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:
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.

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.
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:
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 my, 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 in 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 Birchil 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.
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.

A Swim and a Walk at Cradle Mountain

The last of my wild water swims in Tasmania was at Dove Lake, in the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park.

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The path down to the shore from which I swam. There was no sand, but there were clean flat rocks with a carpet of hardy moss in and around them on which to change (quickly) into my wetsuit.  Cradle mountain is at the far end of the lake, covered in snow and with its summit in the clouds.

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Moments of sunlight would come and go.  But this was a generally cloudy day with only grey winter light – not necessarily a photographer’s delight. But such light does contribute to the cold and wintry mood of the place.

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Dove Lake is 940m above sea level, and 157m (515 feet) deep at its deepest point.  Its shore length is 6.6kms. The surrounding mountains all had a good covering of snow. I spoke to a solo hiker who tackled Cradle Mountain this day and ended up turning around after climbing to an elevation where the snow was waist deep.

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Marions Lookout beside Dove Lake.

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Cradle Mountain


The Swim

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The ‘beach’ from which I swam at the northern end of Dove Lake. In the shallows the bottom was covered in small smooth pebbles. A little further out there were larger round rocks. Visibility in the water was only around 3-4 metres. The water was a dark yellowy colour. From about 50m offshore I was just looking down into blackness.  Nothing like the ocean at the Bay of Fires. There was no swell and none was forecast. The tide was pretty much the same as it was when I last visited here 10 years or so ago.

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The water temperature in waist deep water was measured at just a whisker under +4C. Just as a single degree drop in sea temperature in the 12-18°C range to which I am accustomed at Apollo Bay can be clearly felt, I think that below 5°C each one tenth of a degree must have the same effect.  So having immersed myself in this water, and upon close examination of the thermometer reading, I am calling it 3.9°C. It certainly felt like it. The air temperature was around 6C.

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I can imagine no place (save perhaps for Antarctica) where walking slowly out into deepening water feels more wild and isolated. I waded around in the shallows for a while before heading out for my swim, to avoid the shock of sudden transition from very warm to very cold. An interesting result of this was that my legs below my knees were noticeably colder than the rest of me when I got out of the water. For an hour or so after the swim even though I was warmly dressed and not feeling at all cold in my core, my lower legs felt as if coldness was radiating out from my bones. It brought back memories of this same feeling, but as a whole of body experience, when driving home in the late 1960s after a winter surf at Torquay in board shorts and a sleeveless woollen footy jumper.

Offshore, unable to see anything but darkness in the water, I paused to take a few shots with the GoPro of Cradle Mountain and Marions Lookout from water level.

It was very interesting water to be in. With ocean swimming things like currents, creatures and waves need to be considered in deciding when, where, or indeed whether to go. Water temperature is also to be considered, but in winter at Apollo Bay with suitable wetsuits and swims of less than an hour we don’t really get close to the threshold of any issue with hypothermia. I was conscious that this water had only one significant risk factor, the 4°C temperature. I am not accustomed to swimming in such cold water. I entered the water slowly and in stages, wetting my face and neck and hands (the only skin I had exposed) and pausing to allow the coldness to penetrate my wetsuit evenly and slowly. The pauses also allowed the light wind to do its refrigeration work on my wet face, neck and hands in preparation for the coldness of immersion. A bit of deep breathing as I adjusted to the temperature seemed to assist. Not sure if I imagined that benefit, but it felt real.

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Given my slow entry into the water, it was not a shock when I started swimming. It was exhilarating. The first part of me to protest was my hands, which experienced what I can only describe as a burning sensation.  The next was the back of my neck, which had the same burning sensation. My face did not experience this, but went through the usual relatively comfortable numbing process that occurs in say 13°C water. There was no ice-cream headache, which I attribute to wearing a swim cap under my Patagonia lined neoprene cap. There was no face-ache. One big difference to commencing a swim in winter at Apollo Bay was that my entire body was noticeably cooling the longer I swam in Dove Lake. My arms and core and legs were slowly getting colder. This doesn’t happen in warmer cold water at Apollo Bay, where my core stays cosy for the whole swim. For the record, I wore my Patagonia R3 wetsuit (designed for  8°-13°C water temperatures), with a Rip Curl lined neoprene sleeveless vest under it. I also wore Patagonia booties – my feet remained toasty. I wore earplugs, as always.

