Anyone who’s dipped their toes into the Limestone Coast will tell you there’s more than meets the eye…
With a rich volcanic landscape that’s studded with mysterious sinkholes, underground caves, pristine ponds and lush lakes, heading to the local pool is something few ever forget. Here’s a list of local swimming and diving spots to help you on your way!
Just 14 kilometres south of Mount Gambier/Berrin, Kilsby Sinkhole is as sly as it is surreal. In fact, to the untrained eye, it would be all too easy to simply drive by the lush paddocks under which this local icon sits hidden away from prying eyes, but those who visit will have it etched in their minds forever.
Sitting deep under the soils of a working sheep farm, this place was once little more than a watering hole on the local stock route, but having been nurtured by the Kilsby family for four generations, these days it’s become one of the globe’s most sought-after freshwater diving experiences.
The only site of its kind in Australia that welcomes snorkellers, freedivers and Open Water certified scuba divers under the supervision of licensed and industry-certified guides, this giant chasm descends 65 metres and is revered by those in the know, with stunning water clarity delivering almost other-worldly visibility.
If you’re the intrepid kind who’s into strapping on a tank and getting yourself in deep - or hey, maybe even the freediving sort - you’ll need to reach out to one of the site’s registered Licensees to chat through specifics and arrange a booking – just ensure you’re SCUBA certified first. Times vary according to each operator, but they’ll supply all equipment and stay with you every step of the way as you unearth a subterranean showcase filled with timeless topography and sneaky little passages. If you’re keen to make the most of it, the middle of the day is prime time to see the sunlight as it streaks through the abyss, creating a unique looking glass to the world above where birds fly and clouds dance across the surface.
Of course, if you're keen to see what all the fuss is about without the diving creds - you’ll be glad to know that those aged over 12 can still throw on a snorkel and mask to catch the show in the main ‘lake’ area too. While exact times vary, you’ll need to book your two-hour snorkelling tour ahead of time and while you’re welcome to bring your own gear they can also deck you out on-site (oh, and wetsuits are essential, by the way – water sits at a cool 15C year-round).
If you’re heading here with mates, you’ll also want to be mindful that group sizes are restricted to eight - and while there’s no need to be an Ironman, a general level of fitness is a must - as is the ability to swim (duh)! In between paddles duck-dives, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for ‘Turtie’ the sinkhole turtle who appears to be living his very best life!
If getting wet just isn't your bag, you can stay dry on the one-hour guided Sinkhole Tour and learn all about the sinkhole’s intriguing backstory, including the secret role it played in Australia's military history. Kids under 10 years are free, as long as they’re accompanied by adults – just keep them close when you’re on the pontoon.
Oh, and speaking of grown-ups… If you’re in need of liquid nourishment while you’re here, don’t pass up the opportunity to grab a bottle of Sinkhole Gin, which as well as being made from the pristine limestone-filtered water you’ve been swimming in is about as crisp and clear as the experience down below!
Ewens Ponds Conservation Park
Please see park closures and alerts before planning your visit.
With water so clear it’s like snorkelling through air, the magical underwater gardens of Ewens Ponds Conservation Park genuinely have to be seen to be believed... This local gem sits 10 kilometres east of Port MacDonnell and is revered by those in the know, with a series of three large freshwater springs (each around 10 metres deep) delivering spectacular clarity and colour. A leafy subterranean wonderland, these inter-connected ponds have been continuously fed by limestone filtered springwater over thousands of years, resulting in one of the glassiest plunge pools on the planet.
With visibility of up to 80 metres and water temperatures hovering around 10-15C, there’s little doubt it’s one of those places that will seriously take your breath away - quite literally! In fact, if you’re wondering, yes this is definitely full-length wetsuit territory – in fact, it’s a rule for entry – but you don’t have one handy, don’t stress – the friendly crew at Allendale East General Store and Dive Shop have you covered, along with the other mandatories like fins, face mask and a snorkel (it’s also worth checking out the local street art while you’re in town).
Suitable for all ages (5+ years) and abilities, a general level of confidence in the water (like, can you swim 25 metres?) should be enough to ensure everyone enjoys the snorkelling experience – as long as the kids are well supervised. For those unsure about their ability, especially little ones, it’s also worth grabbing a lifejacket (or even a pool noodle) to really float their boat.
Whether you’re scuba diving (accreditation standards apply) or snorkelling, if you’re keen to jump into this subterranean stunner you'll need to be mindful of seasons (avoid the annual closure from 1st September to 30th November) before booking your one-hour dive or snorkelling permit via National Parks South Australia. It’s also worth noting that you’re only allowed two permits per day - so if you think you might take a little longer (because hey, it’s pretty awesome), consider booking them back-to-back to snag yourself some extra swim time. Oh, and there’s an order of play here folks – entry is always via the pontoon at the first pool, and exit at the third – no going against the flow, y’know?
Speaking of which, as you drift your way from pond to pond you’ll likely notice a gentle current that pushes things along just nicely, with the narrow connecting channels acting as Mother Nature’s conveyor belt.
