Roughly speaking, The Limestone Coast extends along the coast of South Australia between the lower Murray River and the Victorian border. The region is host to the southern most part of the Southern Ocean Drive – a coastal ‘boulevard’ of sorts that encourages road trippers to explore South Australia’s coastal highlights.
With just a few days to spare between road trips, I decided to head south to explore the Limestone Coast portion of the Southern Ocean Drive. It was a thoroughly enjoyable few days. As a result, I’m sharing my guide to spending a weekend on the Limestone Coast.
By Australian standards, the Limestone Coast is a relatively short drive from Adelaide. Within a quick few hours drive and you can explore the extraordinary subterranean landscapes, surf beaches, rugged coastline, wine regions and snoozy little country towns. There’s an abundance of natural beauty and awesome outdoor adventures in the region.
I had originally planned a much more extensive itinerary. Don’t we always? However, with limited time, I adjusted my itinerary to a compact three days, and I couldn’t have been happier with the result!
Here’s my guide on what to see on a weekend on the Limestone Coast.
Day One – Adelaide to Naracoorte
Drive from Adelaide to Naracoorte, with stops at Coonalpyn, Naracoorte Caves and Bool Lagoon. Overnight in Naracoorte – there’s hotel and motel options in town, and camping close to town, as well as at Naracoorte Caves and Bool Lagoon.
I don’t know about you, but on a solo road trip, I don’t like to drive more than about two hours before making a stop. The tiny rural town of Coonalpyn was the perfect first stop on my Limestone Coast roadie. Make sure it features as a stop on yours too.
Coonalpyn is home to the first silos to be painted in South Australia. You literally cannot miss the silos as you’re passing through town. Park the car and take a moment to stretch your legs, appreciate the silo mural; and grab a coffee from the Coonalpyn Silo Cafe.
My next stop was the Naracoorte Caves – roughly two hours on from Coonalpyn. I was rushing to get to the caves to meet the afternoon tours, otherwise I might have stopped at Mt. Monster Conservation Park on the way!
Naracoorte Caves is one of eight National Parks in the Limestone Coast region, and is South Australia’s only World Heritage site. This is a must see destination – no visit to the Limestone Coast would be complete without a visit to these caves.
Of the 28 known caves in the park, just four caves are open to the public. I had time for a self guided walk of the Stick Tomato Cave and then the Victoria Fossil Cave tour. If you’ve got more time, the Alexandra Cave is another great option. Each of the caves offers a unique experience, so you should book at least one cave tour during your visit..
The self guided tour through the Stick Tomato Cave starts with a few steps, then an easy walk down into two large chambers of this cave. I enjoyed being able to take my time exploring the unique features of this cave. I’d love to visit again with my niece, as there’s an adventure caving tour that explores this cave beyond the public access sections – I think it would be just her kind of activity.
After my walk through the Stick Tomato Cave, I headed back to the car. The entrance to the Victoria Fossil Cave is a few minutes drive down the road from the Visitor Center. This cave features one of the largest, most diverse, and best preserved deposit of animal fossils in Australia. I found the tour to be a fascinating insight into the history and evolution of many of the species found here. Serious food for though on how climate and human habitation have influenced the existence of megafauna and other animal species over the centuries.
Before leaving the park, I headed back to the Visitor Center, and took a stroll around the Roof Top Loop Trail. The trail meanders over the roof tops of the Alexandra and Blanche Caves. You can look into the roof top openings of the caves, and if you’re lucky, like me, you might see some wildlife. Late afternoon seemed to be a good time to see loads of kangaroos grazing alongside the trail.
Visit the Naracoorte Caves website for the current tour schedule. The caves are open, but visitor numbers are restricted, so book your tours ahead of time, especially if you’re visiting during weekends or school holidays.
Bool Lagoon looked like a good spot to see some birds and a nice sunset… so I saved my visit ’til the end of the day. This seasonal wetland is home to a wide range of bird life. Up to 150 species of birds visit the lagoon, which provides essential drought refuge for many rare and endangered species.
In a classic cases of instagram versus reality, I had dreams of seeing all kinds of exotic water birds from the boardwalks and bird hides. Instead, the lagoon was bone dry, and there wasn’t a bird in sight.
As there were no birds to be seen, I decided to take one of the walks in the reserve. At the Hacks Peninsula end of the sealed road to the Hacks Peninsula; I stopped at the trailhead to the Gunawar Walk. The trail started out with a (usually floating) boardwalk which crosses over to a trail on Hacks Island. I didn’t make it too far; it felt a little creepy walking between the towering rushes all alone. Although I usually hike alone, I listened to my gut feeling, and left. I felt much more comfortable when I got back to the car. Having said that, I’d love to go back when there was some water in the lagoon; perhaps I’d just convince a friend to go with me next time!