A pause before returning to shore. All things considered, I felt pretty acclimatised at this point. But by time I swam back to shore I could feel that the cold was steadily sapping my body heat.

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I stopped swimming in waist deep water, and was captured in this photo just after I stood up. I think that water dripping from my moustache must be melting ice. I felt a good sense of achievement at this point.


The Walk

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The black currawong is endemic to Tasmania. It seems that they are especially prolific at Cradle Mountain.  It is a personable bird which, despite its appearance,  is more closely related to the magpie than the crow. Those yellow eyes set in jet black feathers make for a striking colour scheme. We came across these distinctive birds everywhere during our visit to Cradle Mountain.

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Despite having only eyes with which to convey attitude, I think this bird is clearly displaying some attitude. I was on the verge of getting a bit too close to him, and his first response was not to fly away, but to give me this look.

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The route of our 9.5km hike from Dove Lake to the Cradle Mountain Village. With stops for photos, drinks, anzacs and rests, it took us three hours. It was cold throughout, with  heavy rain  alternating with misty rain. As the afternoon wore on and our elevation decreased, an occasional fleeting moment of sunlight would spotlight a few trees, bushes or button grass patches. These would invariably send me diving to get my camera out of its waterproof case, but only on a few occasions did I actually succeed in switching it on, aiming it and taking a photo before the cloud and rain resumed.  I did however take a lot of photos in the rain. My camera case was soaked by the end of the walk. I kept wiping the camera down and clearing the lens cover after taking photos in the heavier rain. This worked and the camera survived nicely.


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These trees were on the banks of Crater Lake. The colours were more vivid in the rain than I suspect they would have been otherwise.

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This tree was at an elevation of around 1000m, also near Crater Lake.

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I made the mistake of asking Liz to assist with the important and potentially life saving task of Spot Satellite Messenger transmissions. I’m not sure she shared my view of the importance of this device, being apparently satisfied that the track was clearly marked, only 9kms or so long, and that we would be fine even if I dropped the Satellite Messenger in Dove Lake and never saw it again.  I didn’t get the impression that she viewed the device as a serious tool, albeit that she may have viewed me as qualifying in this regard. Or, perhaps this is her look that says, what a remarkable device, and what a privilege to hold it while it communicates with satellites and friends and family letting them know our location via a satellite photo of the very spot, and the latitude and longitude of that spot.

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Crystal clear near-freezing meltwater flowing out of Crater Lake, a tarn near Dove Lake.

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Hiking in the rain.

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Liz hiking in the rain. We took necessary but minimal equipment. The waterproof overprints Liz was wearing were very handy given the amount of wet foliage we had to brush past.

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Button grass. I did not place the dob of snow on this plant.

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Most of the walk was on excellent boardwalks like this one. Not only do they protect this fragile environment, but as walking would be impossible in the very wet and mushy ground in these button grass areas, the boardwalks give access to areas which could not otherwise be experienced.

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The fact that I have included four photos of these plants and their ancient looking environs, means I was very taken with them.  I have yet to identify them. Scenes like this evoke terms like  ‘pre-Jurassic Gondwana’ (which may or may not be a thing) in my limited vocabulary in relation to such things.

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As we stood captivated by this remarkable scene, I think we heard some dinosaurs shuffling around nearby but just out of sight. However, just as they say in relation to Tasmania Tiger ‘sightings’, if there is no photo there was no sighting. But if I were a dinosaur in Cradle Mountain, this is definitely where I’d hang out.

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Wombats regularly commute using the boardwalks. This wet but healthy looking wombat pretty much ignored us. He faithfully observed the wombat code of conduct by maintaining a facade of complete inscrutability. I’ve never seen a wombat smile.

