February Photos on the Victorian West Coast

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

Moonrise

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

Clouds

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

Aire River Mouth

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

Port Campbell Ocean Swimming Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ocean Onyx, gas exploration drilling rig

Drilling rigs on the open sea are a spectacle.

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

…how the light gets in

Moments that lifted my spirits in recent days.

Easter moon over Apollo Bay

Gibson Steps

Another visit to the slender headland

Gentle rideable swell off the harbour entrance at Apollo Bay

Daily solo swims in the Southern Ocean

Australian fur seals at home on Little Henty Reef

Storm swell near Skenes Creek in offshore gale force winds

Swanning around in the shore break at the end of my street on a cool but sunny autumn afternoon

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.

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.

Full Moon and Peaceful Seas

Winter on the south west coast of Victoria does not typically bring small swells, light winds and sunny days. But around the time of the full moon in late June this year it did. This unexpected period of quiet clear weather was preceded by and followed by cold stormy periods with strong cold fronts and the winds, low cloud, rain and big swells more typically associated with winter in this part of the world.

The photos of these few calm and cold days were all taken at Apollo Bay on the south west coast of Victoria, Australia.

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This reef just offshore is Little Henty Reef, near Apollo Bay.  Outer Henty Reef is about 3kms south east of Little Henty.  To this photographer’s eye, a  light layer of cloud on the horizon enhances the beauty of a moonrise. The moon was in fact the colour shown in the reflections on the water and sand.  The longer exposure required to capture this essentially night scene, inevitably overexposes the image of the bright moon, which is why it looks white and not golden. I decline to edit colour on to the moon. I also decline to take a further image with the correct exposure for the moon, and combine it with this image (which would produce a single image with a golden moon and the rest of the scene suitably exposed as shown). One shutter release, one photo.

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On the part of the reef furthest from shore, there is a permanent Australian fur seal colony.  I hope they enjoyed this moonrise.  I have photographed Little Henty Reef in massive swells which completely wash over the reef and its occupants, especially on a high tide.  The seals have earned a few nights such as shown above.

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Stars were visible to the naked eye above the cloud near the horizon. But a full moon invariably outshines the stars.  Milky Way photos are best taken on moonless nights.

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Fishing vessel with only a few kms to its home harbour at Apollo Bay, passing just seaward of Little Henty Reef.  Some offices are better than others.

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The rising moon shone gloriously behind this thin layer of cloud.  In the top of the image a few stars can be seen.  It was very peaceful standing in the dewy green grass on top of the sand dunes overlooking this scene as night fell.

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The cloud that filtered the moonlight into gold did the same thing with the sunrise next morning.  This was taken just north of Apollo Bay, near Tuxion beach.  Calm seas with no swell were the order of the day. But as the surface of the water shows, there was a light breeze creating a fine texture on the ocean surface.  The air temperature was in single figures on this morning (Celsius).

 

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When the morning cloud burned off and the sun rose higher in the sky, the wind settled into a light (offshore) westerly which sculpted these small swell lines and produced their white manes.

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I find the subtle rise and fall of green swell too small to make a wave in the depth of water over which it is passing as beautiful as the waves breaking over the sand banks.

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The midday sun gave this breaking wave a real sparkle.

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I couldn’t resist a black and white edit of this wave which sparkles even without colour.

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Wild Dog Creek flows into the sea at this beach, which takes its name from the creek.  This part of the bay has a complex series of gutters and sand bars running parallel to the shore but further offshore than is typical on the stretch of beach closer to the township.  The light westerly gave the sea texture and light and shade, as well as the spray blowing back from the waves nearer the shore. The small swell meant that some waves remained unbroken until right on the shore, which resulted in gentle undulations in the ocean surface as the swell approached the shore. This is peaceful and beautiful swell.  It could only occur on an ocean. No matter where I was in the world, this photo would make me yearn for the Southern Ocean at Apollo Bay.

 

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.

