IT’S 9.45 ON A SUNNY THURSDAY in August, we’ve been driving for three hours since we left Bratislava, and we’re passing the village of Viecht am Traunfall. Temperature records have been broken in this area in the past few days, and it will be extremely warm again today. However, Traunfall spring water at 18°C should be an effective way of stopping ourselves melting.
The River Traun rises in the Dead Mountains in the Austrian Alps, near Lake Toplitz. It flows through lakes and between mountains and valleys before emptying into Lake Traun.
We’re heading for a section that has been dammed, between the towns of Roitham and Stayermühl.
The dam was designed in the 16th century by engineer Thomas Seeauer.
A timber/stone combination of dam and flume, this big waterslide made the river navigable for small vessels and allowed timber to be transported down it. Small vessels can flow through it in 54 seconds.
No other cars are parked outside Atlantis Traun Dive Centre as its owner Franz briefs us. We fill in the forms, are given two steel 10-litre tanks and head for the river. I‘m still not sure what to expect.
The banks are overhung by stately trees. I have never seen such clean golden water in a river.
Masks, fins and cameras on, we drop beneath the surface, where the colours are predominantly golden-brown and green. My view is obscured by dense tree foliage, though in places rays of sunshine find their way through the tangle of branches and leaves.
The light play is fascinating. Partially obscured sunbeams are popular photographic motifs, but for non-photographers they’re equally striking. It’s the interplay of sunshine and shadows that characterises diving in the River Traun.
Large rocks, canyons and sunken trees are strewn on the main riverbed. In this calm dammed area, pike, bass, golden shiner (Leuciscus idus) and bottom-feeding gudgeon can be seen.
There are the remains of two small ancient buildings, and the well-preserved dam walls stand testament to Thomas Seehauer’s craftsmanship and the quality of materials he used for the project.

WE’RE PLEASANTLY SURPRISED by the visibility, but we have yet to see anything to match the photographs hanging in the dive centre, which show rocky formations in clear green water.
We ask the guide, who tells us that these were taken at Traunfall.
In the main river, visibility varies from zero to 12m depending on weather conditions, he tells us. In spring, melting snow often causes very high water levels and limited visibility. In summer, the water level remains relatively stable, but vis is still affected by rainfall.
Traunfall is different. Here the main stream is dammed and diverted to the Upper Traunfall power plant, flowing on in a narrow flume. But next to the power plant is a rich water source into which little river water flows, and this is where the clear visibility can be found.
Traunfall is like a mountain river, with its cascades and meanders. Further down is another power-plant dam, Lower Traunfall, and here the river water rejoins that from the wellspring.
Loading our kit into a golf buggy, the guide continues with the briefing. There is no direct access to the water, he tells us. The buggy drops us at the nearest point, from which a serpentine footpath takes us down to the wellspring.
Our dive in the Traunfall starts with a 5m jump from a rock into a narrow canyon. Doing this in dive gear is an adventure, but we can’t risk the camera gear. Our guide passes it down on a rope before following us into the water. I can hardly wait to see what lies below.
As in the main river, objects above water contribute to the atmosphere beneath it. Rock formations document how individual layers have resisted erosion in various ways.
Direct sunlight penetrates the gorge only at lunchtime. Shafts of sunlight shine from behind rocky overhangs, penetrating the green water like arrows.
Darker corners provide hides for divers who want to watch the trout and grayling manoeuvring swiftly in the current.
The spring-water source has created a natural waterfall. Seventy litres of clear water cascade into the main stream every second. The tarn beneath it is filled with oxygen-rich water, a playground for fast-swimming trout. It is here that visibility can reach 30m.
Near the spring pool entrance is a man-made waterfall, where spring water mixes with river water. It’s no bigger than the natural spring waterfall, but in times of heavy rainfall or melting snow, hundreds of cubic metres of muddy water transform the Traun into a place of dark, wild rips.
Diving in such conditions is out of the question, though adrenaline snorkelling is a possibility!
Our two-hour dive ends by the Lower Traunfall in a river pool, where the current abates. We have seen schools of fearless rainbow and river trout, and numbers of American crayfish, the invasive species responsible for a dramatic decline in the Austrian river crayfish population.
Apart from the unique shape of the riverbed, carved out over thousands of years, we have enjoyed interesting swim-throughs, overhangs, small caves and sections in which the current gets so wild that a diver needs to watch out.
Our exit from the water is no less challenging than the entry. Then Franz’s electric buggy brings us back to the dive centre. What a diving day!
As a photographer I have long dreamt about freshwater dive sites with clear water, abundant fish and interesting terrain. In Traun, these elements come together in perfect harmony.

ANOTHER ADVENTURE HERE is the afternoon pike safari. Traun pike are the biggest and most photogenic I’ve seen.
Every individual has its own territory along a 150m stretch of river, though that territory varies through the day.
In the morning the pike tend to reside on the left bank in weak current. In the afternoon, they lurk for prey among submerged trees further along the bank. So encountering these lords of the local waters is guaranteed.
Franz takes us a mile or so along a forest path to the riverbank. We cross the river and drift attentively, watching hiding places in submerged trees along the bank.
We soon find the first metre-long pike reflecting the golden afternoon sunlight, though getting close enough for a decent picture requires slow movements and careful breathing. Breathe out, and the pike disappears with a flick of its tail, and chasing it makes no sense.
In any case, just by the next tree there is usually another one waiting for its afternoon snack.

Atlantis Qualidive, Viecht am Traunfall, Austria,