As you drift your way through, you’ll find underwater plants that don’t grow anywhere else in the world - and many of them photosynthesising, with a steady stream of oxygen bubbles rising up to the surface. If that’s not enough to feed your inner Attenborough, it’s also worth keeping your eyes peeled for Glenelg Spiny Freshwater Crayfish and the super-rare Ewens Pygmy Perch, which are almost exclusive to these waters.
Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park
Please see park closures and alerts before planning your visit.
Take the plunge at Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park and you'll be slipping into a watery wonderland like no other. This subterranean gem is recognised as a wetland of international importance, and for very good reason. With natural limestone filters providing some of the clearest diving on Earth, it’s been a genuine magnet for thrill-seeking water babies for decades, with some of the most curious and spectacular formations you’ll ever see under the surface.
Straddling the Lower South East Marine Park, this local legend sits about half-an-hour’s drive from Mount Gambier/Berrin, not far from the Victorian border - and unlike Ewens Ponds Conservation Park (which sees seasonal closures), this one’s open all year round.
As with Ewens Ponds, a general level of swimming ability (ages 5+) is all you really need to enjoy the experience, but if you’re planning on getting wet you’ll need to book a time and complete an online indemnity form ahead of time through National Parks South Australia. Once again, there’s a maximum of two one-hour dive or snorkel slots per day here too, and with a group kept to a minimum of two and maximum of four, it’s a tightly run affair. In fact, if you’re planning on scuba diving, you’ll also need to be a current member of the Cave Divers Association of Australia (CDAA), and rated at sinkhole category.
Once the formalities are done and you’ve sorted your wetsuit, snorkel, fins and mask (see our mates at Allendale East General Store and Dive Shop), it’s time to take the plunge, with the first pond being around 10 metres deep and clear as a bell. You’ll find plenty of eye candy here, with a kaleidoscope of colour produced by a literal sea of underwater plant life and scores of aquatic animals, from fish and eels to tortoises and the odd freshwater crayfish – all under the watchful eye of the local birds.
Moving along through the designated snorkelling zone, things do get deeper… much deeper! As you float out across the ancient 'Chasm' (or maybe down into it if you’re diving), you’ll find 100 metres of crystal clear water between you and the pond floor, where dark blue waters pulse their way toward the Southern Ocean. Listen closely and you’ll likely hear the surf gently rumbling away in the distance as you soak in one of the most spectacular sights in the system.
If you’re here with a scuba permit, it’s almost sacrilege not to continue on to the almighty ‘Cathedral’, sitting pretty 35 metres below the surface, where you’ll be enveloped by an enormous cavern that will have you thinking you’ve paddled into another planet.
In fact, much like the crew from NASA, you’ll find this experience akin to floating through air. As freshwater continues rising to the surface it's still busy carving new landforms down here and on the beach, where springs bubble up onto the sand. If you’re keen to follow the ponds’ path to the sea, you’ll need to stay on land, with the easy 2.4km (1 hour return) walk to the ocean outlet being well worth the hike!
Little Blue Lake
Plonked inconspicuously between two dormant volcanoes (Mount Schank and Mount Gambier) and just a stone’s throw from its bigger, bluer brother (that’s the Blue Lake, BTW…), Little Blue Lake has a a larger than life profile, with fun-loving families, van-lifers, thrill seekers and loved up couples all flocking to its Insta-famous shores.
Officially where all the cool kids hang out, permits aren’t required to swim here (qualified cave divers will need one though), and in warmer months you’ll find these cool waters are about the perfect spot to beat the heat. At about 40 metres wide, up to 47 metres deep and ringed by cliffs on all sides, the water here is generally clean and green, and after taking the stairs down into the cauldron experienced swimmers can leap and laze from the floating pontoon below.
For little ones and less-confident swimmers, don’t stress – it’s still totally do-able, but just make sure you bring the right gear gear to keep everyone safe and at arm’s distance from adults at any one time. Think: life jackets, inflatables, pool noodles, and a healthy dose of common sense!
Those looking to cave dive will need to meet a CDAA Deep Cavern grade accreditation, but are likely to find a few interesting surprises while they’re down there, including an unlikely parking spot for a 1966 Morris 1100, among other little curiosities on the bottom.
While summer months tend to get busy around here (try early morning or late in the day to escape the crowds), just be mindful that you can always score it to yourself in winter. With a constant year-round water temperature of 12C it’s a refreshing dip in any season, but BYO wetsuits are usually a given - unless you’re into the ‘Icebergs’ scene!
Even though it's un-fenced and open 24 hours a day, it’s also worth noting there’s very few facilities here, with no toilets and little shade to retreat to in the midst of a hot summer’s day (just a solitary old apple tree).
Oh, and as tempting as it may be, there’s also no camping here, so a pit stop for food and drink or perhaps even a bed at the nearby Bellum Hotel will have you well and truly covered before or after, with hearty country grub (including takeaway) and motel rooms for good measure.