South Australia

I will only cover the Eastern part of South Australia as the rest I have not visited and is a long way from Victoria. The Limestone Coast more or less starts around Port Fairy in Victoria and stretches up into SA to Murray Bridge. It is dunal limestone – The difference with this big chunk of limestone is that it is VERY young geologically, about 10 times younger than the hard limestone in Buchan. It is also shallow, has little decoration, can be very unstable in rockfall, and is not long.

‘The Mount’ as it is known to the hundreds of cave divers who make the pilgrimage every weekend

So, the main area for the Eastern side of SA is Mt. Gambier. Mt. Gambier is also Australia’s premier cave diving area with dozens of amazing cave dives to those with the right training and official qualifications. See the cave diving menu for more info.

Whilst it is more known for its cave diving there are plenty of dry caves there too.  As said above, none of the dry caves are long or deep again due to how young they are, and good decoration is rare, but they are fun and easy, and you can do the best of what’s on offer in a few days. If you have a SCUBA qualification (even just a basic open water qualification) you can SCUBA dive in Ewen’s Ponds, which is an amazing dive – three ponds linked by shallow channels. The water is crystal clear with visibility being essentially unlimited, with a maximum depth of only about 15 metres. Also on offer is snorkelling in Piccinninie Ponds which anyone is allowed to do (although you do need to book a time). Pics is also crystal-clear water and snorkelling there is fun.

So, a trip to Gambier is good, as you can break it up with water activities as well as dry caving. There are lots of wineries too, which make a welcome diversion and ensure interesting boozy nights. There are several good cheap dive lodges too with dorm style accommodation. Note that almost all of the dry caves are permit only and locked, but access is easy to get, and you don’t need any kind of special experience or excuse, It’s more of a formality. Contact Forestry South Australia to apply for permits to the caves. A trip to Gambier is fun in that there is so much variety on offer, you can snorkel, dive, cave, swim, visit wineries, etc.

Unknown diver snorkling in Piccinninie Ponds, Mt. Gambier. Photo by Topaz Aral.

Unknown diver snorkling in Piccinninie Ponds, Mt. Gambier. Photo by Topaz Aral.

One brilliant cave worth mentioning though…

Sheather’s Cave which is North of Gambier township is basically one huge underground lake, that if the water hit the roof would be a cave diving spot. But luckily for us dry cavers there is (usually) a varied amount of roof space! I’ve been in there three times, the first time the water never got past chest level, second time there were some bits too deep to stand but still at least 20cms of airspace at the lowest point, and the last time it was roof sniff and there was almost no space at all. The water is crystal clear until you silt it up and its really different to anything else I’ve ever done!

Tom (author) splashing around at the start of Sheathers Cave, near Mt. Gambier. It is one massive underground lake, and if the air space is enough one way of seeing it is by snorkelling. Photo by Topaz Aral

Tom (author) splashing around at the start of Sheathers Cave, near Mt. Gambier. It is one massive underground lake. Photo by Topaz Aral

What’s that MASSIVE chunk of limestone called again…

South Australia also has the Nullarbor Plain – one of the largest areas of limestone in the world, and there are certainly thousands of caves out there. The VSA (Victorian Speleological Association) and CEGSA (Cave Exploration Group of South Australia) regularly visit the Nullarbor and despite having been going there for years only a fraction has been explored.

The VSA use a one-person ultra-light plane to spot features from the air, GPS them, and then a ground crew drive to the features and check them out one by one. Its hit and miss, some expeditions find nothing, whereas others find lots. There are some BIG caves on the Nullarbor which include some very long cave dives, rare bones of megafauna and large chambers. And statistically something like only 5% of the Nullarbor has been searched for caves due to is immense size. There is no doubt that there are thousands more caves out there but the sheer expanse and remoteness means finding them is a slow and difficult process.

A certain type of weed grows commonly which shreds tyres to bits so much time is spent repairing punctures. A trip to the Nullarbor is usually 3 weeks plus a week or two getting there, and is a real test in self-sufficiency – EVERYTHING is brought in. Generally, the older cavers go to Nullarbor each year and it’s a very social and laid back trip, but they still find new cave every time.

There are other areas in SA but I am not familiar enough with them to make any comment. I invite any SA cavers to submit any further information. I recommend FUSSI (Flinders University Speleological Society Inc) if you want to go to South Australia who have helped me with surveys, maps, locations and permits in the past.