Wildly Underrated- South Australia

WordsA by Heather Creech

A rich mix of marine living diversity, stunning colour and murderer capuccinos induce the South Australia a diveras dream

As see on TVaBlue Planet II featured this very location due its spectacular cuttlefish mating event. Photo: Carl Charter

Serene and regal, Adelaide stands near the edge of the Southern Ocean, bordered by miles of pristine sand beaches on one side and some of the best vineyards in Australia on the otheraan off-the-beaten track, absolute gem of a city. Adelaide is the capital of South Australia, known as the state of wine and roses, music and arts festivals, desert outback and ocean angling. What is less well known about Adelaide, and South Australia generally, is its splendid, accessible, and wildly under-rated diving.A

I moved here from Canada six years ago and decided to take up diving again. But I wasnat sure what to expect. Adelaide is situated on the Gulf of St. Vincent, which is sheltered by the Fleurieu and Yorke Peninsulas, but the ocean that rolls into the Gulf comes straight up from Antarctica. I was a tropical diver 25 years ago when I ran in the Pacific Islands. How could the cool waters and rocky reefs off Adelaide maybe compare to the coral reefs of the South Pacific? A

When I arrived in Adelaide I booked a personal tour through one of the dive shops merely to have some one-on-one help getting back into the water. My guide turned out to be a program officer with ReefWatch South Australia, and one of the most knowledgeable people around about local marine life. We went to see a nearby beach at Hallet Cove for a coast diving out to a shallow reef system. With that first breath underwater I was a convert to temperate reef diving. The fish living absolutely shimmeredabullseyes and old wives, moonlighters and silver drummers, magpie perch and hundreds of tiny yellow-headed hula dancersaall in simply 20 to 25 feet( 6 to 8m) of clear, bright water. I considered my first ornate cowfish, as weird and colorful as anything I have ever seen in the tropics. Sea superstars and anemone, rocky outcrops and ocean grass, scallops and nudibranchsathe site had it all, even a lone cuttlefish. We wrapped up the dive with the best cappuccino ever at a little beachside cafA( c) no more than 300 feet( 100 m) from our dive site, with a stunning opinion out over cliffs and ocean.A

I have learned since then that there are two types of diving here: the bucket listing experienceathose marine living encounters that you can only have in South Australia and that are worth travelling halfway around the world foraand diving that enriches a longer vacation that involves exploring all that this State has to offer.A

Look at that colouring! Popular breakwater diving offers some incredible shore dive opportunities. Photo: Carl Charter

TheA BucketA List

Some of the most unusual events in the underwater world take place simply off the coast of South Australia. But timing is everything, so if you want to see something specific, you need to pick your travel dates carefully.A

Search for the iconic Leafy Sea Dragon: these slow-moving masters of camouflage, cousins of the seahorse, are found only along the southern coast of Australia and are most prevalent around the jetties, reefs, and ocean grass beds near Victor Harbour, Rapid Bay, and Edithburghaall within a couple of hoursa drive from Adelaide. From November to January, with luck, you are able to assure a mating dance. But you will be more likely to spot Sea Dragons from January to March, when the males are incubating the eggs. Itas a good notion to book a Leafy Sea Dragon tour with one of the local shops: Leafies can be hard to see at first, and dive shops follow strict guidelines when exploring their territory.

See the splendour in the bay: the Australian giant cuttlefish aggregation. Made famous by David Attenboroughas BlueA PlanetA II , over one hundred thousand giant cuttlefish come together to mate in one bay off South Australiaas Eyre Peninsula, by the town of Whyalla. Now a protected marine preservation zone, it is the only known location for this highly colorful and dramatic event. Once the ocean temperature starts dropping below 62 AoF( 17 AoC ), the cuttlefish begin to migrate into the bay, with females signaling their interest and males vying for their attention. The event can run from mid-May to the end of July, but the most reliable timing is late June/ early July. Spectators can dive with the cuttlefish, but many simply don snorkeling gear to hover for hours watching the kaleidoscope of changing colourings and mating tactics. When the migration begins, the NGO Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries will announce aCuttlefesta dates on its website.A

