Autumn at the Bay

The experience of sunrise is greatly enhanced by full immersion in cold ocean water. It is not possible to feel anything other than fully alive when greeting the day in this manner.

Indeed, in late August at Apollo Bay it is not possible to feel anything much at all after a lengthy ocean swim, apart from exhilaration. Fingers and toes cease sending messages to mission control, the gift of speech is reduced to short words only understandable if accompanied by sign language, and whistling is completely impossible until after the administration of hot tea or coffee. But the water on this day was 14°C, which is cool rather than cold.

Sunrise at Marengo in autumn

Five or six dawn swimmers can be seen on the far right above the dark line of a small wave. The sun is rising just to the right of Cape Patton. The photo was taken from Marengo beach at the southern end of Mounts Bay.

Moderate swell on Little Henty Reef off Hayley Point

The waves over this reef are only surfed by seals and dolphins. Apart from the fact that the waves here mostly break over exposed reef, there are breaks nearby in deeper water which are ideal for surfing.
The water exploding upwards has already hit the reef and ricocheted back into the air to almost double the height of the wave.
The breaking wave in the background is over the reef. The surfers in the foreground are paddling around to their takeoff spot which is to their right.
This was one of the larger sets of the morning. This wave reared high and threw out a big lip of water as it reached the shallower water near the reef. A light north west wind smoothed out the face of the wave, held it up a little longer than would have happened with the wind from behind the wave, and also blew the white mane of spray up and over the back of the wave.
Finishing off the ride between Hayley Point and the reef which is home to an Australian fur seal colony.
Mesmerised.

Body boarder

The Harbour

Safe haven.
Crested terns love to huddle
That edgy hairdo on crested terns requires that beaks be kept pointed into the wind.
One of four resident geese at the Apollo Bay harbour. His limited facial movement permits only two moods to be conveyed – disdain and indignation. I think he was in transition to indignation at this point upon learning I was there to take a photo, and not to pay my respects with a bread offering which he was fully expecting.

One of my many studios

My attempts to capture an image of the full moon rising over the sea were thwarted by cloud on this night. A cold, quiet and beautiful place nonetheless.

Storm Surf

Whenever a solid swell is forecast for this coast, some locals in Apollo Bay quietly start to pay just a little more attention to the weather maps, to their tried and tested omens and to the feeling in their bones. They gaze out to the horizon for signs of swell, they judge the frequency and size of the small swell breaking in the bay hoping to be able to describe it as ‘building’, and they keep checking for any visible action on the bombies a few kms offshore. Surfers, fishing boat skippers, swimmers and photographers are among those who will be variously delighted, thwarted or simply awestruck if the Southern Ocean delivers big swell from storms gathering in the cold and desolate southern latitudes well to the south of the Great Australian Bight. The trajectory of the low pressure systems and the associated cold fronts and troughs will be closely followed to learn whether, or where and with what force the weather will hit the Victorian west coast.

The forecast

The following information and forecasts (screenshots from my iPhone) are the first omens I consulted when there was talk of solid swell on the way. They were auspicious enough to warrant me charging up the camera batteries, preparing the wet weather gear and getting just a bit excited about the reasonable prospect of big swell on May 1 and 2 at Apollo Bay and along the Victorian west coast generally.

Waiting

The swell was forecast for Friday and Saturday on the first two days of May. So on the last day of April I visited the local reefs and a point where any early signs of swell would be apparent. I have seen forecasts of sizeable swell which failed to deliver. I have also seen substantial swell when none was forecast.

But last Thursday, on the eve of its forecast day of arrival there was no swell.

But the permanent Australian fur seal colony on the Marengo reefs was present, and the late afternoon light was beautifully clear. They were crowded up a little as it was high tide, and above-water real estate on which to loll was at a premium. But no sign of any swell.
Late afternoon showers were passing through the area. The seal colony is directly under the end of the rainbow.
The telephoto lens was almost up to this task. Most seals have adopted the traditional resting posture with head held proudly high, like so many lifelike bronze statues. The one on the far right has chosen comfort and sloth over style.

The swell arrives

The wind backed around on Thursday night and increased to gale force. The swell arrived on schedule. Winds gusting over 40kts, heavy showers and stormy seas delivered more than I, and probably others, expected. This shot was taken looking south from Hayley Point at Marengo on the Saturday morning. The Australasian gannet above was effortlessly and (so it seemed to me) exuberantly soaring the storm.
This was also taken looking due south from Hayley Point, as one of the early waves in a big set closed out in this spectacular fashion on the reef. I was on a rocky headland, and while I didn’t feel the ground shake, I felt as though I should have. It was an awesome sight. So much power.