Moonrise at Apollo Bay

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A near-full moon rising behind some low banks of cloud on the horizon as seen from Tuxion beach at Apollo Bay.

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This was taken from Tuxion beach at the bottom of my street.  The headland on the left is Cape Patton, and the small town is Skenes Creek.  A meteor top right was inadvertently captured.   The kelp was washed up by recent easterlies.  I swim regularly from this beach, but on this occasion resisted the temptation of a moonlight dip.  (5 second exposure, f/2.8 & ISO 800).

 

 

 

When the Planets Align

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Down to the beach at the end of our street at Apollo Bay on the late afternoon of 31 January 2018 to wait for the rising of the full moon, which was predicted to occur 14 minutes before sunset.  A full moon of course requires that the earth does not get in the way of the sun shining on it.  That’s how the evening started, but things were to change significantly in this regard just before midnight; more on that later.  The moon was said to be closer to earth than usual on this evening, and hence would appear bigger by a factor of 10% or so.  I have witnessed a so-called ‘super moon’ on one other occasion and to the naked and untrained eye it did not look any bigger than usual.  But of course the ‘usual’  rise of a visible full moon over the sea and coast (or wherever) is invariably a glorious event.  In the lower left of this image, L to R, are Minnie, Doug and Liz.  Shafts of light from the setting sun found their way through the clouds and selected a few trees and a ridge above Wild Dog Creek to briefly bathe in the soft golden light of day’s end.

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A cool onshore southerly wind was creating cloud over the coast, which threatened to deny us any view of the moon at all.  It did hide the moon from view as it rose above the horizon, at which point it would have been looking its largest.  But seeing it rise a short time later over a ragged bank of low cloud was not a disappointment.

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The happy coincidence of the moon rising shortly before darkness fell, allowed me to capture in a single image the sea and its whitecaps, the profile of Cape Patton, the low layer of strato-cumulus cloud over the coast, the fading pink glow of sunset in the sky above the cloud, and the craters and detail on the face of the moon.

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The cloud added to the beauty of the scene as the moon slowly climbed and combined with the last light of day to illuminate the coastal hills and the sea.

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Darkness quickly engulfed the foreground as the last light of day faded.

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Clouds are so local and earthly and the moon is so remote and celestial.  People all across planet earth were watching the moon this night, and only a handful of people around Skenes Creek and Apollo Bay saw this low cloud scudding across the sky and somewhat randomly revealing and concealing the majestic full moon.  It was a bespoke moonrise for those on the south west coast who like to see their planet’s moonlight filtered through a layer of coastal strato-cumulus moving across the sky at the bidding of a cool evening wind.  This image suggests to me the moon being observed from the earth, rather than merely existing in cold and lonely space.

 

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Apart from the planets metaphorically aligning on this night so as to to place the rising full moon over a cloud bank at Cape Patton for my viewing convenience, at 30 minutes after midnight ESST the moon, the earth and the sun literally aligned such that the earth’s shadow completely blocked the sun’s rays from the moon for a short time.  The eclipse of the moon by the earth’s shadow produced the red moon shown in this photo. The full eclipse lasted from 2351 to 0107 ESST.  By this time the moon was quite high in the sky.  It was not possible to meaningfully photograph it with hills or a seascape in the foreground.  I opted to pass on the ploy of photographing it with a tree branch, or a building at close quarters in the foreground.  In short, it was not a photographer’s delight. But here it is anyway, the red moon, hanging in the black chill of space for just over an hour for earthlings to view.  I know the red moon is a relatively rare event, but I much prefer seeing a full moon rise above the earth’s horizon, especially with intermittent cloud unpredictably and beautifully changing the show second by second.  In looking at the red moon I felt I was merely observing a scientific fact.  In watching the full moon rise the thrill of its beauty left no capacity for even fleetingly contemplating the science.  Or to put it more pragmatically,  I am sure many went home to bed rather than watch the entire hour and sixteen minutes of the full eclipse. The few photographers who joined me overlooking the Apollo Bay harbour approaching midnight gave it away early.  But I have never known anyone to leave the sight of a full moon rising before it was completed.  It is the difference between optional interest and unavoidable awe.

