February Photos on the Victorian West Coast

Apollo Bay and the surrounding coast and hinterland are where I spend most of my time. These photos were all taken in February 2021 in the final weeks of summer. With the exception of the spectacle of the gas exploration rig being towed through Bass Strait south of Apollo Bay, these photos capture ordinary daily life on the west coast. Sometimes I go on a mission with the camera to capture big swell, whales, the Milky Way or whatever. Sometimes I just take a photo or two while doing other things.

Moonrise

Taken from the beach at the end of my street. This is a three-quarter full moon rising over Bass Strait. The full moon was a few nights earlier. The town is Skenes Creek and the bright white light is from a car on the Great Ocean Road with its headlights on high beam.
Low tide with no wind or swell.
The waning gibbous moon now higher above the horizon. Silver, white and dark blue replace the golden hues on display when the moon first appeared on the horizon.

Clouds

A cold front passing south of Little Henty Reef. This cloud reveals the wedge of cold air displacing the warmer moist air which rises to a height where the dew point is reached causing the water vapour to condense and form the line of cumulus cloud shown. There is a heavy rain shower just behind this advancing wedge of cold air. This was a classic cold front with a temperature drop and wind change around to the south-west immediately behind it.
The same frontal cloud viewed from the edge of the Great Ocean Road, looking over the Barham River and Marengo. This band of cumulus at the leading edge of the front was very close to forming a roll cloud which can occur in these conditions.
Early development of a cumulonimbus cloud south of Mounts Bay. This cloud evidences very strong vertical uplift, which is invariably accompanied by strong downdrafts. There is heavy rain beneath the middle of this cloud. This would be quite a turbulent cloud to fly through in an aeroplane.
The underside of an actively developing cumulus cloud, viewed through a beach access track in the sand dunes on the back beach at Apollo Bay (Mounts Bay).
This inviting turquoise ocean is on latitude 38° S.
This photo was taken from the back deck of my house in Apollo Bay. It was taken late evening on a day when the wind had blown steadily from the east all day. Such air is moist and as night approaches, the air temperature drops and the moisture in the air which rises as the wind blows against the coastal hills condenses at lower and lower heights forming mist and low stratus cloud. The wind was light by this time, and the mist was slowly moving in and around the eucalypts. It was ethereal and peaceful.

Aire River Mouth

The Aire River mouth near the Glenaire Valley is a favourite spot of ours in all weather and seasons. On this still overcast morning Lizzie and I were the only people there.
We spotted this strongly built male black wallaby in the dunes just watching us walk past him. He appeared to be interested in us rather than wary of us. We wondered if he’d had much or any prior human contact.
Eventually after we had passed him, he hopped off in an unhurried fashion. The black wallaby is also known as a swamp wallaby. They are common in the Port Campbell National Park, the Bay of Islands Coastal Park and surrounding areas.

Port Campbell Ocean Swimming Race

I first entered this ocean swimming race in 2007. I missed the 2010 and 2015 swims, but in 2015 I did the Bay of Islands swim (a one-off as it turned out) instead of the Pt Campbell swim. In relation to the Bay of Islands swim, see the second part of my post at:

https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/02/08/two-ocean-swims-west-of-cape-otway/

These 14 ocean swims were all in genuine (and sometimes challenging) ocean conditions in beautiful remote locations.

The course being setup – basically, out through the heads and back for a total distance of 1200m or more.
There was a light but steady onshore wind and conditions were relatively calm inshore. Out beyond the jetty and the heads there was some swell. Near the outer turn buoys the view down the cliffs is always a spectacular treat and well worth whatever time it takes to stop out the back for a moment and enjoy it. The Garmin recorded my swim stats: 1350m at av pace 2:09/100m and stroke rate of 60spm. Stroke distance 1.57m per two arm cycle.

My swim wave was scheduled for 1020. Around 1000 I put my hat, sunglasses and car keys on the driver’s seat, shut the door, and went to open the back door. During that short walk the car doors auto-locked (a malfunction of some sort) and my wetsuit and goggles were in the car. I made the start line in time. That’s the short story. The next three paras contain the detail for those interested.

No time to get the RACV to attend. So I borrowed a coat hanger from the Surf Life Saving Club rooms and refashioned it in the standard way to hook and open an inside door handle after inserting the wire between the door edge and the door seal. I have done this on more than one occasion (usually on somebody else’s car). But those crafty Germans have designed a car door seal which cannot be entered in this way. It was now about 1005 and my fellow age group swimmers were gathering at the starting line on the beach.

So back to the SLSC at a brisker walking pace where I found the masonry brick shown in the picture. The rear quarter window seemed the obvious and cheapest way to gain entry. A gentle tap with the brick did nothing. After progressively harder whacks which were now attracting the bemused attention of unhelpful onlookers, the window finally shattered but the force used sent the brick and my arms through the new opening. My hands and forearms received numerous minor scratches from the sharp shards around the window frame. I ignored the tiny droplets of blood appearing on my minor scratches as there was now only about 10 minutes to my race start. I thought I was on the home run as I threaded my hand inside the window to unlock the doors using the inside back door handle. But pulling on the door handle did not unlock the doors! Swimming mates were now coming looking for me to tell my my race was being marshalled for the start. The coat hanger wire at full stretch would not reach diagonally across the car from rear left quarter window to the driver’s seat to get the key tantalisingly in full view but so far unreachable.

So back to the SLSC again. I found a broom and twisted an end of the coat hanger wire around its handle, fashioned a hook on the other end, and after a bit of angling with time running out fast I delicately hooked and retrieved the key. It was now approaching 1015. A quick change into my wetsuit (after shaking as many glass fragments off as I could with a quick shake), confirmed I had my cap, watch and earplugs and jogged to the start line and joined the milling swimmers just as the starter’s briefing finished. The starter’s gun was then fired. Not a problem.

It was a very enjoyable swim and I didn’t think once about the VW key saga while doing my 1350m.

Some of my long time ocean swimming friends from Apollo Bay at the finishing line, all wearing the big smile of a cold water ocean swimmer coming ashore. Clockwise from top left: Boo, Vicki and Michelle (third and fourth-place getters in their age group), Suzie (fastest of the Apollo Bay swimmers) and Jenny.

A beautiful location for an ocean swim. Boo coming ashore after her swim. The course buoys are still in place. The course was out on the right hand side of the bay, keeping the white then yellow buoys on the left, and back to shore down the jetty side of the bay keeping the buoys on the left. The tall orange buoys are the seaward turnpoint markers.

Apollo Bay swimmers striking a pose. Boo strolling up the finishers’ race and not looking at all exhausted after her swim. Mark, me and Keelan after the swim. Always a great day. I had ten friends swimming in this race.

The Ocean Onyx, gas exploration drilling rig

Drilling rigs on the open sea are a spectacle.

Apollo Bay harbour and bay in a moderate easterly. One of the tugs which was towing the rig can be seen near the horizon about a third of the way from the left edge of the image. The rig is out of frame.
The Ocean Onyx, a gas exploration drilling rig being towed to an area 30-80 kms south of Port Campbell for gas exploration work. The rig was towed by two sizeable tug boats on very long lines and considerable distance apart from each other.
The breakwater on the eastern side of the Apollo Bay harbour mouth.
Apollo Bay harbour mouth.
The start of the north-south rock wall on the eastern side of the harbour.
Temporary addition to the skyline of yacht masts at Apollo Bay.

The Aire River Mouth

The Aire River is only about 40kms in length. It flows from its point of origin in the Otway Ranges, south east of Beech Forest, through the Great Otway National Park (in which it flows over the Hopetoun Falls). It then winds down through the foothills of the Otways and across the fertile coastal flats of the Glenaire Valley before finally flowing into the Southern Ocean south of Hordern Vale.

The Aire River flowing over Hopetoun Falls on its way to the Southern Ocean. See my earlier post on these falls, at: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/04/04/idyll-moments/
The Aire River flowing beside the giant sequoias in the Otway Ranges (between Beech Forest and the Great Ocean Road).

Our position at the Aire River mouth was recorded using a Spot Satellite Messenger. This GPS device works anywhere on the face of the globe – it can record position very accurately. Satellites then relay the position, superimposed on a satellite photo of the area, to a ground station which in turn relays it to email and/or mobile phone contacts I have nominated in advance of using the device. I used this device regularly when I spent 7 weeks riding my motorbike around Australia in 2010, out of mobile telephone range for much of the trip.