A-row for Southern Ocean watchers

Bottom to top: Barham River, Mounts Bay and Marengo. This swell had arrived from the south west and rounded Hayley Point to cross the bay directly into the westerly wind as a substantially smaller but still powerful wave.
Squall lines were coming through in a constant succession. Heavy rain obscured the hills to the north of Apollo Bay. The grey clear strip under the power poles in centre frame is part of the Great Ocean Road.
Wider shot of the same view as in the previous shot, but between squalls. The telephoto lens set to a focal length of 600mm significantly foreshortened the scene, making the Wild Dog Creek valley and hills beyond look closer than they would to the naked eye.

Storm waves on Marengo reefs and south of Hayley Point

Hayley Point, with my regular eyrie for taking photos of the ocean right on the tip near that notch in the scrub line. This photo shows some different stages of a sizeable wave breaking on the reef. On the far right the massive lip has thrown out and is cascading as a giant curtain with white water along the lip and solid curves of green and aqua water flowing down as the tonnes of water in the wave are thrown forward and down. The wave on the left shows the white water having crashed down into the reef ricocheting back into the air in great clouds of white water. Such water often reaches a height as great or greater than the height of the original wave before it broke. The centre section of breaking waves shows the wave finally dissipating and coming ashore, almost completely spent, as merely a two metre wall of white water with spray blowing back off it.
This was taken looking south west from Hayley Point as a massive set pounded its way to shore. There are three waves of this set visible in the photo, and all consist entirely of white water. Top left, through the curtain of spray, the crest of another wave just starting to break can be seen. The show put on by this set did not end at the three waves shown above.
I spent about 90 minutes taking these photos, standing on my usual windswept grassy vantage point beside the reefs. Very heavy rain squalls were coming through, without much respite between them. I have an ingenious waterproof covering for my camera and telephoto lens which keeps them totally dry. I have full access to all camera adjustments and controls when using the cover in driving rain. I wear a snow coat with a hood, my motorbike waterproof pants, and a pair of waterproof boots. I am pleased to report that this allows me and the camera to stay completely dry in the heaviest of rain. The waterproof gear is useful not so much for taking photos in the rain, but for allowing me to stay on a given location during the rain so I can take photos in the periods when it is not raining.

Hooded plover and a sooty oyster catcher

The reef on the shoreline was being successfully foraged on by this little hooded plover and his mate. They seemed to find plenty to feed on. When white water approached from behind, as I have observed on this day and many other days their first reaction was to run rather than to fly, choosing the latter only when absolutely necessary. This bird might have had to counteract a a bit of an uncommanded turn to the left in flight due to the orange plastic tag and the metal band on his leg. Difficult to see why two tags were needed.
Sooty oyster catcher with no oysters in sight. His diet apparently extends well beyond oysters (and in this part of the world his diet may not even include oysters), but the more accurate alternative name of ‘crustacean, worm, bivalve mollusc, starfish and sea urchin catcher, not to mention small fish catcher’, was probably considered too unwieldy. I’m sure the sight of that over-engineered beak strikes fear into the heart of bivalve molluscs.
The swim record was my daily 1000+m swim, in a location sheltered from the big swell.

The majesty and power of the Southern Ocean in a storm

I have never seen (in person) a more intimidating storm wave than this one. It was overcast when this was taken and there were heavy showers in the area. If you peer through the spray blowing over the back of this wave you can see the horizon and whitecaps on breaking waves out to sea.

Postscript

I saw a fin

Ocean swimming is a favourite activity of mine. I have been doing it for many years. One way or another, I have been playing in the ocean for over 50 years. During that period the only sharks I have ever seen in the water are (harmless) reef sharks while snorkelling in the Solomon Islands, a bronze whaler (which seemed to ignore us) while swimming in the shore break at Fishery Bay near Pt Lincoln in South Australia, and a number of large great whites off Neptune Island while on a cage dive organised for that purpose. I have thought about the topic a bit, and my carefully considered view is that seeing a shark in the water, much less being attacked by one, is a very low risk at the places I choose to swim. I remain of that view.

Today was my 48th consecutive day of swimming 1000m or more in the ocean at Apollo Bay (a continuing little project of mine during the pandemic lockdown). I swam a short distance in the bay, then topped up for my 1000m in the harbour. Those 48 swims included one night swim.

I swam out from the harbour wall this morning heading for the wooden lookout for a 1000m round trip. The crew I usually swim with were all leaving the water as I headed off. I had the bay entirely to myself. About 300m from where I entered the water, and about 180m offshore, I was swimming in a leisurely rhythm against a slight head current just enjoying the space and peace. I was not in a rush, and I didn’t care that my Garmin watch indicated I was closer to 3:00/100 pace than 2:00/100m. Each time I breathed to the left I could see the passing scenery on shore and knew the ramp and walkway up to the SLSC were about to come into my direct line of sight. There was nothing and no one to disturb my relaxing reverie. But then there was something.

