Six Days on Thistle Island, South Australia

Thistle Island is a wild, remote and pristine island off the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

It took only a short time to consider our answer to an invitation to spend five or six days on Thistle Island to help a friend celebrate his birthday.

So a short time later, Lizzie and I drove from Apollo Bay to Port Lincoln where we were collected by the birthday boy Ian (aka IOJ) in his Cessna 210 and flown to the island.

Lizzie and I lived and worked in Port Lincoln from 1978 to 1980. I had a pilot’s licence and we had access to various light aircraft which we often used to fly ourselves around the area, including to Thistle Island. We often took groups of friends out there for long weekends, and would stay in what was then the only house on the island, the old whalers’ cottage. Over 40 years passed before we revisited the island a couple of weeks ago.

Between 1980 and 1982 we lived in Adelaide where I gained my commercial pilot’s licence. During those two years I flew regular charter flights for tourists (typically diving groups) between Adelaide and Wedge Island. I have many wonderful memories of the islands in Spencer Gulf in particular and the west coast of South Australia generally. This recent trip evoked many memories of a most enjoyable phase of our lives.

Thistle Island

Thistle Island is 28 nautical miles SE of Port Lincoln, at the foot of Spencer Gulf. Its southern coast is exposed to the full force of the Southern Ocean. The lsland is about 17 kilometres long and its width varies between 1 and 4 kms.

The island was named in 1802 by Matthew Flinders, commander of the Investigator, while charting the coastline of South Australia during his circumnavigation of Australia. Flinders was the first person to complete this circumnavigation. The Investigator anchored in the vicinity of what is now known as Thistle Island while eight crew including the ship’s master John Thistle were sent out in a cutter to find a place to anchor to go ashore for fresh water to replenish dwindling supplies on the Investigator. The cutter did not return and a search the next morning found its remains on the mainland shore. Strong currents and sharks were observed by another cutter which almost capsized in the same area. No bodies were found and it was assumed the crewman drowned when their cutter capsized in such conditions. Flinders named Thistle Island after his friend and the ship’s master John Thistle. Seven other islands in the area were given the names of the other lost crewmen. Flinders also named Cape Catastrophe and nearby Memory Cove in honour of his lost crewmen.

Ian purchased this excellent very high resolution photo of Thistle Island for display at his house on the island (wall space permitting). The detail on this aerial photo was remarkable.

Photo taken by Ian from his Cessna 210 on his return to Thistle Island after dropping us back at Port Lincoln. This photo was taken looking approximately south east.

Travelling to and from the Island

Ian is a very experienced instrument rated commercial pilot and owns a comfortable and very well equipped and maintained light aircraft, a single engine Cessna 210. He also has his own air operator’s certificate which entitles him to conduct commercial flights. He flies all over Australia in his business as an aerial photographer. He also uses it for transport to and from his house on the island.

The aircraft has six seats, long range fuel tanks and compartments for cargo. They cannot all be filled up at the same time, but this capacity obviously provides operational flexibility for widely varying missions. For example, on a short distance flight, a big payload of cargo and/or passengers can be carried if minimum allowable fuel is carried. Or on a long distance, requiring full fuel, less cargo/passengers can be carried. The aircraft has a maximum takeoff weight (the sum of the weight of the aircraft, pilot, fuel, passengers and cargo) which cannot be exceeded.

Boarding at Port Lincoln.

General aviation (non-airline) is an interesting industry. Passengers can see and chat to the pilot in flight. On the ground they can watch the pilot refuel and check the aircraft for safety before takeoff if they wish. There are often no departure lounges or even seats to wait on. As often as not the meeting point at an airfield is a gate in a mesh fence marking off the aircraft movement area from the areas open to the public. Wandering around looking for the right gate (which usually has a combination lock with an easy solution eg the code being printed in texta somewhere nearby almost out of sight) can lead you to corners of the airport where there are sights denied QANTAS passengers and the like at major airports. It’s all part of the rich tapestry of transparent and open maintenance and flying operations at general aviation airfields.

Light aircraft, big jet airliners and everything in between are all maintained to very high standards in Australia. Some say the maintenance and operational regulatory regime is onerous and oppressive in its level of detail and administration by the regulatory authorities. But whether this is so or not, in Australia passengers have every reason to trust their commercial pilot and the aircraft they are flying in.

The controls and instrument panel of VH-BEH.

Maps used to fold when I used to fly.

An aerial photography flight along the southern coast of Thistle Island.

Turning final to land on runway 24 on Thistle Island. This is a very well constructed and regularly maintained gravel strip. While we were on the island a business jet (which I think was a Pilatus PC-24) operated in and out of the strip.

About to touch down.

Thistle Island airfield gate, car park and luggage handling equipment.

Bilbies are elusive. But I did get a quick glimpse of three (after dark) while I was on the island. A bilby is a smallish nocturnal omnivorous marsupial, native to Australia. It is also known as the rabbit-eared bandicoot. They look like a long-nosed big-eared rat.

Lizzie and Ian loading the aircraft for the YTHI-YPLC leg. The tyre from the 4WD had a puncture and was off to Pt Lincoln for repair.

Slide the vertical bar left or right to see all of each photo by holding the cursor on the circular button with the arrows.

Left: Liz in 1978 climbing aboard the Piper Cherokee 180 registered VH-WIL outside the Pt Lincoln Flying Club hangar. I flew many hours in this aircraft, and did my night flying training in it. After I gained my commercial pilot licence and instructor rating, I conducted quite a bit of training in this aircraft.

Right: Liz nearly 43 years later at the same airport about to board Ian’s Cessna 210.

Some light aircraft which operate on sand or soft soil have large low pressure sand tyres. This aircraft had one flat off-road 4WD tyre, as cargo.

The other airstrips

In the late 1970s, there were two airstrips on the island. One was a grass strip where the current graded gravel strip is located (it was a bit rougher than the present airstrip). The other, used mostly by the then owner Theo Modra, was near Whalers Bay. As shown in this late 1970s photo (a print from a 35mm slide) which I took from the Cessna 172 I was flying, terrain beyond the eastern end of the strip dropped away quickly to cliffs and the ocean at the eastern end. It had a shed then rising terrain at the other end. In between it had significant downhill and uphill sections with a short flat bit in the middle. It was an interesting strip to use. I treated it as a one way strip, with all takeoffs and landings towards the shed.

This strip still exists, as shown in the two following photos. But I understand that no aircraft use it now.

Approach and landing involved flying over water towards the cliff top, being aware of rough air in the lee of the cliffs in strong winds. Full flap was used from mid-final. As soon as the aircraft was over the down-sloping start of the runway the power was reduced to idle and the aircraft flown down the hill. The slope was such that the wheels rarely touched the grass on the downhill section, but glided just above it in what pilot’s call ground effect (at a height less than half the wingspan distance above the ground). At the end of the downhill section there is a slight rise then a brief flat section. I used to apply a quick burst of power to momentarily increase the airflow over the elevator which gave positive pitch control to lift the nose up and over the slight rise. Power was then immediately reduced to idle again and the aircraft nose was raised for the upslope section. The combination of idle power and landing in a shallow gradient climb on the upslope with full flap deployed meant that the airspeed reduced quickly and the aircraft landed almost straight away. Once on the ground, the roll out was short as it decelerated rapidly on the grassy upslope. A little more power than usual was required to taxi up the gentle slope at the shed end of the strip.

Takeoff was easy – taxi to the highest part of the strip, one stage of flap then give it full power. The aircraft would accelerate quickly. I always got airborne on the downhill section and was able to climb away on the extended runway centreline with adequate clearance over the hills beyond. If conditions and the weight of the aircraft degraded the climb after takeoff, there was always the option of a gentle low level turn to the right then over the ocean at Whalers Bay.

Rooftops of some of the houses now overlooking Whalers Bay can be seen in the trees on the upper right of this shot.

Theo Modra’s dirt strip on the north western tip of Thistle Island, where he lands his Cessna 170 VH-AMO. I had a bit to do with Theo when I lived in Pt Lincoln, mainly in relation to Thistle Island. I have also flown with him in his C170 for some night takeoffs and landings on his farm in the hills behind Pt Lincoln. I understand that Theo is now over 80 years old and still flying. I’m not surprised.

Whalers Bay

There are about 25 houses on the the cliffs overlooking Whalers Bay. In the late 1970s there was only the whalers’ cottage. The nine photos below were taken from the front deck of Ian’s house.

Sunrise. Only two flying operations under way that I could see (plus faint evidence of an earlier high level operation).

The dawn sun lighting up the cliffs on Whalers Bay beach and Nautilus beach.

After sunset.

Almost sunny as the thin layer of morning cloud starts to break up.

Lizzie social distancing on a walk to the end of Whalers Bay beach. (Victoria was in COVID-19 lockdown while we were on Thistle Island).

Light offshore winds put this end of Whalers Bay in the lee of the rising terrain of the island. Hence the beautiful glassy seas in this corner.

This photo was taken by Ian just after we left the Island. We didn’t need it to make us wish we were still there. Note the school of salmon in the shallows at lower right, just above the dark green bush. A school such as this was seen several times in this location. I hoped to see them during the couple of swims I had at that location but it was not to be.

Ian took out his one man inflatable dinghy and as promised, after a couple of hours brought in a huge haul of beautiful fresh squid which fed us all for days. He caught them about 150m offshore in front of his house.

The mysterious circle beyond the dinghy is possibly the splash circle from a breaching big fish that Ian didn’t catch, or that he caught and released given he was on a squid mission. Ian doesn’t like to brag about such exploits – it seems what happens in the dinghy stays in the dinghy. But he couldn’t have fitted a fish that big in the dinghy anyway and was also probably unenthusiastic about being towed to Kangaroo Island. I emphasise that this is just surmise on my part.

Quiet evening at Whalers Bay in the late 1970s

The view of the rising moon over Whalers Bay, taken from the front porch of the whalers’ cottage. (Colour and definition once again courtesy of a faded 40+ year old print from a 35mm slide).

When we visited Thistle Island, we usually had a fire on the beach. Rosemary and Lizzie warming up on a very calm evening.

This photo and the experience of revisiting Thistle Island after 40+ years and writing about it, have brought back many memories and made me quite nostalgic. Rosemary at the time of this photo was visiting Port Lincoln and the Eyre Peninsula with her partner Philip Rogers (both from Melbourne). I flew them out to Thistle. I had known Philip for many years through the acoustic music scene in Melbourne and a popular venue he ran called One C One. He was a very good friend, as indeed Rosemary became. Liz, one year old Jessie and I lived with Philip in Brunswick for a year in 1983 when we first moved to Melbourne. I played some gigs at One C One during the mid 1970s, mostly as a duo with a friend at the time Bob Crickett. I attended the acoustic music concerts in the upstairs backstreet venue in Princes Hill regularly. Life at Philip’s house and with him as a friend involved a lot of musicians and a lot of music being played in lounge rooms and kitchens. It also involved open fires, eating well and often (hot spanakopita from Sydney Road was very popular), a lot of tea and coffee and many late nights.

Rosemary died of cancer in 2011 and Philip died of cancer 15 years earlier.

The lyrics of Dylan’s song ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’ express my feelings in this regard.

While riding on a train goin’ west
I fell asleep for to take my rest
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had

With half-damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon
Where we together weathered many a storm
Laughin’ and singin’ till the early hours of the morn

By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words were told, our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside

With haunted hearts through the heat and cold
We never thought we could ever get old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one

As easy it was to tell black from white
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right
And our choices were few and the thought never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split

How many a year has passed and gone
And many a gamble has been lost and won
And many a road taken by many a friend
And each one I’ve never seen again

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that

Swimming in Whalers Bay

I took my wetsuit and goggles to Thistle Island and had a couple of 1000m swims in Whalers Bay. IOJ joined me on one morning swim, bravely tackling the Southern Ocean winter water in only board shorts. His swim was short but vigorous, and for the record, he followed it up with a run along the beach.

The ocean in Whalers Bay was warmer than the ocean at Apollo Bay at the moment. (The latitude of Thistle Island is just over 60 nautical miles south of the parallel of latitude that passes through Sydney). I also took my iPhone underwater-camera housing and had a swim around the seaweed beds and rocks near the boat ramp. The rest of the bay had clear sand for about 200m before the weed line.

A school of salmon in close in front of Ian’s house. It continually changed shape but the fish remained close together such that the school always looked like one biggish thing rather than thousands of little things.

Southern end of Whalers Bay beach as seen during a swim offshore. That’s IOJ (Ian) on the beach waving (and taking a few photos I think).

While I was doing my 1000m swim, I noticed that juvenile and mature Pacific gulls were showing great interest in me, and followed me as I progressed slowly towards the end of the beach. I got this snap while swimming a short distance offshore. I wondered if they thought I was a sizeable predator hunting for food, with scraps for Pacific gulls likely to follow. I also wondered if they thought I was potential food, and having observed my undolphin-like swimming style, assumed I was in my last hours and that it wouldn’t be long before their meal would be ready. The Pacific gulls at Apollo Bay do not exhibit this behaviour.

