Gale Force Easterlies at Apollo Bay

On the second weekend in August 2020 a high pressure system paused for a few days as it made its way eastwards over Victoria. There was a strong low off the south east coast of the state. The isobars over the state got closer and the wind got stronger producing two days of easterlies above 30 knots with gale force gusts at times. This was followed by a further two days of progressively abating easterly winds. The driving rain and low cloud that usually accompanies such a system were present, but just a little north of the coast this time.

The main beach at Apollo Bay faces directly east which means easterlies are onshore winds. Strong easterlies create rough seas with white water well offshore and right up to the high water mark on the beaches of the local east-facing bays. Such conditions are bad for boating and worse for swimming. I didn’t see any boats arrive at or leave the harbour over the weekend. I don’t swim in the ocean in these conditions. Apart from the general rough seas, the local rips and currents seem to go into overdrive in such conditions and there is a lot of water moving around in the 200-300m closest to shore.

The harbour is a good alternative in such conditions as the 475m long north-south aligned breakwater protects the harbour water immediately in its lee. During this period of strong easterlies I swam in the calm waters of the eastern side of the harbour but also tried another potential alternative I have considered for some time, the Barham River. A few GoPro snaps from that swim are included in this post.

Gale force onshore winds at Apollo Bay

The view out to sea looking due east from Point Bunbury. There are two black cormorants flying in the rough air below wave height
The eastern face of the north-south breakwater at Apollo Bay harbour last Saturday. Fishermen often stand on top of this wall casting out well beyond the rocks. They apparently all had other things to do on this day, or were already swimming out of frame to the right in this image.
The footpath on the north-south breakwater. Spray and drenching large volumes of seawater were regularly making this footpath a very wet place to be.
I watched this couple walk from the northern end of the breakwater through blowing water and spray such as that behind them. They were wet, but seemed unfazed and looked as though they were enjoying themselves.
This fixed buoy is about 300m off the harbour mouth, and about 600m from the buoy to Cawood St beach, or Tuxion as the locals call it. With my local swimming friends, on numerous occasions we have swum out to this buoy, but in much calmer conditions.
View from the corner of the wall at the harbour to the steps at Tuxion. The straight line distance is 800m. We have swum from the corner of the harbour wall (where I stood to take this photo) to Tuxion and back many times. Just below the low red roof in the gap in the trees near the shore is a set of wooden steps. This is usually our aiming point for that swim. But I have never swum this course in conditions like this. The telephoto lens foreshortens the image making it look closer than 800m.
Tuxion to end of breakwater with beacon is about 900m direct track. (Use the slider to see each image in full). With local swimming friends this route has been swum a number of times as part of a two km triangle, but not in conditions shown in the image on the right!
The contrasting sea states at the harbour mouth.
The wind at this time was so strong that even over the very short fetch of the harbour whitecaps were forming on the western side. More than one sailing ship has been wrecked on this beach and surrounding east facing beaches such as neighbouring Mounts Bay by being washed ashore in conditions such as these. The steamship S.S.Casino wreck lies about 400m offshore in a position roughly near the centre of this image and about two thirds of the way across the bay..
Stormy seas, safe haven.

Barham River Swim

The Barham River flows out to the sea just south of Point Bunbury at Apollo Bay. I have long thought it might be a pleasant swim along this river. I swam a lot in the Barwon River in Geelong as a boy, so the notion of swimming in muddy water with muddier banks doesn’t bother me. Of course, clear ocean water is far and away my first preference. The vision I had in mind for re-visiting river swimming was tranquil water as shown in the photo below, with the rich farmland on the fertile river flats and the distant foothills of the Otways offering a continuous series of calendar shots to my left and right.

This little jetty is 500m north of the bridge which carries the Great Ocean Road over the Barham River. I have been told platypuses have been seen here, but my turn is yet to come. This photo was not taken on the day we swam in this river.
The strong easterly winds meant that an alternative to the ocean was required for a swim. I had a few swims in the harbour while the easterlies were blowing, but on Sunday a swimming friend (Deb) and I decided to swim in the fresh cold water of the Barham River.
This is the Barham River from the GOR bridge showing its proximity to the ocean. It gets shallower from this point so we decided to swim upstream from the other side of this bridge.
The river is always flowing to the sea, but I underestimated the strength of the current on this day. There were numerous stops to marvel at how much of our planned swim remained still ahead of us! All stops saw us going backwards towards the sea. There had been recent rain which both filled the river to a good depth, made it colder than usual and perhaps increased the speed of the current a bit. I measured the temperature at 9.9°C. If we kept our heads down and a maintained a good stroke rate we made slow but steady progress towards the next bridge upstream on the river. We experimented with the middle of the river and both sides to see if the current was less in one of those places. It wasn’t.
We eventually made it to this bridge over the river and found a slimy submerged tree to hold while we had a look around. We then let go of our slippery underwater log mooring point and started swimming north. The loose plan was another 300m to a little jetty on a bend in the river.
But the river narrowed upstream from this bridge, and when we headed in that direction my progress as assessed by looking at the rate the river bank was moving past me suggested it could take quite a while to swim the next 300m to the little jetty. The current seemed a bit stronger as the river narrowed. So the loose plan to continue against the current was abandoned and we did a U turn. The current rapidly took us downstream even while floating on our backs. Deb seemed impressed with this form of transport. Note to self: next river swim start at the little jetty on the bend and finish at the Great Ocean Road bridge!
Occasionally we did bother to swim and the pace was very impressive. I had to be quick to get this shot of Deb gliding past like an Olympian with time for a ‘thumbs up’ without losing any pace whatsoever.
The river might have been murky, but when going downstream but it did take care of navigation and propulsion while we floated on our backs enjoying watching the scenery slide past..
Barham River water visibility report: zero and brown.

Measuring the temperature after the swim (9.9°C). The course we swam as recorded by the Garmin watch.

High and Dry

Each receding tide during a period of strong onshore winds leaves a higher than usual volume of kelp, seaweed and other things that washed ashore. Bull kelp (also know as string kelp) and other brown algae and seaweed line the high watermark when the easterly winds blow.

I see a stingray in this shape.
I see a large fish here.
Detail of the previous image.
This strong cord like length of algae was connecting two large tangles of seaweed. I estimated its length at round 9-10m. It was under a bit of tension but showed no signs of snapping. The two photos below show clearly that it is in fact organic, and not some man made cord caught up in the seaweed.
Small bivalve mollusc passengers on this cuttlefish skeleton (which is a central part of the cuttlefish buoyancy system) finally reach the end of their time at sea, well after the life of the cuttlefish had ended. Cuttlefish are in the cephalopod group of advanced molluscs, which includes squid and octopuses. The living cuttlefish looks a bit like a preliminary draft of an octopus. It has eight arms, and two tentacles with suckers, which are retracted when not in use. They can change colour for camouflage purposes, but mostly opt for a striped patten. They are a favourite food of dolphins.

