Snorkelling in the crystal clear water at Ewens Ponds Conservation Park is an adventure you will never forget. Put this at the top of your list of things to do when you visit South Australia’s Limestone Coast.
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If you want a snorkelling spot with a difference, these sinkholes near Mount Gambier are a must do. Known for their clarity, visibility in the ponds can be as much as 80 metres – which is amazing!
Ewens Ponds is a series of spring-fed sinkholes and connecting channels. They’re about 30 minutes from Mount Gambier or 10 minutes east of Port MacDonnell. Follow the Lower Nelson Road and look for the turn off.
Booking a permit
In recent times, South Australia’s National Parks and Wildlife have stepped up their management of Ewens Ponds. There has long been a closure period from the start of September to the end of November. That still exists but you now also need a permit to snorkel or dive there.
You can either get an annual or one off permit. The annual pass cost $60. A single session pass is $15.50 and is valid for a specific one hour time slot on a set day. You cannot buy permits at Ewens Ponds, book beforehand on the National Parks’ website.
You can book a maximum of two sessions per day. Each one hour time slot allows a maximum of 6 people to be in the water at one time.
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Ewens Ponds Water Temperature
Our last trip to Ewens Ponds was right before the permit system started. Had we visited a few months later, our experience would have been quite a bit more comfortable.
As famous as the ponds are for their clarity, they are also known for being cold. The temperature is a consistent 15 degrees. Since we had survived 12 degree water when we snorkelled with cuttlefish, and because it was January, we thought we could get away with our shortie wetsuits. As it turned out that wasn’t a great decision, it was freezing!
Another new condition of snorkelling at Ewens Ponds is you wear a full length wetsuit. It certainly isn’t a rule we could argue with! The Allendale East General Store has wetsuit hire. Snorkellers are also not allowed to wear weight belts.
Ewens Ponds Snorkelling Plan
Ewens ponds is a series of three ponds joined by narrow channels. You begin your snorkel or dive in Pond 1 and finish at Pond 3. You are not allowed to do an ‘out and back’ swim and you need to leave the water by the end of you allotted time.
One hour is plenty of time to snorkel from Pond 1 to Pond 3. Not only does a gentle current push you along the channel, 45 minutes in 15 degree water will do most people. There is a pontoon and ladder in Pond 3 where you get out. A narrow path running alongside the ponds returns you to the car park at Pond 1.
MARES ADULT SNORKELLING SET
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Start your snorkel at Pond 1
When you’re kitted up you make your way through a gate and onto the pontoon at Pond 1. As you slide on your fins you look out on an oval shaped pond 50 metres across surrounded by tall grass.
For our snorkel there was only us and a couple of divers there. We’d said hello. As they pulled on their dry suits – the ultimate in scuba comfort wear – they wished us luck with our ‘shorties’. From the pontoon we watched them get in and bubble their way to the bottom. Then it was our turn.
The first thing you notice, besides the cold, is how clear the water is. It is stunning. Pond 1 is about 10 metres deep and we had no trouble seeing all the way to the bottom. In fact, we had no trouble waving to the divers 20 plus metres away. We’re used to seeing 5 to 10 metres in the sea so being able to see this far underwater blew us away.
Snorkelling the channel
We floated around Pond 1 for a few minutes marvelling at the visibility. Pond 1 is the largest of the pools at Ewens Ponds. Plants line the steep walls and you can see rocks and fine silt at the bottom.
We kicked across to the first channel. The depth changes from ten metres to less than two as you enter a lush underwater garden. You find yourself surrounded on three sides by bright green plants and grasses. They sway in a current that allows you to effortlessly drift down the channel.
Enough sunlight makes it through the water for land plants to grow underwater. Their leaves release lines of air bubbles which you can see rising to the surface. It is a plant dominated environment but keep an eye out for the rare pygmy perch and freshwater crayfish.
NIKON COOLPIX W300 ACTION CAMERA
We love our Nikon Coolpix Camera, it's perfect for snorkelling, kayaking, swimming and throwing in your bag on a hike. Many of the photos in this post have been taken with the Nikon Coolpix. Whether it be a thrilling snorkel expedition, or a relaxing holiday by the beach, this camera will capture it all. It's waterproof, shockproof, cold-resistant & dustproof.
Drifting along, you appreciate the differences between fresh and sea water snorkelling. Waves don’t lift you up and down and there isn’t that constant background crackle. Instead you hear reed warblers chirping in the tall grass along the channel. I’m sure at one point I heard a cow moo in a nearby paddock.
As you approach the end of the channel you look ahead into a teal blue void. Being pulled towards it by the current is an amazing sensation. One moment you’re surrounded by bright green plants, the next you’re in the stillness and depth of the next pond.
Loving every minute of it, we made our way along the second channel and into the third and deepest pond. At the bottom, 13 metres below, is a small cave.
Read More : Best spots to snorkel in South Australia
One of Australia’s best snorkels
As much as we wanted to stay in the water and keep exploring, I realized my lips were starting to go numb. Nat said she could no longer feel her toes. We’d done well to last 45 for minutes so it was time to get out.
Ewens Ponds is one of the most unique snorkelling experiences in Australia. It is a pristine environment – the new regulations will continue to protect it. The visibility is like nothing you will get in the sea and where else can you swim through a garden? You come out of the fresh water feeling amazing too.
We have done a lot of snorkelling around South Australia and this is one of our favourite spots. If you are after a snorkelling adventure with a difference, make sure you put a visit to Ewens Pond on your list.
FULL LENGTH & SHORTY WETSUITS
To snorkel Ewens Ponds you will need a wetsuit, preferrably full length as the water is freezing! These super stretch wetsuits are comfortable and can be used for snorkelling, paddleboarding, kayaking and more. Available for both kids and adults they are a must for snorkelling in South Australia.
We enjoyed a few days at the Port Mac Donnell Foreshore Tourist Park. The park is set directly behind the dunes so you can wake up with the sound of the waves. Only a short drive away from Ewens Ponds it’s the perfect place to stay.
Located 30 kilometres south east of Mount Gambier, Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park is a much bigger version of Ewens Ponds. Pond 1 is most suitable for snorkellers. It has abundant plant and animal life. Piccaninnie is best known as a dive location. One area, The Chasm, is over 100 metres deep! A similar booking and permit system to Ewens Ponds applies to Piccaninnie Ponds.
Located on private property 14 kilometres south of Mount Gambier, Kilsby Sinkhole offers a unique experience for beginner to advanced snorkellers and divers. There is also a tour of the property and the sinkhole for those that want to stay dry.