The Arrival of Winter in Apollo Bay

The arrival of winter in Apollo Bay is technically a date. But it is also when the whales start to arrive along our coast, it is when big swells and fierce weather hit the region and it is prime time for seeing the entire Milky Way arch across the heavens on a moonless night (a spectacle not available in the southern hemisphere over summer).

John Langmead_1 June 2018 whale_4922_20180601_Online
Southern right whales and humpback whales migrate north from Antarctic waters to warmer climes along the southern and eastern Australian coast.  They return to the high southern latitudes in spring. Breeding occurs along the southern coast of Australia with a number of famous nurseries such as at the Head of the Bight in South Australia.  Mothers with calves commonly rest in protected waters near headlands or in bays on their long journey north.  Apollo Bay is sometimes chosen by whales for time-out from their epic annual migration. It is not uncommon to have a mother and calf stay a day or two just a hundred metres or so off shore.  This photo is of the pectoral fin of a southern right whale, just offshore near the bottom of my street in Apollo Bay.  We sighted it about a week ago.  If this was seen at close quarters and not identified, it would be enough to make the heart of any swimmer race.
This is also the pectoral fin of a southern right whale, which I encountered while paddling my surf ski out from the surf life saving club at Apollo Bay a couple of years ago.  It was around 40 feet long, and submerged after this was taken, only to surface beside and just behind me on its way out to sea. A most memorable moment to see it up close in this quiet crossing of our paths.
John Langmead_1 June 2018 whale_4917_20180601_Online
Whales are very efficient users of oxygen, but still need to breath air into to their massive lungs. Breathing out while on the surface is often accompanied by mist and spray as shown.
John Langmead_1 June 2018 whale_4892_20180601_Online
This whale was simply not in the mood for breaching or diving. It just mooched around, feeding from time to time, and keeping most of its body under water when it did surface.
John Langmead_1 June 2018 whale_4959_20180601_Online
This view at least indicates the length of the whale from tail towards its head.  Callosities are visible near the head of this whale.  They are a natural feature of the whale, usually covered by barnacles and lice. The shape and distribution of the callosities allows whale observers to accurately identify particular whales.
John Langmead_1 June 2018 whale_4928_20180601_Online
Eventually it slipped beneath the surface and its disappearing tail was the last we saw of it.  This was my first whale sighting this season.
John Langmead_31.5.18 AB Moonrise_4832_20180531_Online
Late autumn and early winter often bring very calm and quiet conditions. It is also the season when the core of the Milky Way becomes visible in the southern hemisphere. During our summer, the core of the Milky Way is only in the skies during daylight hours. But in our southern winter, the full arch can be seen in all its glory on moonless nights away from ground lighting. The tail of the Milky Way in the eastern sky can be seen in this image, its lustre affected by the rising moon which was not far below the horizon when this was taken.
John Langmead_31.5.18 AB Moonrise_4869_20180531_Online
Moonrise behind a low cloud layer. The brightness of the moonlight of course means that the stars are all dimmed from a photographic point of view.  The lights at bottom right are on Apollo Bay harbour entrance.
John Langmead_31.5.18 AB Moonrise_4850_20180531_Online
Moonrise over the Southern Ocean as seen from Tuxion Beach, Apollo Bay on a still late autumn evening.  The immediately following photo was taken just after dawn two days ago at the same location as the moonrise photo.
John Langmead_AB Storm Surf 2018_5248_20180617_Online
About two weeks into June, a series of low pressure systems and associated fronts brought a wintery blast to Victoria.  The west coast of Victoria took the full force of these fronts. The ski resorts received over three quarters of a metre of snow, and the south coast was lashed with over 50mm of rain, gale force winds and big swells. This photo shows the shore break at a beach I often swim from – but I declined to swim on this day.
John Langmead_AB Storm Surf 2018_5222_20180617_Online
This was taken from the beach just north of Milford Creek in Apollo Bay, and shows the larger swells breaking on the northern section of the beach. The house with the three windows with the blinds down belongs to a friend of mine. This shot was taken not long after a gloomy dawn, when there was a lot of sea mist in the air.
John Langmead_AB Storm Surf 2018_5190_20180617_Online
The breaking crescent of one of the large lines of swell, with Skenes Creek dwellings in the distance.
John Langmead_Barham River High Tide_5263_20180617_Online