IOJ took this shot of me swimming in Whalers Bay with the gulls wheeling above.

Flashback to the late 1970s. This is the whalers’ cottage as seen from a short distance offshore. There were no other dwellings on the island at that time. I recall that a friend and I swam about 200m offshore here in the late 1970s as we had seen dolphins out there. They didn’t disappear when we arrived, and swam quite close to us. (This is an iPhone photo of a colour print made from a 35mm slide over 40 years ago).

Above and below (thanks to the 6″ dome port on my AxisGo iPhone camera housing).

Ian loves a gadget and, for my swim, kindly lent me one of two shark deterrent devices he owns. I have always had doubts about the efficacy of such gadgets, but on this occasion I thought why not? After all, Thistle Island is located on a direct line between Dangerous Reef (where the live shark sequences for the film Jaws were filmed all those years ago) and Neptune Island (where I did a shark cage dive with great white sharks not many years ago). It can safely be said that the ocean in this area is more sharky than most areas where I swim. One of the other house owners on Thistle told me he had been scuba diving for cray on the southern side of the island when a large great white cruised past him and hung around. He stayed pressed against some rocks until his air was low, then surfaced without the shark showing any further interest.

What can I say about the success of this device? Well, 100% so far? Two successive swims, not eaten on either occasion. Most of the gadgets I use are fact based. It was a novelty to try a mixed fact and faith device.

Lizzie at the north western end of Whalers Bay beach looking for me as I swam towards her in the light chop brought on by a north easterly breeze.

The southern end of Whalers Bay beach.

Two shots comparing the shark proof swimming enclosure at Port Lincoln in the late 1970s and 2021. I’m not in either shot. I swam here regularly in 1978-80 and always thought that shark net was dodgy. I’m not sure whether or not the swimmers shown in the old enclosure were being chased or taken by a shark at the time.

Hang gliders soaring the bowl at Nautilus Beach in the late 1970s

I mentioned to a couple of hang gliding friends that the north-facing bowl behind Nautilus Beach at Thistle Island looked ideal for hang gliding. They were keen to give it a go, so I spoke to Theo about it. I anticipated he might take the gliders over on his sizeable barge. But he offered to take them over on his aeroplane! The following photos of mine tell the rest of the story.

Theo Modra tying hang gliders on to the side of his Cessna 170. Chris Cowley and Larry Jones, hang glider pilots, were assisting.

Perfectly secure. Who needs roof racks or a trailer?

Theo flew the hang gliders to the island, and I flew the two pilots there in a Cessna 172. We both landed on the interesting airstrip directly behind Whalers Bay beach. I remember asking Theo how old AMO flew with the hang gliders strapped on. He replied that it pulled a bit to the left, but flew fine.

This photo was taken from the Cessna 172 I was flying when I took the hang glider pilots to the island. On the horizon is Wedge Island. In the foreground is Nautilus Beach and the symmetrical and smooth sloping bowl of the island rising from it. The relatively light wind this day was blowing directly on to this beach and the bowl, creating rising air in which the hang gliders could easily soar and stay aloft at will.

On another occasion when a strong wind was blowing straight on to this bowl, I flew a lightly loaded Cessna 172 directly over the bowl into the rising air, and was able to maintain good airspeed (75knots or so, but sometimes more) and height (well above the height of the island at the bowl) with the engine set to idle RPM. I could do a gentle turn at either end of the bowl in a large figure eight pattern without needing to use power, just as a hang glider or a wedge-tailed eagle would do. I bought my first hang glider while in Port Lincoln and learned to fly it on the west coast at places such as Coffin Bay sand dunes, Silly Point, Mt Greenly, Mt Greenly coastal cliffs and Mt Dutton. I never got to soar Thistle Island bowl in my hang glider, but doing it in an aeroplane weighing around 800kgs wasn’t a bad second.

Larry soaring over the bowl at Nautilus Beach. Chris did the same in his hang glider. The surface of the sea indicates that the winds were light. But the lift over the bowl was smooth and more than enough to maintain good height in a hang glider. As far as I know this was the first occasion a hang glider flew this site. It is possible that no hang glider has flown there since. I’d be interested to know if this is the case.

The wild Southern Ocean coast of the Island

I believe this remarkable feature is called Heart Rock. Phil (another guest on the island helping Ian celebrate his birthday) and Ian, being the adventurous souls they are, were discussing doing a lap of this rock in a boat to see if there were many fish there, in the right conditions of course.

Below

In the cliffs below Fossil Point is a large cave. The round honeycomb rock is the result of erosion and the action of water in the limestone cave. It used to be firmly connected to a narrow stand of rock on the cave floor but appears to have been dislodged somehow.

Next stop Antarctica!

Phil providing a scale reference for the size of this large sea-eroded cave. This is the ‘big ocean’ side of the island (the Southern Ocean).

The southern shores of Thistle Island are geologically interesting in that there is a layer of hard black rock rising from the sea upon which sits the softer-looking limestone (sedimentary) cliffs. The two distinct layers are quite marked. (I have already exceeded the limits of my near zero knowledge of geology so will leave it at that).

Elephant Rock.

L: Lizzie in June 2021. R: Lizzie in the late 1970s.

IOJ taking photos of the rocky inlet beside Elephant Rock. There was a bit of swell about, even though it was sunny without much wind.

The amount and rate of flow of white water surging in and over the channels between the rocks with every large set of waves was an awesome sight up close.

Water flowed into this almost completely enclosed pool through a narrow crevasse resulting in dramatically rising and falling water levels.

The crevasse.

It would be a wild swim.

Sunset on the southern side of the island in calmer conditions.

Cleopatra’s Pool

Not far from Fossil Point and the coastal cave shown in earlier photos is a narrow but quite lengthy enclosed pool in the rock shelf which holds about 2m of clear water. On low tides and low swell the level of the surface of the water in this pool is higher than the water level in the ocean and in the nearby channel which is fully open to the sea. They are the conditions in which it is a good spot for a swim.

This pool is known as Cleopatra’s Pool.

Cleopatra’s Pool is the narrow channel of aqua water with a bit of foam on the surface, between the higher rocks on the left and the dark lower rock ledge in centre frame. Even though the white water in the channel to the right is flowing in and out freely, this photo was taken between sets of waves, which gave the water in Cleopatra’s Pool time to settle and become perfectly clear.

A close up of the southern end of Cleopatra’s Pool, suitable for swimming in the right conditions.

A wider shot of the deep end of Cleopatra’s Pool.

Flashback to the late 1970s: me having a dip in Cleopatra’s pool. My friend Kym Harris swam with me on this day, and Kym’s wife and Liz were sitting on the higher rocks beside the pool. Not long after this photo was taken a solitary and unexpected big wave arrived and completely covered the pool and surrounding rocks with a lot of fast flowing white water. Kym and I dived at the last moment and grabbed hold of rocks on the bottom of the pool. We were swirled around a bit in the current then the white water retreated, we surfaced and the water in the pool quickly returned to its calm state. I recall vividly my concern at the time that we would be flushed out of Cleopatra’s Pool into the fast flowing water in the adjacent crevasse then into the ocean. Even though we weren’t, we left the pool and joined our partners who had scrambled up to higher ground when they saw the wave coming. Not sure what was going through my mind when I decided to swim at that location on that day – clearly not enough.

These comparative shots were taken (only moments apart) from slightly different angles but both show the location of Cleopatra’s Pool. The dark rock shelf immediately to the right of the pool (visible in the left hand photo) is completely under fast flowing white water in the other photo. In such conditions, clearly not a good spot for a swim.

Video of Cleopatra’s Pool disappearing under white water from sizeable breaking waves.

The Pearson wallaby, a goanna, a blue-ringed octopus, an unusual crab & seals

The Pearson Island rock-wallaby (a sub-species of the black-footed rock-wallaby) was separated from its mainland ancestors on Pearson Island (in the Great Australian Bight off the west coast of Eyre Peninsula) by sea-level rise around 10,500 years ago. In 1974 and 1975 groups of Pearson Island rock-wallabies were transferred to Thistle Island and Wedge Island respectively. Current populations number in the hundreds on both islands. Pearson Island was named by Matthew Flinders during his circumnavigation of Australia in 1802. Wikipedia was the source of this information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearson_Island

We saw more than a few wallaby carcasses providing food for various birds (including raptors) on Thistle Island during our stay.

Goanna feeding on a wallaby carcass. On two separate occasions we saw two very large adult wedge-tailed eagles feeding on this carcass. Seems that in the carrion dining pecking order the goanna was next in line.

Late 1970s photo which I took during a stay on Thistle Island. This is the small (that is a thong sole it’s lying on) but deadly blue-ringed octopus, which I found on Whalers Bay beach. They have a beak and their venom is created in their salivary glands. Death of an adult human victim can result from a bite within 30 minutes. While the bite can be deadly, such bites are very rare.

A crab species I have never seen before (and cannot identify) on a rock shelf in the intertidal zone. This one came out when Ian was cleaning his catch of squid nearby.

Seals on the rocky point at the eastern end of Whalers Bay. This shot was taken from the cliffs above in very low light with a telephoto lens. The seal photos below were taken on another day from the rock shelf, in much closer proximity to the seals.

Raptors on Thistle Island

Eastern Osprey

I will repeat what I wrote about the osprey in the immediately preceding blog post, ‘Flinders Ranges and the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia’ for those who have not read that blog post.

The eastern osprey is a strong and confident flyer. This raptor is a hawk which frequents coastal areas and large bodies of water. The osprey can be found right around the Australian coast, but is scarce in certain southern areas. It feeds mostly on fish which it catches by first soaring or hovering to locate its prey, then diving on a shallow trajectory hitting the water feet first to take the fish in its powerful talons. It does not dive underwater for fish like a cormorant or Australasian gannet. The osprey is smaller than the white-bellied sea-eagle, with some similarities but also notable differences (such as the speckled brown on its breast, and its marked dark brown eye-stripe).

Pizzey and Knight in the ninth edition of ‘The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia’ (published in 2012) state (at p.150): “…now rare or absent far s. NSW, Vic, Tas, Bass Strait and far se SE, though breeds Yorke and Eyre Pens and Kangaroo Is (SA)….” (emphasis added). Ospreys are classified as uncommon and endangered in South Australia. There are only 40-50 surviving osprey breeding pairs in South Australia.

This osprey nest is on the eastern end of Thistle Island. There is an interesting article on this nest in an ABC News article dated 11 May 2020: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-12/wild-osprey-raptor-eagle-breeding-island-video-surveillance-nest/12235164

The tripod has a camera providing live video feed of the nest. To my uneducated eye it appears entirely intrusive, but I’m no ornithologist. I saw individual osprey as well as pairs flying to and from this nest, and appearing to tolerate it well. As a pilot, it seems to me the tripod obstructs a direct approach to the nest from at least one direction.

Osprey breed in previously built nests, and return to them year after year and generation after generation. This nest is about 1.5ms tall, and sits on a rocky outcrop. Theo Modra who ran sheep on the island from 1962 to the late 1980s has been quoted as expressing the view that this nest could predate the exploration of the area by Matthew Flinders in 1802. (See the ABC article referred to above). By implication that statement confirms that the nest is at least 60 years old. It also raises the possibility that it could be over 200 years old.

This complex nest structure is near Heart Rock on a steep cliff on the eastern side of the island. It appears that this could well be an osprey nest, but I have not been able to confirm this.

White-bellied sea-eagle

I had never seen a sea-eagle before my recent visit to Thistle Island. I saw them every day while on the island.

A favourite photo of mine. It’s a juvenile white-bellied sea-eagle soaring coastal lift in the golden light of the setting sun. The wedge-tailed eagle is the only Australian raptor larger than the white-bellied sea-eagle.

Adult white-bellied sea-eagle soaring over the ocean near Thistle Island coast.

Soaring in its element with the blue sky and clouds above and the ocean below. Those are big wings.

White-bellied sea-eagle hunting over the ocean close to shore in Whalers Bay. They catch fish by descending in a shallow dive and hitting the water feet first to grab the fish in their strong talons.

This dead tree is in the middle of the dunes on the Whalers Bay beach. This photo was taken from the front yard of the house a couple of blocks west of of Ian’s house (with a telephoto lens) after a bit of slow and quiet stalking. Ian and other locals on the island told me eagles frequently sit in this tree. A resident on the island told me she has seen an adult sea-eagle land there carrying a small dead wallaby, which it placed on a branch of the tree.

Wedge-tailed eagle

As if I hadn’t had my fill of raptors with the sea-eagle and the osprey! Sightings of juvenile and adult wedge-tailed eagles on the island were common. Whenever Ian and I went looking for interesting birds to photograph we found some! What a privilege to be on this island.

I hope to return some time for more patient and protracted stalking and photographing of these wonderful wild birds in their element.