 These photos record two consequences of not keeping an eye on the tide charts and the approaching waves. They are related in that I was busy taking a photo of the pufferfish (or porcupine fish – one type of the large and varied group of puffer fish) and paying no attention to the sea when the incoming tide brought a small wave to my feet. Well, to my legs to be precise. The pufferfish appears to have come too close to shore in the 30 knot easterly to be able to resist being washed ashore and stranded.

Pufferfish contain a powerful poison called ‘tetrodotoxin’. It is said to be many times more dangerous than cyanide. It’s stored in their skin and internal organs. The spines are merely sharp and don’t contain the toxin. Touching a pufferfish is not a good idea. Eating one could kill you. They are found in shallow temperate waters world wide.

Been waiting for a couple of hours now. Beginning to wonder if the volunteers with the wet towels. buckets of water, hugs and rescue attempts are coming at all. Sometimes it sucks being a porcupine fish.
As found. Gift wrapped by the ocean.

The Aire River Mouth

The Aire River is only about 40kms in length. It flows from its point of origin in the Otway Ranges, south east of Beech Forest, through the Great Otway National Park (in which it flows over the Hopetoun Falls). It then winds down through the foothills of the Otways and across the fertile coastal flats of the Glenaire Valley before finally flowing into the Southern Ocean south of Hordern Vale.

The Aire River flowing over Hopetoun Falls on its way to the Southern Ocean. See my earlier post on these falls, at: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/04/04/idyll-moments/
The Aire River flowing beside the giant sequoias in the Otway Ranges (between Beech Forest and the Great Ocean Road).

Our position at the Aire River mouth was recorded using a Spot Satellite Messenger. This GPS device works anywhere on the face of the globe – it can record position very accurately. Satellites then relay the position, superimposed on a satellite photo of the area, to a ground station which in turn relays it to email and/or mobile phone contacts I have nominated in advance of using the device. I used this device regularly when I spent 7 weeks riding my motorbike around Australia in 2010, out of mobile telephone range for much of the trip.

The narrow light coloured track is part of the Great Ocean Walk. Aire River appears to be a major camping point on this walk which extends from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles.
The Aire River nearing the end of its journey to the ocean. The foothills of the Otways are behind the fertile arable land in the Glenaire valley. The river widens and slows with extensive areas of marshland as it nears the bridge at the Aire River campground (from which this photo was taken).
The final 1500m or so to the river mouth and ocean beach is via this track covered in a good depth of soft sand. Our all-wheel SUV does a great job, but would have quickly come to a halt on this road.
Elizabeth the Intrepid.
Near the river mouth, the incoming tide was surging vigorously upstream.
As the satellite photo earlier in this post shows, the river does a hairpin turn just before it reaches the sea. I’m sure the final path of the river to the sea across the beach varies over time according to the amount of water flowing down the river and the size of the tides and waves in the ocean. These piles are the remains of a bold but unsuccessful attempt long ago to build a jetty extending from the river mouth out to sea. The ocean proved too rough for the project to be successful. The nearby Glenaire valley is very fertile and has long been settled. In the early days those relying on shipping had to keep the river mouth open using horse teams and equipment to clear the sand away. The waves in the background when this photo was taken perhaps give some idea of the daunting task which the jetty project faced.
On this day the surf zone extended well out to sea from the beach near the river mouth. I was tempted to caption this, “It was OK once you got out the back.” But it wouldn’t have been.
On the soft sandy track down to the beach we came across these fresh footprints. My immediate unbidden thought was that it was left by some prehistoric creature that had such a long stride it only touched the track once in bounding across it, the adjacent footprints being invisible in the scrub either side of the track as it thundered across the landscape. But a moment’s reflection settled on it being the prints of both feet of a kangaroo as it hopped across the track.
Adult male ‘superb fairy-wren’ in non-breeding plumage on the banks of the Aire River. These were tiny birds, and they flitted and darted with the speed of a blowfly in summer. Quite difficult to photograph as they were never still for more than a fraction of a second.
Adult female superb fairy-wren. The adjective ‘superb’ is the work of whoever named this bird, not my assessment of its quality. It appears that there was a little taxonomic difficulty in relation to the naming of fairy-wrens, as there is also a ‘splendid’ fairy-wren. It seems that as more and more types of fairy-wren were discovered, all warranting some synonym of ‘superb’ or ‘splendid’ in their official title, the fairy-wren namers lost interest and gave up searching for further superlatives. Notwithstanding the beauty of all fairy-wrens, they resorted to sadly unimaginative prefixes such as ‘lovely’. It was all downhill from there. All poetic sense was abandoned and the tail enders in the naming process were saddled with drab descriptive mundanities such as ‘blue-breasted’, ‘red-winged’ and ‘white winged.’ A sorry tale for members of such a beautiful bird group as the fairy-wren.
Adult female superb fairy-wren. Feisty looking.
Adult male superb fairy-wren (in breeding plumage). The CSIRO ‘Australian Bird Guide’ 2017 at p 362 says non-breeding plumage is held by most males from about March to August (and blue the rest of the time), but a few older and more dominant males can retain blue plumage all year round. These provide a truly eye catching flash of iridescent bright blue as they flit around, especially in bright sunlight.

The ubiquitous crested tern and silver gull

Crested terns and silver gulls are usually found together along the west coast of Victoria (and almost right around Australia for that matter). But for reasons known only to them, they sometimes assemble exclusively with their own species….. (use the slider to see each image in full)

….and sometimes they mingle.

Closeups of the birds of a feather flocking together.

Crested tern soaring over the surf zone searching for food.

Pacific gull posing, and juvenile crested gull.

The beautiful and majestic silver gull soaring effortlessly.
Crested tern rising after snatching a morsel from the rough water. As the next photo reveals, after this ordinary example of feeding, the bird went to extraordinary lengths to make sure whatever it caught did not escape and was successfully swallowed as the bird flew away. I was not aware of this until I looked closely at this photo well after taking it.
[Enlarged detail of the previous image]. Job done. The bird in flight shook its head vigorously to manage the morsel (as the water drops show), including rotating its head through almost 180° presumably to enlist the assistance of gravity to finish the job successfully. Proving what a masterful flyer it is, the wing movements and flight path did not miss a beat.

One of my favourite limestone sea stacks along the west coast of Victoria. While the occupants were not home when I took this shot, such stacks are ideal nesting sites for many seabirds including terns, gulls and the short-tailed shearwater. It’s difficult to imagine a more secure home for them.

Snow in the Otways

A strong cold front passed over western Victoria today, bringing gale force winds, rain and hail. It also brought snow down to low elevations. A dusting of snow on the hilltops is a once or twice a year event. Today’s snow was more than a dusting and more than I have seen in the area.