The narrow light coloured track is part of the Great Ocean Walk. Aire River appears to be a major camping point on this walk which extends from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles.
The Aire River nearing the end of its journey to the ocean. The foothills of the Otways are behind the fertile arable land in the Glenaire valley. The river widens and slows with extensive areas of marshland as it nears the bridge at the Aire River campground (from which this photo was taken).
The final 1500m or so to the river mouth and ocean beach is via this track covered in a good depth of soft sand. Our all-wheel SUV does a great job, but would have quickly come to a halt on this road.
Elizabeth the Intrepid.
Near the river mouth, the incoming tide was surging vigorously upstream.
As the satellite photo earlier in this post shows, the river does a hairpin turn just before it reaches the sea. I’m sure the final path of the river to the sea across the beach varies over time according to the amount of water flowing down the river and the size of the tides and waves in the ocean. These piles are the remains of a bold but unsuccessful attempt long ago to build a jetty extending from the river mouth out to sea. The ocean proved too rough for the project to be successful. The nearby Glenaire valley is very fertile and has long been settled. In the early days those relying on shipping had to keep the river mouth open using horse teams and equipment to clear the sand away. The waves in the background when this photo was taken perhaps give some idea of the daunting task which the jetty project faced.
On this day the surf zone extended well out to sea from the beach near the river mouth. I was tempted to caption this, “It was OK once you got out the back.” But it wouldn’t have been.
On the soft sandy track down to the beach we came across these fresh footprints. My immediate unbidden thought was that it was left by some prehistoric creature that had such a long stride it only touched the track once in bounding across it, the adjacent footprints being invisible in the scrub either side of the track as it thundered across the landscape. But a moment’s reflection settled on it being the prints of both feet of a kangaroo as it hopped across the track.
Adult male ‘superb fairy-wren’ in non-breeding plumage on the banks of the Aire River. These were tiny birds, and they flitted and darted with the speed of a blowfly in summer. Quite difficult to photograph as they were never still for more than a fraction of a second.
Adult female superb fairy-wren. The adjective ‘superb’ is the work of whoever named this bird, not my assessment of its quality. It appears that there was a little taxonomic difficulty in relation to the naming of fairy-wrens, as there is also a ‘splendid’ fairy-wren. It seems that as more and more types of fairy-wren were discovered, all warranting some synonym of ‘superb’ or ‘splendid’ in their official title, the fairy-wren namers lost interest and gave up searching for further superlatives. Notwithstanding the beauty of all fairy-wrens, they resorted to sadly unimaginative prefixes such as ‘lovely’. It was all downhill from there. All poetic sense was abandoned and the tail enders in the naming process were saddled with drab descriptive mundanities such as ‘blue-breasted’, ‘red-winged’ and ‘white winged.’ A sorry tale for members of such a beautiful bird group as the fairy-wren.
Adult female superb fairy-wren. Feisty looking.
Adult male superb fairy-wren (in breeding plumage). The CSIRO ‘Australian Bird Guide’ 2017 at p 362 says non-breeding plumage is held by most males from about March to August (and blue the rest of the time), but a few older and more dominant males can retain blue plumage all year round. These provide a truly eye catching flash of iridescent bright blue as they flit around, especially in bright sunlight.

The ubiquitous crested tern and silver gull

Crested terns and silver gulls are usually found together along the west coast of Victoria (and almost right around Australia for that matter). But for reasons known only to them, they sometimes assemble exclusively with their own species….. (use the slider to see each image in full)

….and sometimes they mingle.

Closeups of the birds of a feather flocking together.

Crested tern soaring over the surf zone searching for food.

Pacific gull posing, and juvenile crested gull.

The beautiful and majestic silver gull soaring effortlessly.
Crested tern rising after snatching a morsel from the rough water. As the next photo reveals, after this ordinary example of feeding, the bird went to extraordinary lengths to make sure whatever it caught did not escape and was successfully swallowed as the bird flew away. I was not aware of this until I looked closely at this photo well after taking it.
[Enlarged detail of the previous image]. Job done. The bird in flight shook its head vigorously to manage the morsel (as the water drops show), including rotating its head through almost 180° presumably to enlist the assistance of gravity to finish the job successfully. Proving what a masterful flyer it is, the wing movements and flight path did not miss a beat.

One of my favourite limestone sea stacks along the west coast of Victoria. While the occupants were not home when I took this shot, such stacks are ideal nesting sites for many seabirds including terns, gulls and the short-tailed shearwater. It’s difficult to imagine a more secure home for them.

Snow in the Otways

A strong cold front passed over western Victoria today, bringing gale force winds, rain and hail. It also brought snow down to low elevations. A dusting of snow on the hilltops is a once or twice a year event. Today’s snow was more than a dusting and more than I have seen in the area.

The Arctic blast from deep in the Southern Ocean brought low temperatures to much of the state. Apollo Bay had an overnight minimum temperature of 4°C and a maximum temperature today of 8°C. It was much colder in the hills in the immediate hinterland than on the coast. When I drove up towards Forrest this morning, at the Turtons Track turnoff where some of the following photos were taken, it was 1°C.

Driving north on the Skenes Creek to Forrest Road, approaching the turnoff to Turtons Track (which leads to Beech Forest). The roads were slippery!
Turton’s Track turnoff (looking south).
Falling snow can be seen in the second of the above two images. (See full images by using the slider)
Usually when I head down Turtons Track, bushfire risk is on my mind. Today the road was covered in fresh snow.
I have never seen this area of cool temperate rainforest in falling snow. It was very quiet. The first and only footprints on the snow were mine. The crunch of my boots on the snow was the only sound I heard.
Then the first car of the day on the track passed me heading west.
The tree fern fronds were weighed down with snow.
The T intersection of Turtons Track and the Forrest Road (13 kms from the Great Ocean Road and 19kms from Apollo Bay).
This tree fell while I was taking photos further up the road at Turtons Track. I was the first to arrive. The image on the right below shows my wheel tracks around the tree. I was grateful for all-wheel drive. The fellow in the high-vis vest standing in the tracks I had just made was the driver of a large van, and was making up his mind about what to do next. I assume he didn’t have a long wait as quite a few locals carry a chain saw in their car or ute.
On descending from the high points in the hills where the snow was plentiful, the cloud thinned out and let some sunshine through. This had a quick effect on snow on the road, and in creating white mist amongst the dense foliage as the snow and water on the branches and leaves were warmed by the sun.
The bright light created a temporary but beautiful scene with the fresh snow on the trees and bushes, white mist drifting through the trees, and patches of blue sky and white clouds above it all.
The low mist behind these trees acted like a filter for the otherwise bright sunlight, and the tree shadows created the radiating beams of white light visible above. The air was cold and fresh. This beautiful sight was totally unexpected.

I have said it many times on these blog posts – photography is all about the light (and serendipity).

Lake Elizabeth

Lake Elizabeth in the Otway Ranges (Victoria, Australia) was formed in mid-winter 1952 when the East Branch of the Barwon River was blocked by a landslide. 1952 was an unseasonably wet winter. When the river stopped flowing, a search party was sent upstream and the new naturally formed dam wall and lake were discovered.

It is a place of compelling stillness, coolness and beauty.

East Branch of the Barwon River downstream from Lake Elizabeth.
The path to Lake Elizabeth winds through dense cool temperate rainforest.
Towering mountain ash and a variety of eucalypts rise above the dense ground storey of the forest.
The fertile banks of the East Branch of the Barwon River in the afternoon winter sun.
Grey shrike-thrush (and a host of other bird species) are plentiful in the area.
A quiet pool near (but not part of) Lake Elizabeth.
The top of the trunk of a large healthy tree fern.
The base of this giant tree is shown in the next photo.
Lake Elizabeth.
Platypus live in the lake.
The lake has many dark shores and corners which never see direct sunlight.

The lake in the afternoon was a wonderland of intersecting planes and reflections and colours and light and dark. The circle with the arrows is a slider, to compare two versions of the one photo. The photo shows a dusky moorhen gliding across the mirrored surface of the lake. The image with the duck swimming to the right of frame to my eye seems to show the bird taking improbable flight as if air and water had become one.
A dusky moorhen in the cold shadows.
Photographers often look for ‘lines’ in an image which draw the eye of the viewer to the centrepiece of the subject matter. Such lines are usually subtle, unlike the lines in this shot. I have never taken a photo with bolder lines than this one. First there is the clear black arrow on the left pointing towards the bird, which itself is sitting near the apex of a large arrowhead silhouette formed by a tree trunk and its reflection.
Late afternoon colours reflected on the water.
Pacific black duck.
These birds were obviously given clearances to land in line on the same runway. The second bird appeared to overshoot a little which required serious braking to avoid a collision with the bird ahead. While this deceleration caused the tail to rise, the nose stayed just above the runway surface. Both came to a full stop upright and undamaged.
Darkness approaching.

Gibson Steps, Bay of Islands and Logans Beach

The migration of southern right whales and the humpback whales across the oceans south of the Australian continent is a winter phenomenon. After breeding in the warmer waters along the southern coast of Australia (and along the east and west coasts of the country) between May and November, they head back to Antarctic waters where krill abounds in the cold water. At birth calves would not survive the freezing temperatures deep in the Southern Ocean, which explains the annual migration to warmer waters.

Yesterday Liz and I drove to Logans Beach at Warrnambool, an established whale nursery, to see and photograph whales close to shore. With whale numbers increasing every year, whale sightings along this coast are increasingly common – except for yesterday. Despite keeping an eagle-eyed lookout whenever the ocean was in sight, and despite perfect whale-spotting weather and sea conditions, not a single whale or splash was seen. If you are a reader who likes a blog post to have a theme, then the theme of this post is photos without whales in them.

But the west coast of Victoria between Apollo Bay and Warrnambool is not lacking in points of interest, even when the whales are elsewhere.

