written for www.goodvis.com
It may be a lot colder than diving the Great Barrier Reef, but Australia’s southern oceans are home to some of nature’s true wonders. From the strangely beautiful to the most powerful predator, here are just a few of the highlights
1) There are dragons. Leafy Seadragons to be more accurate, but they do look like something straight from the pages of a fairy-tale book. These exquisite, beautiful and fragile fish are relatives of the seahorse and are found only in the southern regions of Australia - nowhere else in the world. They are not easy to spot, in fact you may spend a long time staring optimistically at every clump of seagrass looking for them, but seeing a leafy is really a magical experience. If you are willing to pay a little extra, it is worth hiring a local guide.
2) There is ‘Cuttlefish Porn’. During the winter months, thousands of Giant Cuttlefish aggregate along the coastline of Whyalla to mate and spawn. Diving in shallow water (2-4m), you will find large groups of these hormone-charged cephalopods competing with each other for females. They flash different colours and patterns over their skin and employ some amazingly sneaky tactics to get mates. It’s addictive to watch the drama unfold!
3) The local dolphins aren’t shy. The increased number of cuttlefish in the Whyalla area attract predators such as dolphins who feed on them. You will probably enjoy dolphins from the boat, but if you are very lucky during a dive, one may take break from hunting and turn it’s attention to you for a while!
4) You can see the ultimate predator. Join a day boat to the Neptune Islands and come face to face with the mighty Great White Shark. It really is an interesting feeling to watch the sharks from inside a cage – the adrenalin is pumping but you feel completely safe as they pass close and even occasionally mouth the cage. Seeing just how efficient and perfectly adapted they are to their environment is incredible. Then, as this female with large hooks in her mouth reminds us, there is the paradox of how impressive and powerful they are, yet so threatened by humans.
5) You can even dive a sinkhole. Ewens Ponds is located just south of Mt Gambier and is a spring-fed system of three freshwater ponds linked by channels. You can drift with the current from pond to pond and the water is so crystal clear, up to 80m visibility, it feels like you’re flying through air over the lush green vegetation! The pond system has its own wildlife including a rare pygmy perch, crayfish and eels. Not only is this one of Australia’s natural wonders, but your dive gear gets a really good freshwater rinse!
Here are some recommendations for dive operators in the above locations. Bear in mind that many of these locations are fairly remote small towns, so it is wise to plan ahead and contact the operators well in advance :
Leafy Seadragons, Rapid Bay: http://www.nbscuba.com.au/
Whyalla, cuttlefish mating May-August: Whyalla Diving Services +61 8 8645 8050
Shark Cage Diving, Port Lincoln : Calypso Charters http://sharkcagediving.com.au/
Ewens Ponds, Mt Gambier: Nearest dive shop is Allendale East General Store tel +61 8 8738 7274