Be charmed by the gentlest of sharks: the Port Jackson shark aggregation. Beloved by locals, who be taken into account the puppy dogs of the shark world, they come together in November in big groups to mate in sheltered water and bury their egg casesaa large, corkscrew shaped shell that is screwed down into the reef. The sharks scatter shortly afterwards, although you may occasionally spot one throughout the year. The aggregation takes place just south of Adelaide, near Aldinga and Port Noarlunga. Check in advance for the dates of the Nakudla shark fest in Port Noarlunga, organized by Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries.A

Observe the most iconic: the Great White shark. Public viewing of these massive ocean predators from cages was pioneered in South Australia by local legend Rodney Fox, himself a survivor of shark attack. Day trip experiences can be organized from Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula. Although available year round, spots can fill up speedily so book well in advance. There are now three operators to choose from, one of which has just launched a new liveaboard ship. A

Beloved by locals. the November gathering of the apuppy dogs of the shark worlda is a popular diving event. Photo: Carl Charter

TakeA theA SlowA Boat

While any one of these events will make a trip to South Australia worthwhile, you may want to plan for several weeks exploring all that the state has to offer, with excellent diving( and the occasional cappuccino) added to your travels.A

Adelaide makes an easy starting point and offers a vibrant city centre with music, coffeehouses, shopping, and the famous cricket oval.A Aboriginal culture and heritage can be explored through the many art galleries and museums. In February and March, Adelaide is electric: itas festival season, with a massive world music event( WOMAdelaide ), the internationally recognized Adelaide Festival of Art, and the Fringe. But Adelaideas modern edge is softened by its historic charm as a big country townaand itas one of the few cities in the world where you can still find a local ride a horse to the pub.

Diving around Adelaide is as easy as it gets: the most active site is a short drive down the coast to the reef at Port Noarlunga. A walk along the jetty and down the stairs will bring you to schools of banded sweep, leatherjacks, anemones, and always a cowfish. Itas a great spot for snorkelers, too. Boat trips to explore the reefs simply off Adelaide can be booked through several of the dive stores: this is where you will find the photogenic Blue devils, Leatherjackets( including the elusive Pygmy leatherjacket ), Gunard perch, Blue swimmer crabs, schools of juvenile snapper, morwongs, flatheads, and occasionally a wobbegong. A

FleurieuA Peninsula

Heading south out of Adelaide, drive through the rolled hills, vineyards, and olive groves of McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula. Stop at the cellar doorways of internationally acclaimed wineries, and take a bushwalk through conservation areas for extraordinary bird watching.

Diving gets even better down the coast: the popular jetty at Rapid Bay provides great photo opportunities with the large schools of fish and the occasional light swimming through the pylons. You can find blue ring octopuses hiding in abandoned shells and old bottles. The nearby Second Valley shore dive off the point discloses a rich habitat for pike, wrasses, Blue demons, the occasional Eagle ray, volutes, and a treasure trove of the tiny, weird, and wonderful: Weedfish, Prowfish, and Goblinfish. For those wanting an excellent wreck dive in this area, volume a boat tour to the HMAS Hobart with one of the Adelaide dive stores. Or you can do an easy coast dive on the 1888 wreck of the StarA ofA Greece right off the beach at Port Willunga.A

On the other side of the Peninsula you will come to the popular seaside township of Victor Harbour. If conditions are right, a dive on Oliveras Reef or the Bluff can be rewarding, with abundant marine life thriving in the currents.A

The iconic, slow moving, kelp-like Leafy Sea Dragon. The pinnacle of any dive, these abeautsa are discovered all along the South Australia coast, but are most prominent near Victoria Harbour. Photo: Paul Macdonald

KangarooA Island

Off the tip-off of the Fleurieu lies Kangaroo Island( locals only call it KI ). You can fly or catch a tour bus from Adelaide or bring a auto across on the ferry that departs from Cape Jervis. A great favourite of locals, KI is a treasure trove of wildlife including the Kangaroo Island kangaroo, Bearded dragons, plenty of koalas and a large Australian sea lion colony. There are beautiful walkings( including the recently opened 5-day coastal wildness road ), gourmet make, a vibrant artisan community, and much more. One of my buddies believes the best diving in all of South Australia is hereathe main dive operator in Kingscote( KI Marine Adventures) will take you to virtually pristine temperate reef locatings for blue groper and gorgonian coral.