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Creeks, rivulets, rivers and mighty rivers seem to be everywhere in Tasmania. This was a fast flowing creek. I stood very still and used a half second exposure time to achieve the silky flowing water appearance. A proper photographer would have used a tripod, a remote shutter release and a neutral density filter.

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This looked very recent to us. A week of gales in the area felled a lot of trees, but few bigger than this one. We were able to get past under the trunk on the left of the boardwalk.

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Liz did the test run crawling under the fallen trunk to make sure it was safe. I followed.

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I imagine there would have been some warning as this tree collapsed. But this would’ve been a prime few metres of the boardwalk to avoid at that moment it did fall. We seem to have come across a lot of fallen trees in recent days.

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Wombats were positioned to provide photo opportunities for the the entire 9.5 kms of our walk.

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The same creek photographed earlier, but a little further downstream with a lot more water in it. Again, the hand-held half second exposure method was used.

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To permit comparison, this is the same scene but at a much higher shutter speed, which effectively freezes the motion of the water.

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9.5kms of this was no hardship. Indeed, it was a privilege. In the direction we hiked there were more downs than up, as we descended from the Dove Lake elevation of 940m to the village elevation of 800m.

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Silhouetted eucalypts as the sun lowered.

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Reflected silhouetted eucalypts as the sun lowered.

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Wombat faces are hard to photograph, as they are usually buried in or under button grass or other foliage, as they forage for food.  The wombat face is quite inscrutable. They only ever move slowly.  They seem expressionless. The wombats in these photos are superbly equipped with dense warm fur for their high country lives, and very solid bodies. I have held a wombat, and they feel as though they are entirely made of solid muscle or some sort of armour. Cradle Mountain must be close to wombat paradise.

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We saw many a wombat ensconced dead centre in a clump of button grass. The grass would give some protection from the wind and elevate them above the very wet ground, often with water flowing,  between these clumps.  It seems they were made for each other. They all looked very comfortable and self-satisfied. They live their lives up here free from cars and predators, and with nature’s full abundance at their disposal. They seem ideally adapted to their environment. The Cradle Mountain wombats must surely be the happiest of creatures.





High Country Ride Autumn 2019

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.

We met at first light and departed from Preston right on sunrise. The air was reasonably warm as the cold front to the west had not yet crossed our part of the state.

7 bikes and riders, consisting of two hired BMWs (an F750GS and an R1200GS), a Yamaha Tenere, a Triumph Tiger,  a BMW R1200RT, another BMW R1200GS and a Kawasaki Versys. Wide range of road riding experience in the group.

Most of this crew choose mostly to ride either alone, or with one other carefully selected person. It was an interesting experiment to have such a crew ride as a group of 8.

We left before this frontal system reached Melbourne, and it caught up with us later in the afternoon as we approached Bright. The ride over Mt Hotham to Omeo was in the conditions just behind the front. It was a reasonably strong system of two lows in close succession, with the isobars tightening up as it progressed across the state. The strong, cold and moist onshore winds (from the west then south west) produced a lot of rain, and were forecast to produce snow above 1000m in the high country.

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.

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Noel – acknowledged master of the motorbike, both mechanically and as a rider. A privilege to ride with him. I have done most of my long trips with Noel. I continue to learn a lot from him. He is a gun.  After the 1000kms at the weekend, on the Wednesday following Noel climbed aboard his BMW R1200RT and departed Melbourne at first light. His route? Melbourne to Mansfield to Whitfield to Myrtleford to Bright to Mt Hotham (where it was dry, sunny and 11C) to Mitta Mitta to Tallangatta to Corryong, where his trip ended not long before dark.  800kms on that particular day. A lot of curves, a lot of riding. Hard core effort.

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Gilbo. Long time resident of Bright, been riding (and flying various things) for years.