Juvenile wedge-tailed eagle

Adult wedge-tailed eagle

Adult wedge-tailed eagles soaring the ridge lift in very strong northerly winds over the cliffs on Whalers Bay. The bird on the left is looking down straight at my lens pointing straight up.

Wedge-tailed eagle soaring in moderate late afternoon winds over the eastern end of the island. Wedge island on the horizon, about 25kms east of Thistle Island.

Other Birds sighted on Thistle Island

L: Three Cape Barren geese in tight formation. Photo taken late afternoon.

R: A lone pelican and an attentive audience of pied cormorants. I don’t know if it was a union meeting, a political rally or just a charismatic and articulate pelican giving a speech on a topic of his choice.

Cape Barren geese in perfect formation flying at low level late in the golden hour. They look so laid back and relaxed.

Friends on Thistle Island

L to R: Gill, me, Liz, Phil and Louise, near Cleopatra’s pool. Ian took the photo.

L to R: Louise, Gill and Liz in the back of the 4WD. Photo by Ian in the front seat facing forward with the camera over his shoulder facing backwards.

IOJ doing what he does so well. That’s a (long and heavy) Nikkor 800mm prime telephoto lens without a tripod or monopod which Ian is wielding with sufficient ease to capture beautiful shots of birds in flight in the fading light.

Something else IOJ does well – improvisation. No roof racks? No trailer? No problem. This was the start of the very successful squid mission. The drive to the beach and back was also without incident.

Visiting Thistle Island with friends in the late 1970s

L to R: Chris, Scottie, Wendy, Jeanette, Kym and Zoe, Crispian and Jan. Faithful Cherokee Six VH-PBG doing the job yet again.

Postscript

At the foot of this post are three links to related blog posts of mine. One is titled ‘Bush Flying in South Australia in the 1970s’. After some general reminiscing about a few of my bush flying experiences there is a sub-heading: ‘The 11 June 1978 Flight – a Memorable Flying Lesson’. Under that heading is my account of a flight from Victor Harbour to Pt Lincoln in a four seater light aircraft with Liz beside me, and two friends in the back seats nursing their babe in arms. The sector from overhead Thistle Island to Pt Lincoln was the memorable part. Contrary to my plan for the flight, the Thistle Island to Pt Lincoln leg was conducted at very low level over the sea after dark in a heavy thunderstorm, gale force winds and driving rain. Visibility was very poor. The search and rescue authority had declared an ‘uncertainty phase’ on our flight (the first of the three ICAO emergency phases: uncertainty, alert and distress). We eventually landed safely. Flying this same 28 nautical mile leg on our recent two ferry flights between Thistle Island and Pt Lincoln, in perfect weather, brought back strong memories of that memorable flight of almost 43 years ago.

Flinders Ranges and the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

Kanyaka Station Ruins on Kanyaka Creek

In the South Flinders Ranges about 25 kms south west of Hawker in late 1851, Hugh Proby, the well-educated and wealthy young son of an Irish Earl secured land for a cattle run. He was the first to take up and stock Kanyaka station. Proby had arrived in Australia in May 1851. In early 1852 he secured further runs. He expanded his holdings and cattle numbers quickly and decided to build huts for his workers near an existing hut on the banks of the Kanyaka Creek, close to a permanent water hole. Tragically he died in August 1852 when a thunderstorm caused cattle to stampede, and Proby and an aboriginal stockman rode out to see if they could hold the mob. While crossing the flooded and fast flowing waters of Willochra Creek, Proby was swept from his horse and drowned. Those who took over Kanyaka after Proby changed from running cattle to sheep and built a substantial number of buildings of which only the ruins shown below remain. In 1864 (the best season ever on Kanyaka) 40,000 sheep were shorn and the place employed scores of musterers, shearers, wool classers, packers and teamsters. I acknowledge the Flinders Ranges Research website as the source of this historical information: https://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/kanyaka.htm

Kanyaka Creek bed

Kanyaka ruins

Puncture-proof transport

Eyre Peninsula

With a couple of days up our sleeve before we were due in Pt Lincoln, we headed without delay from the Flinders Ranges across the top of the two gulfs then across the top of the Eyre Peninsula to Streaky Bay for a night. The following day we ambled down the west coast towards Pt Lincoln taking as many turnoffs to wild beaches and cliff vantage points as time and road conditions permitted.

Cape Bauer, north of Streaky Bay. Cold front approaching which delivered very heavy showers about ten minutes after this photo was taken. .

Big swell and rough seas associated with the passage of the cold front combined with strong onshore winds pushed huge amounts of ocean water into the caves and their associated labyrinth of cavities and holes, some of which were connected to the surface of the cliff tops. Hence the water spouts shown. There was also a loud rising and falling sound of air being forced out these narrow apertures each time a large set of waves hit the cliffs below. They are called the whistling rocks.

Granites surf break south of Streaky Bay on the Westall scenic loop. Even in these heavy seas and strong wind conditions the deep channel between the areas of breaking waves is obvious. The rip in this channel is probably used by surfers to paddle out to the surfable waves in the right conditions.

Strong onshore conditions and sizeable swell on the bay at Sheringa Beach. This is another popular surfing location. The extensive areas of white water indicate that the bay is littered with reefs making it hazardous for boats. I subsequently spoke to a professional fisherman from Pt Lincoln who had set cray pots in the area over the years. He said the bay was full of cray because many preferred to set their pots elsewhere to avoid the hazardous reefs in this bay.

Sheringa beach is around 4kms long and these active sand dunes extend 1 to 2kms inland from the foredunes on the beach.

An eastern osprey flying in very windy conditions in lift off the cliffs on the points surrounding the bay at Sheringa.

The osprey is a strong and confident flyer. This raptor is a hawk which frequents coastal areas and large bodies of water. The osprey can be found right around the Australian coast, but is scarce in certain southern areas. It feeds mostly on fish which it catches by first soaring or hovering to locate its prey, then diving on a shallow trajectory hitting the water feet first to take the fish in its powerful talons. It does not dive underwater for fish like a cormorant or Australasian gannet. The osprey is smaller than the white-bellied sea-eagle, with some similarities but also notable differences (such as the speckled brown on its breast, and its marked dark brown eye-stripe).

Pizzey and Knight in the ninth edition of ‘The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia’ (published in 2012) state (at p.150): “…now rare or absent far s. NSW, Vic, Tas, Bass Strait and far se SE, though breeds Yorke and Eyre Pens and Kangaroo Is (SA)….” (emphasis added). Ospreys are classified as uncommon and endangered in South Australia. There are only 40-50 surviving osprey breeding pairs in South Australia.

Emus on Eyre Peninsula. We drove past this paddock, spotted the mob of emus and pulled up to take a photo. I have had previous encounters with emus. Unlike my usual method of stalking birds to take a photo, which involves moving slowly and using cover of bushes etc where possible, I walked strraight up to the fence and started waving my arms. Prior to doing this the emus were heading away from me. But as I have previously experienced, a few curious birds saw me waving and turned around and started walking towards me, with the rest soon following. Their curiosity can be relied upon. When I stopped waving to take a few photos they slowed down, then lost interest.

Wedge-tailed Eagles in the Flinders Ranges

Adult wedge-tailed eagle between Quorn and Hawker in the South Flinders Ranges.

The call of the wild. This photo and the following three shots (of the same bird) were taken between Hawker and Wilpena in the Flinders Ranges. What a powerful, majestic and beautiful bird.

Those talons! A large wedge-tailed eagle can carry a small wallaby or roo in flight.

This late afternoon shot was taken with the 600mm telephoto lens at full stretch of a bird I stopped to photograph, which flew off before I could get a closer shot.

Hawker to Blinman in the North Flinders Ranges

All these photos were taken on a road trip from Apollo Bay to Port Lincoln and back, with a deviation to the Flinders Ranges on the way there and again on the way back. This shows the South Flinders Ranges in fine weather on the first visit, not far north of Quorn.

When we visited the Flinders Ranges again on our return from Pt Lincoln, we woke in Hawker to rain and dark clouds. These ominous skies brought thunder and lightning and heavy localised rain. Our plan to take the Moralana scenic drive (a dirt road) was abandoned on the advice of experienced locals. There had been enough rain overnight to turn such clay roads into quagmires with mud that can pack wheel arches. So we headed north on the bitumen to Blinman, with a plan to drive on the dirt through the Parachilna Gorge if there had been less rain in that area (which turned out to be the case).

A perfect backdrop to highlight the vivid colours of the North Flinders Ranges.

Rain falling over Wilpena Pound.

As we drove further north past Wilpena, the cloud lightened but the cloud to the south (behind the car in this photo) remained very dark.

The rain showers became fewer and further apart, but were still heavy enough in places to reduce visibility. .

As we commenced the climb out of the valley to the higher ground as we approached Blinman (the town with the highest elevation in South Australia) the skies began to clear.

On driving in to Blinman this local wasn’t in a hurry to get out of our way.

Parachilna Gorge – Blinman to Parachilna

This is the east-west dirt road just out of Blinman which winds down through the Parachilna Gorge (with many creek crossings on the way down) to the flat country west of the North Flinders Ranges where it connects with the north-south Outback Highway south of Leigh Creek. This dirt road is impassable after heavy rain due to the deep and fast flowing water over the many creek crossings.

This rain was pushing up from the south, but had yet to reach the Gorge. The road including the creek crossings had obviously been recently graded, and was in better condition than I have ever seen it.

As on previous rides down the Parachilna Gorge, there were quite a few very healthy looking wild goats who seem to thrive in this this rough and steep country. This colourful female goat was well aware of my presence, and didn’t break into anything faster than a slow walk. Her kid, who looked old enough to be feeding from sources other than its mother, kept stopping her by roughly head-butting her udder then hooking up for the easiest and best food around.

The rain from the south eventually found us before we got to the bitumen west of Parachilna Gorge and the Flinders Ranges. But it was not heavy enough to cause any problems.

Yet another picturesque dry creek bed. The light coloured stones around the solitary gum tree mark the creek bed.

Given that creek flooding occurs every year, how do the seed and sapling of a tree such as this ever get a secure toehold on the loose soil and tumbling rocks and debris in the creek bed for a long enough period to grow to full size?

With every 100m down the Gorge, the creek bed crossings become wider. On the far right the edge of the graded road can be seen. Of significance is the green tinge in the creek bed. There was substantial rain in the area a week or more before this photo was taken. I have never seen grass shoots between the rocks in these dry creek beds before.

The rain got heavier, and the road got wetter. The GPS in the car provided misleading information as to the condition of this recently graded and excellent dirt road.

Once on the flat country west of the ranges it remained cloudy, but the hills remained under thick and low cloud cover.

Gaps such as this gap in the hills showing a narrow area of lower terrain beneath the uniform cloud base, is sometimes referred to by pilots of light aircraft as a ‘sucker gap’. It might seem to offer a way through the mountains, but the reality is that as soon as you flew through the gap you would be facing in rapid succession rising terrain then cloud with probably insufficient room to do a 180° turn back to the flat country and good visibility. Disaster is the most probable outcome of this scenario.

South Flinders Ranges with thick cloud lying over the ridges and peaks. On the far right you can see to the south where the cloud is clearing and the skies are clearer.

Mid-north around Burra, South Australia

This was the result of yet another stop to photograph eagles, where they got airborne and headed off before I could get the cover off the lens. As often happens, they flew off at low level. And as I have seen on more than one occasion their chosen altitude and route can take them (probably inadvertently) through territory claimed by lesser birds. Imprudently the territory protector often puts on a very energetic performance to let the eagles know they are not welcome. I think the eagles get the message but just don’t care. The small bird in the photo (a corvid of some description, possibly a crow) was squawking loudly and engaging in wild aerobatics at close quarters to the higher of the two eagles. When you are an adult wedge-tailed eagle, with a wingspan anything up to 2.8m and you weigh up to 4.5kgs, you can afford to treat such defensive attacks as below your threshold of concern. That is exactly what these eagles did.

Broadly speaking we were following a trough across the SA/Vic border as we drove back towards Apollo Bay. This is the trough which brought the rain and thunderstorms to the Flinders Ranges when we were there. There was still a lot of very unstable air associated with the trough as indicated by the extent of development of this massive cumulus cloud, well on its way to becoming a cumulonimbus cloud. A great spectacle from a distance where the whole cloud can be seen.

As we got closer to the trough and its clouds, the setting sun found a small gap in the clouds through which to fleetingly bathe this stubble paddock in gold. The hills beneath the dark cloud were receiving very heavy rain.

We spent our last night of this road trip at Swan Hill after dropping in at Wentworth NSW to say hello to our friends Caroline and Tim who are paddling a kayak from Lake Hume to the mouth of the Murray river. When we saw them they had about 1500kms under the belt and 850kms to go. They were in great shape. An epic paddle.

Photos taken by Tim and Caroline of overnight stops earlier in the trip.

A blog post on the Thistle Island part of this road trip will be published soon.