Rain from the east, three days at least

‘Rain from the east, three days at least’.  Or depending on conditions, ‘wind from the east, three days at least’.

I have heard this semi-poetic weather forecast for as long as I can remember, trotted out whenever an easterly was blowing by those who knew from experience that it was pretty accurate, as well as by those who had no idea but just liked a rhyme and the possible bonus of sounding knowledgeable.  But there is a sound meteorological basis for the saying, at least in coastal Victoria.

In Apollo Bay, easterly conditions can be fierce or they can be benign.  When there is a very strong easterly wind in the Apollo Bay area generated by a low pressure system which stays put for a few days, with winds continuing to rise and seas becoming wilder and more chaotic by the hour (and of course low cloud and a lot of rain squalls), the locals refer to it as a ‘black easterly’.

Weather from the east is not a fleeting phenomenon like the passage of a cold front, and the pressure systems that generate easterlies do tend to stick around for a few days.  The last three to four days in Apollo Bay have seen a pretty typical easterly weather pattern.  Stronger winds and rough seas at the start with some thunderstorms in the area, followed by sea fog and fair weather clouds, and eventually calm weather with clear blue skies.

For ocean swimmers and others at Apollo Bay, the easterly wind is not a favourite  It can create unpleasant and sometimes dangerous sea conditions, and strong winds, rain and low cloud.

But these photos, all taken at Apollo Bay in the last three or four days, suggest that there can be another side to easterly conditions.  Sometimes the three day duration enshrined in the aphorism is simply not long enough.

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The maximum thunderstorm experience is directly beneath one (if being airborne directly inside one is not available), where the rain and downdrafts are most intense, the clouds above are the blackest, and the wind gusts are greatest.  But there is no doubt the best view of a thunderstorm is from some distance away – far enough to see its full vertical extent, but close enough to see the billowing crisply defined clouds boiling upwards. When this photo was taken there was a barely noticeable south easterly zephyr in the harbour, and this thunderstorm cloud (a mature cumulo-nimbus cloud) could be enjoyed as a visual spectacle.  Only a couple of kms from where I was standing was a layer of stratus capping the hills north of Apollo Bay,  the result of orographic uplift of the moist onshore wind cooling as it hits the hills.  This was not part of the thunderstorm system, despite appearances.

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When the easterly wind was a little stronger, it created quite a solid layer of cloud over the local hills.  The cloud bases were down around 300-400 feet above sea level.  I like the converging curving lines in this image.

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Taken from Tuxion beach, this photo shows the harbour wall about to be silently engulfed by the next bank of sea fog drifting slowly across the bay towards it.

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When a bank of sea fog reaches the beach visibility is dramatically reduced, and the sun disappears.  But it remains humid and warm.  Swimming in conditions of thick sea fog is very atmospheric, but when it’s as thick as shown in this photo, at 400-500m offshore (the distance we were swimming offshore on Saturday in the sunshine between fog banks), you would not be able to see the shore at all.  The clues which would permit navigation to shore in that event are the wind direction (if there is any), the direction of the swell lines (if there is any swell), and closer to shore the alignment of the ripples in the sand in the sea bed – they parallel the shore.  So swimming at right angles to the ripple patterns would either take you to shore, or I suppose if you were totally disoriented, out to sea.  But in that case you would notice the water getting deeper and hopefully turn around rather than push on for Cape Patton or points beyond.  In spring conditions, given that sea fog conditions are generally calm, you could also just tread water for a while and wait for the fog to roll through until the shoreline of Australia could once again be seen.  But you would need to have observed a pattern of relatively speedy transit of the fog banks, because sometimes the fog can sit around for a few hours.  While treading water you could listen carefully, and possibly hear vehicles on the GOR which might provide a useful directional hint.

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Apollo Bay beach.  Blue skies and sunshine between the fog banks.

