Motorbike Tour of the Flinders Ranges, South Australia

I did this ride solo on my BMW R1200 GS motorbike. I’ve owned it since new (2008). The bike had its 230,000km routine service just before this ride. The engine is original and has never been overhauled. It performs as it did when new. But a thorough wash and polish no longer brings it up like new.

I rode daily for nine days and covered 3,385kms. For perspective, this is 348kms more than the road distance from Adelaide to Darwin.

The first day was my longest, when I rode 699kms from Apollo Bay to Murray Bridge in South Australia.

I started and finished at Apollo Bay on the west coast of Victoria.

My route was:

Apollo Bay – Ararat – Stawell – Horsham – Bordertown – Murray Bridge – Clare – Orroroo – Hawker – Blinman – Parachilna – Copley – Arkaroola Village – Leigh Creek – Hawker – Orroroo – Peterborough – Burra – Birdwood – Woodside – Strathalbyn – Victor Harbor (two nights) – Milang – Wellington (ferry crossing of the Murray River) – Keith – Naracoorte – Apsley – Naracoorte – Mount Gambier – Nelson – Portland – Warrnambool – Peterborough – Port Campbell – Apollo Bay (bold indicates overnight stay)

I arrived back in Apollo Bay an hour or so before sunset on Friday 23 April 2021.

The rich rolling plains of the Victorian western district. The Grampians are visible on the horizon. I rode to the Flinders on a pretty direct track, the first day taking me through Horsham and Bordertown to Murray Bridge. From there I headed north to Hawker and the Flinders Ranges.
Curious detour from the highway west of Horsham via some dirt roads, and some dirt that was barely even a road.

Murray Bridge to Blinman

I left Murray Bridge before dawn, heading north to Hawker and the Flinders Ranges. Cloud almost prevented me seeing the sunrise.
My route took me through the Adelaide hills well east of suburban Adelaide. There was low cloud and some fog over the higher hills. Reminders of Hans Heysen’s paintings were around every corner.
This layer of stratus over the Adelaide hills was very thin. Had I been in a light aircraft I could’ve overflown this area in clear blue skies at 1000′ feet or so above terrain.
An iconic sight in rural South Australia. This sandstone ruin was well north of Adelaide, not far south of Hawker. A couple of paddocks on from this location there was a substantial but temporary settlement (buildings, containers, vehicles etc) established in a stubble paddock on gently rolling country. Apparently it was the accommodation for crews from the BBC and Stan while they were making a film in the area. On my return trip the paddock was empty again.
Heading north from Hawker into the northern Flinders Ranges. Not in the Otway Ranges any more.
Completely overcast skies are not the norm in this area between Hawker and Wilpena Pound. But there were flash floods here in January this year. This cloud was brought about by a trough passing over the lower part of the state.
Looking south from higher country north of Wilpena Pound. Brief but heavy localised rainshowers fell late in the afternoon.
Blinman, the highest town in South Australia. My GS was checked out by the well known corrugated iron kangaroo on duty in front of the bakery.
The bathroom basin in the Blinman motel. The red sign says: “Do not drink ther (sic) water. Use the box water provided.”
The bore water from the taps was hard but I’ve showered in worse bore water in other parts of rural South Australia.
Behind the motel were a couple of rounded hilltops which were unexceptional until the final moments of the sunset when a narrow gap in the clouds suddenly and fleetingly turned them molten red.
Behind the Blinman motel.
L: Before dawn. R: Same scene at sunset
(Move the circular slider left and right to see the two pictures separately)
Behind the Blinman motel.
L: Before dawn. R: Same scene at sunset

Blinman to Copley via Parachilna Gorge

I left Blinman in still cold air and low light before sunrise. At this point the sunlight had reached the nearby hilltops but was not yet warming my back.
Then suddenly, as if a switch had been flicked, the sun was warming my back. Absolutely everything had a long shadow, even the stones on the road.
About to start my descent through Parachilna Gorge to the dry flatlands to the west. I saw some very healthy wild goats climbing rocks beside this road, including a robust looking shiny black billy goat, with white markings and big horns. There were a few other goats and kids with him. Wild goats seem to have road sense – I have seen plenty on previous rides and have never had one bolt across the road in front of me. Kangaroos, wallabies, emus, cattle and sheep on the other hand seem to lack road sense. On this trip I had moments with all of these creatures except cattle, and one moment with a deer, when I had to brake or steer to reduce risk. None of these were near misses though. The only near miss was with a rabbit sitting still in the middle of the road. My crash bar must have passed his ears with only mms to spare.
As I descended through Parachilna Gorge, I kept finding chilly gullies still in the shade. There were many creek bed crossings, both smaller and larger than this one.
The sun eventually catching up with me as I rode west following the gorge down to the flat country. (In the previous similar photo, the sun was not quite over the ridge).
These magnificent gum trees growing in the creek beds are a sight to see and a mystery. These creeks become deep raging torrents when flooded. Assuming such events are at least annual, how does a young gum tree sapling hold its position in the rocky and sandy soil of the creek beds when water and sizeable natural debris are flooding over it for days or longer?
It is not difficult to see how established gum trees such as this one are secure against all that floodwater can throw at it.
The road between the western edge of Parchilna gorge and the settlement of Parachilna to the west. The curves ended very abruptly. The land is flat like this all the way to Lake Torrens out to the west.

