by Darrell Staight
Ironically for my first entry on this blog, I thought I’d start with an experience that actually doesn’t involve diving at all. In fact my affiliation with the aquatic realm for much of my youth was distinctly non-diving related, but rather an obsession with distance open water swimming which is the origin of the alias that I often use on social media and in the credits of my videos. Not withstanding that fact, I always saw myself making the 5 hour journey to Mount Gambier only if I was to dive in the spectacular array of caves and sinkholes. Despite a one off competitive race in the Valley Lake in 1995, I never bothered to look around the area in depth until relatively recently.
I got involved with the Cave Diving Association of Australia (CDAA) in 2013, a full 17 years after I first put on scuba gear. I wrongly thought that unless I was diving caves and sinkholes it wasn’t worth the journey. Ewens Ponds, of course is accessible to all qualified scuba divers but I was only moderately interested at the time and didn’t dive it until I was a member of the CDAA. Already a keen wreck diver, I just doubted it would hold my interest. How wrong I was and how quick to discount what would be an aquatic wonderland. In more recent years I have found that occasionally one can easily fail to consider what is easily accessible and right in front of them because of misinformed preconceived ideas. Some of the most interesting aquatic attractions in Australia are actually accessible not only to entry level divers but in some cases to the general public without the need of any dive training whatsoever. Such is the case of the spectacular experience that can be enjoyed by snorkelling from Ewens Ponds all the way to the coast via Eight Mile Creek.
Ok so first things first, let me reassure you that the journey is nowhere near the length that the name would lead you to believe. My understanding is that the creek actually got the name because it is located eight miles to the east of Port MacDonnell and not because of it’s length. I make it out to be less than 2 kilometres in length from Ewens Ponds and a quick look at Google Maps should corroborate this. It was thanks to this piece of technology that I became aware of this opportunity in the first place, while I was looking at the aerial view of Ewens Ponds to view the elusive 4th Pond which is rarely visited. The first 3 ponds are comparatively well known to divers and snorkelers. Unlike most of the dive sites in the region which require extensive training to get access to, they can be explored with an entry level Open Water Certification as there are no accessible overhead environments. There are floating pontoons and ladders to assist entry and exit in the 1st and 3rd ponds with people moving between them via shallow connecting channels and then making the journey back to the car park via an adjacent walking track. These ponds are stunningly clear and abundant in aquatic life. Zooming out on Google Maps it became apparent that not only was there a channel leading to another pond but that there was also a further channel beyond that meandered all the way to the coast. Of course the fact that there was an existing channel by no means meant there was water flowing in it year round or that the water remained as pristine as that in the ponds. However all it took was a few queries on social media and some responses from some long term CDAA members to confirm that there was and that there is normally considerable water movement in it, so that once beyond the ponds you just relax and enjoy the ride. This was clearly a trip worth taking so I quickly made plans to do it during the June long weekend.
After numerous recent trips to Mount Gambier, here was something that any member of my non-diving family and friends could join me on if they wished. The same can be said for other diving enthusiasts with non-diving family members. All you need to enjoy snorkelling Ewens and Eight Mile Creek is to feel relatively comfortable in a mask, snorkel and wetsuit. The water of course is a bit on the chilly side, not normally getting much warmer than 15 degrees centigrade and it can be colder, but as long as you keep moving you’ll adapt quickly. You’ll find that you are more than compensated for the water temperature by the sights you’ll see below along the way.
Unlike most of my weekends to Mount Gambier, on this occasion I divided my trip into two parts. I was joined by my ‘long suffering’ partner (my parents description, not mine), SJ. Maybe the ‘long suffering’ reference is that she’s not nearly as keen on diving as myself but does join me sometimes and is generally quite supportive of some of the hair brained things I do. I had enjoyed a couple of days of looking around some of the cave sites with a friend who was a former diving colleague many years ago. Meanwhile she had patiently waited for us on the surface, sometimes camera in hand, sometimes a cup of coffee. The planned snorkel down Eight Mile Creek marked the turning point in this trip. In order to do this snorkel you will need a bit of planning and my friend was kind enough to drop us off at Ewens Ponds after we had left our vehicle at the coastal end as it is a one way trip. There’s a couple of suitable areas to park just beyond the Eight Mile Creek Rd bridge crossing and it’s this bridge that tells you that the mouth to the ocean is coming up near the end of the snorkel. The journey takes just over an hour in length (apparently, depending on flow rate it can sometimes take up to 30 minutes longer). If the tide is coming in you may be prevented from reaching the mouth itself but it matters little as you are within sight of it and there are numerous places that you can climb up the bank.
During your journey you’ll get to enjoy the diversity of colours as light refracts through the shallow water against the various aquatic plant life and visibility will be amongst the best you are likely to see. You may also see numerous fish which could include varies types of Pygmy Perch and Lamprey that thrive in flowing water, River Blackfish, Shortfinned Eels, Congolli and Crayfish. A number of these species are regretfully endangered. I should also mention that the quality of life and water clarity deteriorates a bit as you get closer to the coast and this is partly due to dredging that has taken place in this part of the creek in the past. Nevertheless, it is still reasonably clear water, a great experience and one that I thoroughly recommend.
In order to share our experience with others I took a video camera with me and I subsequently uploaded an edited video to my YouTube channel of our experience to which I’ll supply the link. I hope you enjoy it and it encourages you to also do the drift snorkel from Ewens Ponds to the coast via Eight Mile Creek.