About 20m to my left I saw a shiny dark dorsal fin emerge while moving south (the opposite direction to me). I saw it surface, stay level for a short time and then subside not to be seen by me again. It did not appear to change speed or direction as we passed each other. I immediately turned left 90° and headed to shore by the most direct route. It was more a case of observing that I did this, rather than recalling any conscious decision to head to shore. I am pleased that I turned before I had a chance to think about it. No point wasting time making decisions. I sensed no adrenaline rush or racing pulse or altered breathing rate. But I did increase my pace and take a few looks over each shoulder to see if the fin or its owner had reappeared. I also hoped to see a few dolphins swimming nearby as had occurred recently when swimming not far from here with four of my swimming friends. But there was no fin and there was no pod of dolphins. There was nothing but glassy ocean.

At one point on the return to shore, without losing forward speed I rolled through 360° changing from freestyle to a couple of strokes of backstroke then back to freestyle, to allow a quick look at the ocean behind me. No fin. Nothing to see to offer a chance at identifying what had swum past me. Just glassy water. My normal roll and breathe routine sees me looking out to each side at about 90 degrees to my direction of travel. The swim to shore for much of the journey saw me looking back over each shoulder as I breathed. I was conscious that I was swimming harder and faster than usual, and I do remember deciding it was probably best to keep doing that. I do remember thinking I should splash as little as possible. I kept swimming until my fingertips were brushing the sand. I was definitely pleased to stand up in shin deep water. I stood on the shore for a while looking out to sea for something, anything that would inform me as to how to file this experience. But there was nothing.

Upon reflection, I would certainly leave the water immediately if this happened again. An ocean swimmer responds to a solitary dorsal fin nearby (with an unidentified owner) the way a chicken responds to the silhouette of a hawk in the sky above it, whether it’s a cardboard cutout or a raptor with intent. But was it a shark or a dolphin? There is no way to reach a sound conclusion either way. There are solid entries for column A and column B. I don’t have enough information to resolve what it was. The fin did not have that inward curve on the trailing edge typical of a dolphin fin. Also, the movement I saw was not the familiar top of the parabola appearance and disappearance of the fin and part of the body – there was no hint of ‘porpoising’. Further, it only surfaced once while I was looking, which is not typical of dolphin behaviour I have witnessed. I understand dolphins can swim alone, but most that I have ever seen around here are in pairs or larger groups. The fin owner appeared to be swimming alone. It was definitely not a seal. I saw no disturbance of water behind the trail of the fin which could have suggested a vertical shark fin. Yet it showed no interest in me. The most recent swim I had with dolphins (with four friends) saw them acknowledge our presence and swim towards us from a distance of greater than 20m. The fin was of a size which gave the impression of something bigger than me, but not something huge.

I intend to continue to leave the water when solitary dark dorsal fins on unidentified creatures swim in my vicinity. Today’s prematurely concluded swim must be filed as merely an interesting experience. I will of course continue to swim in the bay.

The unimpressive track of my brief swim. Note the initial relaxed pace of 2:32/100m at 60 strokes per minute (the watch records only the left arm, hence 30spm = 60spm).

This initial relaxed pace contrasts with my pace after the 90° turn. My initial pace improved from 2:32/100m to 1:56/100m, and my stroke rate went up from 60 to 68. The second window shows that I then settled down to a steady 2:00/100m pace, but at 70 strokes per minute which I sustained!

Not worried, just interval training.

Coasting

Images from recent days in Apollo Bay doing stuff that requires only time – all within walking distance of home.

The New Holland Honeyeater and the House Sparrow

These birds literally flew between my camera lens and the surf break I was trying to focus on. They landed on cliff-top scrub that was just below my line of sight to the reef. As there were lengthy breaks between sets of waves, I wound the telephoto lens right back and took a few shots of these feathery little photo bombers from close quarters.

The New Holland honeyeater seems constantly on the move. It flits and darts at high speed, and only alights on a plant for a very brief time. They are a very difficult photographic subject. The sky was overcast when this photo was taken.
The clouds parted temporarily providing blue skies as the background for a few shots.
The beak on this female house sparrow was discoloured from feasting on the crimson berries on the branches all around it. This bird is not native to Australia. It was introduced from India and England in the 1860s. The species has thrived right across Australia, except in W.A. where they have not become established because of prevention measures taken by the W.A. state government.