Copley to Arkaroola

Encouraging sign at the start of the dirt as I headed east from Copley.
Off the flatlands to the west of the Flinders, and eastward into the hills and gorges. This part of the road was in great condition.
Not high on the list of things I hoped to see as I rode on this remote dirt road deep in the northern Flinders Ranges en route to Arkaroola.
The triangular red flashing warning light directly under the tacho together with the symbol beside the N in the larger display indicates that the flashing tyre pressure (27 in this case) is below permitted tolerance. The flashing 27 is the reading from the rear tyre internal pressure sensor. It should have been at 42psi, but the air escaped relatively quickly. I had until about 20psi to keep riding slowly to find a suitable spot to fix the tyre. The early warning was most useful for this reason. 36psi is the correct pressure in the front tyre.
The culprit – fencing wire. Other punctures I have had over the years have been harder to find.
Painless extraction.
Perfect location for roadside repairs. Only one vehicle went past just after I parked here. It was going at a fair speed with a lot of dust. I doubt the driver saw me. Didn’t see another vehicle between then and my arrival at Arkaroola.
While I had ridden from Apollo Bay to the site of the puncture with my tyre pressures 36 front and 42 rear (psi), after fixing the puncture I decided to lower them both to 25psi. This lower pressure gives far better traction and control on gravel. At 36 and 42 on gravel roads such as these the bike slides around quite a bit. At 25psi front and back it is much more stable and feels as though it has a much more solid grip on the road. I hadn’t reduced the pressure earlier as the road was in reasonable condition and I didn’t consider it necessary. Even though the bike was moving around a bit it was tolerable and safe. But having done it, the feeling of stability and control was substantially increased. I should have done it on leaving the bitumen as I usually do. My total distance on dirt roads on the entire trip was around 300kms.

The red marker shows the exact location of my roadside puncture repairs. The Spot satellite messenger (the orange device on the left) created this location marker on a satellite image of the area.

On the eastern side of the northern Flinders Ranges, heading out of the hilly gorge country into gently undulating country.
Arkaroola reception building.
Sunset at Arkaroola.
It had been a dusty day. (Photo taken inside my motel room at Arkaroola).
This was taken only a short walk from my motel room at Arkaroola just after the moon had set. The air is wonderfully clear this far inland in good weather. I carted my tripod on the back of the motorbike all this way to allow me to take a few photos such as these in the beautifully clear night air in the ranges surrounded by desert. I’m glad I did.
This image and the following shots of the Milky Way were taken a km or so down the exit track from Arkaroola on the eastern side the settlement. I wanted to get completely away from any artificial lighting. I didn’t have to walk far to achieve this.

Arkaroola to Peterborough via Copley

I headed south from Arkaroola parallel to this mountain range on my left.
Still heading south.
The mighty GS beneath this solitary overachieving tree (at least in this neighbourhood) as I turned west to ride through the gorge country to Copley.
That left turn ahead leads down to one of many dry creek beds full of stones. The technique which seemed to give the best ride through these stone filled creek beds was to stand on the pegs, put my weight back a bit and give it a squirt of power through the loose stones. The bike would wriggle around a bit (yaw left and right for any pilots reading this) in the gravel, but with the power on and the front wheel slightly unweighted it would track straight to the more stable dirt road on the other side.
Once I returned to Copley, I was on the bitumen heading south to Hawker. I dropped in to a garage at Leigh Creek just south of Copley and restored the tyres to highway pressures (36 and 42psi front and back respectively). The temporary plug that fixed the puncture was holding well. It is said that a plug repair is only good to get you to the nearest garage or tyre supplied. I decided to see how far I could get with the repaired tyre. That highway intersects with this dirt road going off to the left (the east). This is the road to Parachilna Gorge and Blinman. The dip in the range of mountains where the gorge has carved its path can be seen in this photo.
I spent a night in a motel at Peterborough on my way to Victor Harbor. Believe it or not, when I asked at reception about parking options for the bike I was told to put it on the path right outside my door. My sort of motel.

Peterborough to Victor Harbor and the Fleurieu Peninsula

Heading south from Peterborough through the mid north of the Flinders Ranges, I was looking for some sandstone ruins on the right side of the highway so I could take a photo of it well lit by the early morning sun shining from behind me. Had to settle for what was on offer.
Heading south through the Adelaide hills en route to Victor Harbor. There were many similarly impressive avenues of gum trees.