Motorbike Tour of the Flinders Ranges, South Australia

I did this ride solo on my BMW R1200 GS motorbike. I’ve owned it since new (2008). The bike had its 230,000km routine service just before this ride. The engine is original and has never been overhauled. It performs as it did when new. But a thorough wash and polish no longer brings it up like new.

I rode daily for nine days and covered 3,385kms. For perspective, this is 348kms more than the road distance from Adelaide to Darwin.

The first day was my longest, when I rode 699kms from Apollo Bay to Murray Bridge in South Australia.

I started and finished at Apollo Bay on the west coast of Victoria.

My route was:

Apollo Bay – Ararat – Stawell – Horsham – Bordertown – Murray Bridge – Clare – Orroroo – Hawker – Blinman – Parachilna – Copley – Arkaroola Village – Leigh Creek – Hawker – Orroroo – Peterborough – Burra – Birdwood – Woodside – Strathalbyn – Victor Harbor (two nights) – Milang – Wellington (ferry crossing of the Murray River) – Keith – Naracoorte – Apsley – Naracoorte – Mount Gambier – Nelson – Portland – Warrnambool – Peterborough – Port Campbell – Apollo Bay (bold indicates overnight stay)

I arrived back in Apollo Bay an hour or so before sunset on Friday 23 April 2021.

The rich rolling plains of the Victorian western district. The Grampians are visible on the horizon. I rode to the Flinders on a pretty direct track, the first day taking me through Horsham and Bordertown to Murray Bridge. From there I headed north to Hawker and the Flinders Ranges.
Curious detour from the highway west of Horsham via some dirt roads, and some dirt that was barely even a road.

Murray Bridge to Blinman

I left Murray Bridge before dawn, heading north to Hawker and the Flinders Ranges. Cloud almost prevented me seeing the sunrise.
My route took me through the Adelaide hills well east of suburban Adelaide. There was low cloud and some fog over the higher hills. Reminders of Hans Heysen’s paintings were around every corner.
This layer of stratus over the Adelaide hills was very thin. Had I been in a light aircraft I could’ve overflown this area in clear blue skies at 1000′ feet or so above terrain.
An iconic sight in rural South Australia. This sandstone ruin was well north of Adelaide, not far south of Hawker. A couple of paddocks on from this location there was a substantial but temporary settlement (buildings, containers, vehicles etc) established in a stubble paddock on gently rolling country. Apparently it was the accommodation for crews from the BBC and Stan while they were making a film in the area. On my return trip the paddock was empty again.
Heading north from Hawker into the northern Flinders Ranges. Not in the Otway Ranges any more.
Completely overcast skies are not the norm in this area between Hawker and Wilpena Pound. But there were flash floods here in January this year. This cloud was brought about by a trough passing over the lower part of the state.
Looking south from higher country north of Wilpena Pound. Brief but heavy localised rainshowers fell late in the afternoon.
Blinman, the highest town in South Australia. My GS was checked out by the well known corrugated iron kangaroo on duty in front of the bakery.
The bathroom basin in the Blinman motel. The red sign says: “Do not drink ther (sic) water. Use the box water provided.”
The bore water from the taps was hard but I’ve showered in worse bore water in other parts of rural South Australia.
Behind the motel were a couple of rounded hilltops which were unexceptional until the final moments of the sunset when a narrow gap in the clouds suddenly and fleetingly turned them molten red.
Behind the Blinman motel.
L: Before dawn. R: Same scene at sunset
(Move the circular slider left and right to see the two pictures separately)
Behind the Blinman motel.
L: Before dawn. R: Same scene at sunset

Blinman to Copley via Parachilna Gorge

I left Blinman in still cold air and low light before sunrise. At this point the sunlight had reached the nearby hilltops but was not yet warming my back.
Then suddenly, as if a switch had been flicked, the sun was warming my back. Absolutely everything had a long shadow, even the stones on the road.
About to start my descent through Parachilna Gorge to the dry flatlands to the west. I saw some very healthy wild goats climbing rocks beside this road, including a robust looking shiny black billy goat, with white markings and big horns. There were a few other goats and kids with him. Wild goats seem to have road sense – I have seen plenty on previous rides and have never had one bolt across the road in front of me. Kangaroos, wallabies, emus, cattle and sheep on the other hand seem to lack road sense. On this trip I had moments with all of these creatures except cattle, and one moment with a deer, when I had to brake or steer to reduce risk. None of these were near misses though. The only near miss was with a rabbit sitting still in the middle of the road. My crash bar must have passed his ears with only mms to spare.
As I descended through Parachilna Gorge, I kept finding chilly gullies still in the shade. There were many creek bed crossings, both smaller and larger than this one.
The sun eventually catching up with me as I rode west following the gorge down to the flat country. (In the previous similar photo, the sun was not quite over the ridge).
These magnificent gum trees growing in the creek beds are a sight to see and a mystery. These creeks become deep raging torrents when flooded. Assuming such events are at least annual, how does a young gum tree sapling hold its position in the rocky and sandy soil of the creek beds when water and sizeable natural debris are flooding over it for days or longer?
It is not difficult to see how established gum trees such as this one are secure against all that floodwater can throw at it.
The road between the western edge of Parchilna gorge and the settlement of Parachilna to the west. The curves ended very abruptly. The land is flat like this all the way to Lake Torrens out to the west.

Copley to Arkaroola

Encouraging sign at the start of the dirt as I headed east from Copley.
Off the flatlands to the west of the Flinders, and eastward into the hills and gorges. This part of the road was in great condition.
Not high on the list of things I hoped to see as I rode on this remote dirt road deep in the northern Flinders Ranges en route to Arkaroola.
The triangular red flashing warning light directly under the tacho together with the symbol beside the N in the larger display indicates that the flashing tyre pressure (27 in this case) is below permitted tolerance. The flashing 27 is the reading from the rear tyre internal pressure sensor. It should have been at 42psi, but the air escaped relatively quickly. I had until about 20psi to keep riding slowly to find a suitable spot to fix the tyre. The early warning was most useful for this reason. 36psi is the correct pressure in the front tyre.
The culprit – fencing wire. Other punctures I have had over the years have been harder to find.
Painless extraction.
Perfect location for roadside repairs. Only one vehicle went past just after I parked here. It was going at a fair speed with a lot of dust. I doubt the driver saw me. Didn’t see another vehicle between then and my arrival at Arkaroola.
While I had ridden from Apollo Bay to the site of the puncture with my tyre pressures 36 front and 42 rear (psi), after fixing the puncture I decided to lower them both to 25psi. This lower pressure gives far better traction and control on gravel. At 36 and 42 on gravel roads such as these the bike slides around quite a bit. At 25psi front and back it is much more stable and feels as though it has a much more solid grip on the road. I hadn’t reduced the pressure earlier as the road was in reasonable condition and I didn’t consider it necessary. Even though the bike was moving around a bit it was tolerable and safe. But having done it, the feeling of stability and control was substantially increased. I should have done it on leaving the bitumen as I usually do. My total distance on dirt roads on the entire trip was around 300kms.

The red marker shows the exact location of my roadside puncture repairs. The Spot satellite messenger (the orange device on the left) created this location marker on a satellite image of the area.

On the eastern side of the northern Flinders Ranges, heading out of the hilly gorge country into gently undulating country.
Arkaroola reception building.
Sunset at Arkaroola.
It had been a dusty day. (Photo taken inside my motel room at Arkaroola).
This was taken only a short walk from my motel room at Arkaroola just after the moon had set. The air is wonderfully clear this far inland in good weather. I carted my tripod on the back of the motorbike all this way to allow me to take a few photos such as these in the beautifully clear night air in the ranges surrounded by desert. I’m glad I did.
This image and the following shots of the Milky Way were taken a km or so down the exit track from Arkaroola on the eastern side the settlement. I wanted to get completely away from any artificial lighting. I didn’t have to walk far to achieve this.

Arkaroola to Peterborough via Copley

I headed south from Arkaroola parallel to this mountain range on my left.
Still heading south.
The mighty GS beneath this solitary overachieving tree (at least in this neighbourhood) as I turned west to ride through the gorge country to Copley.
That left turn ahead leads down to one of many dry creek beds full of stones. The technique which seemed to give the best ride through these stone filled creek beds was to stand on the pegs, put my weight back a bit and give it a squirt of power through the loose stones. The bike would wriggle around a bit (yaw left and right for any pilots reading this) in the gravel, but with the power on and the front wheel slightly unweighted it would track straight to the more stable dirt road on the other side.
Once I returned to Copley, I was on the bitumen heading south to Hawker. I dropped in to a garage at Leigh Creek just south of Copley and restored the tyres to highway pressures (36 and 42psi front and back respectively). The temporary plug that fixed the puncture was holding well. It is said that a plug repair is only good to get you to the nearest garage or tyre supplied. I decided to see how far I could get with the repaired tyre. That highway intersects with this dirt road going off to the left (the east). This is the road to Parachilna Gorge and Blinman. The dip in the range of mountains where the gorge has carved its path can be seen in this photo.
I spent a night in a motel at Peterborough on my way to Victor Harbor. Believe it or not, when I asked at reception about parking options for the bike I was told to put it on the path right outside my door. My sort of motel.

Peterborough to Victor Harbor and the Fleurieu Peninsula

Heading south from Peterborough through the mid north of the Flinders Ranges, I was looking for some sandstone ruins on the right side of the highway so I could take a photo of it well lit by the early morning sun shining from behind me. Had to settle for what was on offer.
Heading south through the Adelaide hills en route to Victor Harbor. There were many similarly impressive avenues of gum trees.

My hosts for two nights, Barb and Colin Francis, who provided me with luxury accommodation and world class hospitality at their home in Victor Harbor. Barb and Col and Liz and I have done some extended motorbike riding together in the Victorian high country. We know them from our days in Port Lincoln in the late 1970s, when Liz nursed at the local hospital with Barb. Col owns a couple of BMW motorbikes, among numerous other vehicles. His tourer is the BMW R1200 RT. Col and I did a relaxing tour of the SW Fleurieu Peninsula on the bikes shown, including a visit to Cape Jervis.

I should also mention the other Francis family member in the photo on the left. Barb is holding Rose (pronounced as in the drink, not the flower) the affable chook. Rose and her companions live in the lap of luxury in quarters (with more than adequate indoor and outdoor living and recreation areas) built by Barb and Colin. They produce eggs (which I had for breakfast and which were delicious), and provide company of sorts. But on balance, I think these chooks came out clear winners in the deal with their life of leisure and luxury fully catered for in return for a few eggs a day which I’m guessing they were going to lay anyway. I suppose there is also the occasional less than onerous social obligation such as this photo shoot, but I don’t think that changes my assessment. As the photo shows, enthusiastic and intelligent social engagement and involvement is neither required nor provided.

Colin took me on this road less travelled on our tour of the lower Fleurieu Peninsula (see the gallery of three photos immediately following), which included the track with this vista of Cape Jervis. The land on the horizon is Kangaroo Island and the water in between is Backstairs passage.

While in Victor Harbour, my puncture repair eventually started to leak. 700kms on the repaired tyre was quite acceptable. I had a new tyre fitted in Victor Harbour.

Fleurieu Peninsula to Apsley, Victoria

Crossing the Murray River at Wellington.

At next to no notice I contacted my friend Ian to see if he was on a flying mission (a regular occurrence) or, improbably as I thought, on his farm east of Naracoorte. Turns out he was home and he kindly extended great hospitality for an overnight on the farm. Ian’s claims to fame beyond aviation and photography are too numerous to mention. But I will note two: (1) at the age of 24 he rode a Honda 50 motorcycle (50cc and top speed less than 40kph) from Adelaide to Darwin in four 15.5 hour days plus a final 15 hour day; and (2), there is cave on the Nullarbor Plain between the head of the Bight and the SA/WA border, accessible only by abseiling down from a high sheer cliff to its entrance which faces the Southern Ocean. This cave is called IOJ cave, named after Ian in honour of his voluntary services with his aircraft to exploration and mapping of cave locations in the cliffs which are visible only from sea between the head of the Bight and Eucla. This involved flying the length of that stretch of coast over the sea and below cliff top level, with high tech cameras recording the sights and other data as they flew. Ian has abseiled off the cliffs directly above the cave bearing his name, and entered the cave with the experts who were exploring, surveying and mapping the caves and tunnels penetrating inland from the cliff under the flat plains above. He is the only friend I have with a cave on the Nullarbor Plains named after him.

P.S. The Stuart Highway which connects Adelaide and Darwin was not fully sealed until February 1987. Ian’s epic ride on the Honda 50 was well before then.

This is Ian’s much loved C210 which he uses for his aerial photography business which regularly takes him to all parts of Australia. The original connection I made with Ian was through a flying instructor from the Eyre Peninsula who taught Ian to fly, and who also did all my training for my commercial pilot licence. His name was Barry Firth. He was a very good friend and flying mentor to both of us. Sadly he died 10 years ago.
The 800m (or so) private airstrip on the farm.
I do like an open fire, and I have one at Apollo Bay. But the thought of firewood in this quantity and of this quality is beyond my wildest dreams. Firewood is in plentiful supply on this farm.