The vista to the north from a high point on the Otway Ranges not far west of Lavers Hill. Cold air and fog was still nestling in the valleys, but the sun burned it off pretty rapidly from mid-morning. (The connection of this scene with the three places in the heading of this post, is that it was passed on our way to those places).
Coastal planes near Gibson Steps beach.
There was not much swell forecast, but the ocean and beaches west of Cape Otway march to their own drum in this regard. There was a light northerly, and glassy long interval swell lines like this were arriving from weather deep in the Southern Ocean between Australia and Antarctica. The refraction of sunlight shining on the curtain of spray raised by the offshore wind created these fleeting rainbows. This surf, despite its quality, was too small to attract the interest of any of the local surfers. To see the sort of surf at Gibson Steps that does attract the interest of local surfers, see my recent post: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/05/20/big-clean-swell-at-gibson-steps/
At the Bay of Islands, just west of Peterborough, I had my camera switched on with settings for seascapes and landscapes as we walked out a narrow headland covered in hardy shrubs and surrounded by ocean on three sides. We spotted this nankeen kestrel hovering and manoeuvring rapidly with its eyes fixed on prey it had spotted in the shrubs below. Before I could aim the camera (with 150-600mm lens attached) skywards, it drew its wings in and with its gaze locked on its intended prey, dived vertically down to the scrub where it disappeared for a moment or two. It then took to the air and climbed away with this hapless lizard having its first trip by air. This was no mean feat, as the scrub was quite thick. The nankeen kestrel is a member of the falcon family. Falcons are fast flyers, with high level aerial hunting skills, which this bird displayed superbly. The nankeen kestrel can be found right across the Australian continent, but they prefer to breed on the south east of the continent and in south western W.A. I would not normally publish a photo lacking sharpness as this image does. My excuse is that the shutter speed I used, while suitable for seascapes, was too slow to properly capture an airborne kestrel in hunting mode. But the subjects can be identified, and I find the photo interesting enough to include in this post.
The offshore limestone stacks along this coast are wonderfully secure eyries for nesting birds. The silver gull makes the most of it, as do cormorants, shearwaters and a variety of other seabirds.
Nesting areas on these limestone islands are far more densely populated than this photo might suggest.
Silver gull on final approach to join his two mates enjoying the view over an ocean teeming with food.
Coastal cliffs east of Peterborough. Before the light northerly came up, the day had started with fog as a large high pressure area was centred over the state. Once the wind started to move the fog, the sun broke through and heated the ground which reflected heat back into the lower atmosphere which in turn accelerated the dissipation and disappearance of the fog. Low ragged patches of cumulus cloud were the last remnants of this process, which was followed by a cold day with a cloudless blue sky.
A singing honeyeater on the whale watching platform at Logans Beach. It lives on berries, nectar and insects in habitats including coastal shrub land, which covers the sand dunes in this area. An interesting fact I read about this bird is that it is one of the first birds to call before dawn (‘The Australian Bird Guide’, Menkhorst and others, CSIRO Publishing 2017, at page 376).
The singing honeyeater. The facial expression suggests it was not about to burst into joyous song during this brief portrait sitting. I liked its proud assertiveness.
Some rips are easier to spot than others. The surfers shown were using this and other rips for an easy ride through the shore break to get out the back at Logans Beach to their chosen takeoff point.
This well established rip was operating right from the shallows. The figure on the left is a bodysurfer who entered the water at the rip and used it for a speedy lift out the back. From there he paddled parallel to the beach to his takeoff point. It would be a simple swim to shore on the white water either side of this rip. But it would most likely have been impossible for anyone to swim against the current in the calm looking water of the rip which was flowing out to sea to just beyond the zone of breaking waves. The rip could be spotted from the sea beyond the breaking waves by looking shorewards. It would appear as a break in the line of white water of the breaking waves. Surf is not breaking over the rip because the water is deeper there. These rips were at Logans Beach, east of the whale viewing area.

Cool Temperate Rainforest in the Otways

Pristine cool temperate rainforest at Maits Rest in the Otway Ranges near Apollo Bay in midwinter.

Detail on the trunk of an old tree fern.
Towering mountain ash
A recently fallen myrtle beech.

Idyll Moments

In these difficult times we need the facts. But we don’t need them 24 hours a day. I offer these images hoping they might provide an agreeable distraction and an opportunity to be pleasantly lost in your own thoughts of other things and other places, even if only briefly, upon contemplating the scenes below.

These photos were all taken in or near Apollo Bay, on the south-eastern coast of Australia.

The Otways

The banks of the Aire River, in the Otway Ranges. This location is upstream from the Hopetoun Falls shown below. The silence here was complete. I have never breathed sweeter air. This environment imposes stillness and quietness on those who enter it, just as a large cathedral does, only better.
Looking down on the Aire River flowing over Hopetoun Falls in the Great Otway National Park. The nearby track down to the falls is quite a descent, and a solid climb back up.
Just downstream from Hopetoun Falls.
These falls are at the bottom of a steep valley, which sees much more shade and darkness than sunshine. The air was cool and moist.
Liz
A brief spell and some water and food on the banks of the Aire River. We were in the shade of the towering sequoia grove, and in A-row to enjoy the dense cool temperate rainforest opposite us.
The mighty sequoia (aka Californian redwood). These trees are on track to become the tallest trees in Australia in the not too distant future.
A variety of ecualypts providing the upper storey to the ancient cool temperate rainforest sub-storeys. There is a good chance (bearing in mind that I am not a formally qualified arborist nor am I currently a park ranger) that some of these trees are mountain ash.

Apollo Bay in Autumn

Autumn in Apollo Bay and along the surrounding coastline is a special season. Calm days and increasingly cooler nights predominate. Storms and cold fronts to the south west typically generate big swells during autumn which arrive pristine and glassy and often very large and powerful on our beaches. The Rip Curl Bells Pro surfing contest, the longest running surfing event on the WSL (World Surf League) world championship tour, is held at Bells Beach every Easter. But not in 2020.
Still air, glassy waves and long boards – part of autumn in and around Apollo Bay. These three regular surfers are all members of a local Apollo Bay family. Their fourth member was also surfing, out of frame to the right.

The Southern Ocean

Autumn swell rearing with a majestic white mane over Little Henty Reef in a light nor’ westerly wind.
Curtain fall.
Solid shorebreak on the reef just offshore south of Hayley Point at Marengo (a couple of kms south of Apollo Bay).
The eye of the beast. Swell arriving at the southern tip of Little Henty Reef often creates a neat little barrel. Depending on the size and direction of the swell, as shown, sometimes power is more to the fore than symmetry and elegance of form.
When the bottom of a larger wave hits the reef and decelerates, the many tonnes of water in the top of the wave can be thrown forward by the momentum built up over the long distance of its journey from deep southern latitudes.
Another emerald eye of a wave breaking over the reef.
This wave has hit the reef, the top has thrown over and hit the water and reef below it hard. White water has then ricocheted back into the air. You can see the explosive upward trajectory of some of this white water above the general height of the breaking wave. Waves get a lot bigger than this at Little Henty Reef. But this swell was certainly of sufficient size to create a scaled-down version of the show provided by very big surf.
The lull between sets of waves this day was often lengthy. The rocky beach and reef below me with its prolific bird life was a pleasant time-filler while waiting for the next set. This is the beautiful welcome swallow. Surprisingly it’s a rather unprepossessing looking little bird when not in flight. This bird in this image was captured (using a shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second) a split second before becoming airborne.
The relentless attack of wind and water have produced surprisingly gentle shapes in the sedimentary shore platform between the ocean and the sandy beach beneath the cliffs. Welcome swallows and other small birds were constantly flitting and darting over the platform at low tide.
Much bigger waves than this break here. I have included this image of a wave breaking over Little Henty Reef for only one reason, to highlight the similarities this smaller wave has with a wave in the same spot but in much larger swell some two and half years earlier (see image immediately below). The reason for the similarities is of course that this wave is not breaking over shifting sand, but over a solid reef with interesting contours and features which do not change over time (speaking personally, rather than geologically). Bells Beach is a reliable location for excellent waves, when the swell arrives, for the same reason. The bowl at Bells has a rocky rather than a sandy seabed, and for a given size and direction of swell, the unchanging shape of the seabed will always produce the same sort of wave.
This wave occurred at the same location as the wave show in the immediately preceding photo but two and a half years earlier. The swell was a lot bigger that day.
This shot was taken in late October 2017. The big swell event of which this wave was part was featured in my post on this blog published 1 November 2017, and titled ‘Large Southern Ocean Swell pounds Local Reefs.’
The link to that post is: https://southernoceanblog.com/2017/11/01/large-southern-ocean-swell-pounds-local-reefs/
I find it interesting to compare the similarities with the smaller wave at the same spot in the immediately preceding image.
A large print of this image is hanging in my house at Apollo Bay.
The bright emerald eye of yet another short-lived barrel, with a solid line of swell in the background breaking at a different angle on a different part of the reef.
This was taken before mid-morning, and before a layer of strato-cumulus cloud arrived which softened the light and took the shine off the waves.
The white mane of a wave in an offshore wind is one of my favourite sights.
Small tight barrels are common when waves break on this part of the reef. But this larger fanning wave form was a one-off in my experience. The colour is attributable to the thing layer of water in this fanned out cylindrical form being backlit by the morning sun.
While it wasn’t a huge swell, it was substantial enough.
A moody sea with swell lines jostling for position as the water gets shallower and the time for individual performances upon hitting the reef gets closer.

My photographer’s eyrie, sheltered from the wind and overlooking Little Henty Reef and the Southern Ocean beyond.

That white spot on the grass is a rock I put there to rest my camera monopod on so the camera is at a comfortable height on the sloping ground.

Morning sun giving some sparkle to this breaking wave.
That mound of water has already hit the reef and bounced back in the air to the height shown.
Local surfer on a wave between Hayley Point and Little Henty Reef. The kelp is as it looks, in shallow water on the shore platform. But the distance between the surfer and the reef is greater than it appears, as the telephoto lens on a long focal length foreshortens apparent distance in this manner. By surfer’s standards, it’s not a perfect wave. But every surfer has been wet for less.
Brief chat between strangers in the morning sun after a session in solid well-overhead surf off the point at Marengo, with at most, three surfers out there. The waters beyond them are in a sheltered part of the reef system.

A few things that haven't changed recently

The awesomeness of an ocean swim with wild dolphins.

I have only had wild dolphins intentionally swim to me and with me on two occasions.

