In contrast this post contains videos and photos taken from a GoPro from one angle only – a camera mounted on the back deck of the ski. They were all taken in a single paddle session yesterday afternoon just after the low tide in perfect swell conditions for the ski. Many sets were breaking around the corner of the harbour mouth (where a couple of surfers had a reliable right to themselves), and some of the bigger sets were breaking across the middle of the bay. Despite very crowded beaches, I had the big green-wave part of the bay entirely to myself.
Launching from the harbour
Through the harbour mouth to the surf
The first wave of the day
The wave of the session
A 60 second ride from the harbour mouth to the beach
This young fellow came up beside me and started a conversation about my ski. After a bit of a chat, his enthusiasm for the ski being obvious, he accepted my offer to taking the captain’s seat and the paddle for a moment or two to see how it felt. He seemed to enjoy that.
Much of my ocean swimming is done alone. But when I swim out to the reef at the southern end of Mounts Bay, I like to swim with company. Conditions looked good for the reef swim on the low tide around mid morning today so I rang some possible starters to swim with me but they were unable to join me. So a solo swim it was.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Nature provides special events in and around Apollo Bay from time to time, against a backdrop of spectacles equally beautiful and awe-inspiring but perhaps less appreciated because they are available all the time. The photos below could have been taken in and around Apollo Bay virtually anytime in daylight hours.
Towering mountain ash in cool temperate rainforest
The white-faced heron
Masked lapwing chick
The little corella
Strong south westerly winds on the coast
Swell and a Northerly Wind at Little Henty Reef
A couple of bars of slide guitar
My gracefully ageing Martin 000-28H lives on its stand in my lounge room on permanent standby for my regular short performances to an empty room. Sometimes the performance lasts less than 30 seconds, sometimes slightly longer.
The ocean at Apollo Bay is cool in summer and cold in winter. This is exactly how a group of ocean swimming locals like it. They swim all year round and have been doing so for many years. There are about 20 swimmers in total and on any given day at least a few of them (usually more) will meet at ‘the wall’ for a short swim or a longer swim as the mood takes them. The swim goes ahead in most weather and sea conditions, save for those brought by very strong winds from the east or thereabouts. Photos of such conditions are in an earlier post at: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/10/28/easterly-seas-at-apollo-bay/ . There is always a convivial post-swim catch up over coffee at one of the local cafes.
Portrait of a King Parrot
There is no smooth segue between the topics ‘ocean swim’ and ‘king parrot’, save perhaps for saying just that. So, moving right along and seeing we are now discussing parrots, this juvenile male king parrot landed on the verandah rail at my house and looked at me through a window as I sat reading the newspaper. He hopped around and stared straight at me, as if beckoning me to come outside. I fetched my camera and went outside and he walked along the verandah rail to a position close to me. He was utterly unfazed by being near me. In fact he was much friendlier and more relaxed than the magpies which visit me quite regularly.
He was a most sociable and cooperative subject for this impromptu portrait sitting.
Little Henty Reef lies just a short swim off Hayley Point at Marengo on the west coast of Victoria. The reef and adjacent waters are part of the Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary.
There are days when it is unsafe to swim at Little Henty Reef. Early this morning conditions for an ocean swim there were perfect. Clear blue skies, no wind, no swell and only a light south-to-north tidal current in the bay between the reef and Marengo beach. The water was cool and clear. This morning I swam with Mary, Michelle Sue and Susie – all regular local ocean swimmers.
Susie descending effortlessly to the seabed.
Little Henty Reef has featured on this blog since it began with my first post in June 2017. If you’re interested in seeing the reef in other moods:
This morning on my ocean swim with friends at Apollo Bay a wild dolphin appeared in the water very close to us and a remarkable encounter followed.
Sue saw some dolphins up close near the harbour wall. The next contact was when a single dolphin surfaced right beside Michelle and Mary about 150m offshore and 300m+ north of the wall where we entered the water. I swam across 30-40m to join them upon hearing the exhilaration and excitement in their voices at what they had just experienced. The dolphin disappeared momentarily then surfaced again right beside Mary and greeted the three of us. Then Sonja and Vicki joined us, and a series of unhurried wonderful audiences with this dolphin followed. Susie was doing a longer swim, but joined us and saw the dolphin up close on her return leg. The pattern of the encounters was simple. The dolphin would disappear after spending time with us, the pod of swimmers would briefly resume swimming north, and the dolphin would reappear and repeat. Eventually it didn’t reappear, and we think it may have gone out to sea a little to feed. By this stage we were 450-500m from the wall. The return swim seemed effortless, mainly because my thoughts were consumed with what we had just experienced.
