South Australia’s Limestone Coast offers a varied landscape of caves, rivers and lakes, as well as the ocean, combining to produce fantastic seafood, rich birdlife and some of Australia’s best wine and cattle.

Story By Don Fuchs

“For me, it is about exploring. I’m an explorer by nature. Swimming through the caves is like reading a good book.” With a swift motion Grant Pearce pulls his diving mask over his face, jumps from a small jetty into the cold water and begins to drift across Piccaninnie Ponds, an unassuming lake in a flat paddock, surrounded by native bushland. Reeds and aquatic plants grow prolifically along the rim of the pond. Below him a large eel forages for food in the sediment. Tiny pieces of algae, whipped up by a stiff south-westerly, drift through the water, spoiling the visibility, which is sometimes up to 30 metres. Clad in a dry suit, Grant is in familiar waters, which is just as well. Not far from the small jetty the silt-covered bottom suddenly drops away into a 110m-deep chasm.
Grant is a cave-diving veteran with 27 years’ experience and is one of the few divers who have ventured to the bottom of the dramatic limestone shaft hidden under the placid surface of the pond. “It is a fascinating place,” he says. “From a hydrogeology perspective it is fascinating because you can see the origins of Piccanninie Ponds from down there. Whenever I go in it gives me a snapshot in time of how the whole place has developed.”
Cave diving is Grant’s profession as well as his passion. As a karst hydrologist he advises the South Australian government and is the Australian commissioner for the International Karst Commission, so what hides under this rural landscape is of immense interest to him.
Limestone – a thick layer of ancient marine deposits – forms the foundation of the entire region. Under towns, paddocks and pine forests lies a gigantic aquifer with caves and caverns filled with crystal clear water. Piccaninnie Ponds and nearby Ewens Ponds – both enormous springs – are windows into this subterranean world.

This story excerpt is from Issue #85

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2012