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Mike, getting off his Triumph Tiger. Got his learner plate when I did, and we rode a lot together building up initial experience on identical Honda VTR 250s. In 2010 Mike did the first day of my ride around Australia with me (Melbourne to Orbost).

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Hambo was riding on a hire bike. He has been on a few short road trips with Noel and me.  Some paddock experience on unregistered motorbikes as a boy.

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Darren, on a hired BMW R1200GS. A lot of off-road experience including competing on a trials bike, but no real road riding experience. Had never ridden a BMW R1200GS before picking up his hire bike on Friday afternoon.

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Brendan. Very experienced rider (road and off-road), and has owned quite a few bikes. His current bike, the Yamaha Tenere, is a favourite I am guessing. In 2010 Brendan did the first couple of days of my ride around Australia with me, and we parted ways in Nowra NSW.

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Andrew – commercial pilot, Kawasaki Versys owner and drone flyer. He has the best mentor in the business in Noel (his father).  He is rapidly building up experience on this his second motorbike.

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The first lesson I learned about riding in a large group is that there are more stops and progress is much slower. The route we took to Bright (via Yea, Mansfield, Whitfield, Oxley and Myrtleford) can be done in 3 hours or so. We took 7.5 hours (!), but enjoyed every one of them.  We had coffee stops at Yea, Mansfield and Whitfield! This photo was just before the T intersection in Whitfield, near the pub. We had just ridden through 65 kms of mostly curves from Mansfield. There was some fog, and quite a few damp patches on the road. A sign of things to come as it turned out.

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Parked at Whitfield, L to R: BMW (Noel), BMW (Darren), BMW (me), Kawasaki (Andrew), Yamaha (Brendan), BMW (Hamish) and Triumph (Mike).

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Beside the Whitfield Cafe, a popular watering hole with motorcyclists and others.

8 bikes fitted in Gilbo’s garage at Bright, out of the rain. There was a fair bit of rain falling by this stage of the day. We checked on conditions ahead, and were told there had been 43mm of rain in Omeo (and counting) and that it had been snowing all day on Hotham. The BoM rain radar showed lines of heavy showers approaching Bright from the west. Accordingly, after a brief chat we cancelled our booked Omeo accommodation while in Bright (Margie, the proprietor of the Omeo Motel having very kindly left a message on my phone that we could cancel if we wished, without charge, given the conditions, and her wish that all stay safe). That was a generous gesture. But we then decided to have a look at the Mt Hotham road by riding up it until we struck either dense fog, too much rain to ride in, wind too strong to continue safely, unrideable amounts of snow on the road, or black ice.  While I had some faint hope that conditions might not be as unrideable as they sounded, I was entirely comfortable with the decision to cancel the Omeo accommodation. I expected not to get too far up Mt Hotham, and to return to spend the night in either Bright or Mount Beauty.

We continued our way cautiously up the mountain on wet roads, with rain at times, fog at times, and a constantly dropping temperature.  This photo was taken at a roadside parking area just after we encountered the first hint of falling snow, not too many kms from the summit. The process reminded me of nibbling away at bad weather in a light aircraft on a VFR flight – no harm in having a look so long as the plan is to do a 180 in plenty of time without pushing your luck. A series of decisions is required as conditions permit progress through or around bad weather, until they don’t, at which point you divert, land nearby or turn around and go back home. Sometimes you can fly a long way in bad weather where visibility at any point is only a few miles in front of the aircraft. In simplified form (less variables), this was our ride up Hotham, at no point feeling confident of getting much beyond the next few curves. Despite all the dire forecasts however, conditions did not become unrideable. But this was not confirmed until we actually reached the village at the summit.

At this stop I was increasingly confident that we had a reasonable chance of getting over Mt Hotham, and proceeding on to Omeo (hoping we could re-book our accommodation if that occurred). I checked with each rider to ensure nobody was hypothermic and that continuing on was acceptable to all. It was. Everyone denied being cold, but I later discovered that some were in fact already suffering a bit in this department.  Compare the smiling face of  Andrew (heated jacked, ample jacket and liners, heated handgrips) with the face of Hambo (summer jacket with plastic waterproof liner, heated handgrips, generally underdressed). Hamish was let down by the hirer in this regard, who in my view should never have sent him in off in this hire jacket given the cold snap that the state was experiencing. I later discovered that Darren had very cold hands and feet, and that Gilbo’s gloves weren’t quite doing the job for his hand either.