The Arctic blast from deep in the Southern Ocean brought low temperatures to much of the state. Apollo Bay had an overnight minimum temperature of 4°C and a maximum temperature today of 8°C. It was much colder in the hills in the immediate hinterland than on the coast. When I drove up towards Forrest this morning, at the Turtons Track turnoff where some of the following photos were taken, it was 1°C.

Driving north on the Skenes Creek to Forrest Road, approaching the turnoff to Turtons Track (which leads to Beech Forest). The roads were slippery!
Turton’s Track turnoff (looking south).
Falling snow can be seen in the second of the above two images. (See full images by using the slider)
Usually when I head down Turtons Track, bushfire risk is on my mind. Today the road was covered in fresh snow.
I have never seen this area of cool temperate rainforest in falling snow. It was very quiet. The first and only footprints on the snow were mine. The crunch of my boots on the snow was the only sound I heard.
Then the first car of the day on the track passed me heading west.
The tree fern fronds were weighed down with snow.
The T intersection of Turtons Track and the Forrest Road (13 kms from the Great Ocean Road and 19kms from Apollo Bay).
This tree fell while I was taking photos further up the road at Turtons Track. I was the first to arrive. The image on the right below shows my wheel tracks around the tree. I was grateful for all-wheel drive. The fellow in the high-vis vest standing in the tracks I had just made was the driver of a large van, and was making up his mind about what to do next. I assume he didn’t have a long wait as quite a few locals carry a chain saw in their car or ute.
On descending from the high points in the hills where the snow was plentiful, the cloud thinned out and let some sunshine through. This had a quick effect on snow on the road, and in creating white mist amongst the dense foliage as the snow and water on the branches and leaves were warmed by the sun.
The bright light created a temporary but beautiful scene with the fresh snow on the trees and bushes, white mist drifting through the trees, and patches of blue sky and white clouds above it all.
The low mist behind these trees acted like a filter for the otherwise bright sunlight, and the tree shadows created the radiating beams of white light visible above. The air was cold and fresh. This beautiful sight was totally unexpected.

I have said it many times on these blog posts – photography is all about the light (and serendipity).

Lake Elizabeth

Lake Elizabeth in the Otway Ranges (Victoria, Australia) was formed in mid-winter 1952 when the East Branch of the Barwon River was blocked by a landslide. 1952 was an unseasonably wet winter. When the river stopped flowing, a search party was sent upstream and the new naturally formed dam wall and lake were discovered.

It is a place of compelling stillness, coolness and beauty.

East Branch of the Barwon River downstream from Lake Elizabeth.
The path to Lake Elizabeth winds through dense cool temperate rainforest.
Towering mountain ash and a variety of eucalypts rise above the dense ground storey of the forest.
The fertile banks of the East Branch of the Barwon River in the afternoon winter sun.
Grey shrike-thrush (and a host of other bird species) are plentiful in the area.
A quiet pool near (but not part of) Lake Elizabeth.
The top of the trunk of a large healthy tree fern.
The base of this giant tree is shown in the next photo.
Lake Elizabeth.
Platypus live in the lake.
The lake has many dark shores and corners which never see direct sunlight.

The lake in the afternoon was a wonderland of intersecting planes and reflections and colours and light and dark. The circle with the arrows is a slider, to compare two versions of the one photo. The photo shows a dusky moorhen gliding across the mirrored surface of the lake. The image with the duck swimming to the right of frame to my eye seems to show the bird taking improbable flight as if air and water had become one.
A dusky moorhen in the cold shadows.
Photographers often look for ‘lines’ in an image which draw the eye of the viewer to the centrepiece of the subject matter. Such lines are usually subtle, unlike the lines in this shot. I have never taken a photo with bolder lines than this one. First there is the clear black arrow on the left pointing towards the bird, which itself is sitting near the apex of a large arrowhead silhouette formed by a tree trunk and its reflection.
Late afternoon colours reflected on the water.
Pacific black duck.
These birds were obviously given clearances to land in line on the same runway. The second bird appeared to overshoot a little which required serious braking to avoid a collision with the bird ahead. While this deceleration caused the tail to rise, the nose stayed just above the runway surface. Both came to a full stop upright and undamaged.
Darkness approaching.

Early Morning Light

Photos taken in the Solomon Islands, Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Lord Howe Island, Apollo Bay, Mt Buffalo, the Victorian high country, the Otways and Port Campbell.

You’re the stillness in the trees,

You’re my gentle offshore breeze,

You’re the birdsong that sends the night away,

You’re the promise it’s all right,

You’re my early morning light,

You are my early morning light.

Lizzie is the loving and much loved mother of these two (and the adored grandmother of their children).
This photo was taken in the late afternoon light, with Liz by my side.

The poem is the chorus of a song I wrote for Lizzie in 2015 to mark our 40th year together. The song has only been sung in public once, and that was in an Apollo Bay Open Mic Sunday Afternoon Session in the RSL club rooms around the anniversary of our 40 years together.

This post marks 45 years together.

Gibson Steps, Bay of Islands and Logans Beach

The migration of southern right whales and the humpback whales across the oceans south of the Australian continent is a winter phenomenon. After breeding in the warmer waters along the southern coast of Australia (and along the east and west coasts of the country) between May and November, they head back to Antarctic waters where krill abounds in the cold water. At birth calves would not survive the freezing temperatures deep in the Southern Ocean, which explains the annual migration to warmer waters.

Yesterday Liz and I drove to Logans Beach at Warrnambool, an established whale nursery, to see and photograph whales close to shore. With whale numbers increasing every year, whale sightings along this coast are increasingly common – except for yesterday. Despite keeping an eagle-eyed lookout whenever the ocean was in sight, and despite perfect whale-spotting weather and sea conditions, not a single whale or splash was seen. If you are a reader who likes a blog post to have a theme, then the theme of this post is photos without whales in them.

But the west coast of Victoria between Apollo Bay and Warrnambool is not lacking in points of interest, even when the whales are elsewhere.

