Completely landlocked doesn’t necessarily mean that diving is out of the question. Austria is best known for alpine skiing, historical Vienna and delicious cakes, but also offers some really spectacular diving. Here, one can dive wrecks and walls, enjoying a rich aquatic life in lakes with great visibility.
Before we take you on a trip through the top ten list of freshwater diving in Austria, let’s have a look at some facts. Since the break-up of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in 1918 Austria hasn’t had any access to the ocean. On the other hand, freshwater is in rich abundance in this small central European country.
Together with countries like Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland, mountainous Austria is one of the areas in Europe richest in freshwater. And the water is clean. Ninety-nine percent of Austrians have access to potable ground- and spring water. Austria boasts a whopping 9,000 lakes, of which two thirds are natural and the last third are man-made. The man-made lakes are mostly created to support hydroelectric plants.
Widely known secret
For many divers, freshwater diving is not real diving. No coral reefs, no sharks. Cold and dark. Even amongst Austrian divers, their own backyard is a secret. Contrary to popular belief, freshwater diving can be exciting.
As in the ocean, you need to choose your dive site according to what you want to see, water conditions and best time of the year. The most important aspect of freshwater diving is the season.
During the year, the temperatures in the lakes change between freezing and warm; the transparency of the water fluctuates; the vegetation differs; and fishes change their favorite hangouts. In places where you, for example, can observe perch hide in full green vegetation during the late summer months (August-September), you will only encounter a desert-like sea floor in the spring (March-April).
If you are looking for fish, my tip is to dive in the summer months (May-August) and stay in the shallows (1-5 meters / 3-16 feet) near land. Some species will be sleeping, while other will be hunting. Another treat is the water temperature at the water’s edge often allows for a 5mm wetsuit and no gloves.
Top ten dive sites
Grüner See (Green Lake)
This is by far the lake in Austria with the best visibility. It’s situated in the heart of Steiermark (Styria), one of Austria’s nine federal states. The distinctive character of this lake comes from the fact that its water source is almost entirely made of melted snow.
Because of this, the lake actually only exists from late spring until late summer. The rest of the year it is often nearly dried out. During the dry season the lake-bed serves as a hiking trail. The water level usually peaks during June, and floods not only the dry rocky lake-bed in the middle, but also the surrounding grassland and forest. Diving the Green Lake gives you an opportunity to dive among park benches, wooden board walks and along hiking trails.
This is also a popular fishing spot, and every year, trout are released into the lake. When melting snow from the surrounding mountains, starts to fill up the lake in the spring, it passes through sand and gravel, which function like a filter. The water is therefore mostly very clear. This also means that the lake is very cold. The average temperature hovers around 6-8˚C (43-47˚F).
Depth: 12m / 36ft
Best season: beginning of May until end of August
Entrance fee: EU€ 8 per person per day, available at the main parking area
Dive center: no center, but it’s possible to fill your tanks at the Gasthof Seehof: www.seehof-gruenersee.com
Tourist info: www.tragoess-gruenersee.at
(Call/write ahead to check the water level, just in case).
This is another gem in the collection of Austrian freshwater lakes well worth a few dives. The lake is very small, just about 100 meters, or 328 feet, across. You will usually find yourself diving in crystal clear water and almost be able to get a complete view from the ...