Spring into Freshwater Ponds at Ewens
South Australia has an abundance of unique marine locations to experience as approx. 90% of the states' population resides in coastal areas enticing and alluring holidays and recreational activities near or in the water.
So the moment I found out Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries (EMS) was conducting Community Snorkel events at the Ewens Ponds Conservation Park, I jumped at the opportunity and signed up even though I had only just arrived back home from 1 week volunteering on the Eyre Peninsula events.
'Join EMS for a guided snorkel in the crystal clear, spring-fed limestone waters of Ewen Ponds Conservation Park. Three large ponds with a maximum depth of 10m flow towards the coast, boasting such outstanding visibility that it feels like you’re drifting in zero gravity.
Beginners enter at the pontoon to explore the first pond, while advanced snorkelers enter at the pontoon and head to the second and third pond and beyond to the coast.'
Where is Ewens Ponds you may ask, well it is located 36km south of Mount Gambier with access from Lower Nelson Rd W onto Ewens Ponds Rd. Mount Gambier is approx. a 4hr 35min drive from Adelaide in the southeastern corner of South Australia and locally known for its limestone, volcanic landscape and crater lakes, amongst many other great snorkelling/diving locations, such as - Piccaninnie Ponds, Kilsby Sinkhole and Devils Hole.
Home for less than 48hrs gave me only enough time to unpack, wash clothes and repack them, mow the lawns and spend some quality time with Karen. Oh yeah, a little thing called sleep was an important after thought, batteries low and I needed a full re-charge.
Soon enough Friday was upon me and it was rendezvous time at the Toll-Gate OTR Service Station to meet and pack my travel gear into Carls vehicle, which was towing the EMS trailer packed of all the snorkel gear and associated equipment. Goodbyes done and coffee's bought it was time to get going and head up the Freeway for roughly a 5hr drive. Thanks Karen, see you soon honey and msg you when I can 💬💙💬.
The highway was a smooth and problem-free drive with casual banter which helped pass the time and before we knew it Coonalpyn was on the approach, and guess what's there, yes another Silo Artwork.
Taking a moment to stretch and get the 'shot' without people or vehicles, we consider road safety again, change drivers and forge ahead to ensure we made good time making sure the trailer and equipment was ok. It was approx. only another 65km and we hit the turn off at Keith where we stopped for a locally known treat, Country Fried Chicken at the BP Truck Stop.
Word of advice, well worth the stop to either re-fuel (petrol and/or food) if you haven't experienced the chicken, it is a must do, and then keep on drivin' to our destination 'Pine Tank Divers Lodge' in Glencoe where we will be staying with all the volunteers (13-15).
Finally arrived into Mt Gambier around 5.00pm and drove straight through for another 23km along Kangaroo Flat Rd to find our lodgings. We were only the 2nd people there and started to slowly unpack our personal gear, large eskies and tubs full of groceries and non perishable food for the group.
It wasn't long before others started arriving which was comforting knowing their journey was a safe one. Shortly after in bucket brigade style the team went into automatic mode of unpacking, sorting and settling in. Rooms were selected, fridges & freezers packed and dinner prep was already on the go, everyone just got on with it.....soo good.
Below are a few snap shots of the exterior of the lodge, kitchen/dine and rooms.
Dinner was made and everyone tucked in self-serve family style and people spread throughout the dining and lounge-room areas (thanks champions). Not long after dinner was over, dishes done and lunch wraps made for the next day the bathroom became a sought-after destination for a hot shower like the Boxing Day Sales. Fresh bodies, clean hair, comfies on and a nightcap it was time to hit the sack ready for tomorrow's first snorkel events.
Let me first create an image for you to ponder - imagine snorkelling in an underwater garden teeming with aquatic life and leafy green plants in spring-fed limestone ponds where some of the plants are not found growing fully submerged underwater anywhere else in the world. So, you can understand our excitement to be here and to share this with the participants over the next few days.