The first occasion was in the late 1970s off Thistle Island in the Southern Ocean at the mouth of Spencer Gulf. There is a sheltered beach on the north side of this island, from which I swam out 200m or so to be a little closer to a couple of dolphins cruising around quietly. I didn’t know how they would react to my appearance, but I was confident the worst possible reaction would be that they would simply ignore me. My confidence was not misplaced. As I drew closer, they swam straight towards me. Then followed an unforgettable engagement as they slowly swam around me, under me, surfacing and diving near me. They made a variety of sounds which I could hear very clearly when my head was underwater. That swim is etched indelibly in my mind.

Fast forward 40 years and a bit.

This GPS track of yesterday’s ocean swim shows the corner of our bay at Apollo Bay where the beach meets the harbour wall. For years friends and I have swum varying distances from this corner to varying turn points, in all seasons and sea conditions and in all types of weather. The usual out-and-back course is a straightish leg going out to the north, and a similar leg coming back, sometimes with a curve in it following the arc of the beach. Dolphins are the explanation for the departure of this swimming track from the norm.

Over my years of ocean swimming at Apollo Bay I have seen stingrays large and small, many varieties of fish including tuna and barracuda, banjo sharks, a penguin, a sea snake, an octopus, Australian fur seals, dolphins, southern right whales and humpback whales. From time to time to my knowledge we have also been visited by mako sharks, blue sharks and on one occasion a 15 foot basking shark. There are numerous occasions on which I have been swimming when dolphins were visible in the distance, but there was no interaction of any sort. A forty foot southern right whale once showed mild and fleeting interest in me while I was paddling my surf ski, by swimming towards me, surfacing near me, looking at me and then silently sinking below the surface and moving on out to sea. I have also had seals do a lap around me and dive directly below my surf ski, but they never lingered. Those few exceptions aside, such sightings have not involved any form of interaction with the creature being observed.

But yesterday morning was different. There was very little wind, the sea was calm and there was no swell to speak of. It was overcast and about ninety minutes after low tide. As five of us walked into the sea near the wall to commence our daily swim, we spotted the unmistakeable lazy rising and falling fins of a small group of dolphins about 75m past the corner of the wall. Without any discussion the five of us started swimming out towards them.

As we got to within 25-30m of the dolphins, some of them swam directly towards us. Each of us repeatedly had the wonderful experience of one or a pair of dolphins gliding directly beneath us, at a depth of no more than a couple of metres. We were all floating face down, loathe to look up for a breath in case we missed the next pass. We were not disappointed. Suzie, who was first out to the dolphins, had a large adult dolphin swim under her and roll on its back and look at her. She was rapt. As the other 3 or 4 adults had a calf with them, we speculated later that this may have been the senior male of the group checking out the first visitor.

After swimming close to us for a period, the group of 3 or 4 adults and the calf would wander a little further out to sea then pause to continue playing amongst themselves, circling and diving and generally gliding about. We would then swim towards them again, and the whole scene of them swimming back directly towards us, then around us and very close to us would be repeated. We gave it away when we were 400m or so offshore and put our heads down and swam to shallower water near the beach. The dolphins headed out to sea.

It was a rare privilege to have these beautiful creatures choosing to be around us and seeming to accept us wanting to be close to them, even if only for a short time. What a swim this turned out to be. As I was leaving the water, the world seemed a brighter place than it did before this swim.

The quietude of the cool temperate rainforest

The Barham River flows out to the sea at Apollo Bay from its headwaters in the Otway Ranges to the north. Paradise is located about 6kms upstream from the river mouth, not far west of the Apollo Bay township. By the way, this place is officially called Paradise; that name is not my description. But had I been asked to name the place, I would have chosen Paradise. It is moist and mossy and quiet and dark and thick with ancient tree ferns and towering mountain ash and eucalypts. Darting colourful birds can be seen all around, and many more can be heard. All footfalls on this thick and damp rainforest floor are soft. To stand still on the banks of the Barham River in this paradise, to hear only birds and your own breathing and to smell only the green moistness of the cool temperate rainforest, is to find some peace and quietness.
Overhanging the banks of the Barham River.

The ocean at Apollo Bay in an easterly

This main beach at Apollo Bay faces east. There are vast areas of ocean to the east over which easterly winds can travel without interruption, whipping up wind increasingly larger waves and whitecaps with every nautical mile travelled. An easterly is a direct onshore wind at this beach. The seas thus created produce conditions as shown. The stronger the easterly, the wilder the seas in this bay.
The Apollo Bay surf club in easterly conditions. The beach was officially closed this day, as the easterly seas produce currents which are a hazard for many swimmers.
The gap in the line of trees on the sand dunes, has a set of steps leading down to the beach. This beach is at the foot of Cawood St, which when it leaves the town limits becomes Tuxion Road which leads into the hills beyond. The power pole at the intersection of the Great Ocean Road and Cawood St, used to bear two street signs, ‘Cawood St’ and ‘Tuxion Road’, which being interpreted means, ‘this is Cawood St, and it leads to Tuxion Road in the direction this sign is pointing.’ Accordingly, locals who surf and swim call the beach at these steps, Tuxion. Many of my ocean swims start at the Tuxion steps, or use it as a turning point.

Every wind direction at Apollo Bay creates a predictable and unique set of sea conditions. Those familiar with it could look at a dozen photos taken in different winds, and reliably identify from the sea conditions the approximate direction and strength of the wind shown. There are many comforting constants about the ocean. The sea state in an easterly wind is one of them.

The extraordinariness of clouds

Driving west approaching the Forrest Rd roundabout en route to Anglesea. Signs of mammatus on part of the base of this cloud. The cloud is showing a lot of evidence of strong uplifting air in and around it.
By the time we got to Anglesea, the mammatus had developed significantly. It was a rapidly developing and mesmerising show as we drove towards then directly below this most interesting cloud.
We stopped at the lookout overlooking Point Roadknight, and I took this photo looking straight up into the belly of the beast. There is no doubt that flying in anything close to this cloud would’ve involved significant turbulence.

Mammatus is often associated with a cumulonimbus cloud. But not on this occasion. There was neither rain nor any gusting wind at ground level beneath this cloud. There were no other clouds like it in the sky. Some local lifting mechanism must have triggered the lifting of just this mass of moist air to the point that that the moisture condensed, forming cloud, which process released heat which further accelerated the uplift of the rising air through the colder surrounding air.

Another point of view on mammatus cloud is, what an amazing and awe-inspiring sight.

The thunderstorm

The unstable conditions (air temperature dropping more rapidly with altitude than is usually the case) which produced the mammatus cloud shown above, were more intensely repeated when the cold front from the west arrived. The wedge of cold air advancing east (the cold front) pushed up the moist warmer air ahead of it, and that air being sufficiently unstable, produced cumulonimbus clouds and thunderstorms as shown in this photo. This photo was taken from my front verandah in Apollo Bay, looking south.
I find it fascinating to contemplate the tortuous course of this massive electric charge between cloud and ground.

The combination of a cold front, warm air and cold air and moisture causing thunderstorms like this, is one of the wonderful constants of the atmosphere around our tiny planet. I always find the approach, arrival and aftermath of a thunderstorm mesmerising and satisfying. It’s always a great show which consumes all my attention for its duration.

Times when I flew like a bird

My eyes have been turned skywards for as long as I can remember.

As a young boy I had a a flock of pigeons which would wheel around the house and the neighbourhood , and at night sleep in absolute luxury in the imposing loft my grandfather and I built for them. It had no doors that closed, and the individual rooms had more comfort than a pigeon needed. There was a lot of breeding. Some of the adult birds would land on my arm at my bidding. That I could strike such a bargain with a free-flying bird always seemed wonderful to me.

I read books about aeroplanes as fast as I could find them. I read all the Biggles books (still in my library). I built model aeroplanes, some flew and some were just to look at. I made kites of all sorts. I experimented with diamond kites, square kites, box kites, multiple kites on the one string, and cardboard propellers made out of rectangular Jaffa packets which once the kite string was threaded through a hole in the middle, would spin their way heavenwards up the string until they reached the kite.

I recall a black and white picture buried deep in a volume of Encyclopaedia Britannica of the cockpit of a 1950s passenger aircraft flying over some vast ocean on an international flight in the dead of night. The pilot, co-pilot and engineer had short haircuts, were smartly dressed and seemed relaxed but focussed in the dim light of the cockpit. The glow from the walls of instruments surrounding them cast them in shadow as much as light. The cockpit seemed like a cosy small scale version of the vast dome of starlit night sky outside the cockpit. By attention to the details of that cockpit they were flying high in the night sky between hemispheres on the globe. As a boy with a bike and a dog, who went fishing, built billy carts, kept pigeons and guinea pigs and read a lot, this seemed wonderful and audacious and remarkable.

I wanted to fly. As a boy still of single-figure years, I accompanied my parents to Essendon Airport to farewell someone. We stood on the open air upper deck of the old terminal as the aircraft warmed up the engines after the doors had been closed and the passenger stairs wheeled back. It was a large turbo prop, probably a Vickers Viscount or a Lockheed Electra. It then started taxying and turned directly away from us. The turbine engines even at taxying settings made an excitingly loud and substantial noise that I could feel as well as hear. I still recall the powerful, warm and heady blast of avtur (turbine engine fuel) fumes that enveloped us for a short time. For some reason the experience thrilled me. This huge complicated machine was about to leave the earth and fly high and far. The crew might not have had their photo in an encyclopaedia, but I recognised it as the same deal.