Success! The summit car park on top of Mt Hotham. Light snow was falling, it was windy and wet, but there was no black ice on the road. The air temperature at the summit car park according to my motorbike instruments was -0.5C. Noel said there was a lit sign on a building in the village showing -3C. The wind chill on any view was -7C or colder. When the motorbikes were moving, the wind chill would’ve been much colder again.

My BMW R1200GS in the summit car park area. Snow was freezing on impact and sticking to my windshield and visor.  I had to continually wipe ice of my visor.

I was wearing thermals and a T shirt under my jacket (which had a quilted liner). But I had not put my heated jacket on when we left Bright (probably reflecting my view that while getting over the mountain was not necessarily impossible, it was unlikely). My gloves (and heated handgrips), legs and feet were all warm, dry and comfortable. Just before this stop (between the summit and Dinner Plain), I felt a couple of involuntary body shivers that indicated I was perhaps a bit colder than I felt. I figured it was time to don the heated jacket. The stop shown above and below was not far north of Dinner Plain, and I checked if all were happy to check out whether the pub there was open. There were no objections.

Hambo on the left taking some advice from Noel. A good thing to do.

About to head off to Dinner Plain, hopefully to find an open and warm pub, or at worst, an alcove or two out of the wind and snow in which to warm up and rug up a bit more.

The open sign on the door was most welcome. Inside, the central heating was doing its job, as were the two adjacent roaring open fires in large stone fireplaces. This was a very timely and most welcome stop. I rang the Omeo Motel from here and was able to re-book our cancelled accommodation. We had a few refreshments, dried off and warmed up a bit, then continued on our way as last light was approaching fast. By my calculation, 3:30pm was the latest time we could leave Bright to make Omeo before last light, with a bit of an allowance thrown in for unplanned stops or delays. We rode out of Bright at 3:30pm.

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The ride up the last couple of kms to the summit was in thick cloud and wind, with snow flurries eddying in all directions around the road, including some blowing up from the drop-off to our left beyond the orange snow poles. There was a minor sense of adventure to the extent that successful passage to the summit and beyond was still not guaranteed. But having reached the summit, and ridden through light falling snow and strong winds until a km or two past Dinner Plains, our success was reinforced and brought with it a great sense of satisfaction as the snow disappeared to be replaced by rain, the air temperature slowly climbed into positive figures as we descended, and the wind seemed to drop off as we were essentially on the lee of the mountain now. It was a wet but very enjoyable ride down the hill through all the big curves into Omeo. This photo is the crew of 8 at the Mt Kosciuszko lookout a few kms out of Omeo. Well below the snow line now, but still cold conditions. I took this photo with the Nikon, using the delayed shutter function which gave me 8 seconds to take my place in the group. When I saw the photo and all the faces, I assumed I had inadvertently stood in a hole as the shutter went. But no. It appears I had just shrunk. Disappointing. I’m sure I’m taller than Noel.

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Less than a week ago, Andrew passed the last of his Airline Transport Pilot Licence theory exams – the notoriously tricky Navigation and Flight Planning exam (which was the last step he had to take before being eligible for employment as a first officer with an airline – he is now waiting to hear from QANTAS on the fate of his application for employment, having done his interview and simulator check late last year). He promised himself a new drone as a reward if he passed this last exam. Being a good bloke, he honoured his promise. This is the drone. I have watched the arrival and evolution of drones, without any real interest in getting one. But this drone’s amazing capabilities did interest me. Andrew has mastered it quickly.

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Drone photo.

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Another drone photo – fantastic angle. Omeo is nestled in the valley in the distance near the top right of frame.