Here is just a taste, a teaser to wet your appetite
The star attraction here is its incredible visibility up to 80 metres where you can spot aquatic life such as rare Ewens Pygmy Perch, galaxias and native fish hovering near the surface. If you're lucky enough you may also be able to see the Glenelg Spiny Freshwater Crayfish🦞, I did.
The snorkel for the participants encompasses 3 basin shaped ponds that are inter-connected by shallow, reed lined channels that you can easily access adjacent to the public car parking area via a child proof gate and small pontoon. At the end of the snorkel you exit by another pontoon and then take a picturesque 500m walk through the reeds and local vegetation growth back to the carpark area.
Advice here though - for any tourist or local who wish to experience the Ponds, before you enter you 'please' ensure you purchase a suitable permit $15.50 for an allocated time slot for a given day. As part of the community snorkel and fee's paid, our participants did not require a permit as EMS had previously purchased all permits for the times allocated for the events on Saturday and Monday.
Morning broke early and the air was filled with the scent of enthusiasm and zest rather than coffee and breakfast, just kidding of course there was coffee and breakfast on the go. Soon after Carl and I left early with the trailer in tow to be on site early to set-up the marquee, registration desk, wetsuits, fins and washtubs etc.
Well how did that go.....you might ask? Circumstances were against us and here to test our resilience because on the way driving along a hard surfaced pot-holed road drama reared its ugly head. With a huge bang and a jolt I was forced to look in my side rear vision mirror and saw plumes of grey smoke coming from the trailer tyre, immediately I yelled to Carl to 'STOP'. We came to a halting stop not knowing exactly what had happened and I could see a trail of burnt rubber on the road leading back along way.
To my horror I could see that the trailer had slumped badly on the left side and the wheel arch jammed down onto the tyre. It was then the penny dropped and I feared major damage was looming, so under the trailer I went to inspect and found the suspension relief spring had snapped in two causing the weight of the trailer to collapse causing the wheel to cease turning and the tyre to literally burn rubber.
We were nearly to the site as well and to make matters worse we were on a back road that volunteers were not travelling on, needless to say Carl and I both had an immediate meltdown 😩🤯🌋.
Some panic calls were made, me to the volunteers and Carl to locals' for advice on help and it wasn't long at all before the troops rallied, rolled up their sleeves and got on with it. There was a myriad of priorities to overcome;
1. Transfer all the equipment from trailer to the site and set-up ready for participants
2. MacGyver the damage and make the trailer mobile again (Daryll& Tim)
3. Organise alternative options for transfer of equipment for the pending events
4. Seek out suitable repairs
5. Calm down & Breath.....
Now that all of this was done, it was time to function as normal, to execute productive and rewarding snorkelling experiences for the participants as if n0thing ever went wrong. Outcome achieved and only slightly behind schedule, registering the first group just after 9.00am fitting them with wetsuits, mask/snorkel, fins and allocating them a lead guide.
EMS ensures all participants comply to Covid-19 procedures and safety by checking in with the SA Govt. 'QR' code. They also maintain a paper format in company with a personal Disclaimer to be completed along with verbal information, hand sanitiser and appropriate signage.
Lead guides seek to inform the participants on the site and what to expect, how to behave in the water, safety procedures and group dynamics. The groups then make their way to the entrance/pontoon about 7min apart to restrict possibility of overcrowding in the ponds between groups.
For viewing pleasure I compiled a brief video of what you can expect to experience, but first some more quoted references to help paint you a picture.
'While in the ponds, look for the tell-tale bubbling of the water, revealing the source of its underground freshwater spring. With the water temperature a chilly 10-15 degrees, each snorkeler/diver need to wear a full length wet suit, fins, face mask and snorkel.' https://southaustralia.com/products/limestone-coast/attraction/ewens-ponds-conservation-park. Snorkelers are also reminded to keep their fins on the surface to protect fragile pond vegetation especially when moving slowly and cautiously through the inter-connecting channels.
