Piccaninnie Ponds, South Australia, Australia

Lake Locations:

Australia - South Australia -

Also known as:  Piccanninnie Blue Lake

One of the most unusual features of the South Australia landscape, Piccaninnie Ponds can be viewed along the Limestone Coast. These unusual ponds are relatively small and unusual in that underground springs pour forth copious amounts of fresh water to flood nearby wetlands filled with birds and endangered plants. Boardwalks through the 2,150-acre Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park allow for casual visitors to enjoy the margins of these always-flooded lands and admire the tiny ponds which give them their name. Water lovers enjoy snorkeling across the clear, smallest ‘First Pond’, and gazing at the many fish and green algae growing along the sides of the bowl-shaped depression.

It is scuba divers, however, who are privy to many of the secrets hidden beneath the surface of these little ponds. The most spectacular sights are hidden deep down in the extreme depths of the waters connected to First Pond. Rumors of a bottomless lake first led divers to the ponds many years ago. Early dives confirmed that the unique hydrology of this karst (eroded limestone) drainage system led to great depths and unusual diving terrain. The system has not been completely mapped, but the deaths of several divers caused the government to place limits on diving: only certified cave divers may obtain the permit to scuba dive here. The diving community places extra restrictions of how dives should be performed to encourage safety. Although First Pond is only about 33 feet deep, a natural rift drops off to over 130 feet and leads to a connected pond called the Chasm which has been explored to about 200 feet deep. An underwater tunnel leads to a third pond below ground that reaches depths of more than 130 feet, called the Cathedral. The Cathedral is completely underground and can’t be seen from the surface, but is likely connected in some way to Turtle Pond.

Originally inhabited by the native Buandig people, Piccaninnie Ponds were originally called Piccanninnie Blue Lake as early as 1896 (note: with two ‘double ns’), possibly in reference to the larger Blue Lake in the extinct volcanic crater of Mount Gambier about 20 miles to the northwest. The name Piccaninnie, colloquially designating a small African child, is derived from the Spanish word, Pequeno, meaning small. The area surrounding the ponds was originally pasture lands, with overflow from the ponds keeping the margins perpetually moist. In 1969, the area was declared a National Park and upgraded to a Conservation Park in 1972. Due to its importance as a wetland area, it was designated a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance. Because some of the original natural drainages have been altered, environmental efforts have made improvements to drainage patterns leading to a reliable, natural exchange of water with the ocean for the benefit of migrating fish and aquatic life. The Piccaninnie Blue Lake Drainage Channel, originally built around 1917, has had water regulation weirs built to control the water and allow the wetlands to be kept wet during dry periods, while also allowing for fish migration from Discovery Bay on the Southern Ocean.

Boardwalks have been built through the cutting grass and silky tea-trees so visitors can enjoy viewing the many species of wading birds, egrets, swans, ducks and many of the nearly 50 threatened species of birds known to inhabit the area. Some of the most noteworthy are the migratory orange-billed parrot and the Australasian bittern. As more of the standing water in southeastern Australia dries up, the birds come here to one of the last places to hold water year-round. The fish in the ponds are also unique in that many are species which spend part of their lives in salt water and the remainder in fresh water. Although the water in Piccaninnie Ponds is extremely clear, it is slightly salty due to the interchange of water with the sea.

It is thought that the water in the Piccaninnie Ponds originates from the unconfined aquifer flowing from north of Mount Gambier to the sea. Water seeping into the Ponds has thus been filtered by many miles of limestone. The water in the Piccaninnie Ponds is saltier than in other nearby sinkhole ponds, so these other ponds are from a different ecosystem.

There are no camping facilities at Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park. However, the Ponds are less than 20 miles southeast of the small city of Mount Gambier. Mount Gambier is well-equipped to entertain visitors and has a wealth of campgrounds, hotels and guest houses ready for occupancy by the many tourists who come to the area on holiday. Formerly a town based on logging, mining and agriculture, Mount Gambier now relies a great deal on tourism. Located about six hours from both Adelaide and Melbourne, Mount Gambier takes its name from the extinct volcano nearby. Wineries and golf courses are located in the area, and the city holds numerous restaurants, art galleries and artisan shops.

The landscape around Mount Gambier has several unusual features. A two-mile walking path around Blue Lake is extremely popular, offering several stunning views of the lake and its unusual hues. An aquifer tour takes visitors down the original limestone shaft in a glass-enclosed lift to view Blue Lake, the source of the city’s water. Explanations of the area’s hydrology will please the curious, and stories of the area’s aboriginal and European past will provide colorful details of the area’s history. The Lady Nelson Visitor and Discovery Centre gives visitors information on local attractions. One sight not to be missed are the beautiful gardens planted in the dry Umpherston Sinkhole. Besides being the ideal picnic spot, many like to stay after dark to watch the opossums come out to feed. Cave Gardens is another location with lovely gardens and an attached cave, the depths of which can be viewed from an observation platform.

Although Mount Gambier has a number of mainstream hotels, there are also several bed & breakfasts, a hotel built in the reconstructed city jail (gaol), and RV resorts complete with swimming facilities and playgrounds for the youngsters. Ecology-minded visitors will thoroughly enjoy the many nature preserves and national parks near the city, and divers will be overjoyed to attempt a dive at Piccaninnie Ponds. So bring your binoculars, the bird book, and good water-resistant hiking shores.

Things to do at Piccaninnie Ponds

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Snorkeling
  • Scuba Diving
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • Playground

Piccaninnie Ponds Photo Gallery

Piccaninnie Ponds Statistics & Helpful Links

divider

Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Shoreline Length: 1 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 10 feet

Maximum Depth: 200 feet

Spread the word! Share our Piccaninnie Ponds article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!

Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.