A tale of two lakes

We set off early from Adelaide on Monday morning on our eastward coastal journey to Melbourne. We had taken the direct route on our way across to Adelaide but we had decided to take our time on the way back. Our target for the day was to cover the 460km to Mount Gambier where we had booked a night at the Old Gaol. We were driving the coast road, so turned off the main road at Tailem Bend and made our first stop for breakfast at Meningie, on the shores of Lake Albert.

From there, we struck out for Robe driving along The Coorong, a long coastal lagoon. This route also took us past the Pink Lake – or one of Australia’s many pink lakes. The coloration is the result of…

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The lake was looking more dried out than pink when we visited but it certainly wasn’t blue.

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After this brief stop, we climbed back into the car and carried on to Robe. I’m glad that we ended up with a Mitsubishi for this long drive, as all of the controls were in the same place as the Outlander we have at home. I had spent a lot of time in South Africa switching on the windscreen wipers every time I wanted to indicate a turn, which resulted in a lot of annoying squeaks and a smeared windscreen.

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The drive to Robe was straightforward and we stopped here for a coffee and a wander around the town. It’s quite historic (for Australia) with many of the buildings over 100 years old. After Robe, we set off on the final leg of today’s journey to Mt Gambier.

Mt. Gambier is…odd. We visited two of its main tourist attractions and they were both odd. I found them simultaneously comforting and unsettling, which is a contradictory reaction but..they were odd.

First stop was the Blue Lake. I approached this with a lowered expectation after the faint pinkness of the Pink Lake earlier in the day. But this was different. This was BLUE.

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Despite the day being overcast, the lake was the kind of blue you get in a child’s paintbox. Apparently, it retains the blue colour during the summer months then from March to November reverts to the kind of steely grey colour we’re more used to seeing in British inland lakes.

After the startling discovery of the lake, we went down to put ourselves in gaol. The Old Mt Gambier Gaol was a working prison from 1866 all the way up to 1995. It spent some time as a halfway house before being redeveloped as a hotel. Ishbel and I have stayed in the Malmaison Oxford, which is also an old prison, but very luxurious with only a faint air of its previous use.

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Malmaison, Oxford

The reverse is true of Mount Gambier. Every part of it screams gaol. We had managed to book one of the two double rooms. There are only two of them because most cells are too small for a double bed.

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Cell 20, Old Mt Gambier Gaol

In Oxford, they had knocked cells together to create modern hotel room sizes. The reason that some of the Mt Gambier cells were bigger than others?

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We were in Cell 20. If you find yourself in this part of the world, get yourself into gaol.

We had a quiet evening in Mt Gambier, grabbing some fast Mexican food in town and drinking tea in the common room at the gaol before retiring for the evening. The next morning we were tackling the 250km drive to Port Campbell and the start of the Great Ocean Road itself.  But before we left Mt Gambier, there was another attraction we wanted to see. One that looked…odd.

The Umpherston Sinkhole just doesn’t seem like it should exist. It is a sinkhole caused by erosion of the porous limestone that is a feature of the area’s geology. But, in Victorian times, a Mr. Umpherston decided to turn it into a feature garden. And although it fell into disrepair in the middle of the 20th century, it was renovated by volunteers a couple of decades ago and has regained its innate strangeness.

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It’s difficult to convey the scale of this place, which is why I am sitting on the bench in the distance. This thing is huge. And lovely. But very strange.

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