My hosts for two nights, Barb and Colin Francis, who provided me with luxury accommodation and world class hospitality at their home in Victor Harbor. Barb and Col and Liz and I have done some extended motorbike riding together in the Victorian high country. We know them from our days in Port Lincoln in the late 1970s, when Liz nursed at the local hospital with Barb. Col owns a couple of BMW motorbikes, among numerous other vehicles. His tourer is the BMW R1200 RT. Col and I did a relaxing tour of the SW Fleurieu Peninsula on the bikes shown, including a visit to Cape Jervis.

I should also mention the other Francis family member in the photo on the left. Barb is holding Rose (pronounced as in the drink, not the flower) the affable chook. Rose and her companions live in the lap of luxury in quarters (with more than adequate indoor and outdoor living and recreation areas) built by Barb and Colin. They produce eggs (which I had for breakfast and which were delicious), and provide company of sorts. But on balance, I think these chooks came out clear winners in the deal with their life of leisure and luxury fully catered for in return for a few eggs a day which I’m guessing they were going to lay anyway. I suppose there is also the occasional less than onerous social obligation such as this photo shoot, but I don’t think that changes my assessment. As the photo shows, enthusiastic and intelligent social engagement and involvement is neither required nor provided.

Colin took me on this road less travelled on our tour of the lower Fleurieu Peninsula (see the gallery of three photos immediately following), which included the track with this vista of Cape Jervis. The land on the horizon is Kangaroo Island and the water in between is Backstairs passage.

While in Victor Harbour, my puncture repair eventually started to leak. 700kms on the repaired tyre was quite acceptable. I had a new tyre fitted in Victor Harbour.

Fleurieu Peninsula to Apsley, Victoria

Crossing the Murray River at Wellington.

At next to no notice I contacted my friend Ian to see if he was on a flying mission (a regular occurrence) or, improbably as I thought, on his farm east of Naracoorte. Turns out he was home and he kindly extended great hospitality for an overnight on the farm. Ian’s claims to fame beyond aviation and photography are too numerous to mention. But I will note two: (1) at the age of 24 he rode a Honda 50 motorcycle (50cc and top speed less than 40kph) from Adelaide to Darwin in four 15.5 hour days plus a final 15 hour day; and (2), there is cave on the Nullarbor Plain between the head of the Bight and the SA/WA border, accessible only by abseiling down from a high sheer cliff to its entrance which faces the Southern Ocean. This cave is called IOJ cave, named after Ian in honour of his voluntary services with his aircraft to exploration and mapping of cave locations in the cliffs which are visible only from sea between the head of the Bight and Eucla. This involved flying the length of that stretch of coast over the sea and below cliff top level, with high tech cameras recording the sights and other data as they flew. Ian has abseiled off the cliffs directly above the cave bearing his name, and entered the cave with the experts who were exploring, surveying and mapping the caves and tunnels penetrating inland from the cliff under the flat plains above. He is the only friend I have with a cave on the Nullarbor Plains named after him.

P.S. The Stuart Highway which connects Adelaide and Darwin was not fully sealed until February 1987. Ian’s epic ride on the Honda 50 was well before then.

This is Ian’s much loved C210 which he uses for his aerial photography business which regularly takes him to all parts of Australia. The original connection I made with Ian was through a flying instructor from the Eyre Peninsula who taught Ian to fly, and who also did all my training for my commercial pilot licence. His name was Barry Firth. He was a very good friend and flying mentor to both of us. Sadly he died 10 years ago.
The 800m (or so) private airstrip on the farm.
I do like an open fire, and I have one at Apollo Bay. But the thought of firewood in this quantity and of this quality is beyond my wildest dreams. Firewood is in plentiful supply on this farm.

There is an intermittent creek, dry when I was there, which meanders through a paddock beside the airstrip paddock. It supports an exotic array of beautiful gum trees of which these are only a small sample.

Apsley to Nelson via Piccaninnie Ponds

While South Australia is the driest state on the driest continent on earth, the south east of the state never got that memo. It seems to have more than adequate rainfall, great soil and things seem to grow very well here. Towns like Naracoorte and Mount Gambier are quite unlike Blinman and Copley.
Piccaninnie Ponds. This unprepossessing looking body of fresh water, not far from large coastal dunes and the Southern Ocean, is quite remarkable. I was drawn to it solely because of that fact, even though I had no plans to swim or snorkel here. Below the surface of this ‘pond’ is a limestone sinkhole with caverns and tunnels that extend to depths of over 130 feet, with water visibility in excess of 100 feet. I wonder how long the early settlers here looked at this little coastal pond before realising what was beneath the surface?
It is a good principle of motorcycling not to ride your motorbike up every interesting looking little track. I believe this narrow track leading to the ocean but consisting entirely of sand would have ended in tears, a lot of sweating and possibly pulled muscles. Damage to the bike would be highly unlikely though.
The Glenelg River mouth at Nelson (not far from the S.A. border).