The vista to the north from a high point on the Otway Ranges not far west of Lavers Hill. Cold air and fog was still nestling in the valleys, but the sun burned it off pretty rapidly from mid-morning. (The connection of this scene with the three places in the heading of this post, is that it was passed on our way to those places).
Coastal planes near Gibson Steps beach.
There was not much swell forecast, but the ocean and beaches west of Cape Otway march to their own drum in this regard. There was a light northerly, and glassy long interval swell lines like this were arriving from weather deep in the Southern Ocean between Australia and Antarctica. The refraction of sunlight shining on the curtain of spray raised by the offshore wind created these fleeting rainbows. This surf, despite its quality, was too small to attract the interest of any of the local surfers. To see the sort of surf at Gibson Steps that does attract the interest of local surfers, see my recent post: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/05/20/big-clean-swell-at-gibson-steps/
At the Bay of Islands, just west of Peterborough, I had my camera switched on with settings for seascapes and landscapes as we walked out a narrow headland covered in hardy shrubs and surrounded by ocean on three sides. We spotted this nankeen kestrel hovering and manoeuvring rapidly with its eyes fixed on prey it had spotted in the shrubs below. Before I could aim the camera (with 150-600mm lens attached) skywards, it drew its wings in and with its gaze locked on its intended prey, dived vertically down to the scrub where it disappeared for a moment or two. It then took to the air and climbed away with this hapless lizard having its first trip by air. This was no mean feat, as the scrub was quite thick. The nankeen kestrel is a member of the falcon family. Falcons are fast flyers, with high level aerial hunting skills, which this bird displayed superbly. The nankeen kestrel can be found right across the Australian continent, but they prefer to breed on the south east of the continent and in south western W.A. I would not normally publish a photo lacking sharpness as this image does. My excuse is that the shutter speed I used, while suitable for seascapes, was too slow to properly capture an airborne kestrel in hunting mode. But the subjects can be identified, and I find the photo interesting enough to include in this post.
The offshore limestone stacks along this coast are wonderfully secure eyries for nesting birds. The silver gull makes the most of it, as do cormorants, shearwaters and a variety of other seabirds.
Nesting areas on these limestone islands are far more densely populated than this photo might suggest.
Silver gull on final approach to join his two mates enjoying the view over an ocean teeming with food.
Coastal cliffs east of Peterborough. Before the light northerly came up, the day had started with fog as a large high pressure area was centred over the state. Once the wind started to move the fog, the sun broke through and heated the ground which reflected heat back into the lower atmosphere which in turn accelerated the dissipation and disappearance of the fog. Low ragged patches of cumulus cloud were the last remnants of this process, which was followed by a cold day with a cloudless blue sky.
A singing honeyeater on the whale watching platform at Logans Beach. It lives on berries, nectar and insects in habitats including coastal shrub land, which covers the sand dunes in this area. An interesting fact I read about this bird is that it is one of the first birds to call before dawn (‘The Australian Bird Guide’, Menkhorst and others, CSIRO Publishing 2017, at page 376).
The singing honeyeater. The facial expression suggests it was not about to burst into joyous song during this brief portrait sitting. I liked its proud assertiveness.
Some rips are easier to spot than others. The surfers shown were using this and other rips for an easy ride through the shore break to get out the back at Logans Beach to their chosen takeoff point.
This well established rip was operating right from the shallows. The figure on the left is a bodysurfer who entered the water at the rip and used it for a speedy lift out the back. From there he paddled parallel to the beach to his takeoff point. It would be a simple swim to shore on the white water either side of this rip. But it would most likely have been impossible for anyone to swim against the current in the calm looking water of the rip which was flowing out to sea to just beyond the zone of breaking waves. The rip could be spotted from the sea beyond the breaking waves by looking shorewards. It would appear as a break in the line of white water of the breaking waves. Surf is not breaking over the rip because the water is deeper there. These rips were at Logans Beach, east of the whale viewing area.

Winter swim around Little Henty Reef

I have long wanted to swim around the inner reef at Little Henty Reef in the Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary. The reefs are not far offshore from Hayley Point at Marengo. The weather and sea conditions here are unsuitable most of the time for such a swim. However, the weather and ocean omens were pointing strongly to early Monday 29 June being a good time to go – and indeed it was. A large high pressure system had parked over the state and stayed for a few days. Monday dawned with the ocean in repose, a cloudless sky and not a breath of wind – cold winter perfection.

The 12 hectares of protected ocean in the sanctuary contain two reefs, and a rich profusion of marine life including a colony of 100 or so Australian fur seals on the outer reef. The protected area is about 750m long and 200m wide. Its southern and eastern areas are subject to big surf and strong currents as they are fully exposed to huge swells from the Southern Ocean. The north-western portion of the sanctuary is more protected, and the smaller reef there semi-encloses a little bay inside Hayley Point. I have swum in this bay a lot with my swimming friends, but there are nearly always tidal currents and often strong rips immediately to the north in Mounts Bay. In big swell the shore break in Mounts Bay can also be something to contend with. There are many days when even the little bay is not suitable for swimming.

Some of the underwater beauty of Little Henty Reef is shown in an earlier post on this blog, written after my first snorkelling swim there earlier this year: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/01/13/my-first-underwater-look-at-little-henty-reef/ On that occasion I snorkelled along the protected western side of the reef.

Little Henty Reef at Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay, where I do most of my ocean swimming. The next bay south (top right in the image) is Mounts Bay, with the small settlement of Marengo on the point (out of frame). This bay is less protected, and has stronger surf and currents than Apollo Bay. The white water visible top right of the image is part of Little Henty Reef in the Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary. Drone photo by Andrew Langmead
Little Henty Reef in winter. The inner reef is in the foreground, and the rocks beyond are the outer reef which the Australian fur seals use as a base for feeding expeditions offshore. The area of reef above water varies considerably according to the tide. On a good high tide the inner reef is completely submerged. The outer reef has higher rocks and is never fully submerged by the tide. But in big surf on a high tide there is no dry place on this little island. The seals seem to cope whatever the elements throw at them. The water in front of the inner reef is the little bay in which we swim. It is open to the ocean at the southern end, and has a small pass between the rock and the shore at the northern end feeding into Mounts Bay. Strong tidal flows and other currents can be found at either end of this little bay, as well as in the rest of Mounts Bay. The currents are difficult to predict as to their existence, direction and strength because of the unique topography of the sea bed with the reefs and associated channels and highly varying water depth. This is a place to be approached with caution and respect at all times for swimming, snorkelling, surfing and boating. Drone photo by Andrew Langmead
The northern tip of the inner reef almost completely covered at high tide. The prolific bull kelp gardens fringing this reef can be seen on the right of the reef in this image. The seabed drops away either side to considerably deeper water. Drone photo by Andrew Langmead
The northern tip of the inner reef. This blog post was prompted by a most enjoyable swim yesterday around the reef in this image, in calm conditions with the tide about half out. Drone photo by Andrew Langmead

The image above of the Garmin swim track superimposed on a satellite photo of Little Henty reef (not representative of actual sea conditions on the day of the swim, but showing the mix of waves and currents the place can produce) shows the route swum yesterday. The right turn across the reef back into the little bay was at the southern end of the exposed rock of the reef on the half tide. It was shallow where we crossed the reef at the southern end, and we had large bull kelp fronds brushing our wetsuits as the sea gently surged against the edge of the reef.

The view from the beach in Mounts Bay to the south east, looking over inner Little Henty in the foreground and the other reef beyond it.
The two elements of Little Henty reef. Seals can be seen on the larger outer reef which is 500-600m offshore. The inner reef less than half that distance offshore. The telephoto lens foreshortened this view making the reefs look closer together than they in fact are.
Australian fur seals on the outer Little Henty Reef.
Real estate is at a premium on the outer reef on a high tide.

