Big Waves at Little Henty Reef, Snorkelling at Little Henty Reef, West Coast surfers, a Shark Warning

The constant and ever-changing backdrop to life in Apollo Bay is the ocean. Swells come and go on the west coast of Victoria, unlike the wind which blows most days. The size of the swell is determined by storms in higher latitudes deep in the Southern Ocean. The strength and direction of the wind on the reefs and beaches where the waves complete their journey determine the nature and quality of the waves as they reach the reef or shore on which they break.

Little Henty Reef – solid swell in an offshore nor’westerly

This sequence of three images taken in rapid succession shows a sizeable wave breaking about 600m east of Hayley Point on Little Henty Reef. The wind was directly offshore.

Big swell breaking at Little Henty Reef
This was solid swell. The volume of water in this wave is apparent from the fact that it had already broken over the shallow water above the reef (see the curtain of breaking white and green water forming something of a barrel in the centre of the image), yet there was so much water pushing forward that a second curtain of white water has pushed over the top of the first creating a second lip and curtain of water. In my experience this is not a common feature of a breaking wave.
Big swell breaking at Little Henty Reef
The two green triangles of breaking water on the right of the image must have been caused by two underwater promontories on the reef lifting these parts of the wave causing them to break ahead of the rest. I have seen and photographed this feature of this wave on many occasions, albeit that it takes different forms depending on the tide, the wind and the size of the wave. Obviously a much shallower part of the reef is beneath the breaking wave on the left of the image. The unbroken section on the right must have deeper water beneath it.
Big swell breaking at Little Henty Reef

Little Henty Reef – below the surface

The section of Little Henty Reef closest to shore is partially exposed at low tide. It is a swim of between 100m and 300m from shore depending on where you start and whether you swim to the northern or southern end of it. Currents are usually present in the little bay between this reef and the shore, and their direction and strength determine which part of the reef to aim for on the swim out. Swell, tides and currents can create conditions in which it would not be safe to swim out to this reef. I have never swum out to the reef when there were no currents.

Little Henty Reef (Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary) snorkelling
I took these three photos on a leisurely solo swim out to the reef on a low tide in early January, when there was not much swell or wind. There was however a solid current flowing parallel to the reef. This photo shows the dense beds of algae in the shallows around the perimeter of the reef.
Little Henty Reef (Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary) snorkelling
This was near the southern end of the inshore reef, and as shown by the marine plants the current was flowing and swirling constantly.
Breaking wave seen from underwater
After swimming around the reef over the kelp beds which surround it, I swam north of the reef to the open beach for a play in the clean glassy little waves of the shore break. This is a breaking wave not far from shore, shown from the inside.

Apollo Bay back beach – small swell in an offshore westerly

Mounts Bay is the next bay directly south of Apollo Bay. Point Bunbury separates the two bays. Hayley Point and Little Henty reef are at the southern end of Mounts Bay. Locals refer to this stretch of beach as the back beach.

Surf at Marengo
This small swell, looking tidy and groomed courtesy of a steady offshore westerly wind, was breaking around the middle of the Mounts Bay beach. There is a well established sand bar not far from shore here and the waves were essentially closing out (breaking along a long section at the same time, rather than from left to right or right to left) upon reaching the sand bar. There is a shallow channel between these two lines of breaking waves.
Surf at Marengo
This long boarder was not deterred by the constant supply of closeout sets. He spent most of the time while I was watching sitting on his board, and negotiating white water as wave after wave closed out in front of him (and on top of him). I didn’t see him catch an unbroken green section of a wave – but he did get up his board for a few brief rides on the white water after the wave had broken. At least he avoided the slightly busier lineup a little further up the beach.
Surf at Mounts Bay Marengo
Up the beach from where the waves were closing out, there was a more rideable break a bit further offshore. These waves were peeling nicely, and a handful of surfers were catching a lot of waves and clearly enjoying themselves. This photo and the next were taken when the surfers were out of frame to the left, paddling back out after their rides. The low point with the sandy beach is Point Bunbury.
Surf at Apollo Bay back beach
The offshore wind working its magic on small clean swell. A quite rideable left in the foreground.
Surfers at Apollo Bay back beach
Certainly not overcrowded.
Surfer at Apollo Bay
Surfer at Apollo Bay
This photo is the first of a sequence of three. This young bloke was catching at least his share of waves, and acquitting himself well on the rides I saw.
Surfer at Marengo
To get serious ‘air’ you need a bit of speed for which you need a wave perhaps a little steeper (and ideally larger) than this one. He did well to get his board around 180° while airborne, but instead of continuing to rotate, the nose dug in and he exited stage right. Good attempt.
Surfer wiping out

Shark Warning

Sharks are always in the ocean. The only things that vary for swimmers and surfers in relation to sharks are how close they are, and if a shark is close, being aware of that fact. There are desirable and undesirable modes of achieving such awareness.