Day Two – Naracoorte to Robe
Drive from Naracoorte to Robe – it’s only around 100k’s as the crow flies. If you go the long way, it’ll take you most of the day. I recommend taking the back roads wherever you can. On this trip, you’ll make stops in Canunda National Park, Beachport and Little Dip Conservation Park along the way.
Canunda National Park
I stopped at the Southend section of Canunda National Park. The National Park stretches 40km south from there. This northern section of the park is characterized by rugged limestone cliffs and sea stacks. Further south, you’ll encounter mobile sand dunes; requiring a 4WD if you wish to explore further than the road end.
If, like me, you have limited time, or are not comfortable in 4WD, then Southend is where you should access the park. I parked the car at the end of Cape Buffon Drive, and set off on the 2.5km Cape Buffon Walk.
Follow the undulating trail along the cliff tops taking in the magnificent views as you walk. This part of the trail really highlights how nature has shaped the coastline. There’s some intriguingly shaped sea stacks, and fascinating ‘solution holes’ (where tree roots rotted away) in the rock shelves closer to shore. It was a rather windy, overcast day when I visited, but it was spectacular nonetheless. It’s definitely worth a stop if you make it to this part of the coast.
Travelling north from Southend, the next of the quaint little seaside towns on the itinerary is Beachport. This would probably be a great spot to stop for lunch in non pandemic times. You could grab some fish & chips and sit on the beach or the jetty, enjoying the views.
As most everything was closed while I was visiting, I got straight on to the sightseeing I had in mind. First, I took a walk up to the Cape Martin Lighthouse. There’s wonderful panoramic views of the coast, Penguin Island and Rivoli Bay Lighthouse from up there. If you’ve got time, you can wander across the sand dunes in front of the lighthouse, right down to the beach if you choose.
I wandered half way, before returning to the car to go and check out the Bowman Scenic Drive. This relatively short, but abundantly scenic drive meanders along rugged limestone clifftops, and between sand dunes fronting the Southern Ocean. There are plenty of lookouts along the drive, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably find yourself stopping at most of them! Backler’s Lookout and Downs Lookout offer some great views. Salmon Hole is the spot for the fisherman, and for those wanting to appreciate the force of the ocean, stop at Bartlett Rocks to see the blowholes in action.
The scenic drive, and sealed road end at Woolley Rock, however, it’s possible to continue from here if you have 4WD. If you’re planning to extend your time in Beachport, then you might also check out the Beachport Conservation Park.
Little Dip Conservation Park
In keeping with my theme of taking the road less traveled, after leaving Beachport, I got off the main road as soon as I could. Nora Creina Road was a dirt road, surrounded by native scrub. The park conserves a series of small lakes, the rugged coastline, and coastal sand dunes. There’s access to a few walking trails from Nora Creina Road, but to fully explore the park, you really need a 4WD.
I made a quick stop to explore one of the shorter walking trails in the park. The trail around Fresh Water Lake meanders between coastal mallee. Most of the way, you’re overlooking the deep, dark fresh water lake. I saw a few small waterbirds on the lake, but mostly just enjoyed the coastal flora along the trail.
Welcome to Robe! Coastal fishing port, and all round popular seaside town. This popular vacation town is a great spot to spend the night on a Limestone Coast road trip.
Bordered by dramatic limestone cliffs at one end of town and the 17 Mile Beach at the other, this charming seaside town is chock full of Heritage buildings as well as some great food & beverages. There’s a little of something for everyone.
I got settled into my accommodation, and then headed out to the Robe Coastal Walk. The walk is easily accessible from just about anywhere in town. I walked up to the Joy Terrace end of the trail, and walked clockwise, towards the Obelisk. There’s a well established trail, and plenty of viewpoints to stop at along the way. This section of the trail, between the Doorway Rock and the Obelisk is optimal for sunset strolls and photography. I thought I’d timed my walk well, but there wasn’t really many sunset colors going on during my walk. Turns out, I was too early, and the sky went bonkers once I’d walked all the way back into town.
If you can’t manage the walk, or don’t have time for the whole trail, then there are a couple of viewpoints you can drive up to. It’s a definite must do while you’re in Robe.
Back in town, you should definitely check out some of the great (sea)food & drinks on offer. Most everything was closed when I was there, but in the summer season, or on weekends, you’ll have plenty of options for a great feed. Check out the Caledonian Inn, Robe Bakery, Robe Seafood & Takeaway, and most importantly, save some space for ice cream!
Day Three – Robe to Adelaide
Today, it’s time to head home. But driving from Robe to Adelaide direct would be no fun. My recommendation is to continue along the coast – making a few stops at viewpoints and trails in the Coorong National Park along the way.
Kingston in the South East is another seaside holiday town on the Limestone Coast. I did a quick drive by of the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse and the Big Lobster before heading on my way. However, this would be another great location to base yourself if you were looking for a few days of seaside retreat.