There is an intermittent creek, dry when I was there, which meanders through a paddock beside the airstrip paddock. It supports an exotic array of beautiful gum trees of which these are only a small sample.

Apsley to Nelson via Piccaninnie Ponds

While South Australia is the driest state on the driest continent on earth, the south east of the state never got that memo. It seems to have more than adequate rainfall, great soil and things seem to grow very well here. Towns like Naracoorte and Mount Gambier are quite unlike Blinman and Copley.
Piccaninnie Ponds. This unprepossessing looking body of fresh water, not far from large coastal dunes and the Southern Ocean, is quite remarkable. I was drawn to it solely because of that fact, even though I had no plans to swim or snorkel here. Below the surface of this ‘pond’ is a limestone sinkhole with caverns and tunnels that extend to depths of over 130 feet, with water visibility in excess of 100 feet. I wonder how long the early settlers here looked at this little coastal pond before realising what was beneath the surface?
It is a good principle of motorcycling not to ride your motorbike up every interesting looking little track. I believe this narrow track leading to the ocean but consisting entirely of sand would have ended in tears, a lot of sweating and possibly pulled muscles. Damage to the bike would be highly unlikely though.
The Glenelg River mouth at Nelson (not far from the S.A. border).

The Spot Satellite Messenger showing three greens, which indicates that my message identifying my location for the night has been sent to my family. They each receive an email with information including a satellite photo showing my position. The blue dot with the red marker is where the motorbike was in the picture on the left when I activated the Spot device. The Spot Messenger will work anywhere on the face of the earth. It uses satellites, not telephone networks.

Narrow road between Nelson and the river mouth. I stayed too long enjoying the sunset over the estuary. This track had a virtual guard of honour of wallabies, all on duty for the night shift as I rode back into town. The GS did not leave the factory with headlights of this quality. In fact the headlights it was delivered with when new, could probably have been used as safe lights in a darkroom during photo processing. But thanks to brother Noel, my bike now sports a proper set of driving lights as shown.
After riding around in the rain and dark near Nelson, I headed straight to the only pub in town for a warm up and a meal, before going to the Pinehaven motel and cottage. The publican and locals were very welcoming. I was even offered access to a shed in which to park my bike while I had a meal. But it seemed pointless for it to be undercover for 60 minutes out of 9 days (plus of course the one night at Peterborough when it was under a verandah). So I parked it in the rain on the footpath in front of the pub. The locals were either in the restaurant eating, or at the bar sorting out their footy tips and engaging in loud and convivial Friday night banter. I headed for the fire to dry off my riding jacket, and to eat some delicious local seafood. A welcome respite after a cold (and sometimes wet) day’s riding.
Back in totally familiar territory on the Victorian west coast. This is Boat Bay a few kms west of Peterborough. I did a very memorable swim here on 14 March 2015. My account of that swim is in an earlier post on this blog, titled: ‘Two Ocean Swims West of Cape Otway.’ Suffice to say that conditions were nothing like this on the occasion of that swim, when we swam most of the way to the most seaward stack in the picture.

Nelson to Apollo Bay

Port Campbell for lunch at ‘Forage on the Foreshore’. This was the view I had as I ate. There was a solid swell blown out by strong onshore winds. Only 97kms to run to Apollo Bay.
Great food at this restaurant. As usual, I had their delicious French toast, comprising the following (I quote from the menu even though I don’t understand each and every word):
Thirty-Two 80 Specialty Bakery Japanese milk loaf, caramelised bananas, Istra bacon, Schulz’s Organic Dairy quark cheese, Otway Walnuts
A casual roadside stop on a side track between Lavers Hill and Apollo Bay. The Otway Ranges has very high rainfall and does its main feature, the cool temperate rainforest, very well. Grass like this just happens and appears without bidding or effort.
Just out of idle curiosity, I wonder if these sheep in their red dusty paddock (which I photographed in the mid north of the Flinders Ranges a few days earlier) would, if shown the previous photo, believe that grass such as this even exists.
The winding curves of the Great Ocean Road through the cool temperate rainforests of the Otway Ranges, between Lavers Hill and the Johanna beach turnoff.
Back in familiar territory in the Aire River valley, 25kms or so from Apollo Bay. The bridge over the Aire River is just a dozen steps behind the bike.
I spend quite a bit of time in Apollo Bay watching weather and swell forecasts to ensure I don’t miss out on being present on the relevant dune, point or clifftop to take photos of significant swell events. It turns out that while I was enjoying day 9 of my ride, the biggest swell of the year to date hit the entire west coast. From all reports it was bigger in the morning than the afternoon when I returned. The above wave was breaking over Little Henty Reef off Hayley Point at Marengo, just south of Apollo Bay.
The surf was blown out along the beaches I could see while riding home. But apparently at Bells Beach it was memorable and rideable – well, sort of. It was reliably reported to me (first hand) that at Bells there were about 200 spectators on the cliffs at Bells and 5 surfers in the water. One young fellow ended up in hospital (broken jaw) after a big Bells wipeout on a 9′ 4″ long board connected to his ankle by a leg rope. He was rescued by jet ski, and taken a few kms east to a sheltered beach at Torquay from where he was taken to hospital by ambulance. He’ll be OK. Gutsy effort surfing at Bells at all that day. Even gutsier on a long board, and next level hanging five on these massive faces prior to the wipeout that injured him. I have seen the video of his hang five rides.
This photo and the one above it were taken just before sunset. It was generally overcast but a few sunset rays got through to put a hint of pink on the cumulus clouds over this part of Bass Strait.
This shot was taken just after the sun had set and the light was seriously dropping. Great to know that I don’t need a 3,000+km ride to see sights like this.
This was an unexpected and very fitting coda to a great ride.

Postscript

During my motorbike ride, this blog ticked over its ten thousandth visitor. WordPress defines the ‘visitors’ metric as “the number of unique users that have visited the site.” It defines the ‘views’ metric as, “when a visitor loads or reloads a page.”

This blog commenced with my first post on 24 June 2017. I have published 135 posts in total. The blog currently has 139 followers. A follower is someone who receives notice (by email or on their WordPress reader) when I publish a new post. Being an email follower is the simplest means of receiving such notice. Instructions on doing this are on the top of the right hand column of each post, when viewed on a laptop or larger screen device. It simply requires that you enter your email address in the space provided and then press ‘follow’.You will then receive an email with details of your subscription (it’s free) and an unsubscribe link.

While the majority of visitors are from Australia, overall since the blog commenced, it has been viewed by visitors from 84 different countries.

The most viewed post by a good margin (published on 27 August 2019), is “A Swim and a Walk at Cradle Mountain.” It has been the most viewed of any blog post since the blog commenced (572 views to date, and counting), and for the last year, the last quarter, the last 30 days and the last 7 days. The link to this post is:

A Swim and a Walk at Cradle Mountain

I have no explanation for the apparent popularity of this particular post.

My blog remains totally uncommercial and entirely uninfluential. I enjoy sharing some of my photos and some of my experiences and observations. I am pleased there are some out there who apparently enjoy viewing and reading the random content on my posts. I always welcome comments – statistics as to readers are so dry.

Big Swell Hits the West Coast

The forecast was for gale force onshore winds with an 8m+ swell around Pt Campbell on Sunday, peaking a few hours after midnight – and that’s what happened.

Coastal cliffs just west of Loch Ard Gorge & Mutton Bird Island

The wind at the time this was taken was blowing from the SSW at 30-44 knots according to the BoM observations. When I took this photo it was in the higher range and blew me off balance requiring a few backward steps to stay upright.
Just after dawn when the wind was strongest, the seas at all locations I visited were generating a lot of foam. The gale force wind picked it up from the waves and lifted it up and over the clifftops in sizeable foamy clumps. I tried unsuccessfully to capture a shot of the flying foam. But when editing the photos I noticed I had inadvertently caught this clump whizzing past me. The flying foam pieces looked as though someone was throwing scones up and over the cliffs. Car parks were covered in pieces of foam as if there had been a snowball fight.

Port Campbell

The Pt Campbell jetty, looking out to sea. Any ocean swimmer who has done the annual ocean swimming race at Pt Campbell will know that conditions like this at the seaward turn buoy would be a daunting sight.
This photo was taken pretty early in the day. I arrived at Loch Ard Gorge at sunrise just after low tide. This line of kelp and seaweed on the nature strip at Pt Campbell is stark evidence that I had clearly missed the main show in the dark early hours of the day. Even if only momentarily, at some point, this was the high water mark in the wild conditions after midnight! This bay faces south west, the exact direction the wind was coming from at that time. Later in the morning the wind eased slightly and backed around to the south.
I have never seen Pt Campbell beach sand lifted by waves on to the elevated nature strip as shown.

Views from Curdies River mouth at Peterborough

This photo was taken looking east from the lookout in the middle of Peterborough, which overlooks Curdies River mouth and the exposed rocky reefs just offshore which have claimed more than one sailing ship in the nineteenth century. The larger of the two points shown is Point Hesse (which is the point with London Bridge on its western side).

View from remote west coast cliffs

There is no maintained or marked path to this west coast location. After bush bashing for a short distance to one of my favourite vantage points on this part of the coast, a squall line moved in with very strong gusty winds and driving rain. Luckily I was in fully waterproof gear. The short duration storm was so wet and wild that sitting in the lee of this bush appealed more than taking it all on the chin. As shown, my Nikon with its 150-600mm telephoto lens fitted also has fully waterproof cover. The camera stayed dry all day. I was soaked more than once, including by saltwater from spray and water blowing up and over clifftops at some locations.
With gale force onshore winds, this big surf location was blown out. But waves of significance were still marching to the cliffs over the offshore reef here, even if they were closing out as shown. The green face of this wave would have been at least four times overhead in my estimation. I readily acknowledge that surfers would call it a ‘solid 8 foot’.
The immediately preceding post on this blog discusses rips including this one near Pt Campbell. The long line of unbroken water heading from inside Pt Campbell bay and out to sea, is a deep channel. In surf of this size it is the location of a strong rip (shown by the arrow in the second of these two shots) as all that water coming ashore with the swell finds it way back out to deeper water.
The channel going out to sea from Pt Campbell bay.
The very centre of this image shows where the rip coming out to sea via the green channel finally reaches deeper water and slows down and dissipates. The area of surface turbulence as currents and wind oppose each other is clear. The water is also discoloured in the rip as sand and other material from the seabed inshore is carried seaward by the rip. It would be quite a quick trip paddling a surfboard from the beach inside the bay at Pt Campbell out to this point beyond the zone of breaking waves. As for paddling back in, surfers would have no option but to use the white water either side of the rip, with wind and waves assisting the passage back to dry land. For the record though, I didn’t see a single surfboard off car racks west of Cape Otway. Had the wind been offshore with this swell, there would’ve been some epic surfing and the day would’ve gone down in local surf lore as Big Sunday.

The Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles as viewed across wild seas. A less common perspective on these iconic sea stacks (of which there are actually 8, and counting, down).

Broken Head viewed from headland near Bakers Oven Rock

Broken Head as viewed from the adjacent headland west of it. Loch Ard Gorge and Mutton Bird Island are just to the east of this promontory. The more vivid colours in this shot are attributable to a brief appearance by the sun. For perspective, visible on the very left of the image on the headland, is a multi-strand wire fence of conventional waist height. The difference in water level ahead of and behind the wave in the foreground is a good indication of the size and power of the swell. The unbroken waves in the top right above the headland also give some idea of the size of the swell.

Mutton Bird Island, viewed from Broken Head

This is the southern tip of Mutton Bird Island, which is where the sailing ship Loch Ard was shipwrecked just before dawn on 1 June 1878. The Loch Ard was a 263 foot clipper, carrying freight, 37 crew and 17 passengers. Only two passengers survived, Tom Pearce (a crewman) and Eva Carmichael (a passenger). They were both around 18 years of age. Parts of the wreck are still visible and divers continue to visit the site. The story of the Loch Ard shipwreck is well worth reading.
Note the difference in water level ahead of and behind this wave. Duck diving under this wave would be a singular experience.

Broken Head & Survey Gorge

I took this photo while standing on Broken Head. The white spray in the foreground is rising from the gorge which feeds into Thunder Cave. The other higher curtain of spray is in the adjacent Survey Gorge.

Thunder Cave at Broken Head

The water was constantly white and turbulent as wave after wave poured untold volumes of water into this narrow gorge, with the water level rising and falling up the rough walls
At the head of the gorge, in a pattern repeated right up and down this coast, the water has created a cave by flowing in and out with great force in sea conditions such as these, thereby progressively undermining the land above it. (See the videos below).

