Mt Gambier: Shaft, Kilsbys and Piccanninnie Ponds

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After a break of few months it was time to head back to Mt Gambier with Adrian. This time we had a pretty exciting trip planned with double dives in Piccaninnie Ponds and Kilsbys Sinkhole. We were also keen to finally dive the famous Shaft!

Evan and Luke also joined us for this trip. However, as they drove over one day before us and had to be back by Saturday night we didn’t do that many dives together in the end.

After driving over on Thursday we started out with a morning dive in Piccaninnie Ponds with Adrian. Unfortunately we hit some gear problems before getting in the water. One of Adrian’s hoses was quite loose and had to be tightened before jumping in. I also managed to get my drysuit zipper slightly undone while gearing up and had some trouble closing it again.

By the time we got everything sorted we had almost lost half of our one hour slot already. We still jumped in for a quick dive and luckily everything worked fine during the dive itself. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of organic mung floating around making the visibility lot worse than usual. Both the shallow first pond and the Chasm were bit murky, at least Cathedral was nice and clear as usual. In any case, not the best conditions for photography.

Shortly after Adrian and I got out of water Evan and Luke also arrived. We still had bit of a wait ahead of us before the next slot at 11 am. We also had a visit from a ranger again, you really need to stick to the slots here!

The dive itself went smoothly, no gear issues this time around. We did a fairly typical Pics dive, first down the Chasm and then some exploring in the Cathedral. We also some rather large eels, unfortunately none of my photos of them worked so well.

To finish up the day Adrian and I dropped in for a training dive at Gouldens. I didn’t bring my camera this time as we were mainly practicing various line skills. Seems I needed the practice too. while reeling in I got the line pretty badly tangled just before reaching the primary tie-off. That resulted in a pretty mad mess, it took a while to get all that sorted in the water.

For Saturday we headed over to Kilsbys for a double dive. For the first dive we visited the deep end but kept the max depth fairly conservative. Instead of pushing any of the deeper holes near the back we tried exploring some of the smaller openings, unfortunately we didn’t find anything particularly interesting.

Visibility in Kilsbys was  poorer than usual too, even if still excellent. There’s also lot less sunlight there in the winter, which makes photography more challenging. I took quite a few diver shots on this dive, including some shots of Evan and Luke. Decent shots but nothing spectacular.

After a surface interval we hopped back in with Adrian. Evan and Luke had already started driving back to Melbourne. Sun was now in a better angle and we got some pretty nice sunbeams on this dive.

For this dive we stayed in the shallow end and also did some skills practice, including buddy-breathing and valve drills. The light worked quite well for diver silhouettes, so I was mainly focusing on those during the dive. This was certainly a more productive dive than the first one, although some of our earlier dives in the summer months were even better.

On Sunday we finally had a chance to dive the famous Shaft. This inconspicuous little hole in the middle of a paddock opens up to a large and deep cave and is one of the most famous dives in Mt Gambier region. All diving in Shaft is supervised by an authorized guide and as a result the site is only open around once a month. Additionally, since water level is about 10 meters level below ground some special gear is required. Luckily our guide Kelvyn Ball has all the necessary gear including a winch, so getting up and down the hole required minimal physical effort.

The dive itself was excellent and little bit exciting too. Especially in winter it’s quite dark down there, only little light comes through the hole at the top. Unfortunately the shaft of light that gives the site its name was nowhere to be seen too, apparently it’s only visible in the summer months.

For our first dive we did a orientation dive with the guide. We started out at the rockpile in the middle. This pile is a result of a (rather futile) attempt to fill up the hole. To get a better sense of the scale we gathered at the rockpile and turned off our torches for a while. After a while our eyes adjusted to the near darkness and we could see some of the other divers in the distance. The place is quite massive indeed! The site is deep too, around 35 meters in the middle and lot deeper on the sides. Unfortunately diving in Shaft is strictly regulated, you are not allowed to dive below 40 m on air and even on trimix you are limited to 60 m.

The orientation dive was a non-decompression dive so we kept it fairly short. It was still a great dive, even though the combination of darkness and depth made it rather challenging for photos.

We had our surface interval at the ground level, giving people chance to warm up. After a while we were winched back in for our second dive. This time we explored the wall at one end of the cave. We stayed above the 40 m limit but the bottom there is lot deeper! After the wall we headed back to the rockpile in the middle and as we were getting into deco decided to head up after a while. I tried to do some shooting upwards towards the entrance and sunlight but limited light made this really tricky and none of these shots really worked out.

While not the most productive two dives photography-wise I still really enjoyed my time in the Shaft. I’m really keen to go back there too, especially in the summer when the shaft of light is visible again!

For our final dive of the day we decided to do a night dive in Ewens Ponds, something we hadn’t tried before. We waited for the sunset in Port Macdonnell, I was trying to some landscape photography for a change but unfortunately cloudy skies lead to some disappointing results. I also managed to run my camera batteries almost empty, the cool weather that afternoon wasn’t helping. Teaches me to bring all my spare batteries along!

Luckily weather started clearing up during the evening, we had a decent sunset and by the time it got dark the sky was quite clear already. Unfortunately it was the new moon, but it was still magical floating around under a starlit sky. We actually spent most of the dive on the surface, it was simply too pretty floating around and watching the stars. Drifting through the channels in the dark was pretty amazing experience too.

The only thing marring this sublime “dive” were some gear issues. By the time we got in the water my camera battery was pretty much empty, I was only able to take a couple of shots before it ran out. This was rather annoying, particularly since there’s lot more life in the Ponds during the night. We saw loads of big eels, quite a few fish and plenty of yabbies. My primary torch was also acting up early during the dive but then started working fine.

To wrap up the trip we did some skills training in Gouldens on Monday. We have our cave course scheduled for early June so it was important to brush up some of our skills. We spent fair bit of time practicing line skills and buddy-breathing. After a while we felt we had had enough so we got out and started the long drive back to Melbourne.

This was another great Mt Gambier trip. Not the most productive trip for photography but I still enjoyed my time there quite a bit. Our next visit will be the cave course in June, can’t wait for that!

One Response to “Mt Gambier: Shaft, Kilsbys and Piccanninnie Ponds”

  1. […] The Shaft Sink Hole (Photo by Matti Tornio) […]

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