With the scene set let's look at some photo's from the day with our participants, volunteers, equipment & registration areas. The conditions were also near perfect with little to no wind, a pleasant 32dg with a turquoise blue sky and a feather wisp of cloud cover.
The remainder of the day went very smooth and problem free, even signing in additional guests who randomly turned up not knowing about the conditions of purchasing permits. Sophie generously logged on remotely and completed registration details for them and voilà we had more participants to guide and share the experience with.
The day came to a close with the last groups making their way back, so it was time to pack all the equipment back into the trailer like normal. However today we were reminded today was not like normal, what were we to do with a broken trailer and 💰💰💰worth of gear and equipment? The only choice was to trust in human nature, reverse the trailer in with the tow-ball facing away from opportunity, load everything and lock it up and cross our fingers🤞.
Tomorrow was programmed to be a rest day however there were many local sites programmed for the day with our very special guest speaker and guide - Ian Lewis. Ian is a very well known figure (local) for his knowledge on the foundation of how Mt Gambier was formed, supported by his B.A. in Geomorphology and his historical foundation of cave diving in the region.
That night Ian Lewis attended our accomodation and presented a very detailed and intricate history on the birth of Mt Gambier along with some anecdotes of his geology background which led to his experience and foundation of Cave Divers in South Australia along with many other facts and stories.
Although the tourist style day was expected to be an enjoyable day out & about, in the back of our minds was still the safety and security of the EMS trailer and contents and how we were going to overcome the damage. A few local's had come to our rescue by loaning us a trailer to transport the equipment safely from the site while another Co. had come to our rescue to do adequate repairs to ensure we made it back to Adelaide.
So, first stop of the day was the Blue Lake with a history lesson and very informative talk by Ian. Next we attended one of Mt Gambier's newest attractions, The Main Corner Complex to watch the fascinating film ‘Volcano’ that tells the tale of the geological disturbance that created Mount Gambier.
It was really nice to be inside the Theatre due to the unusual heat wave Mt Gambier was experiencing (40dg), so taking the time to enjoy to cool a/c and movie was a welcome relief. As the credits rolled we feared the worst, yes the heat was imminent and it was lunch time. The closest Cafe across the road looked enticing, decision made and a bee-line was made.
After lunch the group was due to take a tour of the Umpherston Sinkhole and again with a guided walk and talk with Ian was pleasant and informative. The sinkhole is part of one of the most spectacular gardens located in Mt Gambier and is well worth the visit and even a lazy day of rest, picnic style lunch and play with the kids.
Great 360dg photo courtesy of Carl Charter
Time was starting to evade us as we had one more stop for the day before we were expected at Kilsby Sinkhole at 4.00pm for a group snorkel and scuba dive. We were booked for a 3.00pm guided tour of the Engelbrecht Caves where the surface visitor centre incorporates a reception area, souvenirs and refreshments. A staff member guided us into the caves for an interesting and descriptive tour which ironically was enhanced by additional information from Ian.
At the conclusion of the tour and before we all shuttled off to Kilsby's, we graciously accepted the loan of a trailer as pre-arranged and continued onto Kilsby Sinkhole.
'On a sheep farm located amidst beautiful rolling countryside just 14km south of Mount Gambier, you can find a unique geological feature and a wealth of experiences. Once little more than a watering hole on the stock route through the Mount Schank area, Kilsby Sinkhole has been at the heart of four generations of farming activity by the Kilsby family. In that time, use of the sinkhole has changed and grown, and today it is offers a fascinating history and a host of adventures.'
As organised we met Graham Kilsby in the shed for a welcome briefing covering the history of the sinkhole and everything you may need to know about snorkelling, fittings with mask, fins, snorkel and wetsuit. For the 5 of us who were scuba diving we also were part of the briefing to reduce time for when our guide arrived.
The snorkel tour in total takes around two hours, however as the Scuba guide was late the snorkel group were treated to an extraordinary long session, I didn't hear any complaining. It was now our turn to dive the sinkhole and for some it was the first time in spring water, which effects buoyancy due to the lack of salts (density) which can make it a challenging dive.