The Spot Satellite Messenger showing three greens, which indicates that my message identifying my location for the night has been sent to my family. They each receive an email with information including a satellite photo showing my position. The blue dot with the red marker is where the motorbike was in the picture on the left when I activated the Spot device. The Spot Messenger will work anywhere on the face of the earth. It uses satellites, not telephone networks.

Narrow road between Nelson and the river mouth. I stayed too long enjoying the sunset over the estuary. This track had a virtual guard of honour of wallabies, all on duty for the night shift as I rode back into town. The GS did not leave the factory with headlights of this quality. In fact the headlights it was delivered with when new, could probably have been used as safe lights in a darkroom during photo processing. But thanks to brother Noel, my bike now sports a proper set of driving lights as shown.
After riding around in the rain and dark near Nelson, I headed straight to the only pub in town for a warm up and a meal, before going to the Pinehaven motel and cottage. The publican and locals were very welcoming. I was even offered access to a shed in which to park my bike while I had a meal. But it seemed pointless for it to be undercover for 60 minutes out of 9 days (plus of course the one night at Peterborough when it was under a verandah). So I parked it in the rain on the footpath in front of the pub. The locals were either in the restaurant eating, or at the bar sorting out their footy tips and engaging in loud and convivial Friday night banter. I headed for the fire to dry off my riding jacket, and to eat some delicious local seafood. A welcome respite after a cold (and sometimes wet) day’s riding.
Back in totally familiar territory on the Victorian west coast. This is Boat Bay a few kms west of Peterborough. I did a very memorable swim here on 14 March 2015. My account of that swim is in an earlier post on this blog, titled: ‘Two Ocean Swims West of Cape Otway.’ Suffice to say that conditions were nothing like this on the occasion of that swim, when we swam most of the way to the most seaward stack in the picture.

Nelson to Apollo Bay

Port Campbell for lunch at ‘Forage on the Foreshore’. This was the view I had as I ate. There was a solid swell blown out by strong onshore winds. Only 97kms to run to Apollo Bay.
Great food at this restaurant. As usual, I had their delicious French toast, comprising the following (I quote from the menu even though I don’t understand each and every word):
Thirty-Two 80 Specialty Bakery Japanese milk loaf, caramelised bananas, Istra bacon, Schulz’s Organic Dairy quark cheese, Otway Walnuts
A casual roadside stop on a side track between Lavers Hill and Apollo Bay. The Otway Ranges has very high rainfall and does its main feature, the cool temperate rainforest, very well. Grass like this just happens and appears without bidding or effort.
Just out of idle curiosity, I wonder if these sheep in their red dusty paddock (which I photographed in the mid north of the Flinders Ranges a few days earlier) would, if shown the previous photo, believe that grass such as this even exists.
The winding curves of the Great Ocean Road through the cool temperate rainforests of the Otway Ranges, between Lavers Hill and the Johanna beach turnoff.
Back in familiar territory in the Aire River valley, 25kms or so from Apollo Bay. The bridge over the Aire River is just a dozen steps behind the bike.
I spend quite a bit of time in Apollo Bay watching weather and swell forecasts to ensure I don’t miss out on being present on the relevant dune, point or clifftop to take photos of significant swell events. It turns out that while I was enjoying day 9 of my ride, the biggest swell of the year to date hit the entire west coast. From all reports it was bigger in the morning than the afternoon when I returned. The above wave was breaking over Little Henty Reef off Hayley Point at Marengo, just south of Apollo Bay.
The surf was blown out along the beaches I could see while riding home. But apparently at Bells Beach it was memorable and rideable – well, sort of. It was reliably reported to me (first hand) that at Bells there were about 200 spectators on the cliffs at Bells and 5 surfers in the water. One young fellow ended up in hospital (broken jaw) after a big Bells wipeout on a 9′ 4″ long board connected to his ankle by a leg rope. He was rescued by jet ski, and taken a few kms east to a sheltered beach at Torquay from where he was taken to hospital by ambulance. He’ll be OK. Gutsy effort surfing at Bells at all that day. Even gutsier on a long board, and next level hanging five on these massive faces prior to the wipeout that injured him. I have seen the video of his hang five rides.
This photo and the one above it were taken just before sunset. It was generally overcast but a few sunset rays got through to put a hint of pink on the cumulus clouds over this part of Bass Strait.
This shot was taken just after the sun had set and the light was seriously dropping. Great to know that I don’t need a 3,000+km ride to see sights like this.
This was an unexpected and very fitting coda to a great ride.

Postscript

During my motorbike ride, this blog ticked over its ten thousandth visitor. WordPress defines the ‘visitors’ metric as “the number of unique users that have visited the site.” It defines the ‘views’ metric as, “when a visitor loads or reloads a page.”