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The Omeo Motel.  Margie, our host was just great. Apart from being prepared to forego any charge when we cancelled our booking, upon arrival she shouted everyone a bottle of beer (thanks Darren for being my proxy drinker). This generosity was for occupants of rooms paying only $64 per night each. Some of us didn’t get our breakfast orders in by 8pm the previous night (or indeed at all), and as Margie delivered the properly ordered breakfasts, she offered to take any orders from the delinquents. Another kind gesture. We all left the motel feeling well fed and well cared for. She gave us the feeling that as customers we mattered. The rooms were entirely comfortable and warm. A bargain at $64 a head. I’d go back there.  We dined in the neighbouring pub on the Saturday night.  Classic country pub fare in a warm and hearty atmosphere.

Practically speaking, we had three routes to choose from to return to Melbourne from Omeo – via Gippsland and Noojee, or over Falls Creek and down into the Kiewa Valley and home via Bright, or north to Mitta Mitta and across to Myrtleford via the top of the Kiewa Valley and on to either the Hume Highway or Whitfield and Mansfield.  Option 1 would’ve been all low level (but would’ve left Gilbo and Andrew riding north alone), option 2 would’ve required getting over the top of Falls Creek (elevation 1800m) after a cold night, with high probability of ice on the roads, and option 3 which involved climbing no higher than 1400m AMSL en route to Mitta Mitta, and thereby avoiding both snow and ice but at the cost of an extra 100kms or so.  It was agreed that option three was the only practical option in all the circumstances. This photo shows the road beside the Mitta Mitta creek as we descended from the high country and neared the township. The curves were starting to widen out by this point.

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I have ridden from Omeo to Mitta Mitta many times, including years ago when it was mostly dirt. I always have a feeling of achievement and triumph on cruising into the town of Mitta Mitta, with all those curves and all that wild country successfully negotiated and now behind me.  We had  sunshine, rain, heavy fog and cold conditions and wet roads all the way on this 114km leg. That’s my son in law Hambo fossicking around in his top box.

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Brothers (and my nephews). .

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Nephew and Uncle.

Brothers. See, I am taller than Noel, unless of course he was standing in a hole this time.

Father and son. Noel having a chat with Andrew who left us at Kiewa and headed up to Griffith to renew his low level flying endorsement the next day.

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).

Wildlife Visitors

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.

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This Australian summer has seen record-breaking heatwaves across the continent – but not in Apollo Bay. This koala was spotted ambling through the lush mid-summer grass on the creek bank, in search of a manna gum in which to dine and spend the night.

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This koala is sporting a particularly fine set of ears.

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Koalas look lethargic and slow when walking on the ground. But they are strong and athletic when climbing – perfectly adapted. They have a surprising turn of speed when climbing, if the need arises.

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Free solo climbing in gum trees requires careful assessment of each move.

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Classic koala pose.

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When the colourful feathers of the laughing kookaburra are seen up close, the kingfisher connection is much more obvious.

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Striking a pose for the camera.

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Smiling kookaburra (about to laugh).

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The beak that strikes fear into snakes, lizards, mice and insects.

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A female yellow-tailed black cockatoo.

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Closeup of a female yellow tailed black cockatoo – identifiable as female by the large yellow cheek patch, the grey ring around the eyes and the pale beak.

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Closeup of a male yellow-tailed black cockatoo – identifiable as male by the smaller yellow cheek patch, the red ring around the eyes and the dark beak.

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Crimson Rosella

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The beautiful plumage of the little wattlebird

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White-naped honeyeater. These are quite difficult to photograph as they rarely sit still for more than a second or two, and they dart around at high speed. 

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Satin bowerbird. Gender can be difficult to determine at a glance. This is either a female or an immature male (majority opinion favours female). I have seen these birds often enough, but I first saw the striking blue eyes when I examined this photo. This bird was a bit cranky about a koala who was dining on manna gum leaves just a branch or two away. The koala completely ignored the bowerbird and just kept eating.