Ocean scenery & ocean swims

The view to the north from Apollo Bay beach. There was a moderate swell this day. Friends of mine live in the low house on the cleared land in centre frame. The view from there is even better than you might think.
The stone wall on the right is at the entrance to Apollo Bay harbour. The ship was much further away than it appears here (due the foreshortening effect of the telephoto lens) as it headed west from Bass Strait. This photo was taken from Apollo Bay beach – the breakwater shown was about 600m from where I was standing.

The first two swims were done in the conditions and at the times and locations shown in the photos with the sunrise and the steps. The third swim was done in calm water – I just love the photo (which showed the conditions about two kms south of where I swam).

Surf & Surfers

Unrideable Waves

Around Anzac Day (25 April) there was a reasonable swell for a couple of days. There was a light offshore wind, and the sea was generally glassy. There was a long interval between sets, but when they arrived they were solid. This was a sneaker wave (surprisingly bigger than average on the day). The photo shows it breaking over the southern side of the Marengo outer reef. This shot was taken near dusk under overcast skies. I had the aperture wide open, I was constantly reducing the speed and increasing the ISO as the light rapidly faded. I was about to give it away and pack up when I saw this wave building out to sea. It was a short wait, and well worth it. This was one of the last photos I took for the day. The poor light washed out virtually all colour, except the vivid aqua sections as shown. The soft white manes of spray were the product of the light nor’ westerly wind.
Smaller wave breaking over the same reef (as shown in the preceding photo) but earlier in the day with much better light and a bit of sunshine.
The unrideable barrel. The dark areas directly in front of it are exposed reef.
Under overcast skies and with only a light wind, the swell was moody, glassy and grey.

Seamus

Seamus looking for speed as the lip started to throw out overhead. The other photo shows the end of the ride on this wave, with Australian fur seals relaxing on the reef in the background.

Tommy

Tommy can certainly lay claim to paddling out and over an unbroken section of this interesting and unrideable wave. But the wave he was heading out to ride was on the break to his right as he paddled out (as shown top right), which while not quite as spectacular, was eminently rideable.

The third photo was taken as the wave was closing out, the ride was over, and Tommy decided to bail out over the back of the wave. The photo captured the moment when it appeared he was levitating from the deck of his board to achieve this exit.

Leroy

Leroy is over 60 and surfs like a young bloke.

Angus

Angus is a young bloke who was giving it a red hot go on this day. Those are his feet in the air on the left as he decided against a duck dive on the board, and simply dived for depth relying on the leg rope to bring his surfboard with him. It was a solid wall of white water. The timing of his dive looked pretty good to me.

This is Angus completing a long ride by pulling on a bit of speed then shooting up the face of the fading wave and through the crest of white water for an exuberant airborne exit over the back.

Waiting for waves

This shot reflects the tacit cooperation of these surfers, who all knew each other, in taking their turn on the waves in accordance with the clear but unwritten rules of the surf. The next wave in the distance had grabbed their attention at the moment this was taken.
This cray boat was checking pots which to my eye looked reasonably close to where some of the larger waves were starting to peak. The wave in the foreground is the wave the surfers ride here.

Happy 15th Birthday Minnie

Minnie our little pugalier, turned 15 a couple of days ago. She is showing her age in her movement and sleep habits, but remains alert and still runs up the stairs. She’s a bit deaf, and the eyesight is fading. This photo shows her either in deep reflection on 15 years well lived, or just about to have her eyelids slowly close for yet another nap. I suspect it was the latter. She has lived the dream for every day of her 15 years.

Personal best loaf of bread

I baked a loaf of bread in Queensland in 1975. It was not successful, and was used as an effective doorstop for some months. I had a bit of a break, and then baked this loaf last week. It was every bit as tasty as it looked. I have never baked a better loaf of bread. It was great to eat fresh with butter and honey, and it also toasted very well for the few days it lasted. I plan to produce a third loaf after a shorter break than last time.
I understand I am not the only non-baker who is experimenting during lockdown with the bread making art.

P.S. This is my 100th post on South.

The most liked post so far is:

https://southernoceanblog.com/2019/07/08/she-loves-the-sea/

…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

Idyll Moments

In these difficult times we need the facts. But we don’t need them 24 hours a day. I offer these images hoping they might provide an agreeable distraction and an opportunity to be pleasantly lost in your own thoughts of other things and other places, even if only briefly, upon contemplating the scenes below.

These photos were all taken in or near Apollo Bay, on the south-eastern coast of Australia.

