The drive from the Victorian coastal town of Warrnambool to the South Australian capital Adelaide is doable in a day if you high tail it up the A200, but where’s the fun in that? This is one of Australia’s most idyllic rural regions, with the added attraction of some truly dramatic coastline and mind-blowing geological oddities to marvel at. The region is also fairly remote, meaning that most traffic between Victoria and South Australia bypasses it completely. So, sit back, relax, enjoy the solitude, and take it all in at a leisurely pace. Two days is ideal, with an overnight break in Mount Gambier – home to the fabulous Blue Lake. More on that shortly!
Port Fairy (30 kilometres)
Departing Warrnambool early, make your first stop the gorgeous town of Port Fairy. Drop in to one of the town centre’s quaint cafes for breakfast, before heading off on the self-guided Port Fairy Historic Town Walk. You can download a map online. The walk takes in some of the 70 or so heritage buildings dotted around the fairly flat and easily walkable grid of streets. The wharf area once despatched raw materials like wool and wheat to Britain.
Portland (76 kilometres)
You’ve been travelling along the Shipwreck Coast – an infamous stretch of coastline that has claimed close to 700 ships over the decades. With its natural deepwater bay, the site of the town of Portland was frequented by whalers as early as the 1820s, and there are thought to be around 20 shipwrecks in this area alone. To learn more, spend an hour or so exploring the Portland Maritime Discovery Centre. Take a drive out to the Cape Nelson Lighthouse for lunch at Isabella’s Café (it’s named after yet another wrecked vessel!).
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Discovery Bay Coastal Park and Nelson (70 kilometres)
Head back into town and onto the main drag west. You’ll pass through the sublime Discovery Bay Coastal Park, which offers plenty of opportunities to stop and admire the stunning scenery and breathe in that fresh sea air. Enjoy the sense of remoteness. In fact, it may feel like you have the coast all to yourself! Take a break in the tiny town of Nelson – the last stop before you cross the border. Turn left off the main road onto Beach Road and cruise out towards the beach. It’s not suitable for swimming (due to the treacherously unpredictable currents), but the unspoilt natural beauty of the area is breathtaking.
Mount Gambier (38 kilometres)
It’s an easy thirty minute run from Nelson to Mount Gambier, South Australia’s third largest urban centre. However, with a population of just 30,000, it’s still a pretty relaxed and laidback place. You are staying overnight here; try and arrive with enough time to walk around the famous Blue Lake at sunset. This volcanic crater lake turns a vibrant cobalt blue in the summer months and glitters in the afternoon sun.
In the morning, check out another geological marvel – the Umpherston Sinkhole. It’s named after James Umpherston — who transformed it into a sunken garden back in 1886. If time permits, cruise out to the Little Blue Lake, 15 minutes’ drive south of the city.
Need a place to stay? Comfort Inn The Lakes is perfectly positioned for you to soak up the beauty of the Blue Lake. There are several lookouts within easy walking distance of the hotel. Guests enjoy free parking and WiFi.
Coonawarra (67 kilometres)
An hour’s drive north of Mount Gambier will bring you to the famous Coonawarra wine region – one of the smallest in the country at just 40 square kilometres. However, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with its big, bold reds – predominantly cab savs and shiraz. The secret is the rich red soil and limestone base. Book a wine tour if you have the time, but if not, Di Gorgio Wines is open daily for tastings and you can match your choice of drop with a pick-your-own platter of local specialties. Don’t worry, you don’t actually have to go out and pick them; there’s a large menu of antipasto items to choose from!
Naracoorte Caves National Park (36 kilometres)
UNESCO World Heritage-listed Naracoorte Caves National Park is less than half an hour’s drive from the Coonawarra, so if you’re not a wine lover, you might want to continue straight on to the park. Packed with the fossilised remains of megafauna and more, the caves are one of South Australia’s most popular natural attractions. Tours operate daily in four of the precinct’s known caves, and there are plenty of great walking trails in between. The Wonambi Fossil Centre ties all the threads together.
Murray Bridge (273 kilometres)
From Naracoorte, it’s the longest straight stretch of your roadie – a three-hour run to Murray Bridge, which offers fabulous views of the legendary Murray River. Keep an eye out for the Captain Proud paddlewheeler. History buffs may want to adjust this itinerary to reach Murray Bridge in time to do a lunch cruise. Shaped by the legendary vessels that once plied their trade along the Mississippi River, paddleboats like this one drove industry on the Murray from the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s.
Adelaide (75 kilometres)
Wrap up your road trip with an easy one-hour drive into the Adelaide CBD.
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Need a place to stay? Browse Adelaide accommodation options
Cover image: Blue Lake, Mount Gambier. Image: Ockert le Roux
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.