Wonderful aspects of this dolphin choosing to swim with us included seeing it in smooth and powerful motion at much less than arms’ length from us. Each of us experienced the dolphin surfacing, porpoising and diving with effortless power and verve at very close quarters.
A couple of times the dolphin swam directly beneath me at a distance of a metre or so, and rolled on its back as it glided past me. The visibility underwater wasn’t great. But I could see enough to have no hesitation, despite needing a breath, in leaving my face in the water until it swam out of visual range. It surfaced right beside me at one point and I saw its whole head and blowhole out of the water at very close range, as well as its back and dorsal fin. The front of its head was lighter in colour than its body, which was various shades of grey. There were scuff marks on its body and dorsal fin which were no doubt a unique record of this creature’s life in the ocean. The texture of its skin could easily be seen – it looked solid but smooth and rubbery. The water flowing over and around its body flashed in the sunlight. The swimmers were reasonably close together when this was occurring, and the speed and agility of its movements without touching any of us was exhilarating.
A memorable moment, while I was swimming, was when it approached me from directly behind without me being aware it was there and appeared directly beneath me at speed and without a lot of separation. I lifted my head and looked forward. It surfaced right in front of me at that moment and rose out of the water at speed in a beautiful porpoising arc. To see this manoeuvre while in the water directly behind and close to the dolphin was thrilling. The white water of its wake was streaming over its body. It then circled back and joined us all again.
But the remarkable and unique aspect of this dolphin so actively and intimately engaging with us was that at various times it swam right up to each of us and just stopped, looking directly at us with its nose and head partially out of the water. Its blowhole was out of the water and clearly visible. The back of its body was submerged. Its tail flukes were under the water. Its dorsal fin was partly out of the water, and its pectoral fins were motionless by its side underwater. We could look into its eyes. I did not hesitate in embracing the irresistible self-deception of seeing a smile in the fixed curved line of its closed mouth. The dolphin was not swimming or moving much at all. It just floated there, as if checking us out one by one, face to face at a distance of a foot or so. This did not occur fleetingly. It was relaxed and deliberate. Most of us were appraised by the dolphin more than once in this manner. These unusual up close and personal encounters lasted longer than I expected, then the dolphin would turn and swim or dive away.
That this wild and highly intelligent creature would, entirely of its own volition, choose to interact with a handful of us as it did, was a great surprise and a great privilege.
I have no photos of the dolphin to share. On reflection, I am glad I simply enjoyed the experience we had, rather than the different and decidedly inferior experience of taking photos of the dolphin up close. The words above merely record that together with my swimming friends, today was the day we met a wild dolphin in its ocean in an unhurried way, on its terms. But there was something wonderful about it which elevated the experience far above my pedestrian description. Rarely have words so failed me in sharing an experience.
The main beach at Apollo Bay faces east and is completely exposed to the wind waves and rough seas brought by easterly and south-easterly winds. The waves erode the beach and dunes up to and sometimes above the high water mark and the wind moves huge amounts of sand. Once the wind gets above around 25 knots the bay becomes a potentially dangerous place for swimmers, entirely unattractive to surfers and a magnet for kite surfers who revel in the 25-30 knot winds.
In strong easterly conditions there is a lot of water moving around creating rips and side sweeps and general movement of water in often unpredictable directions. An ocean swimmer could stay afloat and swim in these conditions but would most likely encounter currents quite different to those normally experienced in the bay which could make it very difficult or impossible to return to shore before becoming exhausted or hypothermic.
So far this week at Apollo Bay the wind has been blowing non-stop day and night from the east at 25-30 knots, gusting higher at times. Monday had some sunny breaks, but on Tuesday we only saw cloud and cold winds. The forecast is for the winds to moderate and stay from the east or south-east until at least the end of the week.