The Otways

The banks of the Aire River, in the Otway Ranges. This location is upstream from the Hopetoun Falls shown below. The silence here was complete. I have never breathed sweeter air. This environment imposes stillness and quietness on those who enter it, just as a large cathedral does, only better.
Looking down on the Aire River flowing over Hopetoun Falls in the Great Otway National Park. The nearby track down to the falls is quite a descent, and a solid climb back up.
Just downstream from Hopetoun Falls.
These falls are at the bottom of a steep valley, which sees much more shade and darkness than sunshine. The air was cool and moist.
Liz
A brief spell and some water and food on the banks of the Aire River. We were in the shade of the towering sequoia grove, and in A-row to enjoy the dense cool temperate rainforest opposite us.
The mighty sequoia (aka Californian redwood). These trees are on track to become the tallest trees in Australia in the not too distant future.
A variety of ecualypts providing the upper storey to the ancient cool temperate rainforest sub-storeys. There is a good chance (bearing in mind that I am not a formally qualified arborist nor am I currently a park ranger) that some of these trees are mountain ash.

Apollo Bay in Autumn

Autumn in Apollo Bay and along the surrounding coastline is a special season. Calm days and increasingly cooler nights predominate. Storms and cold fronts to the south west typically generate big swells during autumn which arrive pristine and glassy and often very large and powerful on our beaches. The Rip Curl Bells Pro surfing contest, the longest running surfing event on the WSL (World Surf League) world championship tour, is held at Bells Beach every Easter. But not in 2020.
Still air, glassy waves and long boards – part of autumn in and around Apollo Bay. These three regular surfers are all members of a local Apollo Bay family. Their fourth member was also surfing, out of frame to the right.

The Southern Ocean

Autumn swell rearing with a majestic white mane over Little Henty Reef in a light nor’ westerly wind.
Curtain fall.
Solid shorebreak on the reef just offshore south of Hayley Point at Marengo (a couple of kms south of Apollo Bay).
The eye of the beast. Swell arriving at the southern tip of Little Henty Reef often creates a neat little barrel. Depending on the size and direction of the swell, as shown, sometimes power is more to the fore than symmetry and elegance of form.
When the bottom of a larger wave hits the reef and decelerates, the many tonnes of water in the top of the wave can be thrown forward by the momentum built up over the long distance of its journey from deep southern latitudes.
Another emerald eye of a wave breaking over the reef.
This wave has hit the reef, the top has thrown over and hit the water and reef below it hard. White water has then ricocheted back into the air. You can see the explosive upward trajectory of some of this white water above the general height of the breaking wave. Waves get a lot bigger than this at Little Henty Reef. But this swell was certainly of sufficient size to create a scaled-down version of the show provided by very big surf.
The lull between sets of waves this day was often lengthy. The rocky beach and reef below me with its prolific bird life was a pleasant time-filler while waiting for the next set. This is the beautiful welcome swallow. Surprisingly it’s a rather unprepossessing looking little bird when not in flight. This bird in this image was captured (using a shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second) a split second before becoming airborne.
The relentless attack of wind and water have produced surprisingly gentle shapes in the sedimentary shore platform between the ocean and the sandy beach beneath the cliffs. Welcome swallows and other small birds were constantly flitting and darting over the platform at low tide.
Much bigger waves than this break here. I have included this image of a wave breaking over Little Henty Reef for only one reason, to highlight the similarities this smaller wave has with a wave in the same spot but in much larger swell some two and half years earlier (see image immediately below). The reason for the similarities is of course that this wave is not breaking over shifting sand, but over a solid reef with interesting contours and features which do not change over time (speaking personally, rather than geologically). Bells Beach is a reliable location for excellent waves, when the swell arrives, for the same reason. The bowl at Bells has a rocky rather than a sandy seabed, and for a given size and direction of swell, the unchanging shape of the seabed will always produce the same sort of wave.
This wave occurred at the same location as the wave show in the immediately preceding photo but two and a half years earlier. The swell was a lot bigger that day.
This shot was taken in late October 2017. The big swell event of which this wave was part was featured in my post on this blog published 1 November 2017, and titled ‘Large Southern Ocean Swell pounds Local Reefs.’
The link to that post is: https://southernoceanblog.com/2017/11/01/large-southern-ocean-swell-pounds-local-reefs/
I find it interesting to compare the similarities with the smaller wave at the same spot in the immediately preceding image.
A large print of this image is hanging in my house at Apollo Bay.
The bright emerald eye of yet another short-lived barrel, with a solid line of swell in the background breaking at a different angle on a different part of the reef.
This was taken before mid-morning, and before a layer of strato-cumulus cloud arrived which softened the light and took the shine off the waves.
The white mane of a wave in an offshore wind is one of my favourite sights.
Small tight barrels are common when waves break on this part of the reef. But this larger fanning wave form was a one-off in my experience. The colour is attributable to the thing layer of water in this fanned out cylindrical form being backlit by the morning sun.
While it wasn’t a huge swell, it was substantial enough.
A moody sea with swell lines jostling for position as the water gets shallower and the time for individual performances upon hitting the reef gets closer.

