Ewens Ponds is a somewhat little-known secret in regards to fresh-water diving and snorkeling in South Australia. Situated about half an hour south of Mount Gambier, it is fairly easily accessed via unsealed roads (once you have hired a wetsuit at the local Deli in my case).
It consists of a series of three limewater spring-fueled ponds of around ten metres depth each. They are interlinked by shallow creek sections that then run the full course to the ocean, an amazing experience if you happen to have the convenience of someone with a car waiting at the other end.
The park has recently been closed for a few months, presumably to allow regeneration of the area due to an unusual amount of stress caused by swimmers. Interestingly, all mentions of the Conservation Park now include a disclaimer that swimming is strictly forbidden, with only snorkeling and diving activity permitted. Even more interestingly, the Ewens Ponds Conservation Park is not discoverable on Google Maps anymore- perhaps a gesture to reduce the amount of wear and tear on the park, with word of mouth perhaps resulting in only the more dedicated underwater-types to visit and do so responsibly.
On a much valued day off work I decided to cram the whole experience into a day-trip which I can sadly not recommend. This is due to the five hour drive each way from Adelaide with a very swift entrance and exit from the park. In my case a school bus full of kids was looking on while I got into my wetsuit. The early-September weather was mild for me, with quite a lot of cloud cover – yet the visibility was still absolutely stunning, and the water temperature a bearable 14ºC so I was able to get by without a hood. It can get quite cold though, for the uninitiated.
Entry and exit points are a series of very well maintained pontoons with hand rails and step ladders with the only annoyance being the clustering of surface algae and materials around these in some months. Pond #1 is effectively the main source of the limestone springs providing a wonderfully subtle current that will guide snorkelers effortlessly down the whole sequence of ponds and creek sections.
The visibility is astounding, with small fish (and sometimes larger) easily spotted, occasional turtles, freshwater crayfish, eels and all manner of other shy creatures. Visibility is so astoundingly good that plant life thrives on the pond beds with such a large amount of light reaching the depths, and the pure process of photosynthesis can be seen constantly with the bubbling of oxygen easily observed.
Night diving is possible with an amazing view of a starry Summer night sky- purportedly an unforgettable experience from a ten metre depth. Once pond #3 is reached, there is a walking path that is maintained through the undergrowth that provides a ten minute walk back to the car-park and pond #1 entrance and it is well worth jumping in again to do the circuit a second or third time.
Mid-pond joining creek sections are also suitably other-worldly with vibrant colours and exotic vegetation swaying in the very subtle current.
The ponds all feature differing vegetation and fauna, often with alluring alcoves and small shallow cave sections (the minimum necessary qualification for divers is Open Water).
This video features the connecting creek from Pond #1 and a view of the approach to pond #2.
The Ewens Ponds Conservation Park is open 24/7 but it is still recommended to call ahead just to confirm the site is not closed due to unforeseen circumstances. An overnight stay in the Mount Gambier region is highly recommended (as opposed to day tripping) as there is so much more on offer in regards to caves and other peculiarities of the region!
Ewens Ponds is a wonderfully intriguing oddity in freshwater diving or snorkelling, and despite the somewhat lengthy drive from Adelaide, it provides an experience that is hugely unique and memorable.
National Parks SA – Phone: (+61 8) 8735 1177