As a teenager, when I had a job as a xmas postman on a red pushbike, I prepared for the weeks in the sun by going to the Geelong library and borrowing a book on clouds. I studied the book and as I delivered the xmas mail around various suburbs, I began to learn that there were classifications beyond white and fluffy. A lifelong fascination with the weather was under way.

I had my first flying lesson on 5 October 1968 at Grovedale Airport (now a fully developed housing estate). My logbook records the lesson as ‘air experience and effects of controls’. The flight was in a Cessna 150 registered VH-KUM, and lasted for an hour and 25 minutes. Its paint job was white and faded maroon. The instructor was Aub Coote. At that stage, I could only afford a lesson a fortnight ($14.50/hr dual). My last flight as pilot in command of a fixed wing aircraft was on 12 April 2012 (the final leg of a flight from Melbourne to Darwin). I flew a total of 2720 hours in powered aircraft in the intervening years.

I obtained a commercial pilot licence, and a grade 1 instructor rating. I was endorsed on light twin engine aircraft, and held an aerobatics rating. I was also qualified to fly at night. I sent a lot of people first solo, saw a lot of Australia from the air, and experienced weather up close and in all its glory. I realised many of my flying dreams and aspirations in those years. Flying stretched my mind, uplifted my spirits and took me on adventures that are a rich library of memories into which I delve when I wish to be pleasantly lost in my own thoughts.

I also flew sailplanes for a year or two. The highlight of the gliding was a 50km out and back solo flight from Tocumwal to Jerilderie, soaring effortlessly and pretty much in straight lines under lines of sizeable cumulus clouds.

But such matters are not the central subject of this post. It was not until my feet left the ground while I was attached to a hang glider, in December 1978, that I realised it was actually possible to fly like a bird. This post shares a few of my experiences over the years as a hang glider pilot. Circumstances dictated that there were times when I was not in a position to hang glide. Despite such gaps, I kept being drawn back to it. But I remain an inexperienced hang glider pilot. That said, the joy and great satisfaction I have experienced being airborne with the wind in my face cannot be measured in hours and minutes. Hang gliding remains one of the best things I have done in my life. Of all the forms of flying I have undertaken, hang gliding remains the purest and most intense form. It’s the flying that is closest to what a soaring bird does. I consider myself privileged to have been born into the era which coincided with the advent of the hang glider.

The age-old dream of humans to fly like a bird did not become a practical reality until the coming of the hang glider. Interestingly, any hang glider pilot transported back to early Roman or Greek times could build a safe and flyable hang glider with materials available in those eras. The dream was present then, but not the knowledge.

The 5 minute video below, which consists of highlights from a summer of hang gliding in 2000/2001, captures something of the satisfaction, the adventure, the beauty and the sheer joy of flying a hang glider. (The editing quality will reveal why I have persisted with the still photo rather than the moving image).

The video shows the following: taking off from Mt Buffalo; approach and landing at the old Goal Paddock in Bright; taking off from Mystic (also known as Bright Hill); approach and landing at the landing paddock in the northern end of the Wandiligong valley just south of Bright, after flying from Mystic; taking off from Moggs Creek, just west of Aireys Inlet on the Great Ocean Road; taking off from Marriners Lookout at Apollo Bay and landing in a paddock between the hills and the beach. In all clips, I am flying the Airborne Fun 190.

The balance of the photos and captions document a few highlights of my modest hang gliding journey from sand dune to cloud base, for those interested.

The photos are old and many have not fared well in the transformation from a print on photographic paper to a digital image. But I have included the photos in this account because I think they capture something of the early era of hang gliding, which by this stage is long gone and already fading from the memory of those who participated in it.

Teaching myself to fly the Wings Ranger on the Eyre Peninsula (South Australia) in the late 1970s

December 1978, feet off the ground at the dunes near Coffin Bay, South Australia. I was learning to fly by trial and error in the Wings Ranger which I bought from Chris Cowley. There were a few Pt Lincoln locals who were also teaching themselves to hang glide. I started by walking into wind on the beach, then jogging a little to feel the glider lighten without actually lifting me off the ground. Then I did the same thing from lower part of the dunes, moving progressively further up. From the top of the dune, I was getting airborne at a height definitely higher than I was prepared to fall. Minor left and right turns were made in these short flights, and of course every such flight involved a landing. I got a lot of practice at takeoffs and landings. These little flights were exhilarating. But it was solid work carrying the glider back to the top of the dune.
Once takeoffs and landings from the sand dune were occurring without incident and without my heart in my mouth, I progressed to higher hills and coastal cliffs. The hang harness I used for some time was very basic (see next photo), consisting of a triangle of canvas, with leg loops and a hang line sewn on. The hang line attached to the hang glider with a carabiner. There was a light strap which did up with a two ring belt fastener across my chest. Blood supply to the legs was cut off at times, and my potential for contributing to the perpetuation of the species was also significantly at risk. More than a few flights were cut short by the need to land with one leg rapidly going off line and causing pain.

Flying with a bit more altitude gave me more time to practice turns. Reflecting the primitive state of the sport back then, when a rating system was introduced one of the earlier competencies required to be demonstrated was the 360° turn in front of a hill (one to the left and one to the right). So it was that we eagerly counted, discussed and recorded our 180° and 360° turns as our skill levels and confidence improved, even though such turns were often elliptical and rarely level, at least at first.

I recall that I developed doubts about the strength and suitability of the rope from which I was suspended. It was plastic looking and multiply braided – it looked like cast-off nautical line of some sort. Without tension on it, the braiding used to spring back to a loose position. It looked more like rope when under tension. It did’t look new. But rather than discard it, I went to a hardware store and bought some multi strand steel wire, which they kindly turned into a loop with a swage using a swaging tool they had. A small expense for a very worthy cause. This was my backup hang loop. It never had to bear my weight, but I felt more secure with it there.

Close up of the harness in use in the photos before and after this one. Seems to have all the necessary elements: two leg loops, a loop for each arm, a strap across the chest and a rope to hang it all from, all held together with a triangle of canvas.

This south-west facing coastal soaring site was known as Silly Point (on the south west coast of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia). We top landed behind this takeoff spot. The Ranger had flexible plastic battens which did not give form to the wing as the later fixed shape aluminium battens did. It needed a pretty good breeze to fly in coastal lift. We often flew in wind measured at 25 or even 30 knots. The stainless steel plates under the king post to which the hang strap was attached offered a choice of three holes – the forward hole was for very strong winds, and the rear two holes were for strong winds. This primitive device allowed the pilot to change the centre of gravity of the glider – useful to ensure ‘penetration’ (positive forward groundspeed) in strong winds.
An inland site we flew on the Eyre Peninsula. It had enough elevation to cop the full blast of the westerlies. This photo shows how little the flexible plastic battens did for wing shape. As the grass, the onlookers and the sail show, this was a very windy day. We were waiting for the wind to abate to at most 30 knots. But before that happened, the bowing upright visible in the photo snapped with the force of the load on the wing. We always carried spare uprights, as they were a consumable for those teaching themselves to hang glide. Note that the base bar has no wheels or skids. Modern gliders, especially for beginners, are all equipped with wheels for landings that are less than perfect. If I blew a landing on the Ranger, I would often bend an upright (which was straightened and put back in service) or broken and replaced. At that stage I either didn’t know, or didn’t fully understand, that the force of the wind goes up as the square of the factor of its increase: a 20 knot wind has 16 times more force than a 5 knot wind. Or, without numbers, as wind speed increases, the power you feel increases exponentially.
As my confidence with takeoffs, landings and gentle turns grew, I sought higher and higher takeoff sites. This is Mount Greenly, not far north of Coffin Bay on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia. I had many flights from this 650 foot rocky ridge which was parallel to the coast and facing directly into the westerlies coming across the Great Australian Bight. That’s me airborne in the Ranger. Access to this takeoff site was to bush bash up the full 650 feet of the eastern face of this ridge, with the hang glider on one shoulder.
The view from Mt Greenly. As with most sports that involve equipment, I find the rituals satisfying and not to be rushed. This includes setting up and packing up. I am shown here sorting out the various cables, tangs, nuts and bolts as a prelude to raising the glider on the A frame, and attaching the wires from the A frame corners to the nose (the very front end of the keel). That was the moment when the jumble of sail, cables, aluminium and other bits and pieces became a flying machine. The Great Australian Bight is the backdrop in this image. Because of the elevation of this site, we didn’t want too much wind in evidence on the water as it was stronger up higher. The surface of the sea provides a very accurate way of assessing wind strength and direction from above. The ever present risk of strong wind on such a site, especially for a glider such as the Ranger which didn’t have a great top speed, was getting blown over the back of the ridge. That is, with the pilot’s weight fully forward (max throttle), the glider was pointing forwards but going backwards. Rough and possibly unflyable air awaited over the back in the lee of the hill.
Jack Langmead loved Mount Greenly. Dear, faithful Jack. He was smart, and a constant companion. He was also very fit. I did a lot of running in those days in that beautiful part of the world. But never without Jack (I don’t recall ever having him on lead in Pt Lincoln). I often did a few laps in the middle of some runs in the shark nets at the Pt Lincoln jetty. Jack would dive in after me (more of a belly whacker actually). He usually caught up with me after half a lap or so, and would try to climb on to me. This involved scratching and general inconvenience. So we developed a routine: after half a lap I would look over my shoulder and check that Jack was in fact closing on me, then I’d duck dive before he got to me, swim back under him and surface and keep swimming to where I’d started. He’d take enough time looking around for me after I went underwater that I’d get a good lead for the return half lap before he started following me again. Repeat for as many laps as required. I don’t think he enjoyed the swims like he enjoyed the running. I believe he saw it more as a rescue mission.
I was mighty pleased to have this new apron harness in which I could fly prone, with my feet on the rung which I would release after holding it near the base bar for takeoff. That’s Chris Cowley ‘wiring’ me off. The wire man’s job is to hold the front wires very lightly, ready to grip them firmly if a gust threatens to raise the nose suddenly and upend the glider. The pilot positions the nose in a level or slightly lower position for takeoff, keeping the wings level laterally. When the glider was settled in the right attitude, and felt stable, Chris would confirm that he had no pressure on the wires. If he was applying a strong downward force, then of course when he let the wires go the nose would pop and the glider could well flip over on its back. I would then say ‘Clear’, and he’d immediately take his fingers off the wires and duck down and to the side quickly. ‘Clear’ meant I was ready for takeoff and that I should be expected to takeoff without delay. Immediately after takeoff I’d stay in the hang position (body vertical, legs dangling) until speed and attitude etc were all sorted. This didn’t take long. Then as soon I was established in clear air with height, I would drop the stirrup connected to the bottom of the harness by the ropes visible in the photo, then position my feet on the stirrup as I lay down on the apron harness. The ropes were now taut, my legs were fully extended and I was lying prone. The glider and pilot performed a lot better in this low drag position than with the pilot vertical. It was prone flying that truly felt like flying like a bird. While the pilot can see the base bar, unless you look up or sideways, the glider is virtually out of sight. There is no other view like it.
Jack Langmead asking himself once again, ‘Why does he always bring me all the way up here only to disappear into the sky like this?’ Jack would monitor my flight as shown, then when I landed or sometimes just a bit before, he would head off down the mountain over the rocks and through the dense scrub, generally arriving at my feet with a panting smile before I had even had time to remove my harness and helmet. I enjoyed Jack’s company on our hang gliding trips. It’s a wonder he never got bitten by a snake there. We saw a few on this mountain.
Contemplating recycling this cray-pot component found on the beach. Test run of doffing to see if it had potential as a hat for my noggin (which compared to some pinheads, has a substantial circumference). It didn’t.

