It may be a lot colder than diving the world famous 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 exact, but they do look like something straight out of a fairytale. These exquisite, beautiful, fragile fish are relatives of the seahorse and are found nowhere else in the world but in the southern regions of Australia. They are not easy to spot. In fact, you may spend a lot of time staring optimistically at every clump of seagrass looking for them, but seeing a leafy really is an amazing experience. If you are willing to pay a little extra, it’s worth hiring a local guide.
#2 There is “cuttlefish porn”. During the winter months (May through August), thousands of giant cuttlefish aggregate along the coastline of Whyalla to mate and spawn. Go diving in shallow waters (about two to four metres) and you will find large groups of these hormone-charged cephalopods competing with each other for the females’ attention. 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 increase of cuttlefish numbers in the area means that there’s more food for other marine animals, including the adorable dolphin. You will probably spot dolphins near your dive boat, but if you are very lucky, during a dive one of them may take a break from hunting and turn its attention to you for awhile.
#4 You can see the ultimate predator in the flesh. Join a day boat to the Neptune Islands and come face to face with the mighty great white shark. It’s intriguing to watch these creatures from inside a cage – you can feel the adrenaline pumping through your body, but you still feel completely safe as they swim close and even occasionally mouth the cage. Seeing just how efficient and perfectly designed they are for their environment is incredible. Then, as this female (pictured) with large hooks in her mouth reminds us all: there is the paradox of how impressive and powerful they are, yet so threatened by mankind.
#5 You can even dive a sinkhole. Ewens Ponds is located south of Mount 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 (visibility of up to 80 metres!), it feels like you’re flying through the air over lush green vegetation! The pond system has its own wildlife, including a rare pygmy perch, crayfish, and eels. This is one of Australia’s natural wonders – not a bad place to give your dive gear a really good freshwater rinse.
Here are some recommendations for dive operators in the above locations. Note: Many of these locations are fairly remote small towns, so it is wise to plan ahead and contact the operators well in advance.