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.
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 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.
Pacific gull posing, and juvenile crested gull.
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.
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.
I have said it many times on these blog posts – photography is all about the light (and serendipity).
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.
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.
Apollo Bay in Autumn
The Southern Ocean
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.
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.
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 showsthe 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
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.
Progressing to inland flying (foot launches)
Tow launches in the flatlands
Flying from Mount Buffalo
Flying at Rainbow Beach, and off the Remarkables in New Zealand
Flying at Apollo Bay
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……
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 Point at Marengo and Little Henty Reef
Point Bunbury & Mounts Bay
A dog and a ball and a beach
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.
38° 45′ 26″ S, 143° 40′ 11″ E (aka Apollo Bay) under the Milky Way and a Rain Shower
8 blokes, 8 bikes, not enough degrees Celsius, 2 days, one night and 1000kms. This is the essence of the plan we had as the sun rose on Saturday 30 March 2019.
But first, the riders.
The group of 8 wasn’t complete until Bright, where Gilbert (a resident of Bright) joined us.
If there is a common element in this crew, I would say it is that they are all great company.
We departed Melbourne at 7:30am on Saturday, and returned just before last light around 7pm on Sunday. Distance travelled 1000kms. No frights (or none reported….) or falls. Widely varying road and weather conditions encountered. Lessons learned about how to stay warm and dry. Each one of us is now that little bit more experienced. It was an enjoyable little adventure. A lot was packed in over the two days. The trip was short because some of the group have real jobs requiring attendance on Monday morning. The company of the large group was most enjoyable – but they were carefully handpicked.
Andrew left us at Kiewa. Gilbo left us at Myrtleford. Brendan peeled off at Yea and returned to Geelong on secondary roads NW of Melbourne. Noel left us at Growling Frog Road just south of Whittlesea. Mike left us in Thornbury, and Darren and Hambo waved me off as they rode down Plenty Road beside my street heading for Richmond where they returned their bikes to the hirer. Hambo then caught an Uber home, and Darren found his way to the station and caught a train back to Geelong. All checked in reporting safe final arrival at respective homes with a flurry of short messages. Job done.
I’d do it all again, with this group (but hopefully more days and more kms next time).
Some years ago when trees were planted along the banks of Milford Creek, which runs beside our house, we thought the only change would be the loss of the few ocean glimpses we had to the east over the rooftops in the few hundred metres between us and the coast. Instead, as the trees grew, the birds and other wildlife came, and stayed.
The photos below were taken from the first floor deck on our house. They are but a sample of the wildlife parade along and above the banks of Milford Creek.