Little Henty Reef, from Hayley Point

No big swell day would be complete without a trip to Hayley Point at Marengo, located a couple of kms from where I live. Readers of this blog will know that I have taken countless photos of big waves breaking over the reefs comprising Little Henty Reef. There are many more to come.
The wave in front has some substance. The looming peak following has more.
The nature of the reef, the seabed and the surrounding channels at Little Henty mean that waves rarely break simply in text book fashion on this Reef. I find it endlessly fascinating when the swell is up, and I spend hours on my photographer’s eyrie on the tip of Hayley Point rugged up, camera in hand. I saw a lot of waves along the coast on Sunday, but none quite like this one.

Rips and Ocean Swimmers

If you are neither a good swimmer nor an experienced ocean swimmer, or if you don’t swim with someone who is, swim between the flags on a patrolled beach, and don’t swim alone.

No swimmer ever conquers the ocean. The sea requires the utmost respect from all those who submit themselves to it. The ocean is never trying to kill you. But if you fail to respect it, you can die there.

Standing on an ocean shore estimating how far it would be to swim to some identified point offshore, frequently results in under-estimation.

Standing on an ocean shore assessing wave size and power and how rough the water is offshore, frequently results in under-estimation.

Warning: I wrote this post with ocean swimmers in mind and because I wanted to record in one place my thoughts about rips. Others are unlikely to find this post interesting.

Ocean water moves around a lot, on scales ranging from global to local. The photos and observations below are about ocean currents close to shore as they affect ocean swimmers.

Swell direction, breaking waves, tides, wind and gravity can cause small but powerful localised currents within and extending beyond the surf zone. Ocean swimmers have an interest in understanding these currents which flow from the shallows out to sea beyond the shorebreak, either directly or at an angle. Such currents, known as rips, can be a metre or so wide, and they can flow quite slowly and extend only a short distance from shore. Sometimes they can be many tens of metres wide and flow away from shore at a speed which it is not possible to swim against. Sometimes they may extend many hundreds of metres beyond shore and connect to strong tidal currents with potential to take a swimmer to the next postcode. A swimmer in a rip who takes no active steps to leave the current will typically be carried out to deeper water beyond the shorebreak where the rip will fade and end.

Whether or not a particular rip poses a threat to the safety of a particular swimmer in a particular set of conditions depends on a lot of factors: the skill and experience level of the swimmer, the level of detail of the swimmer’s knowledge of the beach where the rip is located, the size, location, direction and strength of the rip, the size and power of the swell, the direction from which the swell has come relative to the direction the beach faces, the contours of the seabed in the vicinity, the general gradient of the seabed in the area, the nature of any reefs or other relief features beneath the water, the direction and strength of the wind and the surface conditions they are creating, the presence or absence of gutters and sandbars and their distance from shore, whether the beach is long and straight or a bay bookended with points or promontories, the tidal range on the day and whether the tide is ebbing, flowing or in the slack water period (if any).

Permanent warning at the eastern end of Skenes Creek beach.

Some rips are highly transient and can appear and disappear in seconds or minutes. These typically occur at beaches with sandy seabeds. Others flow like rivers following permanent rocky channels on the seabed whenever the surf is up and water washed ashore above its natural level heads back out to sea via the nearest line of least resistance. Some rips operate only when a big set (of waves) has come through, and others operate in very small surf.

Importantly, rips are often easier to see from a vantage point on the shore than they are while swimming. But some rips can be invisible from the shore, especially in rough surface conditions such as occur in strong winds with a lot of breaking waves and chop. The photos below illustrate a variety of visible rips at ocean beaches on the west coast of Victoria. The comments under the photos point out some of the tell-tale signs of visible rips.

It is highly instructive as an exercise or when you are planning a swim, to sit on the dunes and closely observe the behaviour of the water in and near the surf zone. This is especially so if you are unfamiliar with that beach. If you watch for say 15 minutes you will see transient currents and recurring patterns. You will begin to understand that the water is telling you a lot more than you learned from your first glance. Look left and right up and down the surf zone – identify gutters, sandbars (evidenced by waves breaking a distance offshore then reforming as green unbroken waves as they pass over the deeper water of the gutter closer to shore), and places where rips have cut through sandbars to feed water back out to sea. Is there a single gutter and sandbar, or a series of gutters and sandbars extending well beyond the shore? See if you can work out which way water is flowing in the gutter/s between the shore and a sandbar (at some points on the beach, this direction can be opposite to the direction of tidal flow beyond the sandbar/s). Observe the long line of a breaking wave and note that there may be sections or gaps where the wave does not break at all (because the water is a little deeper under such a gap). The gap could well be where a rip flows out to sea. If you identify where you think there is a rip, note its position relative to landmarks on the shore to assist in your decision making once in the water.

One fact that can always be relied upon is that if there are waves breaking and water washing back and forth at the water’s edge, gravity will cause the water temporarily transported above its natural level to return to that level as soon as the force washing it ashore ceases. Even though it might not be visible, its presence can be deduced, and an educated guess may be possible as to its location. But knowing there are rips but not knowing exactly where they are, in conditions that are rough, might well be enough reason to exercise the skill every ocean swimmer should possess – making an informed decision as to when not to swim.

Any rip of substance can be detected by a swimmer in the water once they are in the rip. The water is usually murkier than the water around it (due to sand etc being picked up by the rip in the shallows and carried seaward), the texture of the surface where there is a rip differs (often in subtle ways) from the surface texture of surrounding water (because there are conflicting flow directions), and of course the swimmer will be carried away from the shore – sometimes at 90° and sometimes at a lesser angle. Because the swimmer is being carried by a moving body of water, there is no sense of a current pushing against the swimmer whose feet are not touching the seabed. The fact of heading seaward is not always immediately apparent. It is important to develop the skill of being able to quickly assess by observation whether or not a current is taking you somewhere unplanned. Lining up two objects some distance apart while treading water and observing their apparent movement (if any) is one way to do this. If this can be done in two different directions separated by 90° or at least a significant angle, a very accurate assessment of drift (either due to a rip or a tidal current) can be made.

Swimming against a strong current (assume no wind or waves for present purposes) is no harder than swimming with such a current. You will just cover a shorter distance in a given number of minutes when swimming against the current than you would if there was no current (and a longer distance when swimming with the current). Or put another way, at a constant stroke rate and stroke distance it will take you longer to swim 1000m against the current than with the current. What the current changes is the speed at which you pass over the seabed – your speed through the water stays the same whichever direction you swim. This is illustrated by the fact that if you stand in shallow water in a flowing river, you will feel the current on the upstream side of your body. But if you tread water in the same flowing river, you will not feel any current on any side of your body because you are moving with the flowing body of water.

That said, when there is a strong wind blowing across the surface of the sea, swimming against the wind will be quite a different experience to swimming with the wind behind you. It takes more effort to swim into the wind when it is creating waves and chop than it does to swim with the wind behind you, in the same direction as the wind, waves and chop.

A myth that seems to enjoy currency in some circles is that a rip in the ocean will pull you under the surface. It won’t.

While I’m debunking myths, here is another: an out and back swim of a given distance with a constant current (head current one way, following current the other way) will take no longer than the same out and back swim in nil current because the time you lose on the way out you gain on the way back. This is incorrect. The total time for the round trip swim into and then with the current will always take longer.

An essential ocean swimming skill is to maintain situational awareness at all times – don’t just swim around without regular reference to the shore and landmarks. If you do, you could find when you eventually assess your location that you have been carried hundreds of metres sideways or out to sea by a rip (and/or tidal currents). The response to becoming aware you are swimming in a current might be as simple as adding a drift angle to your swim (aim a bit left or right of where you want to go so that you track directly there) or altering course significantly to get away from the current if it is not assisting you, or making and executing a plan to return to shore.

Many of the photos below utilise a ‘photo-compare’ function. The round button in the middle with a left and right arrow allows you to use your cursor (hold it over the button and press) to slide the divider fully right (which displays the full first image) and fully left (displaying the full second image). Where the slider is used, the first photo is of ocean water with a rip, and the second is the same image with an arrow or arrows pointing out the location of the rip.

Apollo Bay

Especially in strong easterly conditions, this rip extends out from very close to the beach between the SLSC and the harbour wall to the harbour mouth and sometimes beyond. It flows out to sea parallel to the stone harbour wall. The rip is easily identified by the discolouration from the sand and by the turbulent surface appearance resulting from the current going east out to sea while the wind and waves are heading west towards the shore. In most wind and swell conditions this corner of the bay is sufficiently benign to be known by locals as Mothers’ Beach. Failure to respond to changes such as those shown in the photo has resulted in many people having an unexpected little trip out beside the harbour wall on their boogie board, surf board or while swimming. Surfers and others have often provided assistance to those who found themselves in the rip in this area.
Rips start their flow out to sea using the path of least resistance. The water heading back out to sea flows around obstructions and follows depressions or gutters or gaps in reefs or valleys in the sea floor. Large variations in seabed gradient are not required to attract such currents. This photo shows the main beach at Apollo Bay between the SLSC and the harbour wall on a very low tide. The water flow shown in the photo is coming in from the left and right via shallow gutters and flowing seawards as a single stream through a gap in the sandbar. This is great illustration of the (usually underwater) mechanisms at play in creating a rip. On a high tide there with good swell there is a gentle rip that goes out 100-150m or so at this location.
Very low tide at beach at the end of my street. The swimmer is on the sandbar and the water in the foreground is the start of a gutter. When there is surf this gutter often flows to the left and waves which break over the sandbar can reform as unbroken waves while they travel over the deeper water in the gutter.
I have included this photo because it is on a half tide with very little swell, yet the tell tale signs of water flowing back out to sea are evident along the line indicated by the arrow in the second image. The contrasting surface state of the ripples over the rip with the adjacent water is a feature which is often very visible on days of bigger swell and choppier seas. This surface ripple feature of a rip is one of the signs that is noticeable to the observant swimmer in the water. Visibility in such a rip is usually also noticeably less than in the water either side of it. When swimming parallel to the beach offshore beyond the surf zone, I often swim through such ripples and sandy water for half a dozen or more strokes where the water clears up again as I complete my crossing of the rip. This is easily recognised as the head of a rip. Encountering such a feature is mildly interesting and requires no diversion.
Easterly conditions at Apollo Bay. Wind waves and the general pushing of water into the bay by a solid easterly create a lot of water that flows back out to sea under water in and near the surf zone. It is certain that there are rips and gutters in the water shown. But in such winds (probably in the 15-20 knot range) the organised rip contrasting very visibly with adjacent water is simply not readily discernible. The green water just above the horizontal handrail on the right suggests at least a bit of a hole there, possibly part of a gutter. There would be a current roughly parallel to the beach in that water which would be felt if you waded through it. Beyond that green water the breaking waves clearly show the position of the sandbar. The water would be shallower there than in the gutter. Out beyond the sandbar where there are whitecaps but no breaking waves such as in the shallower water there would be deeper water and a tidal drift possibly a little stronger than you would find in non-easterly conditions. My guess from experience at this beach is that the tidal current beyond the sandbar would be going south (left to right in the image). The green water above the RH rail seems to be angling towards shore with the white water over the shallow sandbar also being closer to shore. Coming ashore from this sandbar would be easier where the shallow water comes closest to shore and the gutter is narrowest or non-existent. But such speculation aside, if this was a beach unknown to a swimmer, while it may be swimmable for some there are sufficient unknowns about the strength, extent and location of currents to justify deferring the swim until the next day or whenever the wind changed around to a more favourable direction.

Castle Cove

Castle Cove is a wild beach west of Cape Otway. It is located at the western end of the Glen Aire valley and is exposed totally to the weather and ocean swells from the Southern Ocean. It is not a spot for casual ocean swimming. Experienced surfers with local knowledge surf here. On this wintery day conditions were a bit wild and ragged with strong onshore winds and a solid swell. The main rip in this bay is the one shown on the left as highlighted by the straight section of the orange arrow. As shown in the photo immediately below it feeds out in a continuous line from very close to the beach on the eastern end of the beach, through and over the reefs to the outer reef and beyond. This rip is always evident in the same spot when there is surf, indicating that it flows through a permanent channel in the reef to deeper water offshore. On the right of this image, the body of green water between the inner reef (white water) and the next wider reef offshore (more whitewater and breaking waves) is interesting. I have no doubt that water from the left hand side of this deeper area feeds into the main rip identified by the ‘tributary’ arrow. The large area of green water on the right of the image just above the portion of clifftop can feed into the permanent rip on the left, but I have seen it on occasions flowing seaward to the right of the image out to the reef with the extensive white water. Swell size and wind strength and direction seem to play a role in where this water flows. Examine the different conditions in the next photo and note the different behaviour of the deeper green water on the right of the image.
Notice the deep gutter with no breaking waves directly adjacent to the beach on the right of the image.
This is a closeup of the water over a section of the permanent rip channel on the eastern side of the bay to show the qualitative difference in the surface water conditions when there is a rip flowing, as compared to the water surface either side of the rip. Note the water colour, the absence of breaking waves, the presence of small peaks and the tiny whitecaps. These are unequivocal indicators that the current there is flowing contrary to the flow of water either side of it. If you were minded to surf here on this day, such a rip would provide a convenient and easy paddle out through the surf zone.