The swim around Little Henty Reef on 29 June 2020

Because suitable weather windows for a swim around the reef at Marengo are not common, I went for a dawn check of conditions. I had wanted to do this swim for some time. Conditions looked ideal. The people in the water are the regular dawn cold water plonkers. Great benefits are said to be available from a simple dunk in cold water without actually swimming anywhere. They all seemed invigorated by their dunk. Good on them!
The air temperature at dawn was around 4°C, and the water temperature was about 14°C.
The view north from the southern end of the beach at Mounts Bay, Marengo. Calm.
Mike and I swam together out to the northern tip of the inner reef, and Nadine rode shotgun ahead of us in her kayak. This was taken between the beach and the northern tip of the inner reef. The reefs are rich in all sorts of marine life. In winter, salmon visit the area and when the salmon are running, beach fishermen are found along the beaches in Mounts Bay and Apollo Bay. Some beach fishermen were present around dawn on the morning of this swim. Over the years sharks have occasionally been spotted swimming along the gutters and sandbars parallel to the beaches, following and presumably feeding on the salmon. The seal colony is also a spot not without its attractions for the occasional shark. Some local fishermen and surfers are of the view that the area is a bit ‘sharky’. Some think otherwise. I see sharks as a factor to consider in swimming around the reefs and channels in the area. So having Nadine keep an eye out for us from her kayak added some comfort in this regard. Water visibility was very good on this morning and Nadine reported having a good view of things below the surface. This photo taken with my ageing GoPro does not do justice to the visibility we experienced, but it gives some idea.
Swimming out towards the northern tip of the reef and the morning sun.
Nearing the reef.
Seaweed including bull kelp beside the reef.
Nadine keeping a good lookout.
Bull kelp on the exposed eastern side of the reef. Even though there was no swell, the regular surge from the ocean was causing the kelp and other plants to wave backwards and forwards.
On the eastern side of the reef. Marengo and Point Hayley in the background. Large areas of bull kelp protruding above the surface – too thick here to swim amongst the kelp.
Swimming along the eastern side of the inner reef.
Algae, kelp, seaweed, sponges, marine invertebrates of all sorts, and that’s just what we could see at a glance as we swam over the submerged southern end of the reef and back into the little bay.

L to R: me, Mike. Eastern side of the inner reef. Photo taken by Nadine Lyford.

Swimming past the prolific bull kelp areas on the eastern side of the reef. Photo below taken by Nadine Lyford.

Happy with my body position – credit must go to my new winter wetsuit. It was a privilege to swim in this cold, clear and wild corner of the ocean. My new 4/3 lined winter wetsuit kept me completely warm on this swim. I also wore light neoprene boots and a lined neoprene cap – completely cosy. The wide-angle lens used to take this photo could create the impression that we were swimming just offshore from the beach at Marengo. In fact we were over 350m out from the high water mark in the corner of the little bay below the walkway with the rails (visible in the middle of the image), swimming along the seaward side of the reef.
More bull kelp.
The sheltered western side of the inner reef was also partly in the shade from the early morning sun.

Back in the little bay.

Image on the right: bumped into swimming friends Michelle and Vicki who were also enjoying the winter perfection at Marengo on one of their regular morning swims in the bay. Some of my Apollo Bay swimming friends recently did a swim around the inner reef at Little Henty, and enjoyed it greatly.

This was neither a long nor a fast swim. But it was a memorable ocean swim. What a pleasure and privilege to swim in this pristine and wild corner of the Southern Ocean.

100 Days, 100 Ocean Swims, 130 kms

The 100 day swim challenge I set myself just after a state of emergency was declared in Victoria because of the Covid-19 pandemic, was to swim in the ocean every day for 100 days and to swim a total of more than 100kms. No daily swim would be less than 1000m. I started the challenge on 18 March and finished it today, 25 June. Over that period I swam a total of 130kms. The majority of the swims were solo swims.

The 100 consecutive days of swimming in the ocean included some interesting sights and conditions. Combinations of weather, swell and pollution at Apollo Bay due to a harbour dredging project made it difficult on some days to find some ocean suitable for a distance swim. The 1000m minimum distance aspect of the challenge was met save for one day when I had three attempts at doing the swim and on each occasion had to give it away for various sound reasons of unsuitability. The unsuitable locations that day were Marengo, the harbour and the bay. These three aborted swims totalled only 750m.

Day 100 The finish

Very low tide, no swell, offshore NW wind, cold morning, sunny skies. The ocean truly was having a rest day today. Finishing the 1833m swim at Tuxion (which is what locals call the beach at the end of our street). I started just south of Milford Creek and swam to the harbour wall and back to Tuxion. First swim with my new Rip Curl 3/4 steamer wetsuit – excellent. I was warm throughout and could speak clearly at the end. There was a good current running north to south when I swam today which is always fun. The swim back was a little slower.

This gutter, rip channel and the the inner and outer sandbars at the beach at the end of my street, exposed here by the low tide, are not normally visible. Grandson Gus was at the beach with his mum, his brother and Liz when I finished the swim. Two members of a local magpie family of three were waiting for me at the outside shower and sat as I talked to them. When I got under the shower they threw their heads back and treated me to a duet of their beautiful warbling. Wonderful birds.

Apollo Bay Beach at low tide this morning after my 100th swim . (Photo taken by Jess).

The photos and paragraphs below sample some of the interesting swims I had during the 100 days.

Day 3 swim with dolphins

This swim with a group of dolphins which I enjoyed with four of my local swimming friends was a highly memorable encounter. The details appear in a post on this blog: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/03/21/a-few-things-that-havent-changed-recently/

This is a photo of dolphins of the same species as the ones we swam with (common dolphins). I took this photo from the bow of a fishing boat off Apollo Bay a month or so after our swim with the group of dolphins.

Day 34 solo ocean night swim

Commitments in Melbourne and a late return to Apollo Bay just after dark, gave me the choice of a swim (of at least 1000m) in the dark or giving up the 100 day challenge at swim #34. So the night swim it was.

As we drove through sunset and dusk on the Great Ocean Road on our return to Apollo Bay conditions didn’t vary from calm water and small swell. So I put on my warmest wetsuit, walked down our street in the dark, waded out to chest deep water at Tuxion and started swimming. There wasn’t much town lighting that reached the water. Once past the SLSC some lighting reached the water, but more importantly the lights of the jetty were more or less directly ahead from this point, and reduced the blackness of conditions for the last part of the swim. Visibility in the water was of course zero.

I stopped at 1000m near the wall and walked home in the dark. It was an odd feeling. I was also quite cold. In hindsight, it wasn’t really fun. I have experienced no inclination to repeat the experience. But I would of course swim on any cloudless full moon night, but preferably with company for a number of reasons.