While it’s not technically part of the Limestone Coast, the Coorong National Park is within a 40km drive from Kingston S.E. In fact, the 90 Mile Beach,, which stretches the length of the Coorong, extends all the way to Kingston S.E.
Not far out of Kingston S.E., I took the first turn I found onto Old Coorong Road, following a sign to The Granites. This location hadn’t crossed my radar while researching this section of the road trip, but I decided to get off the highway and have a look. What a great call, this remote stretch of beach was broken up only by a couple of granite knobs on and just beyond the shore. With the Southern Ocean slamming into the rocks, and all kinds of natural flotsam on the beach, it couldn’t have been a more perfect location to snap a couple of photos.
Back in the car, I continued along the dusty, corrugated Old Coorong Road until I came to the next turn and headed back to the highway…. That dusty old road was even a bit bumpy for my taste!!.
I stopped at the Chinaman’s Wells Historic Site, where there were a couple of viewpoints over the surrounding salt lakes before the trailhead. The Journey to Gold Walk was a short, easy stroll through the coastal sand dune landscape. The short, well established trails follows a tiny portion of the journey of many Chinese immigrants who landed in Port Adelaide, and walked the 800km journey to the Goldfields in Victoria.
My next detour on the journey was onto the Scenic Loop Road, another dirt road with some great vistas along the way. There’s options to stop for sights all along this road; including some great picnic spots overlooking the Coorong lagoon and the towering sand dunes separating the lagoon from the ocean beach.
Closer to the northern end of the Loop Road, there’s some parking, and a few hiking trails either originating, or passing through here. I took a quick stroll on the Lakes Nature Trail (until it started raining!). Despite spending such a short amount of time on these trails, the experience had me dreaming about one day returning to walk the Nukan Kungun trail – a 2 day, one way hike from Salt Creek to 42 Mile Crossing. At only 25km, I guess it could be completed in a day; but I think part of the beauty would be taking time to enjoy the landscape. Spending the night out under the stars in a wonderfully remote location would be a bonus.
Next stop in the Coorong was Jack Point Pelican Observatory. A small observation hut is perched on the sand dunes overlooking the ‘Pelican Islands’ in the Coorong lagoon. It’s an easy 15 minute walk from the parking lot. I was visiting very early in the season, but there were a growing community of pelicans already taking up residence on the islands. The ranger told me that it’s early for them to be arriving, but a good sign of things to come. He mentioned that the island would be covered in pelicans in the midst of the breeding season – that must be quite a sight.
My last ‘stop’ on the drive through the Coorong National Park was more of a drive by. I took one last detour for a quick drive by and photo opportunity at Parnka Point and McCallum Point. I really enjoyed the panoramic views from McCallum Point. Once again, I found myself dreaming of a return to camp out for a few days. If I was really lucky in my dream, I’d also have a kayak to get out onto the water to explore.
From here, it’s a short drive along the highway to Meningie, which is a good location to stop for a rest. From there, it’s a little under two hours drive into Adelaide. If you’re continuing on your explorations, you might enjoy crossing the river at Wellington and heading through the countryside to the Fleurieu Peninsula. Check out my recent post on The Best of the Fleurieu Peninsula for ideas to continue exploring South Australia’s magnificent coastal landscapes!
What else is nearby?
If you have more time to spend on the Limestone Coast, consider continuing your journey all the way through to Mount Gambier. If I’d had the luxury of time, I would have loved to explore around Mount Gambier. This, the second most populated town in SA. The volcanic heritage of the region has left us with an abundance of natural sights to explore. You could easily spend another couple of days around here. Here’s just a few suggestions on what to see;
- The Blue Lake
- Little Blue Lake
- Cave Gardens
- Umpherston Sinkhole
- Engelbrecht Cave
- Mt Schanck
- Piccaninnie Ponds
- Penambol Conservation Park
- Port MacDonnell
Heading west from Mount Gambier, you’ll find more great coastal landscapes, including
- Lighthouse Bay
- Cape Banks Lighthouse
- Blackfellows Caves
- Canunda National Park (the southern end!)
Look out for sites along the Southern Ocean Shipwreck Trail. Or perhaps head slightly inland to the Tantanoola Caves for some subterranean adventures. You’ll then continue north and rejoin my itinerary at Canunda National Park.
Hit the Road
Within easy driving distance of Adelaide, the Limestone Coast, is the perfect location for a weekend getaway. You can easily choose to chill out in one of these perfect seaside towns. Alternatively, get a little more active, and take part in some above ground, and underground adventures. If you’ve got the time, then you can easily combine each of these destinations into one much larger road trip.
The world, no, South Australia, is your oyster!
Have you visited the Limestone Coast? I’m sure there’s plenty more off the beaten track locations that should be included on any road trip. Let me know your favorite spots in the comments!
And check out my little video on YouTube to see a few more pics and video clips from this trip. Let me know what you think!
Looking for other great road trip ideas in South Australia? Check out these posts:
Happy Road Tripping!