My photographer’s eyrie, sheltered from the wind and overlooking Little Henty Reef and the Southern Ocean beyond.

That white spot on the grass is a rock I put there to rest my camera monopod on so the camera is at a comfortable height on the sloping ground.

Morning sun giving some sparkle to this breaking wave.
That mound of water has already hit the reef and bounced back in the air to the height shown.
Local surfer on a wave between Hayley Point and Little Henty Reef. The kelp is as it looks, in shallow water on the shore platform. But the distance between the surfer and the reef is greater than it appears, as the telephoto lens on a long focal length foreshortens apparent distance in this manner. By surfer’s standards, it’s not a perfect wave. But every surfer has been wet for less.
Brief chat between strangers in the morning sun after a session in solid well-overhead surf off the point at Marengo, with at most, three surfers out there. The waters beyond them are in a sheltered part of the reef system.

A few hours of Southern Ocean solitude

A remote Southern Ocean beach without a name on a rugged little bay on the west coast of Victoria. Sounded ideal. Was. Lizzie and I packed a good map, a picnic lunch, my wetsuit and snorkelling gear and the waterproof camera. We also carried a mud map drawn by a helpful local to assist us in finding this beach. Bit of a trek from where the road ended, but worth it. It was a wonderful few hours respite from the world notwithstanding that the sky was overcast, the visibility underwater wasn’t very good and the March flies were out in force living up to their calendar connection. While many landed on us in their usual annoying way, neither of us got bitten for some reason – a bonus we gratefully accepted.

This is the remote stretch of coast exposed to the full force of the Southern Ocean where we found a small bay without a name. The full force of the ocean was not happening on this day, which meant I could go snorkelling. On days of big surf, swimming would not be possible anywhere along this part of the coast.
Exciting and remote places, but no arrow to Unnamed Beach. The Great Ocean Walk is a famous coastal walk of 100kms or so from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles area. It takes about 8 days to do the whole walk. This sign is on the walking track which we crossed on our walk to the beach.
Out of sight below the cliff is a beach. My snorkelling location was in the sheltered small bay inside the reef with the small breaking waves on the left of the image. The sky was making no secret of the approaching change in the weather.
I have never seen seaweed like this before. It was like dark green rope, and it was everywhere on these reefs.
This was taken through the dome port on my waterproof camera housing. After immersion underwater, initially there is an even layer of water over the 6 inch diameter dome port, which contracts in stages as it runs off the convex glass dome. On this occasion, the disappearing water symmetrically framed Lizzie. Rookie error not clearing the dome port before clicking, but an acceptable result all things considered.
I entered the water by sliding down the rocks which were thickly covered in all sorts of seaweed and kelp which was entirely comfortable for such a mode of entry. Lizzie was on lookout for anything on our single-item list of good reasons to get out of the water immediately.
Most stingrays I have come across while swimming or snorkelling in the ocean in this part of the world are pretty laid back. They glide with purpose and composure and never seem rushed. I think I must have surprised this one, because his exit was at high speed with a few wild high bank turns thrown in. We exchanged the giving of frights.
Closeup from the previous photo.
The marine plant life here was highly varied, large and exotic. There were varieties of seaweed and kelp I had never seen before.
The broad strips of thick yellow kelp (on the left) were all over the place. The long flowing tendrils of thinner kelp (on the right) were also common. While there was no surf to speak of, there were some waves and the water was in constant motion with currents coming and going. The long kelp undulated back and forth in slow motion in these currents.
Substantial flattish rocks were spread around on the seabed. I found them useful to provide a clear backdrop against which to photograph fish. I have taken quite a few underwater photos of fish which were visible to me at the time mainly because of their movement, and the still picture was nothing more than a testament to their excellent and sometimes perfect camouflage marking. I regularly see more fish at the time of taking a photo than I can find in the photo later.
Marine plant garden. At least this fish can be seen against the colourful backdrop.
There is a rocky outcrop hiding under all this plant life. There were areas of deeper water quite close to the reefs. The colours under the water surprised me given that it was on overcast day.
The marine plants temporarily flattened out in a surge of current from the deeper water. I was going backwards too as I took this photo. The colours present would’ve graced any garden.
There is unfortunately nothing in this photo to give any clear sense of scale of the size of this species of kelp. It was a great sight, especially when extended and waving in the currents.
Rocky rampart between sea and shore.
As the bubbles, reduced visibility and seaweed tangles show, there was quite a current at this spot.
Between the surges of current.
My memory of this scene was that it included more than three fish. Whatever.
There must be a lot of nutrients in this water, or this spot must be just the right temperature and depth to allow such a tangle of prolific growth on this narrow strip of sand between large rocks.
My intended subject, the distant horizon, remained unphotographed thanks to a small wave passing by just as I pulled the shutter trigger.
Aesthetic curve.
Looking for some seaweed covered gently sloping rock on which to slide up and out of the water.
The rock shelf extended some distance from the beach.
Hot cup of black tea after my swim and a picnic lunch on the rocks. Social distancing par excellence. The nearest land mass south of where we we sat is Antarctica.

