Cave diving in Mt Gambier

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Unfortunately the weather this Spring has been quite disappointing and the decent September was followed by a windy and rainy October. This meant very little opportunity for diving but luckily the weather isn’t an issue for the Mt Gambier caves. We had planned to head back there with Adrian ever since our cave course in June. Now was finally our chance to explore Pines properly and visit some of the cave rated sites we missed during the course.

Pines is by far the largest cave-rated site in Mt Gambier and consequently we did most of our dives there. While a major part of the cave is only available for advanced cave divers, there is still a fair number of tunnels and chambers to explore.

After arriving in Mt Gambier on Thursday evening we had an lazy start on Friday. We headed out to Pines in the afternoon and started preparing for our first dive. Unfortunately I found out that I had left my camera at the Pine Tank lodge. Oh well, it was probably sensible to do the first dive without the camera anyway since I hadn’t done any cave diving for several months.

The dive itself was quite nice, we headed down the side tunnel first which took us to the bottom of the main chamber. From there we continued exploring one of the side tunnels branching off. On the way back we decided to lock off the reel and leave it at the bottom of the main chamber for our second dive of the day. But before that Adrian needed his tanks topped up.

Unfortunately we hit some hiccups while filling up the tanks back at the Pine Tank lodge. We had both used the fill station several times before, but this time we both struggled to remember how to use it. Eventually I figured it out but by then it was already dark outside. Not that it really matters in the caves, especially on a cloudy day when even the Pines main chamber is fairly dark. Besides, we couldn’t really leave our reel in the Pines for the night since other divers had booked in for the next day.

So off we went back to the Pines. We picked up the reel where we had left it in the main chamber and continued exploring the side tunnels. My main torch was acting up a little bit on the dive, but it never got too serious. Besides, I had my camera with me this time so I could just keep the strobe focus lights running the whole dive.

We entered some pretty small tunnels on this dive, especially since I was diving with the camera now. In one of the tighter tunnels Adrian had a valve roll off and at the same time my camera was getting little bit tangled on some loose line. This was a potentially serious incident, but we handled it calmly and sorted everything out. Still, it was clearly time to head back to the surface, we had had a nice long dive already anyway.

Our second day of diving started with a very minor yet rather annoying incident. We were checking out one of the tight tunnels branching from near the top of the main chamber in Pines. Things were getting bit tight and then suddenly I felt water coming in my drysuit from somewhere near the shoulder! It was too tight to check what was wrong so I backed off to the main chamber to figure out where the leak was. Apparently my drysuit zipper had been pushed slightly open when I was wriggling through the tunnel sideways.

Unfortunately by the time I figured this out and closed the zipper my suit was quite wet. Time to call the dive and head back to the surface to dry out the suit and get some dry clothes on. And to make it even worse the tunnel we were exploring doesn’t even seem to lead anywhere, it just keeps getting tighter and tighter.

After this incident we had a break on the surface, I dried my drysuit the best I could and switch into some dry clothes. Not as good as a proper undersuit, but still better than a soaking wet one!

Then we hopped back in, headed to the bottom of the main chamber and explored a few of the tunnels leading off from there. Some of the areas got quite silty, and at one point I even opted not to follow Adrian to one of the tighter tunnels as the visibility was getting quite poor.

Eventually it was time to get back to the main chamber and follow the line back to the surface. While it was still partially cloudy we were now getting enough sunlight for some decent natural light shots on the way back up. Pines is not quite as impressive as the more open sites like Kilsbys, but the main chamber is still quite pretty with the sun shining above.

After this dive it was finally time for something slightly different. We picked up the key for Allendale Cave and started the climb down to the water level.

While a nice enough cave, Allendale is also quite small. From the cave entrance a tunnel leads at an angle down to a larger main chamber, and this is pretty much all there is to the dive. There are a few small side passages, but they don’t really lead anywhere.

Adrian was still keen to try to push a few of the tunnels, in particular the silty hole at the bottom of the main chamber. Sadly it is pretty clear this hole leads nowhere, while you can wiggle your way in for a while the tunnel simply ends. On the way back up there’s also a slightly larger side tunnel, but this doesn’t lead anywhere either.

It was nice to visit the cave that we had only dived on our cave course. Still, we both felt that our 30 minute dive time was pretty much the maximum you would want to spend down there. We had some bad luck on this dive too. As we were getting out of water Adrian pierced his drysuit on some sharp rocks.  This resulted in a hole that was definitely big enough to be annoying. And his suit was almost brand new, too!

While we still had a few hours of daylight left it was clearly time to call it a day and see if we could get the drysuit fixed. Luckily I had brought my Aquaseal glue, so we applied some on the hole and let it dry for the night.

Then in the morning we headed back to Pines for our final dive there. Luckily the repair had been successful and Adrian’s suit was no longer leaking. We started the dive by going down the side tunnel and then explored the low silty tunnel below the main chamber. This tunnel is quite low but also relatively wide. However, as the bottom and the sides are covered in white fine silt great care must be taken, especially with backmount. We managed pretty well, only at our turning point we had some silting.

On the way back we also visited the sign that indicates the beginning of the Advanced Cave section. Anything beyond this point was obviously off-limits for us, so after a few photos we turned back and made our way to the surface through the side tunnel. With a long bottom time, some interesting sights and no real issues this was definitely our best dive in Pines so far.

We had enough gas and time left for one more dive. Our pick was Engelbrect East, a site neither of us had done before. This cave is right in the middle of Mt Gambier and the sizable dry cave area is also popular with tourists. In fact guided tours are often timed so they get to the dry cave when divers are getting up from a dive.

The dive begins in a small underground pool in the dry cave area. This section gets silted really easily, so care must be taken when entering and gearing up. From the pool a low but reasonably wide tunnel leads to the rest of the cave. Along the way we checked out a few tunnel entrances, but didn’t find anything overly interesting.

The cave itself is quite pretty and looks rather different from the other cave level sites in the area. However, the main attraction of the dive was definitely the large underground chamber at the end of the tunnel. There is quite a large chamber there with breathable air!

However, even with this distraction our dive was a short one. After checking out the air chamber we headed back to the entry pool and got out. Then it was time for the long climb back to the surface, a major disadvantage with this site. It’s a lot of steps back up from the dry cave to the surface! At least the steps are not very steep but it’s still hard work climbing back up with full scuba gear on a hot day!

Overall we both felt this trip was quite successful despite a few minor problems. It was well worth heading back to Mt Gambier after our cave course, even if it took us several months to get a trip organized!

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