Mount Gambier is a thriving city set in the unique and ancient landscape of volcanic craters, lakes, limestone and mysterious underground waterways. Situated between Adelaide and Melbourne it has become a popular stopover for those travelling to and from The Great Ocean Road or the Grampians and as a destination for an extended stay to enjoy the natural and cultural beauty of the surrounding region, the caves and sinkholes, coastline, rivers, lakes and wineries.
The famous Blue Lake of Mt. Gambier in South Australian was formed out of a volcanic crater, which last erupted 5000 years ago, making it the youngest group of volcanoes on the continent of Australia. The Blue Lake mysteriously turns from a winter grey colour to a brilliant azure blue in the month of November, lasting till April. This has been a mystery for many, many years ... until it was finally scientifically explained to be attributed to a special algae that grows in the lake. The lake is one of four similar lakes near the town of Mt Gambier which supply the town with its water as well as attracting tourists to the productive farming communities in South Australia's south-east corner.
Volcanic activity occurred in the Mount Gambier area in recent geological time and has been recorded as an important part of local Aboriginal culture. The outbursts, which would have been spectacular, took place during 2 different eruptive phases, along the edge of a main zone of activity centred on southern and western Victoria. Mount Gambier and Mount Schank, the more recent eruptions, are two of the better preserved examples of their type in Australia and are well known scenic attractions.
Less well known, is the extent of volcanic activity in the Mount Burr complex which contains 15 eruptive centres dated as occurring from 10,000 to 2 million years ago. Lakes Leake and Edward are water bodies present within volcanic craters, relying on rainfall to recharge them each year. The area is popular with naturalists, geologists, tourists and locals as the volcanic features are easily accessible via the walking trails provided. Lava bombs, some containing olivine crystals have been found in the Mount Gambier lakes area.
The lushness of the Mount Gambier area is not only due to its annual rainfall. Its life blood, is the abundance of underground water which lies in the wedge shaped block of limestone beneath the earth's surface. Moving slowly southwards towards the ocean through the limestone and its arterial system of caves and crevices the water is plentiful and contributes to the beauty of the city's parks and gardens and to the rural sector.
The limestone, formed millions of years ago in a totally marine environment and made up of fossils and corals, extends from the Bordertown area down to the coast at Port MacDonnell where it is more than 300 metres thick. Rainfall soaks down through the surface into the limestone which acts like a huge sponge. Called the unconfined aquifer, the ground water gradually moves southwards underground finally discharging to the ocean at various points along the coast between Port MacDonnell and the Victorian border.
Mount Gambier's famous Blue Lake, Little Blue Lake, Leg of Mutton Lake (now dry), Valley Lake, Ewens Ponds and Piccininnie Ponds are just a few of the locations which provide a "window" into this underground water system. Creeks from both Ewens Ponds and Piccininnie Ponds carry millions of litres of water an hour to the ocean. Just down the beach from Piccaninnie Ponds, water can be seen bubbling up through the sandy beach. The abundance of water in the Mount Gambier area provides a wonderful array of food, wine and natural experiences. Rural industries draw underground water from bores sunk at various depths into the limestone creating not only a richness of colour but also significant monetary value to the region.
Caves and sinkholes
Once a cave formed through dissolution of the limestone, the Umpherstone Sinkhole was created when the top of the chamber fell to the floor of the cave, creating the perfect environment for its "sunken garden". Originally beautified by James Umpherston around 1886, it is open at all times, from dusk each evening the area comes alive with possums as they venture into the floodlit gardens to feed.
Previously, Engelbrecht Cave was not a tourist attraction, as the private owners used to treat the cave as a rubbish dump. In 1979, the Lions Club of Mount Gambier decided to start a new project to restore and maintain this cave whilst beautifying the cave to make it as a tourist attraction. After many months, the project was successfully completed and the projects owners handed the cave over to the local council. Inside Engelbrecht Cave, you will notice that there are viewing platforms as well as diving sites, as the cave is very popular amongst cave divers. For divers, the Cave Divers Association offers free and detailed maps, including information at the visitor’Äôs hut of Engelbrecht Cave.
Presently, Engelbrecht Cave is a picturesque cave often visited by tourists and cave divers from all across Australia and abroad. Apart from the numerous scenic spots at Engelbrecht Cave, you will find several underwater caverns and tunnels here. There is also a cafe on site selling food, drinks and a few souvenirs.