You may have noticed the plaster on my right arm. On 6 September 1979, at a cliff site north of this point, I had my first flight at this site, and also my first flight with my new prone harness. I had never used such a harness before. How hard could it be? Modern wisdom might say too many new things at once. The trouble with learning by trial and error is that the errors are expensive. Anyway, I crashed into the cliff (I stopped where I hit, on the sloping top part of the cliff, not the sheer vertical lower part with rocks and waves below it). Analysis with the benefit of hindsight suggests the causes included: the wind dropping out a bit without me noticing until after I was below cliff-top height; me trying to scratch back at slow speed to a spot where a gap had been eroded in the cliff edge which I (over-optimistically!) thought might be used for a landing; my assessment of airspeed in the newly prone position was inadequate; I allowed the glider to get too slow in my earnestness to keep flying below cliff top height to somewhere better to land than rocks and surf; the glider stalled, dropped a wing and turned into the cliff. I pushed out on the base bar while heading straight back at the cliff and completed a 180° descending ‘turn’ (not a controlled turn as that wing had stalled), but hit the cliff with the base bar and my knuckles at an angle of bank which matched the angle of the sloping (but still steep) upper section of the cliff.

An upright broke, the base bar was bent, and even though a bit dazed, I was able to sit on the rocky slope, my legs under the edge of the sail of the collapsed glide nodding my head ineffectually as my nose bled profusely all over my hitherto pristine sail. I remember thinking I had ruined my sail. I wasn’t in any great pain. I knew I had done a bit of damage to myself and was quite groggy. My orbit was fractured in three places, my zygoma (cheekbone) suffered a depressed fracture, my nose was broken, my top jaw was broken in two places, my right arm was broken and my knuckles were scraped and I lost a thumbnail (jammed between the base bar and rocks when I hit). Other than that, all good. Luckily Liz (a nurse) was on duty at the Pt Lincoln hospital when I arrived in casualty. Her exact words upon seeing me were, “What have you done to yourself you duffer?” I ended up (thanks to an Adelaide oral maxillofacial surgeon, NOT thanks to the Pt Lincoln medicos who identified only soft tissue damage – they missed every broken bone!) with my upper and lower jaws wired together for a month and living through a straw, and with my broken arm in a cast. I came good pretty quickly once the jaws were unwired.

Everyone I flew with back then had a significant flying incident. Some of us got hurt more than others. Some died. This is to be expected I suppose given we had no real guidance or knowledge. Many hang glider pilots back then came from surfing or sailing backgrounds. Sea level is a better height at which to make an error than 1000 feet above the ground (or even at more than 15 feet above the ground). Around the time of my accident there was a year when 5 pilots died in Australia. The sport is now highly organised and closely regulated. There are licences, training course, and sanctions for those who choose to fly unsafely. Glider design and pilot training have brought the accident rate right back. The collective experience of successive generations of hang glider pilots has been passed on and applied and has seen the sport mature and become acceptably safe.
L to R: VH-AMO (Cessna 170), Theo Modra, Chris Cowley and Larry Jones. Theo owned a farm out the back of Pt Lincoln, and also owned Thistle Island, at the foot of Spencer Gulf. Theo flew between these properties in his vintage Cessna 170 (a single engine tail dragger). When he learned that there was interest in hang gliding in the lift on the north facing bowl of Thistle Island (see next photo) when the winds were from the north, he had the perfect solution to transporting the gliders over there – strap them on the side of his aeroplane. I flew the rest of the crew over in a Cessna 172. Theo said old AMO pulled to the left a bit but was fine. The hang gliding was also successful. The spirit of aviators is to be admired.
Thistle Island at the foot of Spencer Gulf. There was a whalers’ cottage on the island (the only residence back then) which we often hired for wonderful long weekends on this remote island. I’d pilot a light aircraft to get passengers to and from the island. That’s Wedge Island on the horizon.

Progressing to inland flying (foot launches)

Looking down on Bright Hill, or Mystic as it came to be called. I was flying a Moyes Mars 170 which I bought in March 1990 (after doing a ‘refresher’ course – which in fact was my first and only course – with Steve Ruffels at Bright).
Looking straight down at launch on Bright Hill (also known as Mystic). I had taken off there, and climbed well above launch height in one of the thermals which can reliably be found to the left or right of launch. These thermals were known by local pilots as Markus and Emily.

The corner of the instrument visible on the right is my Sjostrom Variometer – an instrument which measures altitude with a readout, and vertical speed with a numerical value and an aural signal. The vario beeps with increasing pitch and frequency as you encounter lift, and makes a low pitched sound when you are in sink or otherwise descending. Thermalling can be done without a vario but it is more efficient, especially in light thermal conditions, with such an instrument.

The instrument mounted on the aluminium rod to the left is my basic but effective airspeed indicator. There is a ram air inlet facing forward, and the red horizontal disc in the plastic tube rises and falls in direct proportion to the mass airflow (airspeed). It is calibrated in mph, being from the USA. Surprisingly it was accurate enough to be useful. But a pilot should not rely on an airspeed indicator for safe flight. Slow speed in particular should be sensed by the feel of the controls and the airflow over the pilot and the wing.

Coastal flying involves almost exclusively flying in ridge lift created by onshore winds of sufficient strength. Accordingly, coastal flyers get comfortable with ground handling and with taking off and landing in winds of reasonable strength. What we considered reasonable in the Wings Ranger days would now be considered too strong. We often flew in wind measured at a steady 30 knots (with the hang loop attach point on the front hole!). In the modern era, most coastal flying takes place in the 12-20 knot range, perhaps a bit stronger in high performance gliders.

Inland flyers on the other hand sometimes fly in ridge lift, but more often fly in thermal lift. So takeoffs inland are often in lighter winds than would sustain flight by ridge lift. The aim is to get airborne, quickly find a thermal, circle and climb then head off cross country. So inland flyers are comfortable with and proficient at light wind takeoffs. Taking off in light winds means that before the takeoff run starts the glider doesn’t generate lift and tauten the hang strap by the sail rising while just standing there (as usually happens with coastal flying), and the need to run while keeping the glider level and the nose down (to avoid it ‘popping’ and stalling the glider on takeoff) to build up airspeed is a critical skill. It was widely recognised back in the early days that coastal flyers needed a bit of practice and guidance to perfect their light wind takeoffs. They also needed to learn how to recognise a thermal, and how to climb in thermal lift.
As the sport evolved, so did the instruments available to pilots. L to R: Brauniger vario (incorporating altitude, vertical speed and airspeed readouts); airspeed sensor feeding the vario; GPS for cross country navigation and distance recording.
Buckland Ridge, between Bright and Myrtleford. In southerly winds of suitable strength, this arc of ridge provided very reliable ridge lift. It is also a premium site from which to thermal. Many happy flights from here, even though the drive in was a bit hard on the vehicles.