CavesA ofA theA LimestoneA Coast

Back from KI, and continuing east along the coast from Victor Harbour, head towards the historic coastal towns of the Limestone Coast: Kingston and Robe, and the inland city of Mt. Gambier with its extinct volcanoes. This is cave diving territory. Freshwater filtered through limestone creates crystal clear conditions with unparalleled visibility. The most accessible locatings are the world-famous Kilsby sinkhole, Ewens Ponds and Piccaninnie Pondsagreat for open water divers, freedivers, and snorkelers( bookings and permits involved ). Cave diving certification is a must for other locations.A Explore your alternatives with Reef2Ridge Mount Gambier, the dive stores in Adelaide, or contact the Cave Divers Association of Australia for more details.

Most magazine readers woudnat get excited at a pit in the ground, but we know better! Kilsby Sinkhole offers options for non-overhead diving and cavern dives. Other sites offer full cave dive alternatives. Photo: Carl Charter

YorkeA Peninsula

In the other direction , north and west of Adelaide, head to the Yorke Peninsula to dive the many breakwaters, including Ardrossan, Edithburgh, Port Hughes, and Wallaroo. There are great night dives here, along with colorful and vibrant marine living. This is shipwreck territory, with over 85 wrecks from the 1800 s and 1900 s scattered along the coast of the peninsula. Some are in clear, shallow waters; others will require technical diving. Wrecks are protected through the federal Underwater Cultural Heritage Act, so be sure to consult with Adelaide dive shops about access.

While you are here, set aside your dive gear and venture north to South Australiaas outback: Flinders Ranges is four to five hoursa drive from the Yorke Peninsula( six hours from Adelaide) and will give you a wonderful experience of the red heart of Australiaaancient rock formations and concealed watering holes, kangaroos and emus, aboriginal heritage and culture, with unending sky and desert. You wonat be disappointed.

Most divers coming to Australia for the first time head to the bright lights of Sydney and Melbourne and the brilliant colourings of the Great Barrier Reef. And no question, itas all terrific. But if you stick to this well-travelled track, you will miss out on some of the most unusual, spectacular, and accessible sights you can findain the state of South Australia.A

GettingA there: A Fly from North America via Auckland, New Zealand, with a quick international transfer to a direct flight to Adelaide, or via Sydney or Melbourne with connections to domestic flights to Adelaide.A

WhenA toA go/ exposureA protection: A Diving is year round; water temperatures will be colder in wintertime( June to August) but with clear visibility.A A 7mm wetsuit will work most months but in the winter many divers add a hood or switch to a semi-dry suit.A For summertime snorkeling( December to February ), a shortie is fine, except for the freshwater sites, which are very cold. Permit require a full-length wetsuit.A

StayA at: A In addition to hotels and bed and breakfast, check out the caravan parks. You knows where to find these up and down the coast, in some of the most stellar ocean front places, all with cabins at very reasonable rates.A

DiveA with: A In Adelaide: Adelaide Scuba, Dive Shack, Divers Delight, Diving Adelaide and Underwater Athletics. In Mt. Gambier: Reef2Ridge. All serve a large and friendly diving community, provide instruction( PADI or SSI ), gear sales, repairs and rentals, and air and nitrox fills. Several offer boat trip-ups; all offer shore dives and excursions to the Yorke Peninsula. Check with the stores on whether tanks can be filled in more remote locations. Dive services are also available on Kangaroo Island and Port Lincoln.A

MarineA lifeA conservation : The State government and NGOs are active in protecting South Australiaas marine ecosystems. The State has put in place a network of marine sanctuaries along the coast, monitored in partnership with Reef Life Survey.A TopsideA Tip : A Look for the local bakeries in little town for the best meat pies and cappuccinoes running. Pubs have great counter mealsatry King George whiting, flathead, and snapper in season. Vegetarian and vegan options are readily available.

MoreA info: A For enquiries on diving South Australia, go to the Scuba Divers Federation of South Australiaas website www.sdfsa.net

South of Adelaide offers some great coast diving options, with lights, big schools of fish, and even blue ring octopus. Photo: Carl Charter

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