The Barham River flows out to the sea between Apollo Bay and Marengo. There is a substantial line of sand dunes and a wide expanse of beach above the (usual) high water mark which separate the ocean and the river at this point. But on the weekend the combination of very high tides, constant rain and big swells allowed the ocean to find a way across the normally dry beach and through the sand dunes, directly into the Barham River as shown.  This is not a common occurrence.
John Langmead_AB Storm Surf 2018_5136_20180617_Online
Tuxion beach at Apollo Bay, with the car park disappearing into the sea. This morning the council was using heavy equipment to dump sand against this collapsing cliff. That should last for years, or until the next high tide and big swell! It obviously needs a rock retaining wall to halt this erosion. The photos immediately below show the ‘interim repair’!  These photos were taken on this afternoon’s high tide, the sand having been pushed up against the collapsing cliff this morning on the low tide.  As I took these shots the sand was heading back out to sea with every wave which lapped the shore – there was no swell, just a gentle wind wave pushed to shore by a light easterly.  I suppose a solution which lasts one tide cycle fits the description of ‘interim’.
John Langmead_AB Storm Surf 2018_5217_20180617_Online
Uninviting shore break (from an ocean swimmer’s point of view) at another beach just north of Tuxion beach, from which I often swim. Again, swimming was not my top priority in such conditions.
John Langmead_AB Storm Surf 2018_5158_20180617_Online
Barely visible in this photo is a red buoy. We often use it as a turning point on our ocean swims at Apollo Bay. The water is deep there and while we have often encountered swell near the buoy, we have never swum there when waves were breaking. Who knew that on occasions such as this, the buoy also marked the takeoff point for long boarders?  The foam from the broken wave shows clearly that it first broke near the buoy.
John Langmead_Milky Way June 2018_5283_20180619_Online
Despite the presence of coastal cloud from a cold onshore south easterly wind, I braved the elements last night and took this shot from a roadside car park not far from Skenes Creek.  It shows the Apollo Bay township under some low cloud, and more spectacularly,  beneath the western arc of the Milky Way.
John Langmead_Milky Way June 2018_5314_20180619_Online
This was taken from a favourite location of mine on the Great Ocean Walk near Marengo, involving a torchlit walk down narrow lanes and through thigh deep grass to a clifftop vantage point. It is remote from ground lighting, and the moon had set before I arrived.  The low coastal cloud had conveniently disappeared from this stretch of coast. The Milky Way and the greater and lesser Magellanic Clouds were dazzling. This photo required a 15 second exposure, which explains the ghostly white form  of the breaking surf.
John Langmead_Milky Way June 2018_5316_20180619_Online
One of my motivations in taking the camera out late at night on this occasion, was a forecast that the  glow of the Aurora Australis might be visible in the south from the Victorian coast at this time. The solar wind readings and the global magnetometer readings (conveniently collated and interpreted for laymen on a website for mugs) all added up to favourable omens for sighting evidence of the Southern Lights. But alas, nothing. But my efforts did not go unrewarded.  Before packing up and heading home I aimed the camera due south, away from the Milky Way, hoping the darker sky might reveal a hint of the glow of the Southern Lights.  The blazing stars in the southern skies were serendipitously caught twice – once in the heavens, and again by reflection from the various rock pools in the reef lining the shore below the cliff where I stood.  I love the juxtaposition of these fleeting and delicate star reflections on the dark black rocky reef the permanence and unalterability of which is measured in tens of thousands of years.

3 thoughts on “The Arrival of Winter in Apollo Bay

    1. My electric heated vest (bought for motorcycling in mid-winter) took the edge off the plummeting temperature. My ever reliable possum hair hat contributed similarly. Despite the cold, it is beautiful to be on a beach, a dune or a cliff top in the pitch black late at night, experimenting with shutter speed, ISO and manual focus to capture something of the dazzling beauty of a clear (or almost clear) night sky over the Southern Ocean, Such clear air and such deep darkness are wonders not enjoyed in all parts of the world, especially in the more populated areas in the northern hemisphere. In short, it’s a privilege to be out there Lizzie. Sharing the images with those who enjoy them is a lovely bonus.


  1. John, to use the sporting lexicon, you are a fine all rounder, adept day or night, studying the heavens or earth. Apollo Bay’s wintry charms are evocatively captured for viewing pleasure. I wouldn’t fancy 15 seconds exposure in some of those scenes. And very fitting that Liz should, like the moon in those frames, ascend, in her case to capitals in praise of the artist.

    Liked by 1 person

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