This blog commenced with my first post on 24 June 2017. I have published 135 posts in total. The blog currently has 139 followers. A follower is someone who receives notice (by email or on their WordPress reader) when I publish a new post. Being an email follower is the simplest means of receiving such notice. Instructions on doing this are on the top of the right hand column of each post, when viewed on a laptop or larger screen device. It simply requires that you enter your email address in the space provided and then press ‘follow’.You will then receive an email with details of your subscription (it’s free) and an unsubscribe link.

While the majority of visitors are from Australia, overall since the blog commenced, it has been viewed by visitors from 84 different countries.

The most viewed post by a good margin (published on 27 August 2019), is “A Swim and a Walk at Cradle Mountain.” It has been the most viewed of any blog post since the blog commenced (572 views to date, and counting), and for the last year, the last quarter, the last 30 days and the last 7 days. The link to this post is:

A Swim and a Walk at Cradle Mountain

I have no explanation for the apparent popularity of this particular post.

My blog remains totally uncommercial and entirely uninfluential. I enjoy sharing some of my photos and some of my experiences and observations. I am pleased there are some out there who apparently enjoy viewing and reading the random content on my posts. I always welcome comments – statistics as to readers are so dry.

Storms, seabirds, surf…..

Weather generated in the roaring forties hits this part of the world with glorious force. The reason is that Apollo Bay is just around the corner from Cape Otway which extends unprotected into the Southern Ocean.

The Southern Ocean in a post-frontal gale

Summer announced its arrival around here with a series of cold fronts and all that comes with them.  Gale force winds and rough seas swept in from the west and south west.

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The bombie at Outer Henty Reef, which lies 3kms or so ESE from Marengo Point, was stirring. Always a good indicator that there is some bigger than average swell about. Not the spot to anchor the family runabout on this day, or ever.

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Shore break on the southern side of Point Bunbury, Apollo Bay. There was a howling westerly, and this wave was travelling north. The mane of spray which blows over the back of a breaking wave in an offshore wind, was simply blown to pieces in these conditions. .

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Raw power pounding the reef at Point Bunbury.

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Strong onshore conditions created this ocean palette over the reefs around Cape Patton. The winding line of the great ocean road can be seen carved into the cliffs near Cape Patton. This photo was taken from the point overlooking the surf break known locally as Sledgehammers.

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Apollo Bay in a post-frontal gale. While the westerly winds were creating the rough seas shown in the first five images above, Apollo Bay, with its east-facing town beach was quite protected, but only close in shore. The whitecaps and waves could be seen out to sea, as could the notchy horizon which indicates rough seas. But the main beach in front of the surf life saving club had this glassy green little wave sculpted by the offshore wind.

A glassy wave in the lee of the headland at Wye River

The story of these few shots is simple. I was driving to Apollo Bay and passing through Wye River. I watched the rain shower passing over Wye as I approached from the east. As I climbed up the hill after crossing the river and passing the general store, the rain was receding to my east, and the sun was shining from the west, with the inevitable result. I did a quick U turn and parked illegally but sort of out of the way, and caught these couple of shots before the rainbow disappeared.

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I’m sure that if asked, this surfer would not be able to come up with too many ways of improving upon this moment.

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This is the composition in which I would have liked the surfer to be up and riding. But the peaceful way he was paddling out meant, I think, that he was pretty happy with the composition as shown.

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This right hander is in the lee of the point at Wye River, At the time this was taken, there was a very strong westerly blowing, with frequent gusts over 30 knots. But the land generally and the headland in particular meant this break was on the lee side of the hills. The adjacent land provided protection from the wind for quite a distance out to sea.

A storm sweeping across Apollo Bay

These six images were taken in late winter. The passage over Apollo Bay and surrounding coast of this substantial cumulo-nimbus cloud included very heavy rain and hail. I didn’t see any lightning or hear any thunder. Between the squall lines which brought this storm were short periods of bright sunshine. An irresistible light combination for a photographer.

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I was east of Apollo Bay when this shot was taken.  The storm and I were on a collision course. The dark curtain of heavy rain is clearly visible . The following photos were taken from beaches at Apollo Bay after I drove through the rain and under the cu-nim.

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The storm rapidly sweeping eastwards. While the storm was moving away from me, it appeared to be increasing in intensity for a while.

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I have no explanation for the presence of this isolated fragment of cloud in front of this very active cumulo-nimbus could. I am aware from my flying days that even in clear air some miles away from such a storm, great turbulence can be experienced. There is a lot of unstable moist air moving around in and near a Cb.

 

The Great Cormorant on a low level mission over the shore break

I was standing on the point at Lorne looking towards Split Point lighthouse at Aireys Inlet, when two great cormorants (their formal name, not my adjective) flew fast and low straight towards me then straight past me. I captured what I could.

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The patterns and colours on the top side of the wings are quite beautiful.

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This bird was on a serious mission, and had me directly in his sights at this point.