This upright is on my Enterprise Wings Combat 152 which I purchased from Alan Beavis in November 1992. Note the black plastic wheel fitted to the base bar. In the event of an inland landing in light or nil wind, if the pilot did not pull off the perfect full flare no-step landing with the glider not touching the ground until he lowered it gently, such a wheel either side of the base bar would allow the forward momentum of the glider contacting the ground to be dissipated over a landing roll of a metre or two. Such wheels have saved many a base bar (and probably uprights too).
It can be a pointless matter of pride for some pilots not to have wheels on the base bar (as they no doubt add marginally to drag in flight and to some, suggest inexperience). I’m not bothered by such appearances. With the exception of the Ranger, my gliders have all had some sort of wheels on the base bar.
A flight from Mt Emu in my Moyes Mars 170 in November 1992. I was testing a new camera set up. I had my Nikon DSLR mounted on the cross bar with a counter-balancing lead weight on the opposite cross bar. I operated the shutter with a pneumatically operated shutter release via a connecting tube cunningly wound around the RH upright. Certainly better resolution and focus than previous efforts. A pity I was in a Mars 170, and obviously bombing out when this well focussed photo was taken. That pudding bowl helmet was bought by mail order from the USA not long after I bought the Ranger.
The old Goal Paddock at Bright, Victoria. It was so named because it served as the goal paddock in the world hang gliding championship held in the Bright area in 1988. The video in this post shows me doing a final approach over the line of trees immediately to the viewer’s left of the brown paddock.
The Enterprise Wings Combat 152 in a landing paddock at Bright. When looking at this photo I can smell the air and the vegetation of those wonderful valleys, and I fondly recall the convivial company of other pilots at the end of a day as we packed up in the landing paddock.
The Moyes pod harness, ICOM CB radio, emergency parachute packed in the chest compartment of the harness and hang glider packing pieces lying around. The pickup ritual is never annoying. It is often protracted if other pilots are doing the same thing, by talk of the flights just completed.
Georgie trying out the new pod harness. Note the marine buoys on the base bar – they act as makeshift wheels and are often used in training. They work.
Jess and Georgie were there to meet me after I landed at the Goal Paddock in Bright.
There’s no place like cloud base.

I was at an altitude of 7,500′ at this point, flying fast in an attempt to descend and stay out of the cloud. The lift was strong under the cloud, especially close to cloud base. It was very hot on Bright Hill where I took off, but quite cool at this altitude. Thermalling up this high in such conditions is a great pleasure. I always carried water in a camelback strapped to my back. The tube to my mouth was routed via my harness straps. One benefit of flying high was that water would condense on the exposed length of tube between camelback and mouth, which in the constant airflow would refrigerate the water in that part of the tube. So I always had at least a couple of mouthfuls of beautiful chilled water to drink, before getting to the lukewarm water.

Tow launches in the flatlands

I did my hang gliding ground-tow endorsement in a paddock near Yarrawonga in March 1994. The towing vehicle was an old Valiant with a payout winch attached to the tower. As still air was good for tow training, we had the gliders assembled by not long after dawn. I like the translucent pastels on the wings of the gliders (my Combat 152 is the far glider) as they were backlit by the morning sun.
The procedures established for ground towing in the modern era of hang gliding work well. Aircraft pilot style procedural phrases and acknowledgments are used. The pilot stands holding the glider, and when he signals the tow to commence, the pilot waits a moment while the tension on the line builds a little, then walks a step or so then then runs forward. The feet are not on the ground for long. The pilot releases at a time of his choosing. A broken tow rope or premature release from some other cause is always a consideration. Similarly, the glider developing a turn one way or the other can quickly lead to a lock-out (steepening turn ending in impact with the ground) if the tow release is not quickly operated. Generally, I released around 800 feet or so, maybe a bit earlier if I flew through a good thermal. The plan then was to circle gently back towards the launch end of the paddock in case a thermal wasn’t found. But at most paddocks in Australia in summer, after about 11am, there will be thermals.
Waiting at sunset for a pickup after a X-country flight of over 20kms.
In December 1994 I attended a week long cross country tour at Birchip organised by Rohan Holtkamp (a gliding instructor who runs a very successful and well regarded hang gliding school from his property at Beaufort in Victoria). The paddocks around Birchip are huge, the sun is hot and the thermals are strong and plentiful. We were all accommodated in the Birchip Pub. Tow launches here were done using a trolley on wheels. The pilot starts the takeoff in a prone position, and upon releasing the trolley is immediately airborne and remains in the prone position as the glider clubs away quite steeply. This system works very well.

The lines visible over the base bar are, L to R: the tow line release line (red); the tow bridle (connecting my harness to the tow line); and the VB cord (which allows me to alter the camber of the wing in flight to improve the glide ratio and maximum speed as required. The VB line pulls the cross bars back along the keel, tightening the sail and turning it into a higher performance wing. VB stands for variable billow. VG is an alternative term for the same thing, and stands for variable geometry.
Late afternoon flight from the tow paddock out of Birchip. Start of a 16km glide to the north from Culgoa, augmented by a few late in the day thermals. VB was full on for the entire glide. It is released for final approach and landing, as the glider is more responsive in roll and can fly slower with the VB off.
This was the dry and dusty stubble paddock (16kms north of Culgoa) in which I landed on another day during the cross country tour after a 25km flight from the launch paddock. I radioed my intended landing position to the retrieve crew on descent before I got too low for the line of sight CB to work. The air was so still late on this hot afternoon, that dust raised by my boots tended to stay just hanging in the air before slowly settling or dispersing. The waiting was totally quiet and very peaceful. I felt great.

A couple of days after this flight I flew my PB X-country distance being 38kms from the launch paddock to a paddock south of Wycheproof. The flight was done in a gusty nor’westerly, under an overcast sky of high cloud. I released at 900′ AGL, climbed to 3500′, had a low save from 1300′, then climbed to 6550 over Dumosa in powerful thermals in unstable pre-frontal air. It was a lengthy and relaxing final glide to my landing, if a little bumpy at times as it neared the ground. . I waited for the retrieve crew stretched out on the dusty stubble in the shade of the Combat, head on the harness and camelback tube in mouth, rehydrating with luke-warm water. I remember feeling very satisfied.

Flying from Mount Buffalo

Flying a hang glider from Mt Buffalo warrants its own sub-heading. This takeoff ramp ends with a sheer drop of about 2000 feet to bush and rocks below. The ramp is 3200 AGL. As the site guide says, there is no room for mistakes here.

I recall when I first started flying around Bright, I visited this ramp with a view to assessing whether it was for me. I concluded that it was not. I would be content flying off other hills with less critical takeoffs. I would leave Buffalo to others without any qualms. But after regularly flying in this area for a few years and after having flown well above Mt Buffalo on quite a few occasions, I began to view this launch as a good clear launch at which I could use the same technique that was serving me well on all the other launches in the area, with the safety of immediate significant height above terrain after takeoff, enormous thermal potential in every direction, and a wealth of options even if just just gliding down from this height.

On 8 January 1993 Mark Verhayden, an experienced local pilot and instructor, agreed to supervise my first launch here. We went early one still morning, before the thermals kicked off. It all went well, as did all my subsequent launches from Buffalo. After some regular inland flying, height is good and feels safe. My thoughts about standing on this ramp ready for takeoff had become all positives – I’ll be airborne quickly, I’ll be high quickly. My only thoughts on launch here are flying thoughts. I still paid very close attention to the conditions, I would not use this site in conditions which had any question mark over them, and I never needed reminding about the need for focus on preparation and takeoff here.
Lizzie relaxing on the Mt Buffalo launch ramp
A small telltale is visible on the front left of the ramp. In summer, there is also one on the other side. It is very important for a pilot hooked in and standing on that rear section of the ramp sloping back, to know what the wind is doing on and near the ramp for a safe takeoff here. This involves appreciating the big picture – from which direction is the general weather pattern producing winds? – and the micrometeorological picture – what is the wind in my face doing, what is the wind doing at the left of the ramp, the right of the ramp and beyond the ramp? Such trees as I can see in the vicinity, what are they indicating as to thermal activity? The hang gliders that took off before me, what did they encounter?

The scale of Mt Buffalo can produce some interesting wind behavior. For example, a light wind up the face of launch, apparently from the north, can in fact be caused by a steady gradient wind from the south blowing over the back of the mountain. That apparent light northerly can be caused by the rotor effect of the southerly going overhead at height in the opposite direction. While the moment of takeoff might be OK in such conditions, flight shortly thereafter could well be turbulent in what is actually the LEE side of the mountain. Knowing the big picture matters.
Overlying the Buffalo gorge on another occasion with a few thousand feet of clearance. The Buffalo Chalet is in the centre of the frame.
Preparing the glider for takeoff. That’s the glider’s nose cone on the bush. It wraps around the very front of the glider, making it streamlined. We were not as close to the edge here as it looks.
Mark acting as my wireman. I do recall thinking that a harness of some sort and a secure line to an anchor point might not have been overkill . The ramp is quite steep, and the first step off it is a big one. It’s important on this ramp to have the glider. The nose of the glider must be lower than for a launch from a gentler slope without a 2000 foot drop after a short takeoff run. This is to prevent it lifting and slowing the glider during the takeoff run, with the risk of a stall, wing drop and turn back into the rock face immediately past the end of the ramp. Good airspeed as you leave the ramp is required. My first takeoff shown here was safe, but on subsequent takeoffs I kept the nose even lower.
I was airborne in about half the length of the ramp. That’s Mark out of the way beside the ramp making sure my side wires clear his head. The nose at this point was a bit higher than is ideal.
Airborne.
Seems I got the nose back to a better angle by this point.
The video at the top of this post opens with a takeoff from Mt Buffalo. The position of the nose during that takeoff is where I like it for this site.
Manoeuvering in the gorge to see if by some chance there was a thermal at that hour of the day. There wasn’t.
Setting heading for Porepunkah airstrip, over that heavily timbered ridge on the right. A smooth nil wind landing there completed the flight. A great start to the day.

