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Swimming Hole Battle - Ewens vs Piccaninnie Ponds
Swimming Hole Heaven in Melbourne

If you only have time to visit Ewens Ponds or Piccaninnie Ponds, but not both, which pond is best for swimming? Both of these swims on South Australia's Limestone Coast, south of Mount Gambier, are snorkelling adventures in spring-fed limestone pools. Relaxing in Ewens Ponds Above: Relaxing in the water at Ewens Ponds (Order this image)

Both swims are very similar. You will need a snorkelling permit for both swims from the South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, with a full-length wetsuit, fins, mask and a snorkelling partner. Both are completely surrounded by reeds and both offer easy entry into and exit from the water with a pontoon and step ladder. Both swims are easy to access by car from Mount Gambier in South Australia or Nelson in Victoria.
Both swims are very cold, with the water less than 15 degrees. If cold water affects your ability to enjoy your swim, I felt that the water in Piccaninnie Ponds was slightly warmer than in Ewens Ponds, presumably because of the constant throughflow of ice-cold groundwater along Eight Mile Creek, which runs through Ewens Ponds. On the flip side, being right next to the ocean, Piccaninnie Ponds can be more exposed to the wind, particularly in the afternoon.

The biggest differentiator between the two swims is what you will find under the water. Ewens Ponds has crystal clear water, with extraordinary underwater pondscapes. These include a wide range of vibrantly coloured vegetation near the surface that are complemented by clearly visible limestone boulders and fissures illuminated in an azure blue when the sun is overhead. This underwater world is somewhat magical, particularly when it scrolls underneath as you are pushed along effortlessly by the current in Eight Mile Creek. Under the water at Ewens Ponds Above: Under the water at Ewens Ponds (Order this image)

In contrast, Piccaninnie Ponds is an eery underwater pondscape. The vegetation is much taller and thinner, swaying scarecrow-like from your nearby movements, and it is all covered in filamentous algae, like you have just stepped into Miss Havisham's long-neglected underwater sitting room. The geological features are more dramatic here, but because of the lower visibility in the water from dislodged algae, suspended in the water, it is not possible for snorkellers to appreciate them to the same extent as at Ewens Ponds. Under the water at Piccaninnie Ponds Above: Under the water at Piccaninnie Ponds (Order this image)

Ewens Ponds also has more for snorkellers to see, with a chain of three ponds to explore, rather than just the single pond and some adjoining underwater geological features at Piccaninnie Ponds. It could be a different conclusion for divers, who can descend deep into these geological features, but for swimmers snorkelling near the surface, Ewens Ponds wins this battle hands down.

You can read more here about my swims at Ewens Ponds and Piccaninnine Ponds, including some of the logistics for each swim, or you can find out more here about other swimming holes in South Australia. Before you head out, make sure to read the swimming safety information.

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