 

Australasian Gannets feeding 600m offshore at Apollo Bay

I have included these five shots because of the interesting bird behaviour they show. They are of poor photographic quality, principally because this activity was happening 600m offshore from where I was standing.  I know the distance because they were diving near an orange buoy I sometimes swim around, and I have measured the distance with my GPS watch. The 150-600mm telephoto lens was set at a focal length of 600mm for these photos.

The Australasian gannet cooperates with other birds to round up fish in a loose sort of way, then they dive at high speed into the water and catch them at depths up to 40 feet or so. They can swim and manoeuvre quite well under water. The fish is generally swallowed before they surface. These birds are also great flyers. Many have been recorded flying between Australia and New Zealand. Their large wings are built for soaring and efficient flying. It is therefore all the more remarkable that they can tuck the wings in so well to permit a streamlined high speed dive and entry into the water, without doing any damage to themselves.

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The two birds on the left are both lining up for a dive into the water. The top bird still has its wings spread somewhat, but the lower one is beginning to tuck his in.

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The lower bird has now completely tucked his wings away and is about to enter the water. The top bird is at a slightly earlier stage of the same procedure.

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They really do commit with a vertical dive as shown.

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As it nears the water, the wings are progressively retracted to lie streamlined along the body, to reduce drag in the air (higher speed entry) and under the water (deeper and faster movement to the target fish).

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By snapping away at 5 frames per second, I fortuitously caught this bird with its head just entering the water, and the rest of its body about to follow.

 

The southern heavens on a moonless night

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This photo was taken on a moonless night from a small cliff overlooking the beach, the reef and the Southern Ocean, near Marengo.  Thee was some moisture in the air, and a low layer of strato-cumulus cloud across the horizon. It is the moisture in the air that gives some of the stars their halo. The Milky Way is lying low in the sky as it does at this time of year in the southern hemisphere, and in mid-frame is the Southern Cross lying on its side compared to how most people remember it.  The two pointers are the two bright stars right of centre in the image. One of these, and the brightest star in the Southern Cross, are reflected in water lying in rock pools on the rocky reef (near the bottom of the image). In the southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross can be used to locate true south. Google it. But if you are a bit old school, try this. Draw a line through the long axis of the kite shaped diamond that is the Southern Cross, and extend it to around 5 times that distance. Then connect the two pointer stars with a straight line, and draw a perpendicular from that line and extend it until it intersects the extended line you drew through the diamond of the Southern Cross. That point is the south celestial pole (a point in space, interesting for a lot of reasons but not presently relevant). Drop a vertical line from the intersection of your two lines, and where it meets the horizon is due south. If that doesn’t assist you to find north, east and west, you wasted your time reading this and should just activate your EPIRB if lost under a cloudless night sky in the southern hemisphere.

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This was taken on a moonless night looking due south from a beach between Wild Dog Creek and Skenes Creek. Once again there is some low cloud. There are two meteors or shooting stars in this photo. The Milky Way extends right across the image, and faintly but there if you look, is the Southern Cross with all its stars as well as the two pointers visible (just right of centre, and just above the layer of dark cloud). I am always entranced when I look up at such a night sky. It gives me a heady feeling. Looking at stars that may have ceased to exist eons ago, pondering the myriad imponderables and contemplating my infinitesimal smallness in the big picture – it’s the ultimate look over the edge.  I intend to continue my late night visits to the beach and the universe.  The photos are just a bonus.

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.

The Arrival of Winter in Apollo Bay

The arrival of winter in Apollo Bay is technically a date. But it is also when the whales start to arrive along our coast, it is when big swells and fierce weather hit the region and it is prime time for seeing the entire Milky Way arch across the heavens on a moonless night (a spectacle not available in the southern hemisphere over summer).

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Southern right whales and humpback whales migrate north from Antarctic waters to warmer climes along the southern and eastern Australian coast.  They return to the high southern latitudes in spring. Breeding occurs along the southern coast of Australia with a number of famous nurseries such as at the Head of the Bight in South Australia.  Mothers with calves commonly rest in protected waters near headlands or in bays on their long journey north.  Apollo Bay is sometimes chosen by whales for time-out from their epic annual migration. It is not uncommon to have a mother and calf stay a day or two just a hundred metres or so off shore.  This photo is of the pectoral fin of a southern right whale, just offshore near the bottom of my street in Apollo Bay.  We sighted it about a week ago.  If this was seen at close quarters and not identified, it would be enough to make the heart of any swimmer race.

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This is also the pectoral fin of a southern right whale, which I encountered while paddling my surf ski out from the surf life saving club at Apollo Bay a couple of years ago.  It was around 40 feet long, and submerged after this was taken, only to surface beside and just behind me on its way out to sea. A most memorable moment to see it up close in this quiet crossing of our paths.

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Whales are very efficient users of oxygen, but still need to breath air into to their massive lungs. Breathing out while on the surface is often accompanied by mist and spray as shown.

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This whale was simply not in the mood for breaching or diving. It just mooched around, feeding from time to time, and keeping most of its body under water when it did surface.