Flying at Rainbow Beach, and off the Remarkables in New Zealand

I camped with a group of pilots (including Hughbert Alexander) at the foot of the dunes on Teewah, north of Noosa in Qld. I hired a Moyes Ventura (floater) from a local for the week. This flight was at Rainbow Beach, a north facing site. The takeoff was from the Carlo Sandblow, a gap in the dunes with a gentle slope on its higher part which is just steeper than a hang glider’s glide angle.
Geoff Dossetor kindly arranged for me to borrow a Combat 152 (same model as mine) for a memorable, cold and smooth flight in very good lift off the Remarkables, near Queenstown in the south island of New Zealand. Geoff , a champion pilot, ran a tandem hang gliding business from Queenstown. Geoff took off shortly after wiring me off and flew with me. This flight was on 28 July 1994. We took off just below the snow line. We were only 2-3kms from Queenstown airport, large passenger aircraft operate. Separation procedures were in place.
Smooth, cold air. The glassiest winter lift I have ever flown in. We landed on lush green grass in winter shadows in a valley just south of the mountain where we took off.

Flying at Apollo Bay

In October 1999 I had my first flight of the new Airborne Fun 190 from Marriners Lookout at Apollo Bay. The harbour can be seen in the distance. The large set of wheels are on the buggy I use to wheel the hang glider up to this launch.
I can’t recall ever taking off from Marriners Lookout without an audience. It’s a beautiful and popular spot. Regrettably it’s no longer practically available for hang gliders, since a wire fence was erected across the takeoff run.
Wheeling around above Marriners Lookout after takeoff, in a mixture of light ridge lift and big soft thermals.
Good height over launch. There is a hang glider parked on launch. That shiny black object is one of two neoprene mitts fixed to the base bar, to keep the hands warm in longer flights. In the cold onshore winds blowing in from the Southern Ocean, these mitts are gold after an hour or so of flying.
Lizzie was my retrieve driver for my Apollo Bay flying. I’d radio her and identify a location and time for my landing so there was no waiting after she arrived with the old Volvo wagon.
Landing on the beach in front of the servo at Apollo Bay.
Peter Batchelor on a day of low stratus, light winds and sea mist, bringing his EF5 down over the eucalypts below Marriners Lookout for a landing on the grass. This was a very innovative hang glider designed, built and sold by Ewan Fagan. They never took the world by storm but owners loved them and by all reports they flew very well. This is one of many hang gliders owned by Peter.
Fiona, highly experienced hang glider pilot and paraglider pilot (and instructor for both) at Apollo Bay, waiting for cloud to lift for her student paraglider pilots to fly.
Doing up the helmet ready for launch on Marriners Lookout. The carbon fibre helmet which replaced the more primitive red pudding bowl helmet shown in photos above. I don’t wear a full face helmet hang gliding, even though many if not most pilots seem to. The reason is that the oral maxillofacial surgeon who fixed up my facial fractures in 1979, commented that the force of the impact that caused those injuries, had I been wearing a full face helmet, might well have broken my neck.
Apollo Bay. I now spend much of my time in this town.
Flying the Fun 190 in light ridge lift near Moggs Creek on the west coast.

I have not flown my hang glider since the fence was put up at Marriners Lookout. But on racks in my garage at Apollo Bay, there is a Wings Ranger, an Enterprise Wings Combat 152 and an Airborne Fun 190, a Moyes pod harness, a carbon fibre helmet, a couple of CB radios, a Brauniger vario and a flying suit. There is some faint prospect of another takeoff site at Apollo Bay becoming available……

The Southern Ocean at 38° 45′ 26″ S, 143° 40′ 11″ E (and some other things)

I have a strong sense of location. Wherever I may be, I keep track of north, I consider the major geographical features in the four cardinal directions, I note how far from the sea I am and I make it my business to know what the weather is and to have a guess as to what it’s  likely to do in the short term. Wind direction and strength are always important to me.  I love to read the wind on the water. When near the coast, monitoring ocean swell size is essential. Clouds fascinate me on many levels, and my eyes have turned skywards when given half a moment since I was a boy.

When there is time for contemplation, I like to think where the meridian of longitude on which I am standing would lead were I to follow it north or south. Similarly, I wonder where circumnavigation of the earth following the parallel of latitude beneath my feet would take me. When standing on an ocean shore, I like to know which continent is due south, or west or east of me. I like to orient myself in terms of latitude and longitude rather than postcode and governmental boundaries. When in Apollo Bay, I find it more interesting to think of myself as being at a point on the globe rather than at a street address within the boundaries of the town. The title of this post hints obliquely at this perspective.

It was a surprise to me when standing on the beach at Cockle Creek in the far south of Tasmania recently (located just south of 43° S), to learn that the next continent directly west was South America. The sustained westerly gale force winds in which I was standing were the full uninterrupted blast of the roaring forties. It will perhaps be a surprise to some Victorians to learn that the first land to be encountered flying due south from Apollo Bay is Antarctica. Such a track would even be west of King Island.  It may be an even greater surprise to some Victorians to learn that the first land to be flown across on a direct southerly track from Torquay is also Antarctica. That track would take you between Tassie and King Island.

Before getting to photos of the Southern Ocean, which until this morning were to be the opening photos in this post, I cannot resist sharing a few snaps of one of the ‘other things’ mentioned in the heading. I received a visit this morning from the sometime resident in the eucalypts which line the creek beside my house in Apollo Bay.  I was made aware of his presence by the noise of the fracas as my little black dog Minnie, emboldened by the secure fence between her and the eucalypts, was exchanging rowdy unpleasantries with this koala. The koala was giving it all he had, with that improbably loud and deep-throated ‘growling cougar’ noise koalas are capable of making. He even deferred his climb up the tree, staying low so he could eyeball Minnie and give her his best.

By the way, koalas are not bears. They are marsupials. The ‘bear’ tag was given by the early English settlers. They were wrong, but it stuck.

The Koala

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Pausing between rounds in the mutual harangue with Minnie the black dog.

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I quietly positioned myself for a good photo angle out of the line of sight between the koala and Minnie. But I was spotted and transfixed with this laser stare!

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The face of the many moods of a koala could probably be captured with a single photo. Nothing on the face seems to move to permit expression of emotion. But the combination at this moment of wide eyes, and the ears in the full ‘alert but not alarmed’ position does suggest indignation at my proximity with a large telephoto lens invading the privacy of the koala. By the way, look at the musculature on that left arm, and those serious claws. This koala was built for climbing vertical smooth trees without effort, which he did after this photo session, with agility and speed.

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The indignant koala disengaged from Minnie and me, his perceived antagonists, and headed up to the highest branches of the gum tree out of sight of the offending dog and human. I think this face might also convey an emotion or at least the mood at the moment, which was “I am going to leave at my chosen pace, without a word, with my dignity intact, and with the most imperious and superior look I can muster on my congenitally expressionless face.”

The Point at Marengo and Little Henty Reef

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My favourite section of reef on Little Henty in a good swell, creating the predictable mayhem with this breaking wave.

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The swell was solid, and the white mane of spray courtesy of the offshore wind was on the verge of splitting the light into the colours of the rainbow. But the thing that caught my eye most was the mast of the fishing boat visible through the spray just left of centre in the image. It was close to the reef, but was certainly clear of the breaking wave and white water. Large boats don’t go through that pass between sections of the reef.

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The approaching wave was sucking the water off the reef immediately in its path. Some pastel rainbow colours can be seen in the white mane blowing back and falling behind the wave on the far right of the image. The beginning of a tight green barrel can be seen as the lip throws forward on hitting the reef.

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The green barrel is better developed here.

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Closeup of the little barrel which regularly appears at this spot with waves above a certain size.

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Bigger wave, bigger barrel. Still unrideable. The barrel looks neatly round, but the rest of the wave shows its rather chaotic nature and power.

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Solid swell, offshore wind and a vantage point for taking the photo which looks straight down the line of the wave.  Who could ask for more?

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If there’s one angle I like at least as much as looking down the line, it’s the ‘back-stage pass’ angle shown in this photo. The power of the wave and the extent and volume of the spray rising so spectacularly then falling like a very localised but very heavy rain shower behind the wave always captivates me. You would normally have to be swimming or on a surfboard to get this angle. But my feet stayed dry (mostly).

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This photo and the two following were taken on a different day and swell to the eight photos which precede them.

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Point Bunbury & Mounts Bay

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Power and beauty. Shore break at the reef parallel and close to the shore at Pt Bunbury.

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Mounts Bay. Locals call this Marengo beach and bay. Solid westerly making the sea glassy and blowing plumes of spray off breaking waves.

A dog and a ball and a beach

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I went to Skenes Creek to photograph waves, and this dog and its owner were playing ball. I don’t know the owner, and can’t identify the dog (save that I think it has a few different breeds contributing to its sleekness and obvious hybrid vigour).  The dog gave his all in exuberantly and athletically chasing down the ball each time it was thrown.

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“Before I give it to you, please confirm that you are planning to throw it again.”

Australasian Gannet Soaring Effortlessly

I mentioned in a previous post on this blog that the Australasian gannet had moved rapidly into a top three position on my list of favourite birds. I have read a lot more about it, and it now heads that list. It’s a beautiful and amazing bird.

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38° 45′ 26″ S, 143° 40′ 11″ E (aka Apollo Bay) under the Milky Way and a Rain Shower

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I took this photo in late winter. I rugged up and headed out in hope of getting perhaps a glimpse of the southern lights (the aurora australis), responding once again to entirely false allegations on the internet (fancy!) of the presence of omens warranting aurora-sighting optimism for coastal Victorians. In any event, cloud on the southern horizon ended that quest.  Showers were moving along the coast from the west, and the sky was mostly covered in cloud. But there was a break in the rain, and for a few moments the Milky Way, a solid cumulus cloud and a heavy but localised rain shower were all visible at the same time.