Snake habitat; koala courtship; swimming in and around Apollo Bay harbour

My last snake encounter on the Great Ocean Walk was last year when I was walking ahead of Liz and was informed by her that I had just walked past a coiled up tiger snake on the grass beside the track. We waited a short time and it moved off. This was in mid-winter. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me. Numerous local friends have reported similarly unthreatening tiger snake encounters on this track. But it does seem that the longer the walk, the more snakes you see. A friend on a 14km run along the GOW recently saw three large snakes.

Snake sightings are so common on the GOW that news of a walk on that track without sighting a snake is an occurrence perhaps more noteworthy than a snake sighting. But I have never heard or read of anybody being bitten by a snake on this track. Seems they are not very interested in humans. So a good lookout and not rushing seems to allow time for walker and snake to see each other and get out of each other’s way without threat or incident.

These two photos were not taken by me. The photo on the left shows a tiger snake on the Great Ocean Walk. The photo on the right, taken recently by a friend during a run along the GOW, shows part of a substantial snake (one of three he encountered on a 14km run) which is either a brown or a tiger. Tiger snakes in this part of the world come in a variety of colour schemes and patterns – not all have the distinctive dark stripes. It was the report of my friend from his 14km run and snake sightings that prompted me to take a walk on the track in the heat of the day to see if I could capture a decent photo of a tiger snake in broad daylight.

The start of the Great Ocean Walk.

These warnings are near the start of the GOW at Marengo. The sign on the right is down the track a bit warning of the dangers of big surf. There are numerous points on this walk where there is a choice between a beach and rock shelf walk, or following the cleared track on higher ground. Big swell and a high tide usually remove the first option.

It was on a sunny summer’s day with cloudless sky, high temperature and very little wind that I decided to take my Nikon and telephoto lens for a couple of kms down the GOW around midday to see if I could spot and photograph a tiger snake. I wore jeans and my shin high leather motorbike boots, and carried a compression bandage and an EPIRB (the latter is always in my pack on bush walks and motorbike rides).
Beautiful bays and points around every corner in the early kms of the GOW. Clearly defined little rip in this corner.
Snake territory if ever I saw it!

There is variety in the width and surrounds of the main track on the GOW. Some parts are narrower than others, with more dense vegetation on both sides of the track. I was keeping a very good lookout on the track and its verges, and I walked quite slowly hoping to spot a snake without disturbing it so I could get a good photo using the 150-600m telephoto lens. My anticipation of a sighting was keen. All the omens were right. But I had overlooked one factor which I discovered during whale seasons past – arriving at the scene of a reported wildlife sighting or a location of common sightings, equipped with my Nikon DSLR camera, a substantial telephoto lens, a spare SD card and battery, seems to ensure that no wildlife will be seen that day. I neither saw nor heard a single snake on this entire walk. Disappointing.

False alarm. This is an evolutionary adaptation of sticks, to look like a snake so they will be left alone. It worked. I didn’t touch it. (Disclaimer: I am not a formally trained herpetologist or stick expert).

My Spot satellite messenger is like a recreational EPIRB. It uses the same satellite network (which means it works anywhere on the face of the earth) but instead of calling in the SES, the police, the military and rescue helicopters, it sends an SMS or email with a pre-written message to a limited number of family and friends I have chosen. There are a couple of messages which can be sent. The one I use most is the ‘current location’ message. The tick on the map shown is my location when I activated the Spot satellite messenger (this is the map display received on a mobile phone by my selected contacts). The houses on the right are Marengo.

L to R: EPIRB, Spot Satellite Messenger, snake-fang-proof leather boots and wildlife-deterring Nikon SLR with telephoto lens and monopod.

As an ocean swimmer and ski paddler, I learned long ago that when you get offshore a bit the ocean is always rougher than it looks from the shore. These seas looked pretty calm from the shore with only a hint of whitecaps. But there was definitely some swell out there. This boat was having an exhilarating run to Apollo Bay.

No snake photos for my trouble on this day. But any walk on the GOW is a privilege and a pleasure.

Koala Courting

There is a creek beside my house lined with tall eucalypts. Koalas are frequent visitors. Territorial disputes, competition for mates, courtship and mating are all equally noisy affairs. First-time witnesses to the grunting and growling sound a koala can make are always surprised at how substantial and deep and fierce it sounds.

This smallish female was chased higher and higher up a tree by a male who was snorting and growling constantly as he pursued her. Unsurprisingly, it turned out not to be a winning tactic.

The snorter and growler unhappy that his raucous and overbearing behaviour was apparently entirely unattractive to the female koala who adroitly kept out of his reach. I must say, he doesn’t look as though he’d be great company.
It seems ‘ears down’ signals unhappiness. I think he is annoyed and crestfallen at all that wasted chasing, snorting and growling. He will just have to learn that chasing a frightened female up a tree, snorting and growling and trying to corner her there then sulking upon rejection, simply doesn’t cut it.
He eventually lost interest in the female, raised his ears to their usual position, and sat motionless in the wedge of this tree for a lengthy period. His eyes remained open, so I assume he was sulking, not sleeping.

Swimming in and around Apollo Bay Harbour

While swimming in the open ocean is my first choice, conditions sometimes warrant an alternative, and the harbour is a fine plan B.

As these GPS swim tracks show, doing laps up and down beside the eastern wall of the harbour (third photo) is just one option. The other two photos show swims which go out the harbour mouth then west towards the shore, then back over the harbour wall on foot where there is a pier to jump off to complete the swim via moored boats back to the boat ramp or the little beach.

Some time back I invited any of my swimming friends who felt like an afternoon swim to join me in the almost tropical conditions in the harbour. One response was scepticism and a request for photos. These are the photos I supplied.

Friends swimming in the harbour on a day when easterly conditions made it the best choice.
A peaceful and beautiful location for a swim under the backdrop of the foothills of the Otway Ranges.

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.

Cool Temperate Rainforest in the Otways

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

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

Things seen in the first half hour of the 7 day Great Ocean Walk

A few photos taken on a short coastal stroll near Apollo Bay.

The Great Ocean Walk is 100kms or so of spectacular walking track along the coast beside the Southern Ocean, between Apollo Bay and the 12 Apostles on the south east coast of Australia. It’s very popular. Many do the full 7 night hiking trip, but sections of the walk are easily accessible for shorter walks. Our short walk involved heading west along the walking track from Marengo until we had strolled half as far as we felt like walking in total. Then we shared a banana and some Anzac biscuits, had a drink of water and returned. For the record, we walked 4kms in total. Simple pleasures.

Upon returning to our starting point at Marengo, the swell had picked up and the wind had backed a little around to the north east. This meant the wind was partially offshore where these waves were breaking (a good thing from a photographic point of view). So after collecting my telephoto lens from the house, I climbed on to my favourite elevated grassy knoll overlooking the reef at the point (covered in comfortable thick springy grass and sheltered on three sides by thick bushes), with an uninterrupted and elevated view of the channels and the Little Henty reefs and islands. The sky remained very overcast, and the light was generally dull. The air was full of salt spray.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.