Any water person in the area shown the photos below without being told anything about when they were taken could immediately identify the conditions as easterly. They are very distinctive compared to the conditions when the wind is from anywhere between the NW around through W to S.
I live in Apollo Bay and start most days with an ocean swim. I don’t swim in the open bay in strong easterly conditions, but fortunately the local harbour provides protected waters which are an ideal plan B. These photos capture something of the easterly sea conditions, as well as the contrasting harbour waters in which I have continued my daily swims during the otherwise unswimmable easterly conditions so far this week.
First day of easterlies
Day two of the easterlies
Harbour swim on day three of the easterlies
The easterly by day three had eased a little and was closer to 20 than 30 knots. The open seas were still white and rough. The inviting glassy clear water inside the harbour was the spot to swim today. Eight of us swam in the harbour this morning instead of the usual locations of Apollo Bay (and sometimes Marengo). Of course, warming up over coffee and a chat followed.
It was a still, cold and misty day at Apollo Bay yesterday. For much of the day a thin band of cloud sat just below Marriner’s Lookout (750′ above sea level). I thought it worth a walk up to the lookout in case there was a view out to sea over the top of the layer of cloud, a spectacular sight which I have seen on just a few occasions. But today was not such an occasion. However, I did arrive at the lookout just as the mist began to dissipate.
Views from Marriner’s Lookout
The horse paddock just behind the lookout
Koala dozing in a gum tree on the banks of Milford Creek
Some natural wonders can be assigned latitude and longitude coordinates. Others are fleeting and occasional, and appointments for viewing are not possible. The west coast of Victoria is well supplied with both categories. The photos below are of some of the fleeting offerings of Mother Nature in and around Apollo Bay which I was lucky enough to see. Each encounter was unplanned and a pleasant surprise. Serendipity fuels my photography.
The shots of the surfers were taken after I failed to find the wild easterly seas that the wind direction and strength promised at dawn when I woke up. The wind shifted as I drove away from my house and the waves changed from unruly rough seas to cracking surf. The Australasian gannets were the result of a drive to nearby Kennett River to find some elusive orcas of which I had heard reports. The orcas were a no-show. Finally, the feeding wattlebird youngsters were sighted from my deck when I went outside to check the windsock during the golden hour late one afternoon. All these photos were taken in the past week.
Local surfers making the most of an unexpected two hour session at this break
Some swell events have a long build up and are monitored by surfers for many days before the waves arrive. These waves were different in that the quality waves breaking at this location were unexpected. There was no shortage however of talented local surfers who either saw the waves or heard about them on the grapevine and made a beeline for this break. There are not a lot of occasions when waves at this spot are the best on offer in the district. But on this morning they were.
Professional surf, landscape & lifestyle photographer Katey catching the action.
Diving Gannets at Kennett River
The Australasian gannet is a great favourite of mine. I had the privilege of a visit to a gannet rookery earlier this year. It was in effect a private visit with just me and the volunteer guide. For my detailed descriptions of the gannet and its remarkable skills, as well as close up photos of this beautiful bird both on the ground and flying, see this earlier post in my blog (published 26 February 2020) at:
Getting close enough to gannets plunge diving to enable a good photo is very difficult. These photos were taken from three different vantage points on the shore near Sawmills beach at Kennett River. There must have been a huge area of fish for them to feed on as the gannets were diving and feeding over a huge area. Unfortunately no part of that area was quite close enough to shore for the sort of photos I would have liked. Most of the photos below are small cropped sections of images taken with a 600mm telephoto lens at full extension. As a result the sharpness of many of these images has suffered, but I think the content is sufficiently interesting to publish them anyway.
To illustrate the image quality problem resulting from photographing a small bird in flight from a significant distance, the highlighted area in the image on the left is the cropped section which was enlarged to produce the immediately preceding photo. Hence the lack of sharpness in the image.
Red Wattlebirds Feeding Their Young
The red wattlebird is second largest of the honeyeaters native to Australia. Only the yellow wattlebird is larger. They feed primarily on nectar, but insects are also part of their diet. Their eyes open in a week or so and they fledge 2-3 weeks after hatching. They are fed by both parents for a further 2-3 weeks. The young birds shown below could fly and were probably nearing the end of their dependent phase. But they didn’t budge from this bough while the parent was prepared to go back and forth finding and bringing them food.