Suffice to say this swim was something of a ‘meerkat’ swim.

Day 47 fin sighting

On a solo swim in murky water in the bay about 300m north of the wall and 180m from shore I saw a dark dorsal fin going the opposite direction about 20m away from me. I saw it rise, cruise level then subside not to be seen again. It didn’t change course or show any interest in me (at least not while the dorsal find was above the water). This interesting event is described in a postscript to a post in this blog: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/05/03/storm-surf/

I cannot identify with any certainty whether this was a shark or a dolphin. If I had to guess I would say that it was probably a mako shark or something similar, looking for salmon which were running in schools in the area at the time. I have seen a lot of dolphins over the years and I have never seen one display a dorsal fin in this manner. In any event, seeing an unidentified dark dorsal fin at close proximity while ocean swimming is more than enough for me to head straight to shore, which I did. I completed my planned swim distance for the day in the harbour.

Day 62 Port Campbell swim

On a day when the pollution in the bay from a harbour dredging project made it too dirty for swimming, the swell and currents made Marengo an undesirable alternative and the water in the harbour had zero visibility, I decided to swim in the bay at Pt Campbell. Conditions there were very pleasant.

I have a long history of swimming in this bay, and this blog has many posts about it. This day it was clear, clean and I had it all to myself. Experience here has taught me that a current going out to sea along the cliffs on the west of the bay would be likely. The current was there. I swam laps back and forth across the bay between the jetty and the western cliffs. Each time I got near the cliffs, I would be carried gently seawards, requiring a somewhat circular turn to regain my selected track as I headed back east across the bay. There is a lot of marine life in this bay. The underwater plants are like a garden in places.

Day 65 after dark harbour swim

Having decided after my day 34 swim that night swimming was best done by others, on this day I again found myself returning to Apollo Bay late after another trip to Melbourne. We arrived in AB after sunset but before last light. I decided on a 1000m swim in the harbour. Quite a few of my 100 swims were in the harbour when conditions elsewhere left no other option.

The harbour after last light. By the time I finished my swim it was pitch black. I couldn’t see anything underwater, and was conscious mainly of the stingrays which I often see in the harbour when swimming. They are not aggressive, but (most of them) do have stingers and bumping into one at night would be undesirable. I didn’t touch any this night. I have swum in the harbour in daylight with zero visibility and in quite shallow water encountered a large stingray. We both started as we collided and his wing flapped against me as he swam away from me. He felt substantial. But beyond an exchange of frights there was no harm done.

Day 78 Peterborough – Curdies River swim

I thought my 100 day challenge was going to come to an end this day. Apollo Bay and Marengo were simply not swimmable with swell and currents (and pollution in the bay and the harbour from the harbour dredging). So Liz and I planned a drive west along the GOR to see what the big swell was doing on the exposed west coast.

My guess that the bay at Pt Campbell would not be swimmable turned out to be right. The two smaller photos below show the jetty at Pt Campbell. The bay was a bit of a washing machine.

The larger shot of the waves breaking on the cliffs of a headland was taken from the river mouth at Peterborough. This was not a day for ocean swimming on the west coast unless in very sheltered water.

After taking the photos above, Liz noticed the pleasant looking water in the mouth of Curdies River at Peterborough. It turned out to be an ideal 200m seawater lap pool. There was a slight tidal drift in the river as the tide was coming in. So day 78 of the challenge saw the required swim done and dusted at Peterborough.

The lower right small photo was a failed attempt at staging an exit from an invigorating swim in the wild ocean conditions at Peterborough. It was motivated by two swimming friends who sent me an equally unconvincing staged photo of them allegedly exiting from a swim in a snow meltwater lake in the south island of New Zealand in winter.

Day 88 currents in Mothers’ Corner

Currents in the corner of the bay near the harbour wall have changed since all the sand was deposited there by the harbour dredging. On this day with a 25 knot northerly blowing, Mike and I decided on an invigorating downwinder in choppy water with a bit of swell in it from Tuxion to the corner. Our pace was 1:42/100m on the downwind/down-current swim.

When we turned to swim into the current for a short distance to finish off the swim I noticed that after 75m or so I was making no progress north and was being carried east out to sea by a fair current. I believed I was swimming against a regular rip in that location and the current created by the waves and water blowing south into the dead end where the beach and the harbour wall meet. So I kept swimming north thinking I just had to cross the narrow rip and I would then be able to swim north against just the general north/south current. It didn’t happen. My watch at one point showed 9:16/100m (that’s a speed of around 1 hour 34 minutes for a km!). So I turned left and swam west for the nearest beach from where I could walk up the beach a bit, and resume our short swim north. But I couldn’t make progress in that direction either. So plan C was implemented, which was straight back to the wall and the corner. Not a fright, but unusual to have to go to plan C to get back to shore. Also a good reminder that such currents can be found in places that are normally quiet and calm.

Day 92 Eastern Beach swim

Another day with Melbourne commitments, which required finding some seawater where I could. Turns out it was in Corio Bay at Geelong. I decided that the stretch of beach between the yacht club and Eastern Beach would be OK for a 1000+m swim. The water was surprisingly clear. I waded out through the large areas of sea grass and found some deeper water and headed off to the east. There was a slight east to west tidal drift when I swam.

I grew up in Geelong, and Eastern Beach featured prominently in my youth. The Eastern Beach promenade and buildings are wonderful art deco structures, maintained to this day in good condition. Many family picnics and swims were had there when I was a boy. So were school swimming competitions. I gained some beginner swimming proficiency certificates in this pool (for those brought up in Victoria, the ‘Herald’ and the ‘Junior’). But all swims here were inside the shark bars of the semicircular promenade enclosing the designated swimming area.

So on day 92 of the challenge, I broke with long tradition and swam close to the shark bars but outside the semicircle. I somehow felt this put to rest the fears I had as a boy that those shark bars (or nets as they were in my day) meant there actually were sharks nearby. My 2020 assessment is that finding a shark in that area is highly unlikely. I saw neither shark, nor any other living creature on this swim – save for sea urchins in the shallows east of the enclosure which were good incentive to swim rather than walk while in the shallows.

After avoiding the sea urchins, I climbed over the bars on the eastern side of the semicircular walkway, swam across the swimming area, then resumed my course back towards the yacht club to complete 1250m. I’ve had worse swims. In my adult life I have avoided swimming in Corio Bay. But I enjoyed this swim more than I thought I might.

Day 93 Williamstown swim

Two nights in a row in Melbourne necessitated a swim in Port Phillip Bay. One of my swimming friends from AB swims at Williamstown (usually at dawn) when in Melbourne. So I decided to have my first swim in the bay at Williamstown. A friend who normally swims in the ocean at Kennett River joined me. There was a light northerly which made the water glassy.