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This view at least indicates the length of the whale from tail towards its head.  Callosities are visible near the head of this whale.  They are a natural feature of the whale, usually covered by barnacles and lice. The shape and distribution of the callosities allows whale observers to accurately identify particular whales.

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Eventually it slipped beneath the surface and its disappearing tail was the last we saw of it.  This was my first whale sighting this season.

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Late autumn and early winter often bring very calm and quiet conditions. It is also the season when the core of the Milky Way becomes visible in the southern hemisphere. During our summer, the core of the Milky Way is only in the skies during daylight hours. But in our southern winter, the full arch can be seen in all its glory on moonless nights away from ground lighting. The tail of the Milky Way in the eastern sky can be seen in this image, its lustre affected by the rising moon which was not far below the horizon when this was taken.

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Moonrise behind a low cloud layer. The brightness of the moonlight of course means that the stars are all dimmed from a photographic point of view.  The lights at bottom right are on Apollo Bay harbour entrance.

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Moonrise over the Southern Ocean as seen from Tuxion Beach, Apollo Bay on a still late autumn evening.  The immediately following photo was taken just after dawn two days ago at the same location as the moonrise photo.

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About two weeks into June, a series of low pressure systems and associated fronts brought a wintery blast to Victoria.  The west coast of Victoria took the full force of these fronts. The ski resorts received over three quarters of a metre of snow, and the south coast was lashed with over 50mm of rain, gale force winds and big swells. This photo shows the shore break at a beach I often swim from – but I declined to swim on this day.

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This was taken from the beach just north of Milford Creek in Apollo Bay, and shows the larger swells breaking on the northern section of the beach. The house with the three windows with the blinds down belongs to a friend of mine. This shot was taken not long after a gloomy dawn, when there was a lot of sea mist in the air.

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The breaking crescent of one of the large lines of swell, with Skenes Creek dwellings in the distance.

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The Barham River flows out to the sea between Apollo Bay and Marengo. There is a substantial line of sand dunes and a wide expanse of beach above the (usual) high water mark which separate the ocean and the river at this point. But on the weekend the combination of very high tides, constant rain and big swells allowed the ocean to find a way across the normally dry beach and through the sand dunes, directly into the Barham River as shown.  This is not a common occurrence.

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Tuxion beach at Apollo Bay, with the car park disappearing into the sea. This morning the council was using heavy equipment to dump sand against this collapsing cliff. That should last for years, or until the next high tide and big swell! It obviously needs a rock retaining wall to halt this erosion. The photos immediately below show the ‘interim repair’!  These photos were taken on this afternoon’s high tide, the sand having been pushed up against the collapsing cliff this morning on the low tide.  As I took these shots the sand was heading back out to sea with every wave which lapped the shore – there was no swell, just a gentle wind wave pushed to shore by a light easterly.  I suppose a solution which lasts one tide cycle fits the description of ‘interim’.

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Uninviting shore break (from an ocean swimmer’s point of view) at another beach just north of Tuxion beach, from which I often swim. Again, swimming was not my top priority in such conditions.

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Barely visible in this photo is a red buoy. We often use it as a turning point on our ocean swims at Apollo Bay. The water is deep there and while we have often encountered swell near the buoy, we have never swum there when waves were breaking. Who knew that on occasions such as this, the buoy also marked the takeoff point for long boarders?  The foam from the broken wave shows clearly that it first broke near the buoy.

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Despite the presence of coastal cloud from a cold onshore south easterly wind, I braved the elements last night and took this shot from a roadside car park not far from Skenes Creek.  It shows the Apollo Bay township under some low cloud, and more spectacularly,  beneath the western arc of the Milky Way.

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This was taken from a favourite location of mine on the Great Ocean Walk near Marengo, involving a torchlit walk down narrow lanes and through thigh deep grass to a clifftop vantage point. It is remote from ground lighting, and the moon had set before I arrived.  The low coastal cloud had conveniently disappeared from this stretch of coast. The Milky Way and the greater and lesser Magellanic Clouds were dazzling. This photo required a 15 second exposure, which explains the ghostly white form  of the breaking surf.

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One of my motivations in taking the camera out late at night on this occasion, was a forecast that the  glow of the Aurora Australis might be visible in the south from the Victorian coast at this time. The solar wind readings and the global magnetometer readings (conveniently collated and interpreted for laymen on a website for mugs) all added up to favourable omens for sighting evidence of the Southern Lights. But alas, nothing. But my efforts did not go unrewarded.  Before packing up and heading home I aimed the camera due south, away from the Milky Way, hoping the darker sky might reveal a hint of the glow of the Southern Lights.  The blazing stars in the southern skies were serendipitously caught twice – once in the heavens, and again by reflection from the various rock pools in the reef lining the shore below the cliff where I stood.  I love the juxtaposition of these fleeting and delicate star reflections on the dark black rocky reef the permanence and unalterability of which is measured in tens of thousands of years.