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.

The Twelve Apostles Marine National Park – some points of interest off the beaten track

Gellibrand River, Princetown

The Gellibrand River flows out to sea south of Princetown when the river mouth is not blocked by sand on the beach (as it was this day). Meeting Great Ocean Walk hikers is a possibility on the walk from the car park to the beach and the river mouth.
The Gellibrand River petering out just behind the beach. Upstream from here is a substantial body of brackish looking water surrounded by cliffs, reed beds and all manner of coastal vegetation. The beach was uncrowded, with only a few surf fishermen trying their luck. The cliffs shown continue to rise as you go south, ending on a point (Point Ronald) three or more times the height of the cliffs in the photo. Point Ronald juts out into the ocean, and is in a constant state of erosion as the waves and other elements pound it.

Port Campbell Cliffs

The eastern suburbs of Port Campbell, as seen from a nearby clifftop. The cliff in the middle distance with the band of lighter green vegetation, has an abandoned staircase cut into it. The line of the stairs appears in this photo as the thin dark line between the top of the headland and the sloping shelf above the vertical smaller cliff. See a closeup view in the next photo.
This is a cropped closeup of the headland with the abandoned stairs. I have been told that rock fishermen and surfers used to use these stairs and this headland. If this is true, I’d be interested to know how the surfers got into the water.

I did have a look over the barrier and the steps were not at all inviting. I think the warning is accurate.

Even though there was no swell this day, the sea was restless and in constant motion over and around the rocks and kelp at the foot of the cliffs.

Sea stacks from a different angle

The telephoto lens reveals the varied layers of this sea stack between Loch Ard Gorge and Pt Campbell. Each layer represents a different geological era.
This was taken on another day from the same favourite cliff top. I was packing the camera away ready to bash my way back through the scrub to the car because a low thin layer of strato-cumulus cloud had formed quickly in the onshore breeze as the sun sank and the air temperature lowered. The areas of shade rapidly expanded and ended the golden hour ahead of schedule. But suddenly and fleetingly, a low angled ray of light from the sun found its way through a small short-lived hole in the clouds, and lit up this sea stack as shown. It has been said of photography that ‘it’s all about the light’.
Different day, different sea stacks, different light. The Twelve Apostles from my clifftop vantage point 11 kms across the sea. These iconic formations are not photographed from this angle very much at all. This is a much lower angle than would be seen from the helicopter joy rides on offer in the area, and it’s a slightly higher angle than would be seen from a boat. The lighting at this moment made these sea stacks stand out against the cliffs behind them.
Another day and another lighting design.
This was taken from the mainland near Mutton Bird Island. I was only a couple of kms from the westernmost of the Twelve Apostles group of sea stacks. I believe the sea stack tip visible through the gap in the cliffs to be the tip of an apostle.

Down a rough dirt track

The slender headland with sheer cliffs on both sides.

I have been visiting the coast around Port Campbell for many years, and I am still discovering new places. This is one of them. I had never even heard about this spot. As is usually the case, taking the road less travelled proved very rewarding.

I understand from Philomela Manifold’s excellent publication on ‘reading the rocks of the Great Ocean Road’, (‘Written in Stone’, self published, first edition in 2017) that the evolution of sea stacks involves a variety of forces including the waves and groundwater exploiting the natural cracks and joints in the land forms. In cliffs on the mainland these tunnels can turn into huge caves. In the case of headlands the tunnels can further erode and turn into arches which upon collapse can leave sea stacks. The evolution continues as the sea stacks steadily erode, eventually leaving permanent rock platforms on the seabed. The combination of limestone and harder rock layers in the area accounts for the differential erosion of the landscape which results in many of the spectacular coastal landforms. One of the ‘Twelve’ Apostles collapsed in 2005. There were already considerably less than 12 stacks in the vicinity. In 1990 a famous arch between Peterborough and Port Campbell on this coast (London Bridge) collapsed, stranding two tourists who suddenly found themselves on an isolated brand new sea stack. If ever a couple was made indelibly aware that ‘geological time includes now’, it was that couple. They were rescued by helicopter. Surely the thinner of the two headlands in the above aerial photo is nearing the time of its transformation into a new sea stack.
This is the view looking west from a vantage point at the end of a rough looking dirt track leading off the GOR, with no signs indicating it led anywhere worth going. An invitation I could not refuse.