Gibson Steps

Gibson Steps is another wild west coast beach facing the full onslaught of the Southern Ocean. It is next to the Twelve Apostles. Uneven rock reef extends hundreds of metres out to sea here, and there are solid permanent and transient rips aplenty. The orange arrow shows a channel with a rip flowing out through the surf. The yellow arrow shows the head of a rip which has reached deeper water and is dispersing. The sand carried out and the swirling currents assume a more circular shape where the reef stops heading seaward and terminates.
A narrow rip flowing through a channel near the eastern end of the beach.

The following three photos were taken in rapid succession and show a rip undergoing changes quite rapidly over a short period of time.

Out the back the rip was partially concealed by incoming surf. The channel was quite visible in closer to shore, where it clearly divided the white water.

In this relative lull between sets the rip was clearly visible as it flowed through the surf zone out the back.

The yellow arrow shows a smaller rip extending right through the surf zone to deeper water. You can see the mushrooming sandy water and isolated chop and texture near the head of the arrow, where this rip flowed into deeper water and ended.
Gibson Steps on a very different day. Offshore wind and big swell. This surfer had to paddle out through over 300m of reefs, rips and white water to get to the takeoff point for this wave.

Johanna

Johanna is another exposed west coast beach, not far west of Castle Cove. It has sand dunes on the main beach and cliffs and reefs extend from the western end of the beach. There are numerous reefs here, and pronounced strong rips and gutters. It is the alternative surf break for the Easter Bells surfing competition when there is not enough swell at Bells. The rip in this photo has the visible rip attributes referred to earlier – no breaking waves and surface texture obviously rippled as the rip flows against the direction of the water either side of it.
Closeup showing the marked texture differences in the water surface where the rip is flowing.
These small and irregular little peaks are typically formed where a rip is flowing against the direction of the surrounding currents.
This rip at the western end of the beach is going out through the surf break at an angle.
Note that the actual channel of this rip takes a right hand turn as it nears the deeper water. This was not apparent from the previous photo taken a very short time before this shot. It pays to examine the water from the shore for longer than an initial glance.
This small flow away from the shore is technically a rip. I have included it because it displays very clearly the textural differences in the water surface between a rip and adjacent water. This texture difference is a clue as to the location of a rip and is easy to see when swimming.

Marengo (Mounts Bay)

Mounts Bay, immediately south of Apollo Bay, has stronger rips, gutters, swell and shorebreak than Apollo Bay. This temporary looking sign was put up by the local council last summer after an incident in which there was a near drowning at the beach in Mounts Bay near the mouth of the Barham River. Lives would have been lost had rescuers not gone to assist the swimmers in distress. Lives have been lost at this beach in conditions that could not be described as wild or rough – the cause was rips that took weak swimmers out of their depth.

Where a river, creek or drain enters the ocean expect uneven depth of the seabed and rips and currents in the immediate vicinity.

At the southern end of Mounts Bay, Little Henty Reef lies close to shore. I have included this photo because I find the currents here more difficult to read from the shore than at other ocean beaches where I swim at regularly. The currents in this area are complex because of the following features: the shape and orientation of the reefs which are divided by deep channels, Hayleys Point nearby around which large swell flows, offshore underwater parts of the reef that are quite irregular in shape, area and depth, and variable water depths of some significance. Sometimes identifiable rips and tidal flows can be seen here, but on many occasions, strong and variable rips and tidal flows that are not visible from the shore can be present. I have encountered strong tidal currents here in conditions as shown in the photo. I treat this beach with considerable caution. I have often experienced three distinctly different currents in the short swim in conditions as shown from the shore to the closest reef. The water on left of this image is around 10 feet deep, but at the other end of the small reef the water between there and shore is over 30 feet deep. There is so much more happening here than at a beach with the standard gutter, sandbar and rip setup close to shore. I like to snorkel around this reef and take photos. To swim out to it I aim for a prominent rock in the middle of the closest reef which I line up with Cape Patton on the horizon 17kms to the north east. Close attention to these markers lets me see early and constantly what if any current I am dealing with. If they reveal that the current looks like taking me north or south of the reef before I will reach the reef and is such that even 45° or more of drift correction is not doing the job, I turn around and swim back to shore. And I do this even on a day where the water still looks calm. My guesses from the shore as to currents here are improving, but not based on what I see so much as by reference to previous swims here in similar conditions.
Just north of Little Henty Reef the shorebreak can have a bit of punch to it. This photo shows the tell tale trail of sand heading out to sea in a couple of rips. These rips are narrow, flowing quite fast, and transient. On this day they died off in the longer lulls between sets of waves. Swimming across them to water where there was not a rip would be the obvious thing to do, but care would need to be taken that the next rip was spotted in time so good choices could be made. Also, swimming north beyond the shorebreak on this beach takes you to progressively bigger waves and stronger permanent and temporary rips going some distance out to sea. Further, as the photo shows, the sandbars extend further offshore up the northern end of this curved beach, with a correspondingly wider surf zone. Frankly, I’d find somewhere else to swim in these conditions at this location.
More subtle rips just north of Little Henty Reef heading well out into deep water.

Storm Point, Smythes Creek, Sledgehammers

This small bay and point are near Storm Point, a km or so west of Marengo on the Great Ocean Walk. Small rips going out parallel and close to a rock shelf or other terrain on the edge of bay are common. The surf on this day was very small yet the rip channel on the seabed (probably more rock than sand) is clearly defined by the green water and is probably a permanent feature. If a swimmer floated out in this tiny rip even in these conditions of virtually no surf the current may be enough to drift the swimmer slowly seawards for a short distance. Obviously, swimming to the shallower water on the right where there is evidence of small waves breaking would remove you from any such current and swimming/walking ashore there would be simple. This is a micro model for similarly situated larger rips, and one way to get out of them.
Smythes Creek on the Great Ocean Road east of Apollo Bay is a popular surf break, but not on messy onshore days like this. This photo shows two feeder rips joining forces and heading out through the surf zone to deeper water.
This point break is known locally as Sledgehammers. It is situated between Apollo Bay and Cape Patton. It has open exposure to the south west and big swells hit here without much change of direction which means they arrive here with a lot of force. The shore has reefs and rock shelves and is not user friendly in big surf. There was clean surf this day with an offshore wind. The orange arrow shows a very clear and quite substantial rip heading straight out to sea. In such conditions this rip is easily spotted and could be utilised (to assist in the paddle out the back) or avoided by surfers.

Logans Beach, Warrnambool

Logans Beach is a whale nursery near Warrnambool. It is also a popular surf spot. I have seen this highly visible rip on repeat visits here. There is obviously a permanent channel where this rip is flowing out through the surf break. On the day this photo was taken I watched a surfer enter the water in this rip and get a speedy ride out to his takeoff point in this rip; highly preferable to paddling out against breaking waves and duck diving the surfboard under them.

Lorne

This photo was taken from the southern side of Louttit Bay at Lorne, looking north east. The SLSC buildings and main beach are left of this image. This was a light wind day with small clean swell. I have included it because it shows very clearly the location of the start of a permanent rip at this beach which flows parallel to the rock shelf and out from the shore in the direction of the jetty. It does not extend for a great distance. It can easily be avoided by swimming a bit further up the beach. There are of course other rips at this beach, but this one is a regular feature. If in the rip, it can be exited by swimming away from it at right angles, parallel to the beach, then into shore in the white water. When swimming to shore from the jetty (eg when training for the annual Pier to Pub swim event), it is always worth staying away from this corner to avoid a head current from the rip. It flows strongest when there is solid surf. The organisers on race day always set the finish line buoys north of this rip.

Port Campbell

The Southern Ocean at Port Campbell can be wild. There are many stories of shipwrecks in this area. The bay near the town is narrow and less than a km in length. If faces south west and receives the full force of wind and weather and swell from that direction.

This photo was taken from the clifftops overlooking Two Mile on a day with strong onshore winds and big swell. There is a permanent channel created by the underwater topography which sweeps out of the bay and around the western headland at the bay entrance to the offshore reef known as Two Mile. It is a famous big surf location. When conditions of tide, wind and swell combine to push huge amounts of water against the cliffs and into the bay, strong rips return the water out to sea via this channel. This channel is highly visible in big surf conditions. On days with less swell, the channel can still be quite visible with areas of breaking waves either side of it and no breaking waves over the channel. This is not necessarily because there is a strong rip (or indeed any rip) flowing at the time, but rather reflects the significant depth of the channel.
This photo was taken looking south from the clifftops on the eastern side of the entrance to Port Campbell. It shows the same channel flowing out to sea and turning right towards Two Mile. The green arrow traces a path over shallower water immediately east of the channel where the surf breaks from many hundreds of metres offshore. Surfers paddling out to Two Mile use the red arrow route for current assistance, and for the paddle back in I have seen many use the green arrow route to avoid the head current in the rip over the channel, and to get some assistance from breaking waves heading shorewards. A few years ago I was swimming in an ocean race at Pt Campbell on an out and back course of 1200m or so from the beach to the entrance of the bay. At the seaward turn buoy, even though conditions were nowhere near as intense as shown above, I relaxed with my back to the buoy to unfog my goggles and take in the view only to quickly discover I was being taken out to sea at a good rate by the rip in this channel. There was a rescue boat holding position seaward of me (for exactly this situation) and the crew directed me to immediately swim east towards the other headland which quickly got me out of the channel and the current and eventually back to the town beach.
Sometimes the weather and the ocean can make a familiar bay like Pt Campbell totally uninviting….
…..and sometimes the ocean there is completely at rest.

If you unexpectedly find yourself in a rip taking you somewhere you don’t want to go

Don’t panic. This is more easily said than done. Being uncomfortable about your position is OK, panicking about it is not and may well cause you to drown. If you suddenly realise you are making zero progress towards your aiming point (the shore) or that you are going out to sea when you thought you were swimming to shore, don’t just put the head down and start swimming harder. Best to tread water while you have a think about the situation and allow a few moments for any adrenaline rush from being out of your depth while going in a direction you didn’t want to be going to ease off a little.

If you are in unpleasantly turbulent water and there is quieter water in close proximity (even if it is the unbroken water beyond the surf zone) consider drifting or swimming there at an easy pace to regroup. If you are in deeper green water beyond the surf zone, the rip will have eased up or stopped. You are unlikely to come up with a quality plan if you remain in 2 metres or less of water over a sandbar where the breaking waves are big enough to throw you around and repeatedly thump you into the sand.

Come up with a logical plan. Your opportunity to swim back to shore will be either to your left or right if you are facing shore in or near the rip or just beyond the surf zone (where the rip has faded or ended). First line up a near and a far object on the shore to see whether you are drifting left or right. If you are it will most likely be tidal drift, but it could also be a rip taking you away from shore on an angle. If there is a strong drift, its direction is a consideration in whether you go left or right before heading back to shore.You must think your way out of the situation, not frantically try to power your way out of it.

Be prepared to amend your plan if execution of it is seriously not working out as hoped.

If the breaking waves are not making life too uncomfortable for you in the surf zone, look for an area of white water where waves are breaking as each set comes through and swim parallel to the shore until you have that area of breaking waves directly between you and the beach. This will usually take you out of the side of the rip. Then head to shore.

If you have swum out to the green water just beyond the surf zone, when a set of waves is breaking between you and the shore, sometimes you can see where the higher sections of the wave are (over the shallower seabed which can be your ticket to the shore), and gaps where the breaking waves are lower or not breaking at all (deeper water where a rip may be flowing out). Your route to shore will be through the shallower water, not the deeper water where the water may well be moving out to sea.

If you are in the green water beyond the surf zone looking for the best option to get to shore, provided you are not cold or exhausted, it may be worth treading water while you carefully watch a couple of sets of waves go through. You can then time your return to shore based on the sets of waves you observed. In small to moderate surf you may seek to go ashore with wave assist, or in bigger surf you may wish to wait for a lull between sets to head for shore. The timing of your swim ashore can be everything in this situation.

Pick a landmark to aim for so that you ensure you stay on track and don’t drift back into the rip. If you are drifting left or right as you swim towards shore, apply an angle of drift to help you track in a straight line. Check every few strokes by lifting your head a little and looking forward that you are staying on track. Take regular glances back over your shoulder as you swim through the surf zone to keep an eye on waves approaching you. If it is a completely broken wave of manageable size you could accelerate a bit as it reaches you, or perhaps even body surf it if you have that skill. If it is a large broken wave you might pause as it approaches, turn and face it, and duck dive or ‘pin drop’ to let it pass over you – then resume swimming towards shore.

If you have swum towards shore through a surf zone you will reach shallow water where you can walk to shore. But if the surf zone you have swum through was over a sandbar you may encounter a gutter where the waves are not breaking as much or at all. Don’t relax completely, because if conditions were enough to form a rip that carried you out a ways, the water in the gutter is probably flowing strongly too, feeding the nearest rip. You may need to point towards somewhere left or right of your target on the shore to avoid drifting parallel to the beach in the gutter. In such conditions the gutter may well be too deep to stand in.

