The REAL reason we went to Austria in May was to dive the famous Grünersee. After seeing it in countless magazines and on too many ''Top 10 Dives to Do Before You Die'' lists, we knew we HAD to add it to our bucket list and make it happen. I mean, it's pretty awesome to say that you've dove in the Alps too. Most people go to ski, but we're crazy and go to dive.
We arrived at the park where Grünersee is about about 9 in the morning. It can get pretty busy since there is a restaurant and many people come for a beautiful day hike around the lake, so we wanted to get there early. It was an hour drive through the mountains from our Gasthaus to the park, but it was beautiful! We could have gone around the mountain and followed the valleys, but everyone knows driving through the mountains on narrow roads with too many switchbacks to count is far more fun. Plus the views are better.
Once there, we had a short dive briefing next to the lake. No joke, this place is pretty spectacular. Forests surround the lake, which is then surrounded by mountains. For most of the year, the lake is much smaller and relatively shallow. But in the spring, when the snow in the mountains melts and flows into it, the whole lake floods. The weekend we were there, the maximum depth was about 8 meters (24 feet). Still not deep by any means, but quite a bit deeper than the 1.5 meters (7 feet) that it normally is. Compared to the previous day, the water was quite a bit colder. I guess that's to be expected when the water is coming from melting snow in the mountains...
On our first dive, we headed out to the famous bridge. In drier times, the bridge is over a small creek that feeds into the lake. In May and June though, it is completely underwater. On our way out there, we followed some of the hiking trails, swam over a meadow, and marveled at the scenery around us. While not a technically challenging dive, it was definitely a beautiful dive. And sometimes the nice, lazy, shallow dives are perfect.
Behind the bridge is a shallow ''lagoon.'' Many people don't come back here, so it wasn't all stirred up and it was stunning! The sun was shining, creating rainbows that bounced off of the grass and rocks below us. From there, we followed the hiking trail back to the entrance. This is definitely my kind of hiking!
Our second dive started out by heading towards the area of the lake that has water year round. It's interesting to see the stark contrast between the lake bed and the flooded shore. Here, the lake bottom is covered in an electric green algea that looks like a radioactive cloud floating on the bottom of the lake. Some fish live in this area too, but they are small, unlike the fish in Grüblsee the day before. You can follow along hiking trails that are exposed in the dryer months, or swim along the lake side. Both are stunning.
It wasn't too long after we started that Aaron and I split off from the rest of the group (we had discussed this with the dive master before hand, so he was aware of our plan). We wanted to find the underwater bench to take some pictures. He pointed us in the general direction and we headed over. We searched for probably 20 minutes and had turned to head back to the entrance, thinking that we would never find it, when we swam next to a small mound underwater. I decided to pop up just a bit and look over it and low and behold, there it was! There isn't really anything special about this bench, but it does make for some interesting pictures. And it's cool to know that for most of the year, it's above water.
Then, it was time to head back to shore. It had been about a 50 minute dive by this point and I was getting cold. And I had to pee. See, there's this lovely thing called the mammalian dive reflex. Basically, when you put your face in water, your breathing slows down and your heart rate slows. The intent is to maximize your ability to stay alive underwater. It's most prominent in water animals (obviously), but also present in other mammals (including humans) as well. An unfortunate side effect of this reflex? You tend to need to pee much more often. Which is a problem when you're wearing a dry suit.
These two dives in Grünersee were pretty darn spectacular, ones I would definitely do again. It can be a hike to get there for many, but if you have the time and want to see a beautiful region in Austria, this is definitely the place to go.
Want to go yourself? You have two options: book a day trip with a dive shop (which is what we did), or go by yourself with a buddy. To get there, go to the Grünersee Gasthaus. You will need to pay a diving fee of 6€ per person. Then you can dive all day, as many times as you want. There are no air fills or gear rental, so you will need to bring everything with you. There are bathrooms, changing rooms, and a restaurant in the Gasthaus available for your use. If you do go, let us know! We'd love to hear about your experiences!
And now for some more pretty pictures from around the lake!