Apollo Bay crowned by the Milky Way

The air was clear and cold, and the moon would not rise until close to dawn the following day.  There was the occasional patch of coastal stratus ghosting silently along the coast in the chilly westerly.   (I take the view that a little bit of cloud can enhance a night sky photo).

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En route to Cape Patton Lookout (17kms east of Apollo Bay, along the Great Ocean Road) I stopped at Smythe’s Creek (a popular local surf break) as the last of the day faded.

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The fading of the light was quick as the car headlights indicate.

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It wasn’t long before the light reached levels where a few stars became visible to the naked eye.

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Then as darkness arrived, it was the fading sunlight that was barely visible to the naked eye (but  easily detected by the Nikon).   Some cloud conveniently framed the left side of this view together with a spur just west of Cape Patton.

 

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As it happens, this photo (jpeg) was taken a year ago (almost to the day), on my old Nikon D70S.  The framing is essentially identical to the immediately preceding photo.  Photography truly is all about the light.  The only difference between these two photos is the amount of light, and the amount of visible moisture in the air.

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This small cloud totally covered the Milky Way then like a theatre curtain it slid silently to the left to reveal the galaxy in all its glory.  Perfectly on cue a shooting star blazed across the heavens above Apollo Bay.

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The Milky Way silently and magnificently crowned Apollo Bay last night.  Standing before this spectacle compelled awe.  I could never be indifferent to such a sight.

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Clockwise from L to R: shooting star, the greater Magellanic Cloud, the Milky Way, a bank of stratus, and what is possibly the glow from the faint northern limit of the Aurora Australis beyond the horizon.  But of course I could be completely wrong about this.  More research needed, or a chat with someone who knows what they are talking about.  This reddish band could not be seen with the naked eye.  But the 35 megapixel light sensor on the Nikon picked it up.

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It seems that there was a shooting star or two in more than half the sky shots I took last night.

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The intersecting lines of the stratus cloud and the Milky Way draw the eye to the mysterious reddish band on the horizon.  It was way too late to be the last of the sunset, and in any event this shot was taken looking pretty much SSW.

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Looking nearly straight up at the core of the Milky Way once again resulted in me departing from my usual practice of not taking photos of stars without some earthly reference point in the photo.

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View to the south west, with the lights of Marengo and part of Apollo Bay on the horizon.

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What mysteries to ponder.

 

Postscript: For anyone interested in the technical details, these photos were taken on my Nikon D810 with a Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 zoom lens.  I used manual focus, shutter speeds of between 10 and 20 seconds (cable shutter release), aperture set at f2.8, focal length of 24mm, and ISOs in the range 1000 to 6400 (but mostly around 3200).  I frame and focus using live view.  Each image was edited on Adobe Lightroom 6 in an attempt to create an image which most closely approximated what I saw.  I never do composite images. 

 

A star-bejewelled reef beneath the Southern Cross

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The larger Magellanic cloud galaxy looking lonely as the great arc of the Milky Way dips to the horizon framed by some low coastal cloud.

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This small headland was luminously lit by the lights of a few houses which back on to the great ocean walking track.  It was a moonless night, and the Milky Way was dominating the south western skies (out of frame to the right).  In the very early hours of the next day it would climb at a shallow angle in the south eastern sky, an inconvenient time as I would be in bed.

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Star reflections momentarily bejewelled this reef west of Marengo beneath the Southern Cross and the Milky Way.

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Apollo Bay nestled in the foothills of the Otways, with the last of the sunset and the beginning of the night show in the heavens as seen from a high vantage point at the top of a valley.  This image and the five which follow, were taken on the night following the cloudier night when the first three pictures above were taken.

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The other end of the Milky Way rising from the northern horizon, beyond the stark silhouettes of some eucalypts.  There were a lot of falling stars.

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The view to the north.  A shooting star is plummeting above and parallel to the long axis of the Milky Way.  The solitary tall eucalypts are seemingly drawn to align with the arc of the Milky Way.

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I normally don’t take photos of stars without some earthly reference point.  But the core of the Milky Way was high in the sky above me and I couldn’t resist.  The Milky Way stretched continuously overhead from north to south touching both horizons.

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The Southern Cross is embedded in the Milky Way, inverted at a 45 degree angle from its normal position as it seems to dive seaward along the path of the Milky Way towards the ocean.

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On my way back home to the open fire  after taking these photos, I stopped at the beach between Skenes Creek and Wild Dog Creek.  This beach is remote from any artificial lighting.  The Magellanic cloud seems to have sent a meteorite spearing towards the Milky Way.  The ship on the horizon was barely visible to the naked eye.  The dune grass and sand on the beach were cold and moist as a cold easterly chilled everything in its path.

The Milky Way over the Southern Ocean

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The Southern Ocean.  Fishing boats working under the Milky Way not too far from Apollo Bay harbour (the lights on the harbour entrance are at the bottom right of the image), with the moon about to rise.