I was very pleasantly surprised. I have had unpleasant experiences swimming in Port Phillip Bay on the eastern beaches when forced. But the water was clear, uncrowded and had only light currents. It was an enjoyable 1335m. There was even a cafe serving coffee and cakes for the post-swim chat. I’d go back to this place as a city sea-swim option.

Torquay swims

Quite a few of my 100 swims were at Cosy Corner in Torquay. It’s an east facing beach (same aspect as Apollo Bay) which is semi-protected from the bigger W/SW swells which break on the back beach. But there are days when this beach and neighbouring Zeally Bay are surfable.

In the early 1970s I qualified for my surf life saving bronze medallion at Torquay back beach. I also used to surf in the area. I feel at home on the beaches anywhere around Torquay.

There is a large contingent of keen local ocean swimmers who swim year round at Cosy Corner. There are two permanent yellow buoys about 100m offshore and 300m or so apart which many use as turn points. I often seem to find a solid N to S current here. But yesterday (Day 99 of the challenge) the current was strong and in the opposite direction. I did three laps. The laps with the current were at around 1:42/100m pace, and against the current an average pace of 4:13/100m was all I could muster.

I was swimming at Torquay on my way back from Melbourne to Apollo Bay. I was a bit cold after this swim, and the standard life saving first aid measure was applied – hot salty chips.

Marengo swims

Marengo was the alternative swimming spot favoured by the local swimmers when the bay became too polluted to swim in due to the harbour dredging effluent pouring into it. But there were more than a few occasions when currents and waves made this little bay uncomfortable or downright unswimmable. There have been a few frights and swims not going to plan in this area over the last few months, including for experienced swimmers. But there were also many enjoyable and safe distance swims had at Marengo over the last few months. In my view it remains a swimming spot to be treated with great caution and respect.

Some local fishermen have expressed the view that with the winter run of salmon in the bays and along the shores in the area, there is an increased risk of shark presence. Common sense suggests that the seal colony might also contribute to shark presence. But it seemed to me sharks were given little thought by the swimmers in recent months as we were preoccupied with currents and the water conditions.

On the bright side the water in the little bay is often crystal clear and fish and marine plants, especially near the shore and offshore reefs, abound. When the swell and currents don’t preclude swimming there have been some memorable swims here. I had a very enjoyable swim last summer snorkelling along the boundary of the closest reef of Little Henty Reef (see photos in an earlier post: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/01/13/my-first-underwater-look-at-little-henty-reef/). Quite a few of my 100 swims were also here. It’s a wonderful spot to swim or snorkel, but only on the right day.

Thee above photos show the area surrounding the little bay in which we swam at times. (The drone shot of Little Henty Reef was taken by Andrew Langmead). The Garmin swim track (superimposed on a satellite photo) gives some idea of the complex movement of water between the shore and Little Henty Reef.

From top to bottom below: Hayleys Point and the shore reef platform; the seal colony on the outer reef of Little Henty Reef; the shore break directly south of Hayleys Point in storm surf. We generally didn’t swim in the little bay when conditions were like this.

Apollo Bay swims

Apollo Bay was of course my first preference for swimming during the 100 days. I have been swimming in this bay for many years. It can produce beautiful winter conditions as shown here in photos taken at the end of my street before my early morning swim on day 95.

For many weeks the bay was polluted by dredge effluent which was pumped into the bay for all daylight hours and on many nights. It’s now a few weeks since the dredging stopped, and the bay remains polluted with a large amount of accumulated dirty sand in the corner near the harbour wall, which seems to be feeding back into the bay with every tidal cycle resulting in generally dirty water in the south of the bay and patches of dirty water floating north especially along the shore. Another unfortunate legacy of the dredging is broken glass along the beach, dredged up from the sludge in the harbour seabed. Efforts to collect and remove all the glass by those involved in the dredging as well as by many locals walking the beach (especially between the wall and the SLSC) have not been completely successful. The photo below shows a typical collection from a single beach walk during the dredging period. There is less glass present now the dredging has stopped, but the occasional sharp glass fragment can still be found in the sand on the low tide.

During the 100 days there were the COVID-19 movement restrictions to contend with. The ‘Apollo Bay Beach fully accessible….’ notice shown below was from a Colac Otway Shire COVID-19 update email about council-imposed restrictions in addition to those legislated by the Victorian Government. At this time, many if not most suburban beaches in Melbourne were closed by councils for all purposes including swimming for exercise during the lockdown period. In Australia, England and other overseas locations, at the height of the pandemic lockdowns, open water and ocean swimmers had no access to beaches or even pools and had to suspend their ocean swimming for some months. Fortunately, Apollo Bay beach was never closed for swimming, so subject to it not being too dirty due to dredging, and to swimmers not exceeding the outside gathering limits, we could swim there. Nearby beaches were similarly available to us for swimming throughout the lockdown.

The elements have added interest to many of my 100 swimming days. Here’s a sample.

Top photo: the bay in front of the SLSC in solid swell with a strong westerly offshore wind (taken with a GoPro from the water behind the breaking waves). Lower L photo: the bay at Tuxion in an easterly. Lower R photo: somewhere between the wall and the SLSC in choppy conditions in a strong northerly. Masts of yachts in the harbour are just visible above the waves.

But the memories of the ocean at Apollo Bay which I draw on most when not here, generally include days like these.

I pulled up well

On day 95 I was heading for a total distance over the 100 days of 125kms (revised up from earlier goals of 100kms then 120kms). I realised that if I put in four 2km days, then a couple of 1700m days I could make 130kms. And so it was. I mention this because it reflects that I am feeling fit and well at the end of the 100 days.

I had no injuries during the 100 days, and didn’t miss rest days. In fact, I think that swimming only 1300m a day is something that could be done for a very long time without a day off.

I feel very distance-fit now.

I found that the morning swims went best with a bit of food in me. My standard became half a slice of toast and honey, half a banana and a couple of glasses of water. This of course was not breakfast, just a starter. A substantial breakfast always follows my morning swims.

But I may have undershot on my banana intake. Ross Edgely who in 2018 swam right around mainland Great Britain in 157 days, covered 1792 miles (2884 kms). By day 100 of his epic feat, he had swum 1230 miles (1979 kms), and consumed 442 bananas, among other achievements. On day 100 he also had RAF aerobatic aircraft perform overhead as he swam to honour his achievement to that point. I may also have undershot in my 100 day challenge by not giving Red Bull a chance to sponsor me.

This is the Garmin record of my downwind leg this morning on day 100. The photo is a favourite taken some time ago from the sand dunes at Tuxion. The silver gull is flying over Apollo Bay, and Cape Patton is the point in the distance.

I don’t plan to swim tomorrow, unless of course conditions are really inviting.

