you finally see a sea lion, believe me!

Up the road to: Kingston SE.

Or more specifically, the Big Lobster. How could you visit the Limestone Coast and not get a photo with the Big Lobster? Visiting on the Sunday of a long weekend might prove to be a bit quiet for those who aren’t interested in fishing (i.e. me), but we still managed a fish burger  in the lobster shack on the side of the road, with a local chardonnay from Cape Jaffa down the road (note: my dog growing up was named Jaffa, so I was intrigued as to what I’d find when we drove there. Not a chocolate orange ball in sight, I’m afraid to say….). Useless trivia fact of the week: the Big Lobster was originally ordered in feet and inches, but the measurements were accidentally interpreted as metres: hence the size  of the lobster. Larry was never meant to be as large as he is!

And finally….Bordertown!

The drive back involved a detour east to Bordertown, which coincidentally lies right on the Victorian border. Birthplace of Bob Hawke, it’s a cute little town that reminds me of the place where my grandparents lived when I was growing up. With a main street that looks like it stopped in time in the mid seventies, it’s hard not to warm to the lightning bolt shaped town clock and the public toilets that have been converted from the original cells of the old gaol. It’s also home to the only known colony of white kangaroos in Australia, which can be seen at the nature park just off the highway. My ‘robe isn’t famous for robes’ line was replaced with a terribly out of tune rendition of ‘Six White Boomers’ which Ross had to endure even louder once I became aware he’d never heard of the song. You’d think he’d have learnt the ‘smile and nod’ response by now…. 🙂

Fabulous weekend and fabulous way to start welcoming the warmer weather!!!

Wine of the Week: Koonara 2010 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Sparkling

Visit: The town of Millicent for a coffee on your way to Robe from Penola.

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