On the left below is the GPS track of a recent pre-breakfast 1000m solo swim of mine in the harbour. As shown, I turned around at the harbour mouth. All I saw there was a very large stingray on the seabed, which I often see in that area. I didn’t see any sharks and had no concern about sharks posing any threat to me. Upon returning home, I received a reliable message (from a friend who assumed I had yet to go for my swim) that a shark had been sighted at the harbour mouth heading out to sea. The sighting was around the time I was swimming. Around mid-morning (by which time the shark would’ve been well out to sea or kms along the coast), the Dorsal shark app on my iPhone published the location of the sighting at the harbour mouth (top right image below). A little later the surf life savers had placed the standard shark warning sign on the beach.

This shark sighting demonstrates nothing more than the self-evident proposition that sharks are in the sea, and if you go in the sea, you will be in the sea with sharks. It also demonstrates that warning systems (apart from shark sirens and surf lifesavers clearing people out of the water approximately contemporaneously with a shark sighting) such as an app or a sign on the beach, are by reason of delay largely of historical interest and amount to shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

I assume on every ocean swim at Apollo Bay that I might at some point be swimming within radar range of a shark minding its own business. I further assume that it’s highly likely that it will have no interest in me. There are numerous types of shark in the area, most of which pose no threat to humans. But if I see a shark fin while I am swimming I will leave the water for a while. On this point, see the postscript to an earlier post on this blog:

Storm Surf

But the history of the interaction of sharks and people in the water at Apollo Bay is that humans eat a lot of flake, but the sharks leave humans alone. Being partial to the occasional piece of battered flake with my chips, I do hope there’s nothing in the karma thing.

Looking beyond Apollo Bay, records show that the last fatal shark attack in Victoria was at Portsea in 1956.

I think there is a direct parallel between the risk of shark attack at Apollo Bay and the risk posed by venomous snakes on bush walks in the area. On the first 1-2kms of the Great Ocean Walk which commences at Apollo Bay, it appears there is a resident sizeable tiger snake which likes to snooze on the walking path. Its presence has surprised many walkers. I have seen it at close quarters on that track (in mid-winter) and so have many of my friends (all year round). No-one has been bitten or threatened. There are of course plenty of other snakes on that walk, especially in summer.

But save for a generic snake warning at the start of the Great Ocean Walk, there is no ‘recent snake sighting’ warning system. Nor is there a snake sighting app as far as I know. Snakes are in the bush. Sharks are in the sea. Enjoy the bush and the ocean while taking sensible precautions regarding these and any other low level risks.

Little Henty Reef – moderate swell in an onshore southerly

A couple of days ago there was a moderate swell at Apollo Bay. The onshore southerly wind meant the water was a bit rougher and the waves a little less regular than they would have been in offshore or nil wind conditions.

Moderate swell at Little Henty Reef Marengo
The notchy uneven horizon is a reliable indicator of swell at sea.
Moderate swell at Little Henty Reef Marengo
You’d need to tighten up your swimming goggles (and perhaps even your Speedos) to duck dive under these waves.
Moderate swell at Little Henty Reef Marengo
In the aqua barrel of momentarily smooth fast flowing water (just right of centre in the image) is a length of bull kelp going over the falls. A swimmer or surfer in the wrong spot at the wrong time would have a similarly exhilarating experience. But it would have an unpleasant ending as that aqua water is about to smash on the exposed (or very shallow) reef under it. The mass of white water rising in front of that wave has already hit the reef and ricocheted skywards.
Moderate swell at Little Henty Reef Marengo
After the wave initially broke over the reef, it rapidly changed form and size as it dissipated its energy over the extensive shallow reef beneath it. While a mini barrel can be seen in this photo, it was short lived. The whole wave smashed into chaotic white water shortly after this shot was taken.
Moderate swell at Little Henty Reef Marengo
This is the first of a sequence of three photos of a single wave taken in rapid succession. This was a larger wave which commenced to break in the shallower water some distance seaward of the exposed part of the reef.
Moderate swell at Little Henty Reef Marengo
Moderate swell at Little Henty Reef Marengo
With or without a surfboard, it would be a memorable duck dive under this wave at this point.

The Ocean at Rest

Moonrise over Cape and Patton Bass Strait
Cape Patton photographed from Apollo Bay beach (Tuxion) under a rising full moon. The thin white line at top right is a meteor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s