Big Clean Swell at Gibson Steps

A storm deep in the Southern Ocean created swell which quietly arrived on the west coast of Victoria on Monday. It was not a keenly anticipated swell event. Swell was forecast, but not in the exceptional category. Monday was a cloudless autumn day and a gentle offshore wind was working its magic on the ocean. The current closure of the Twelve Apostles lookout and visitor centre and the pandemic travel restrictions took care of the traffic one might otherwise expect on the Great Ocean Road on such a day, and it was all but deserted. We didn’t expect to see any swell out of the ordinary, and indeed Apollo Bay was without swell when we left.

But Castle Cove was indicating the presence of a some swell and excited our optimism about conditions further west. But it was not until we stopped at Gibson Steps that it became clear that this day the planets had truly aligned.

The swell at Gibson Steps on Monday morning

Not satisfied with the faint lines of swell to the horizon and the waves of consequence breaking well offshore at Gibson Steps, we drove on to check out Two Mile from the clifftops hoping for bigger things. But it was not to be. A couple of surfers had paddled out at Third Reef and were floating and paddling around in swell but the break was not firing. A jet ski and surfer had come out from Pt Campbell to Two Mile to find similar regular swell lines. But they gave it away after a lot of circles, parking and a couple of swims in clear water and swell that failed to reach the size required to light up Two Mile.

So after an enjoyable half hour swim in the bay at Port Campbell and lunch on the foreshore in cool air under blue skies, we headed back towards Apollo Bay planning to check the swell at Gibson Steps on the way home. This is what we saw. Ruler-straight swell lines to the horizon, and it had built since the morning.

The afternoon swell

A bit of rainbow action on the right hand end of the spray.
Close-out.

The Gibson Steps neighbourhood

The Twelve Apostles photographed through the anticyclonic haze from 11kms away. Gibson Steps is to the right of frame in this image.

The second image shows the point at the eastern end of Gibson Steps beach. All the wave photos in the post were taken looking about ninety degrees to the right of the direction in which this photo was taken.

Locals on the beach at Gibson Steps

Sooty oyster catcher possibly feeling on the outer of this group of silver gulls on Gibson Steps beach.

Foam ball

When a wave breaks and forms a barrel, the airborne spray and white water deep inside the barrel can be expelled forcefully with the air as the wave collapses. Surfers call it a foam ball.

Sizing up the swell

The swell showed no signs of fading while we were there.
We were lamenting that there wasn’t a surfer or two out there to give a scale reference for these mighty waves.
Then there was. A solitary local surfer drove into the car park and without delay got into his wettie and headed down the stairs and straight into the water. He too had given away Two Mile. He told me he had spotted a left at Gibson Steps directly out from the stair case on the cliff which he thought would be worth the paddle out. It turned out he was right. Surfers have a distinct preference with waves of this size for paddling over them before they break. Getting caught inside by a breaking wave of this size can result in lengthy hold downs, being carried some distance underwater, being pushed back towards shore and getting a general flogging under water. Surfers can duck dive under a breaking wave while on a surfboard and reduce the extent to which they are pushed back. But there are limits to the size of wave where a good result from duck diving is guaranteed.
This surfer repeatedly appeared to just make it over large waves that were about to break. So much so in fact that I was forced to conclude that it wasn’t luck, but the benefit of water knowledge and experience that I was witnessing. I didn’t see him caught inside once or needing to duck dive under a single wave. He seemed to always be in just the right spot.
A combination of his paddling speed and the crest of the wave starting to break just as he reached it saw him pop through the top of this wave to clear water beyond (or at least to the next wave) as shown.
Up at the eastern end of Gibson Steps this left was working with mechanical precision. I have seen it surfed, but not on this day. The next photo was taken a few seconds after this one.
This is the same wave breaking with its peeling long left going unridden and with white water exploding back up above the height of the unbroken wave.
Taking the drop on one of the earlier rides. This surfer caught a number of well chosen waves, and rode them all with style and finesse. In my humble view he was a talented surfer, completely at home surfing solo in these waves of consequence at this wild and remote location. Gibson Steps is fully exposed to the swell which powers in from the roaring forties in the Southern Ocean.
Building up speed as the crest of the wave starts to break ahead of him.
A sizeable wave threatening to break on the surfer. He made it over this one too.
Timing it perfectly, the surfer reaches the top of the wave just as it starts to break, and pushes through the lip easily to keep paddling. Had the wave looked like breaking on him, he would have duck dived under it with his board, as deep as he could, to minimise the impact of the wave.
Looking quite relaxed between waves in the middle of a solid set.
Looking a bit interested in the wave starting to lift him. But he rejected this one and took one a few waves later. It was a good choice.
This seems as good a photo as any as a basis for offering a view on just how high these waves were. Surfers use a measuring system which consistently understates the height of waves. Two big wave surfers I spoke to separately at Gibson Steps told me with straight faces that this surf was ‘solid 8 foot’. The surfer in this photo is about 6 feet tall….
I measure wave height from the lip to the flat water just in front of the wave. This is the distance a surfer about to take the drop when catching a wave would fall if he came unstuck. I have looked closely at the photos on this post and using the surfer as my measure, my view is that the faces of many of these waves were over 20 feet.

The wave of the session (sequence of 8 photos)

The drop.
Building up speed.
A good look at this powerful turn off the lip of the wave

The three photos on the left show the turn as seen through the telephoto lens from the shore. The photos on the right are cropped details to show the turn up close.

The speed with which he entered this turn can be gauged by the angle of his board, which has the rail buried as he tightens the turn. Centrifugal force is sticking him to the deck of his board.

Stylish completion of this radical turn throwing spray high into the air
What a spectacular turn. I’d score this ride a 10 on the basis of this turn alone.
All these wave photos were taken from the lookout at Gibson Steps, using a Nikon D810 and a 150-600mm Sigma Sports telephoto lens. The surfer was a long way offshore. The water’s edge was not an option because it wasn’t much closer horizontally than the cliff tops, and the waves were of a size that meant from sea level I couldn’t see anything past the closest breaking wave.

Returning to shore

After the waves break well offshore, white water, waves, chop and currents are generated as the waves’ energy dissipates further over the reefs, channels and sandbars in the final 300+m of the journey to shore. Transport for a surfer from the end of his last ride to shore is basically a matter of taking anything and everything on offer, as shown.

The footprints show where he stopped, unhurried, and turned to have a look out to sea. I had a chat to him and didn’t get the impression this was a standout session by his standards. I suppose with his experience on breaks like Gibson Steps and Two Mile, this is understandable.
Respect.

The Glenaire Valley

The natural wonders of Gibson Steps and the surrounding coast and ocean do not overshadow the contrasting quiet beauty of the rich hinterland. This is the Aire River flowing through the Glenaire Valley after a period of good rain. It’s just starting to spill over its banks. This location is only a short distance from the coast about 25kms west of Apollo Bay and only a couple of kms from Castle Cove.

[With the exception of the photo of the Twelve Apostles, which was taken in the morning all photos are posted in the order in which they were taken.]