Just off Hayley Point, south of Apollo Bay (on the south east coast of Australia), lies Little Henty Reef. It consists of two rocky low-elevation islands. The closest is about 150m from shore, and the furthest is around 600m offshore. There is a channel between them. This reef system is exposed to big swells from the Southern Ocean. Large waves and gale-force winds from the Roaring Forties are common in this part of the world. Despite such weather and sea conditions Little Henty Reef is the permanent home of about 200 Australian fur seals.
The two reefs and their immediately adjacent waters are protected by the 12 hectare Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary. The area is rich in marine life and is ideal for snorkelling (especially on the reef closest to the shore) when conditions permit. (See my blog post published 13 January 2020, titled ‘My first underwater look at Little Henty Reef, Apollo Bay’). There are many days when conditions do not permit.
The Seals, the Kayakers and the Swell
Real estate can be at a premium on the high tide. The photos in this post were taken with my 150-600mm telephoto lens at full stretch, in mostly overcast conditions. Some of the subject matter was over 600m distant. No excuses, just explaining why you can’t see the glint in the seals’ eyes.
Despite the appearance of crowding, the seals appear to be enjoying life.
Seven kayaks, each with two paddlers, had paddled about 500m to reach this spot. They had sufficient protection here from the breaking waves which were crashing on the southern side of the reef. The water they were ‘parked’ in was relatively protected, but certainly not calm.
This is a cropped closeup of part of the photograph directly above it. The large number of well camouflaged seals lying on on this rocky promontory are slightly easier to see in this image. The sea conditions even in this relatively sheltered spot are indicated by the fact that paddle blades were moving most of the time for stability, and probably to help hold position.
The kayakers were rewarded for their efforts with a great close up view of the seal colony. The foreshortening effect of the telephoto lens probably makes the kayaks appear closer to the reef and seals than they were.
Without changing my location at all, this photo was taken by simply turning about 45° to the right after taking the previous image. The kayakers would have had a good view of these waves breaking over the exposed southern side of the reef. They were also obviously experiencing some movement of the water created by these waves.
The seven kayaks heading around the northern end of the outer reef on their way back to shore. I understand paddles held horizontally aloft is a signal to stop. Whatever the reason, the paddlers were obviously in very good hands with the crew who took them out there. From afar, it appeared that five of the kayaks carried an adult and a teenager, and two had only teenage paddlers. There was an extensive briefing of all paddlers on the beach before heading out. Then there was a rehearsal in the calm waters close to Hayley Point. Then finally the group paddled around the northern end of the two reefs to their vantage point where they could safely view the seals. They stuck close together the whole time. My guess is that the teenagers were beginner kayak paddlers. The whole event went very smoothly. A credit to the organisers in conditions requiring local knowledge, expertise and judgment.. I’m sure the young paddlers were most satisfied with their adventure in paddling out with experts on a day that was safe, but with the ocean visibly stirring.
Moving through slightly less sheltered waters on the return to shore. A couple of cormorants toying with the idea of photo-bombing this shot.
Once again, a bit of a turn to the right, and this was the view. The uneven horizon also says something about the sea state at the time. The ocean was moving.
When the kayaks neared the shore upon their return and were in shallow water with small waves breaking, it was clear that all on board were keen to catch a wave if they could. But nobody would have been keen on catching a wave like this chaotic and ugly looking wave on the southern end of the reef. The waves where the kayaks came ashore were orderly and small and in sheltered waters.
Valiant attempt by the rear paddler to shift his weight back as the nose goes underwater.
The front passenger is obviously going underwater first, and appears pretty calm about it all.
Not sure if I heard the cry, “Getting out now!”, but if I didn’t, it would’ve been appropriate. It would also have allowed the defence to be run later that this was an intentional manoeuvre. But despite appearances, this was simply all part of the fun. They were in waist-deep water with no significant currents and they were on a mushy little wave. They gave it a crack, got wet and surfaced all smiles.
I don’t believe this to be the ideal orientation to a breaking wave, but they got away with it.
This was one of the all-teenage kayak crews, showing the others how its done in the shore break.
I think this was the other all-teenage crew, thoughtfully giving the boat a good rinse before taking it ashore.
A stylish and committed exit from a capsize.
Too late for an eskimo roll, but staying in contact with the craft.
The owner of this hand was not lost at sea, and surfaced all laughs shortly after this photo was taken. The kayak missed him by a good margin and the water was waist deep.
The Seals and the Swell
The previous shots were taken from the shore near the car park at a spot about 500m from where the kayaks were semi-rafted up on the eastern side of the outer reef. For the remainder of these photos I moved from my spot near the car park to a grass-covered clifftop on Hayley Point, nicely sheltered on three sides by bushes. My new location was about 450m from the seals on the northern part of the outer reef and about 700m from the more exposed southern end of the outer reef where the larger waves were breaking. I have seen waves breaking right over the reef shown here, but not on this day, and not all that often.
The view due south from my grassy knoll. The swell was not abating.
Seals feeling smug that the waves are breaking either side of them but not on them.
Wide angle shot of the outer reef and its occupants.
Cropped closeup of part of the previous image. I didn’t see a single underfed-looking seal. I think if I were a seal, I would choose to live in a marine sanctuary.
White water all around them not interfering with sun-baking, sleeping and quiet conversation.
You can see the exposed reef here as the water sucks out in front of the wave. I have seen waves breaking on this part of this reef for many years. Despite its disordered appearance, waves at this location seem to break as shown here most of the time. When the waves are scaled up, so are the various features visible in this wave. But essentially, the breaking wave always follows the dictates of the shape of the rocky reef on the ocean floor over which it is breaking. Wind strength and direction can of course have a big effect on such a wave, but the essential elements shown here can usually be recognised.
Up close, it seems there is a nook or a cranny for everyone, birds included. These reefs are a real haven for the Australian fur seal. I intend to paddle out there on my surf ski some time for a closer look and hopefully to get some proper photos of seals.
? What were these buoys on the seaward side of the tip of the outer reef? Marengo Marine Sanctuary Boundaries
Little Henty Reef is at the southern end of Mounts Bay. The adjacent bay to the north is Apollo Bay. Seals from the Little Henty colony often make their way around into Apollo Bay, either singly or in pairs. I have had them approach me on my surf ski, and playfully dive around and under the ski. I have seen them in the water while I was swimming, but they have never approached me as a swimmer. They often hang around the harbour mouth feeding if the opportunity arises but mostly they just loll around seeming to enjoy the change of scenery.
Earlier this evening, three days after the photos of the kayakers were taken, I wandered out along the town jetty and came across this solitary seal enjoying the view from his vantage point on the harbour wall. After all the distance shots of seals in this post, I thought a few closeups of a seal might be of interest. These images were taken with a zoom lens.
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I was born in Perth Western Australia in July 1949.
I currently live in Apollo Bay Victoria.
View all posts by John Langmead
March 4, 2020 March 16, 2023
2 thoughts on “A storm swept reef, the seals who live there & some kayakers who visited”
Love the hand!
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wow what a great series of shots and story, makes a very interesting read. I too love the hand
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