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Mt Gambiers Underground World
blue lake mt gambierBeautiful Mt Gambier is the regional centre of South Australia's Limestone Coast and is the second largest city in the state. It is the ideal holiday destination if you are after and an ancient volcanic landscape of lakes, sinkholes, underground waterways and unique limestone wonders. The city is built on top of a large tract of limestone that extends out to the sea so caves and sinkholes are present even in the city centre! The mountain from which it takes its name, Mt Gambier, is in fact Australia's youngest volcano and the volcanic activity over time helped form the unique geological features of the region.

The most talked about attraction here would have to be the awe-inspiring Blue Lake. Blue Lake, as well as Valley Lake and Leg of Mutton Lake make up the Mt Gambier Crater Lakes complex, and the reason for Blue Lake's title becomes clear in late November, when its water turns a dazzling turquoise blue. This trick to the eye is actually no trick and is the result of a chemical equation and the refraction of light. This is an amazing wonder of nature that has to be seen to be believed and is particularly impressive on a sunny day. The lake fills the crater of Mt Gambier volcano, and at its widest point is a whopping 1 kilometre. A four kilometre long road will take you to a wonderful walking track that will take you on a journey around the circumference of the mountain and lake, introducing you to some of the best lookouts and stunning views that this area has to offer. You are also able to go down the original dolomite well shaft where water used to be drawn from in the early days. This is done in a glass panelled lift which offers impressive all round views as you descend and ascend.

Another attraction around here that will draw you in is the charming Umpherston Sinkhole. Once an underground cave, the cave has caved in and left a large depression that is a sight in itself. In 1886 James Umpherston turned it into a beautiful lush garden, which over time has been looked after and added to so that it has now become one of the area's most popular attractions. Floodlit at night, large numbers of possums come out and feed, to the delight of watching visitors, so be sure to bring your camera.

Underneath the city, you will find a huge complex of limestone caves that promise adventure and discovery for experienced scuba divers. They enter the water in one of two chambers within Engelbrecht Cave, and from there head off to explore the underground system - a system they have been succesful in mapping over the years. If you are not a keen diver, why not take a 45 minute tour of Engelbrecht Cave, where you can view the underground water that in about five hundred years will have filtered through to the ocean.

Journey for a little inland from Mt Gambier and you will come across another impressive cave system. This system is known as the Naracoorte Caves National Park is is actualy South Australia's only landmark on the World Heritage List. This National Park is home to 26 caves that have formed in the malleable limestone landscape, each containing dazzling displays of stalagmites and stalactites. Over the years, these caves have acted as pitfall traps, and any unfortunate animals that wandered too close have fallen in to their deaths. Since this has been happening for well over 500 000 years, the caves are now preserved as one of the most comprehensive fossil records ever found. These records hold vital clues to Australia's evolutionary history, offering a fascinating insight into our past. Essentially, this is why these caves have been placed on the World Heritage List and what makes them so intriguing.

One of the caves here is home to the endangered Southern Bent-winged Bat, which is one of Australia's most precious creatures. In fact, thousands of the little creatures return in spring each year to raise their young here, making it a haven for wildlife. Infra red cameras video the bats and transfer the images to an observation room where humans observe them on screens. This alone is a sight worth making the drive to Naracoorte for as it will allow you to get up close to the wildlife, without causing harm to their precious environments.

The area surrounding Mt Gambier is simply brimming with amazing geological attractions. There is so much to see and do that you will honestly never run out of things to see and you may never want to leave. The city itself is small and friendly, boasting a hospitable 'country town' feel as well as a large number of accommodation options to make it easier for you. The shopping facilities are renowned as being very classy, and there is a rich sense of culture and heritage in the architecture, buildings and the society of Mt Gambier. This is an experience you will want to cherish forever.

Christine Barton

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