By Ellen Morgan
Published: Monday, February 15, 2021
Between the sinkholes and the snow-white stone of its namesake, to the rows of vines and hidden eateries making waves across the nation, the Limestone Coast is a feast for the senses. But with so much to see, how do you plan a trip? We ask the folks who know it best – the locals.
In this south-eastern region of SA, it’s the people who keep visitors coming back for more.
The locals of the Limestone Coast are a welcoming bunch – happy to direct you to your next stop-off, spin you a yarn or 7 about the history of the region, or simply tell you who serves the best steak in town.
So to help you plan your next Limestone Coast adventure, we chat to 5 residents about their travel tips, regular haunts and hidden delights in the region.
Simon & Kerry Meares
After moving from city jobs in Melbourne, Simon and Kerry Meares began their bespoke touring business, Coonawarra Experiences, in 2017. Based in Penola, the pair spend their days showing visitors around the region, and on their days off, explore it themselves. While the duo says it’s too hard to pick favourites, they have a few highlights to get you started.
What do you love about the region?
Kerry: Coming here just feels like coming back to friends each time – it’s like a comfortable pair of shoes, in the best possible way.
Where do you love to eat?
Simon: Upstairs at Hollick Estate is incredible – the quality of food they work with is first class. If you’re looking for an incredible dining experience in the evening, Piper’s of Penola is certainly the go-to for us. It’s in an old Presbyterian church and chef Simon’s ability to layer flavours is amazing – he knocks it out of the park every time.
What are your favourite wineries?
Simon: The region is renowned for cabernet sauvignon – it’s the most prolific grape grown in these terra rossa soils. The region has marketed it very well as ‘Australia’s other red centre’ – you could walk into any cellar door or winery and pick up a cabernet and know it’s going to be delicious. That being said, a lot of people don’t realise how good quality the whites are, too.
Kerry: Raidis Estate and The Blok Estate are boutique family businesses that make great wines. The Raidis team put on some fantastic events as well. Another great winery to visit is Bellwether because it’s an 1868 shearing property. It’s got highland cattle and a donkey and that real Australiana feel to it, [as well as] beautiful wines and the glamping tents.
What are some unique experiences you’d recommend?
Simon: We’re about to start doing some more exclusive tours with the producers of Wrattonbully [one of the Limestone Coast’s wine regions] which doesn’t have cellar doors.
Kerry: The Tantanoola Caves are great – people don’t know they exist. You should also make sure you head down to the Kilsby Sinkhole with its crystal clear waters, perfect to dive or snorkel in.
Why should people book a tour in the region?
Simon: In our region, there are no taxis or Uber, so you really need someone who’s accredited to drive you – it just takes the hassle out of the day. We [Coonawarra Experiences] can set up the perfect itinerary for you, and introduce you to all the characters here. We try to be a real concierge for the region.
Kerry: On top of all that, there’s the safety aspect, with a lot of 110km/h roads in the region. We know where we’re going and how to get you there safely.
If you’d like to tick off some of Simon and Kerry’s top picks, you can book a tour online.
Emma and her husband Steve are the proud owners of Raidis Estate, just outside Penola. The family-friendly winery features a cosy cellar door space and outdoor barn and lawn area, perfect for the whole family. With an impressive array of wines and resident goats, it’s not-to-be-missed.
Emma and Steve, along with their 2 kids, love calling the Limestone Coast home, and welcoming visitors through their door.
What are some of your favourite places to eat?
Emma: If we go out for breakfast in Mount Gambier, we go to Presto and we like Metro for lunch. For coffee we go to Bricks and Mortar, and every now and then we go to The Barn for dinner – it has a simple menu, but is done really well. We’ve eaten all over the world but we always love it there.
We’ll treat ourselves to [a meal at] Mayura Station sometimes, and Steve and I often go to Ottelia and Fodder – I think that’s the best food in the region.
How would you describe the wine regions in the Limestone Coast?
Emma: There are 7 different wine regions on the Limestone Coast. Mount Benson and Robe have really lovely wines – it’s a bit warmer on the coast so they’re quite different to Coonawarra wines. They have lighter reds and more whites. Mount Gambier is one of the coolest wine regions in SA, so they’re producing some beautiful pinots and chardonnays. Mount Benson and Coonawarra are the most accessible for visitors. I’m biased, but I love the Coonawarra.
What are some of your top things to do with kids?
Emma: The Naracoorte Caves are amazing. We’ll usually go there with visiting mates who have kids. We also hike around the Blue Lake and the Crater Lakes area, and go down to Valley Lake. There’s a huge playground down there, lawn for days and lots of picnic spots.
The Naracoorte and Millicent swimming lakes are fantastic too. They are free, fenced swimming lakes so the kids can swim all day and have the best time.
If you’d like to visit Raidis Estate, they have a range of experiences on offer.
Lucy & Tom Kosch
Commodore on the Park/Delgattie Estate/ The Henty
Growing up in Mount Gambier, brother and sister business duo Lucy and Tom Kosch are avid lovers of the Limestone Coast. Along with their father, they own and manage 3 accommodation venues in Mount Gambier – Commodore on the Park, Delgattie Estate and The Henty. Here are a few of their top tips.
What do you love about the Limestone Coast?
Tom: The thing I love most about the South-East is the space – the lush green fields, the lakes area and being half an hour from one of the country’s premium wine regions, but also so close to the coast as well.
What are some of your favourite ways to spend time off?
Lucy: We just love it in Robe – there are great walks, bike tracks, cafés, restaurants and pubs. There’s just a lovely village feel as well, but it’s not too far from Adelaide or Mount Gambier… it’s a treat.
How long would you recommend people stay in the region?
Lucy: The more time the better! If you could take as long as 5 days and have a few days in Mount Gambier then have a couple of days at Robe or Beachport on the coast, that’s a great way to do it.
What are some of your must-see destinations for visitors?
Tom: The must-see spots are the Umpherston Sinkhole and the Blue Lake, but you can’t come to Mount Gambier without exploring what we’ve got in the parks here too [the Crater Lakes area]. Of course there are the wine regions too.
Lucy: I think something that’s underrated here is the Mount Gambier town centre – it’s really quite beautiful. There are cafés, the town hall, the gardens behind it, the retail shops and pubs.
How would you recommend people get around?
Lucy: This can definitely be a self-drive destination, but tours can be a great way to see the wine regions. Having people like Simon and Kerry [Coonawarra Experiences] drive you means you can enjoy yourself while having a wine or 2.
If you’d like to stay at Commodore on the Park, Delgattie Estate or The Henty, book online.