Above you can see the array of photos of both groups enjoying the clarity of the spring water filtering through the limestone aquifer. They also give you idea of the views and and surface environs.
At the end of the snorkel/dive as pre-arranged, Graham and his staff put on a complimentary BBQ for us and it was sooooo appreciated by all after such a long, hot and fun filled day. Ooohhh let's not forget the purchase of some 'Sinkhole Gin' and again Graham graciously supplied the tonic & ice.
Finally the jam packed day was over but I heard no one complaining given the diversity of the sites and experience had by all, however it was certainly time to head back to the Pine Tank for a hot shower, pj's and bed.
Morning came and it was a community snorkel day, back to work and clear the head space. Breakfast finished and lunches made we all made our way to the Ponds with fingers & toes crossed that the trailer and contents were still there and in tact.
As we arrived and traveled the dirt road entrance Carl & I held our breath in hope, placing our faith in humanity. We were not disappointed at all seeing the trailer still there and secured as we left it full of all its contents.
Minutes later in a uniformed procession the team starting arriving, went into auto mode and setup the site ready for the arrival of the days participants. It wasn't long until we were invaded 😂 by some very excited yet slightly reserved participants who were eager to experience the day.
Time to register them in, fit with their snorkelling gear and allocate a lead guide to conduct a pre-snorkel briefing - seen below.
After 4 snorkel sessions were completed and another successful day was achieved, it was now time to concern ourselves with attempting to pack all of the gear and equipment into the smaller loan trailer. The packing started in an orderly neat fashion but as the mountain of gear kept pouring in it soon became apparent organised chaos was taking over.
The day wasn't quite done yet even though everything was packed, participants had left and majority of volunteers started to disperse back to the accomodation. However there were a few crazy's who were not done yet, meaning to do the Pond to Ocean '8 mile creek' 2 1/2hr snorkel, including me 😜 .
Well what an incredible & spectacular ride that was, imagine if you can a pair of sandshoes in a tumble dryer was how the final section of the calming, tidal and surreal snorkel ended. My motto in life is to experience adventures in the moment, don't let that opportunity escape you - 'No Regrets'.
Another 'Rivetting Moment', to inspire & ignite the traveller in you, to broaden life challenges & experiences!!!
After this crazy ride with crazy people being cold, tired and well massaged 😂 we drove back to our accomodation for a final shower, change of clothes and pack up. Whoooaaa what a long but rewarding day but now the few remaining volunteers we tidied up the accomodation, checked rooms for lost&found and said our final goodbyes and sincere thanks.
Sadly another successful EMS event had come to an end, however with the positive comments and feedback from the participants along with the vibrant responses from the volunteers left us wanting more. In saying this and listening to the responses I'm sure we will be back to run the Event again and maybe even include the adjacent Piccaninnie Ponds as well, you never know.
To conclude it was time to pack our vehicles and head off to our next individuals' destinations wherever that may be, but Carl and I were headed for Portland-Victoria for potentially more scuba diving and visiting family.
Finally I wish to acknowledge the remarkable EMS Team (Volunteers) in no particular order - Carl, Alia, Sophie, myself, Tahnee, Belinda, Mary, Kylie, Molly, Gill, Jill, Samantha, Tim, Kerri & Bec.
Ian Lewis for donating his time as guest speaker and tour guide.
EMS snorkel events are Proudly supported by Inspiring SA, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Suzanne Elliot Charitable Trust, Department of Human Services and our team of volunteers.
This Blog is not a sponsored or paid project from either EMS or the NP&WS and is written from my own personal experiences.
Any views or opinions represented are of my own and belong solely to the Blog owner and do not represent those of any individuals, institutions or organisations that the owner may or may not be associated within a professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. Any views, opinions or statements are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organisation, company, or individual.
I also wish to acknowledge photographs' are at the courtesy of members of the EMS Team.