Alternatives to swimming directly back to shore. If you are swimming in a curved bay with a nearby point (what is ‘near’ depends on your distance swimming ability), and you find yourself out in the green water just beyond the surf zone and looking for the best way back to shore, swimming parallel to shore to go ashore at the point can be considered if swimming through the surf zone looks entirely unattractive or unsafe for you. But remember that most points have a rip running out to sea alongside the rock shelf which will have to be contended with if this option is taken.

In a curved bay, I have noticed that the sand bars are often further offshore where the beach has a marked change in direction, than where the beach is straight. So an option to consider in that situation is to select a spot for your swim ashore which has less distance of white water to swim through ie on a straight section of the beach. This may involve swimming parallel to the beach for some distance to find the shortest appropriate swim to shore through the surf.

Note that in big swell, where the water is not too shallow, duck diving under a breaking wave works very well at avoiding turbulence even if it requires duck diving a couple of metres or more below the wave. But as the water gets shallower, a point is reached where duck diving under the wave does not avoid the turbulence and you will get rolled and tossed around as each wave passes over you. Don’t linger in such a zone – you need to get to either shallower water where you can safely stand or to deeper water (either by swimming towards a gutter closer to shore and then to shore, or out to sea beyond the surf zone where the waves while large are not breaking) where you are not receiving a flogging with every wave. The latter is quickly exhausting.

A Reminiscence

I have been swimming at this Victorian west coast beach for years. The swim I am about to recount happened not on a half tide on a sunny day with small surf as shown in the satellite photos below, but on a cold mind-winter’s morning a few years ago. The water’s edge was much closer to the dunes than shown in the photo, and the gutter was wider than shown in the photo.

There was a solid swell and a high tide with a strong offshore wind. It was overcast and showery and the line of the horizon across the sea was notchy indicating big swell way out to sea across the entrance to Bass Strait. The water would’ve been around 12-13°C. The air temp was less than that with wind chill in low single figures. I was wearing a good quality winter wetsuit, a neoprene armless vest under it and a lined cap. I wasn’t cold. I was swimming fit and had swum virtually daily since summer which included some long distance swimming races of distances up to 5kms.

I paused before entering the water a bit south of Milford Creek as the waves were breaking quite a way out, probably beyond the sandbar. The distance across the gutter to the sandbar was only about 50m. Being a bit daunted by the size of the breaking waves and the distance I’d have to swim to get to the green water out the back for my swim to the harbour wall, I paused and watched a couple of sets come through. They weren’t getting smaller, so I decided to take it in stages by swimming across the gutter (where I knew I’d be out of my depth) to the sandbar where I believed the water would be shallow enough to stand in. I figured that would be a good vantage point from which to assess whether to swim back to the beach (a short and easy swim) or to continue to swim through the surf zone to the deep water out the back and then down to the wall – a swim I have done many times in widely varying conditions.

I quickly reached the breaking waves over the sandbar and while at a stretch my big toe occasionally brushed the sand, I was out of my depth. That was OK and had happened before. The brief 50m or so swim to the sandbar revealed a steady current to the north. That was pretty standard in such conditions. I was having to keep ducking under breaking waves while I was over the sandbar. Some I bobbed down for, others I duck dived under. Both techniques saw me getting rolled and bounced around rather than cleanly making it under the waves. I swam out just a bit further thinking the water might be a bit deeper giving me room to dive under them with comfort before I decided whether to continue or retreat. But the waves were still breaking heavily and the water while not deep enough for comfortable duck diving, was not shallow enough for me to stand.

The view out to sea revealed waves that certainly looked bigger than they had from the shore, and they probably were. The breaking waves were a very substantial wall of advancing white water. Diving under each wave was the only option. A retreat back to shore was suddenly looking very attractive. I realised I had been swept up the beach a bit and was some distance north of where I entered the water. I headed back towards the edge of the gutter for what I still believed would be the short swim back to shore, albeit in water too deep to stand in. On entering the gutter I quickly realised I was going north and that my distance from shore was increasing. There is a break in the sandbar near where the Milford Creek runs into the sea, and (as I later discovered) the gutter I was in was feeding into the rip there.

So I only really had one option, and that was to swim away from the shore until I was beyond the breaking waves and in deeper water. I duck dived every approaching breaking wave as I swam seawards again across the sandbar. Some gave me a disorienting somersault or two and hard contact with the sand. I swam past the outer edge of the sandbar where the breaking waves usually stop, but there were large enough sets rolling in that some were breaking out to sea beyond the sandbar. I have seen this before, but not often while swimming. Once I cleared the sandbar I was in deeper water and while I couldn’t reach the sand when I duck dived, I could go deep enough to avoid the main turbulence of the breaking waves. On a few occasions I dived deep enough for my ears to pop which happens to me when I’m snorkelling at a depth of 8-10 feet or more. While I was heading away from shore, as soon as I stopped getting thrown around out of control under breaking waves I began to feel that my situation was improving a little.

I was relieved when after diving under yet another sizeable breaking wave out the back I surfaced and saw that there were no more breaking waves on my horizon. I stopped swimming and trod water. I was about 150m offshore (out from the waterline) according to my Garmin GPS watch. I realised I was breathing harder than usual and that my pulse rate was up. I didn’t feel panicked, but I knew I was closer to it than I should have been. I looked around and checked the tidal current – it was not huge and was going south. That was good – a tail current for the longer swim to the harbour wall at the southern end of the beach. I was now in a familiar situation – out the back in green water with an entirely manageable swim south to the harbour wall – the final leg of my original plan when I entered the water.

I couldn’t see the shore when I was in the trough between lines of swell. I had a great view in all directions from the crests. The seas felt big. Normally I love swimming in rising and falling green swell lines. I wasn’t quite feeling the love at this stage but I did feel that the situation was now under control. My breathing had slowed and I felt comfortable.

The swim to the beach at the southern end of the bay was uneventful. The swell size started to ease once I got south of the SLSC into the relatively protected corner of the bay. While I was a little further offshore than usual, deep water is deep water. I had a following current and the swim was entirely safe. I was enjoying the swim well before I swam past the rock wall of the harbour and into the shallows in the corner. Despite having friends swimming in the bay that morning, I didn’t see any of them. Our long habit of swimming together is really a habit of swimming at the same time at the same beach, but for all practical purposes, solo.

Postscript: I should’ve listened to the inner voice telling me I didn’t like the look of the size and extent of the surf where I went in. I allowed confidence to overrule caution. When I finally got out the back beyond the breaking waves, the shore looked a very long way away. I should’ve realised that on the high tide in that swell I wouldn’t be able to stand on the sandbar. I should’ve looked at the conditions a bit longer before going in, and I might have spotted the rip that I encountered. I shouldn’t have felt uncomfortable about the longer than usual swim through the solid surf zone. I have swum similar distances out through solid surf before at the start of a distance swim. But I think it was the fact that I decided to swim back to shore (and attempted to do so) but couldn’t get there that heightened my sense of discomfort about having no other option but to keep swimming out to sea.

I was in the water for longer than I had intended, and my warm wetsuit, vest and cap served me well. I wasn’t cold at any point. I was distance swimming fit and had confidence that subject to hypothermia I had a much greater distance in me than I would need to swim to get to shore.

I have had a handful of rip episodes over the years. Each one has taught me valuable lessons. I have heard pilots say that experience is the sum of the frights you survive.

Snake habitat; koala courtship; swimming in and around Apollo Bay harbour

My last snake encounter on the Great Ocean Walk was last year when I was walking ahead of Liz and was informed by her that I had just walked past a coiled up tiger snake on the grass beside the track. We waited a short time and it moved off. This was in mid-winter. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me. Numerous local friends have reported similarly unthreatening tiger snake encounters on this track. But it does seem that the longer the walk, the more snakes you see. A friend on a 14km run along the GOW recently saw three large snakes.

Snake sightings are so common on the GOW that news of a walk on that track without sighting a snake is an occurrence perhaps more noteworthy than a snake sighting. But I have never heard or read of anybody being bitten by a snake on this track. Seems they are not very interested in humans. So a good lookout and not rushing seems to allow time for walker and snake to see each other and get out of each other’s way without threat or incident.

These two photos were not taken by me. The photo on the left shows a tiger snake on the Great Ocean Walk. The photo on the right, taken recently by a friend during a run along the GOW, shows part of a substantial snake (one of three he encountered on a 14km run) which is either a brown or a tiger. Tiger snakes in this part of the world come in a variety of colour schemes and patterns – not all have the distinctive dark stripes. It was the report of my friend from his 14km run and snake sightings that prompted me to take a walk on the track in the heat of the day to see if I could capture a decent photo of a tiger snake in broad daylight.

The start of the Great Ocean Walk.

These warnings are near the start of the GOW at Marengo. The sign on the right is down the track a bit warning of the dangers of big surf. There are numerous points on this walk where there is a choice between a beach and rock shelf walk, or following the cleared track on higher ground. Big swell and a high tide usually remove the first option.

It was on a sunny summer’s day with cloudless sky, high temperature and very little wind that I decided to take my Nikon and telephoto lens for a couple of kms down the GOW around midday to see if I could spot and photograph a tiger snake. I wore jeans and my shin high leather motorbike boots, and carried a compression bandage and an EPIRB (the latter is always in my pack on bush walks and motorbike rides).
Beautiful bays and points around every corner in the early kms of the GOW. Clearly defined little rip in this corner.
Snake territory if ever I saw it!

There is variety in the width and surrounds of the main track on the GOW. Some parts are narrower than others, with more dense vegetation on both sides of the track. I was keeping a very good lookout on the track and its verges, and I walked quite slowly hoping to spot a snake without disturbing it so I could get a good photo using the 150-600m telephoto lens. My anticipation of a sighting was keen. All the omens were right. But I had overlooked one factor which I discovered during whale seasons past – arriving at the scene of a reported wildlife sighting or a location of common sightings, equipped with my Nikon DSLR camera, a substantial telephoto lens, a spare SD card and battery, seems to ensure that no wildlife will be seen that day. I neither saw nor heard a single snake on this entire walk. Disappointing.

False alarm. This is an evolutionary adaptation of sticks, to look like a snake so they will be left alone. It worked. I didn’t touch it. (Disclaimer: I am not a formally trained herpetologist or stick expert).

My Spot satellite messenger is like a recreational EPIRB. It uses the same satellite network (which means it works anywhere on the face of the earth) but instead of calling in the SES, the police, the military and rescue helicopters, it sends an SMS or email with a pre-written message to a limited number of family and friends I have chosen. There are a couple of messages which can be sent. The one I use most is the ‘current location’ message. The tick on the map shown is my location when I activated the Spot satellite messenger (this is the map display received on a mobile phone by my selected contacts). The houses on the right are Marengo.

L to R: EPIRB, Spot Satellite Messenger, snake-fang-proof leather boots and wildlife-deterring Nikon SLR with telephoto lens and monopod.

As an ocean swimmer and ski paddler, I learned long ago that when you get offshore a bit the ocean is always rougher than it looks from the shore. These seas looked pretty calm from the shore with only a hint of whitecaps. But there was definitely some swell out there. This boat was having an exhilarating run to Apollo Bay.

No snake photos for my trouble on this day. But any walk on the GOW is a privilege and a pleasure.

Koala Courting

There is a creek beside my house lined with tall eucalypts. Koalas are frequent visitors. Territorial disputes, competition for mates, courtship and mating are all equally noisy affairs. First-time witnesses to the grunting and growling sound a koala can make are always surprised at how substantial and deep and fierce it sounds.

This smallish female was chased higher and higher up a tree by a male who was snorting and growling constantly as he pursued her. Unsurprisingly, it turned out not to be a winning tactic.

The snorter and growler unhappy that his raucous and overbearing behaviour was apparently entirely unattractive to the female koala who adroitly kept out of his reach. I must say, he doesn’t look as though he’d be great company.
It seems ‘ears down’ signals unhappiness. I think he is annoyed and crestfallen at all that wasted chasing, snorting and growling. He will just have to learn that chasing a frightened female up a tree, snorting and growling and trying to corner her there then sulking upon rejection, simply doesn’t cut it.
He eventually lost interest in the female, raised his ears to their usual position, and sat motionless in the wedge of this tree for a lengthy period. His eyes remained open, so I assume he was sulking, not sleeping.

Swimming in and around Apollo Bay Harbour

While swimming in the open ocean is my first choice, conditions sometimes warrant an alternative, and the harbour is a fine plan B.

As these GPS swim tracks show, doing laps up and down beside the eastern wall of the harbour (third photo) is just one option. The other two photos show swims which go out the harbour mouth then west towards the shore, then back over the harbour wall on foot where there is a pier to jump off to complete the swim via moored boats back to the boat ramp or the little beach.