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PART TWOGetting started inAUSTRALIANCAVE DIVINGMount Gambier - world-class deep cavern and cave diving, gourmet paddock-to-plate cuisine, weekend accessibility from both Adelaide and Melbourne, and an inclusive, fun community of cave divers.Photographs by Kerrie Burow“ My scheduled dive was in the mid-morning - just before a shaft of sunlight appears over the sinkhole, forming a light beam which penetrates the water column down to the bottom. Summer time is the best time to experience the light beam ”None of the three sites I dived up to this stage prepared me for the breath-taking experience of Kilsby’s Sinkhole - considered one of the most-spectacular dives in the world.
Situated on a sheep farm owned by four generations of the Kilsby’s family, the dive in gin-clear water surrounded by beautiful limestone structures falling down to at least 60m is one of the mostextraordinary dives I’ve done. Kilsby’s Sinkhole is popular with snorkellers, freedivers, and scuba divers. All certified divers from Open Water are able to dive in the shallower section with an experienced guide or operator, while those with the appropriate qualifications can go deeper for a more adventurous experience.
My scheduled dive was in the mid-morning - just before a shaft of sunlight appears over the sinkhole, forming a light beam which penetrates the water column down to the bottom. Summer time is the best time to experience the light beam, and I’m already planning to go back next summer at a better planned time of day for the experience.
The Kilsby family also offers gin-tasting tours (with the water for the gin taken from the aquifer feeding the sinkhole) and will also soon offer onsite accommodation. Another sinkhole in Mount Gambier with an extraordinary lightbeam is the Shaft - the deepest and darkest sinkhole in the region, and the most adventurous dive at the Basic Cave level.
The Shaft is quite literally just a small hole of only a metre across in the middle of a cow paddock (Hot Tip: A pair of gumboots is one of the best pieces of kit to conquer the cows’ ‘landmines’). It’s what lies at the bottom of that hole which makes this one of the most-incredible dives in the world.
Using a pulley system, diving gear is lowered about ten metres down the hole into a small underwater lake. Divers are then also lowered down, get into their dive gear on the surface of the lake and then descend into an underground space as big as a football field.
You are limited to a depth of 40m without special permission, and while the depth of the sinkhole is given at about 120m, it does go further and is not fully explored. Like Kilsby’s, the beam of light which penetrates down the hole when the summer sun passes overhead results in some spectacular experiences and photography. Some call it the closest they’ve ever felt to diving in outer space! Did you know?Mount Gambier is the second most populated city in South Australia, with an estimated urban population of 29,639.“ Ewans Ponds Conservation Park is a series of three main shallow sinkholes fed by springs with crystal-clear water. It’s possible to drift from one end of the springs to the other ”Water clarity can be exceptionalPrepping in a pick-up Finally, for stand out cavern diving, is Piccaninnie Ponds. I was expecting a similar experience to Ewans Ponds, also just outside Mount Gambier. Ewans Ponds Conservation Park is a series of three main shallow sinkholes fed by springs with crystalclear water. It’s possible to drift from one end of the springs to the other. Piccaninnie Ponds, however, also includes two deeper sections - the Chasm and the Cathedral. The Cathedral is a rollercoaster of twisty, turny limestone chimneys which wind down to a depth of 35m. Although we only had very average visibility on our dive, the experience itself was unforgettable. These are just a sampling of the Basic Cave rated sites on the Limestone Coast.
For those who continue their training, the CDAA cave-level and advanced-cave level diving continues the underground adventures. Popular cave-rated sites include Allendale East Cave, Engelbrecht’s Cave - East underneath the city, Fossil Cave, Nettlebed, and The Pines. The stand out advanced cave site is Tank Cave, a 7km underground maze of passages considered one of the best cave diving systems in the world.
Inside one of the cave systemsWhere to Stay
The accommodation options in Mount Gambier are as varied as you would expect in a small city, from camping on unpowered sites, hotels, Airbnbs to five-star accommodation. There are a few options targeted more to visiting cave divers.
Did you know?When it comes to a diver’s body positioning during a safety stop, there have been no conclusive studies suggesting a vertical or horizontal position is better than the other. In a prone position, your entire body is at the desired stop depth and exposed to equal ambient pressure.I’ve been staying at The Habitat #99 (fondly referred to as the Habby), not far from the city centre and built over Engelbrecht’s Cave. The Habby provides single, double, and dorm-style accommodation with shared kitchen and lounge in a comfortable, homey environment as well as plenty of parking, a dry room for drysuits and a tool/gear/photography room. Then there’s Pine Tank Divers Lodge, a Bed and Breakfast style option in Glencoe - a 30km drive from Mount Gambier, which also provides gas fills. Just-a-Bed Lodge, just on the city’s outskirts, is another shared accommodation for cave divers. The dive shop associated with it also does tank rentals, overnight gas fills and hydro testing.
Let’s talk about the food!
One of the biggest surprises for me was how good the food in the Mount Gambier region is - which shouldn’t have surprised me at all as the area is covered with rich farmland irrigated by the sinkholes.
The Habby lists a number of popular restaurants and cafes on a blackboard in the common area, and I’ve been making my way down the list during my stays. Favourites so far include The Barn, Natural Born Grillers, Cafe Belgiorno, Macs Hotel, the potato cakes (or potato scallops, if you’re a northerner) at the Allendale East General Store, ice cream at Badenoch’s Deli and the scrolls at ScRoll Queen. Expect your drysuit to fit a bit more snuggly after your cave diving trip! “ For those who continue their training, the CDAA cave-level and advanced-cave level diving continues the underground adventures. Popular cave-rated sites include Allendale East Cave, Engelbrecht’s Cave - East underneath the city, Fossil Cave, Nettlebed, and The Pines ”In Summary
Was it worth doing a CDAA Basic Cave course in order to access these sinkholes?
Absolutely! I’ve now experienced some of the best diving in Australia, had my mind opened about a part of the country which I thought was too far away from Sydney to really bother with, trained with people who’ve now become friends, and it’s whet my appetite for more.
If you love adventurous diving, and you’re not considering Mount Gambier, you’re really missing out on some extraordinary experiences!
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