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The next fog bank drawing closer. This photo was taken near Tuxion, looking north-east  along Apollo Bay beach towards Wild Dog Creek.

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After the easterly- initiating low pressure system has passed,  easterly winds continue to be generated by a large high pressure system which usually parks over the south east of the continent and dominates the weather for a few days.  The isobars are well apart, producing a very low pressure gradient and hence light winds, albeit still with an easterly set to them. These conditions continue to produce coastal cloud and sea fogs.  Dissipating sea fog provided an unusual backdrop to this iconic and much-photographed harbour scene.  The hill poking out in the sunshine above the sea fog is about 800 feet above sea level.

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High tide in the harbour with sea fog leftovers under the hills to the left, and a new bank rolling in from the right.

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As the sea fog came and went, it would appear and disappear in patches, as shown here over Marengo Beach.  Even where the air looked clear, there were in fact random patches of faintly visible moisture, producing a beautiful filtered light.

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Lizzie on Marengo Beach – a favourite walk in any weather.

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On Marengo Beach, this silver gull kept walking away from me, but had his wings outstretched and flight-ready in case the security risk level was suddenly upgraded.

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Five hooded plover on Marengo Beach.  Some allege they are a threatened species, but according to my reading and observations, they are in plentiful supply.  They have a habit of nesting on open busy beaches, which brings them into potential conflict with humans.  There was a small group of well-meaning people in Apollo Bay who militantly staked out (with posts and rope) considerable areas of beach and/or dunes, with signs threatening all sorts of nasty consequences for those who did not comply with the directions to stay clear.  At one point I contacted one of their number (via his mobile conveniently on the warning sign near the dunes) to challenge a sign which boasted the setting of fox traps in the sand dunes near the mouth of the Barham River, frequently walked through by tourists and by locals, many with dogs. The reason stated on the sign was to protect the breeding hooded plover.  It turns out there were no traps and that it was a pathetic bluff.  Haven’t seen such signs for a few years so maybe they have backed off with such silly tactics.  As far as I can see, there are more than enough deserted beaches along the Victorian coast for the hooded plover to nest and multiply in peace.  These five were not the only hooded plover we saw on this walk.

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The occasionally visible rearing kelp gardens on the shore reef at Marengo Beach.

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More rich kelp beds being rhythmically lifted, waved and lowered by translucent green waves over the shore reef.

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A detail from the immediately preceding photo showing a rearing kelp garden in display mode.

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With a large high over the state, seas are calm, and sunsets are peaceful.  This photo was taken, well after sunset, from the Great Ocean Walk immediately south of Marengo.

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A still and clear moonless night should be irresistible to anyone with a camera with an ISO range above 2000, a remote shutter release and a tripod.  I drove up into the hills behind Apollo Bay last night and while waiting for the stars to emerge, took this shot of the last light of the day over the ridge to my west.  This photo was taken well after official last light.

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This image shows both the arrival of night and the final departure of the day.  On the ridge in the lower left foreground is a solitary farmhouse.  On the central horizon is a large ship making its way east to Bass Strait.  To the right is the township of Apollo Bay.  In the centre of the night sky are the subtle but clear pinpoints of the Southern Cross lighting up as darkness arrives. Between the vivid oranges and reds of sunset, and the velvety black of night, there seems to be a blue period.  There has been no editing of the colours in this photo.

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Calm moonless nights and cloud-free skies are a photographer’s delight when it comes to photos of stars and their reflection in water.  This was taken from the bridge on the Great Ocean Road which crosses the Barham River near the local footy ground.  I was facing east towards the sea.  White lines of surf can be seen in the upper mid-frame, just over the dunes.  There was some faint light from houses to the left of frame, which illuminated the southern river bank.  But it was the reflections of the stars which caught my eye.  Even constellations were recognisable in the still Barham waters on this night.  On closer examination, the ordinary so often contains the extraordinary.  This is one of the perpetual joys of photography.