This was the view looking south from the end of the track. The slender headland shown in the aerial photo above is on the right in both images. There was a sandy beach at the head of this cove, and clear aquamarine water in the tiny bay with a seabed of reefs and kelp beds.

NOTE: I would not take children out on the narrow headland. With care and common sense, it can be walked. But in my view it remains a dangerous place with an element of risk not present at other attractions along this coast. It can be safely and satisfyingly viewed without walking out on this headland. Warning signs in the area warn of the dangers and risks here.

These images show the precarious state (at least to my uneducated eye) of the two headlands jutting out into the ocean at this location.

The first two photos show the headland (and a closeup of it) immediately to the east of the narrow headland. Apart from the various layers eroding at different rates due to their different composition, there are two major cracks visible near the top of this headland. Perhaps it would not be an entirely foolish guess that at some point the top third or more of this cliff will fall into the sea, leaving a clean new face exposed to the elements for slower processes to continue working on. The fourth photo below under the heading ‘Muttonbird Island’ shows a cliff on a headland where just such a separation has occurred (albeit in the lower rather than the upper section of the cliff face on the headland). It appears to have created something of a small reef directly where it fell.

The other two photos show the western edge of the cliff edge on the western side of the slender headland. At this height, the rock and limestone is only being eroded by wind and rain. Once again, the harder layers survive and the limestone is first to go. The small fragment extending out in the bottom image was as it looks – almost paper thin. It looked as though it would snap as easily as a thin dry biscuit. There are no footholds or handholds on these worn fragments, and some appear to be barely holding their own weight.

Lizzie (who knows no fear of heights), triumphantly atop the very end of the slender headland. What was she thinking!? I had been walking ahead of her and I stopped as I reached the decision that about where I was standing to take this photo was far enough. No need to be silly, I thought. Then Liz strolled past at a good clip. Obviously exhilarated by the view left, right and straight ahead, she even broke into a bit of a jog up the narrow sloping section and over the slippery shiny rounded little rocks which I saw as a sure ticket to a short flight to the ocean below.

The Caves

The route back to the mainland down the centre of the slender headland, where it begins to widen. On the right is the beach at the head of the turquoise bay shown in images above, with a smallish cave that at first glance seemed worth a further look. That is, until the cave on the left was spotted. This cave was huge. We could hear the sound of running water deep inside it somewhere. A later look at a map showed an intermittent stream in the vicinity that might have been the source. Serious erosion forces were at work on both sides of this slender headland. I just hoped it had enough structural integrity for me to get a few photos and then get back to more solid land. We were conscious that ‘geological time includes now’, and briefly discussed that notion while keeping walking at a good pace.

Looking north from the middle of the narrow headland at the beaches and caves in the gorges either side.

What a cave! I could see no easy way to get down to explore this, other than arriving by sea.

Sherbrook River

Sherbrook River beach is 1200m west of the beach in Loch Ard Gorge. It can only be reached on foot. Even on the day this photo was taken, there being no surf to speak of, there was quite a bit of water moving in and near this bay. There was a rescue tragedy here in April last year when two life savers (father and son) from Port Campbell lost their lives when they responded to the call to help a tourist who was swept out of his depth in huge seas at this location. They travelled in a rescue craft from Pt Campbell to the Sherbrook Beach area and it capsized in the huge breaking waves near the adjacent cliffs. The tourist was winched to safety by a helicopter and survived. That story is briefly told in the post on this blog titled, ‘Two Swims West of Cape Otway’ published 8 February 2020. The paragraph on the sign headed ‘Unpatrolled Area’ appears to have been added after the sign was originally made and installed. I don’t know whether or not it was one of the responses to the tragic incident at this beach. One might have thought the first two warnings on the sign should have been enough to deter anyone from even putting a toe in the water on a day of huge swell.

Muttonbird Island

Loch Ard Gorge and Muttonbird Island

The sandy beach in the top right of the image is the Loch Ard Gorge beach. In 1878 the clipper Loch Ard was wrecked on a reef on Muttonbird Island in fog and treacherous seas. Of 17 crew and 37 passengers, only two survived. Both were washed into the gorge now know as Loch Ard Gorge. Sizeable intact parts of the Loch Ard are still on the seabed on the south western tip of Muttonbird island. It is a site which attracts scuba divers when conditions permit diving in the location. The Loch Ard was a clipper, which is a square rigged three masted sailing ship. It was 263 feet long, with a beam of 38 feet and it drew 22 feet of water. It weighted 1693 tons and its masts were around 150 feet high.

Loch Ard Gorge with the ocean in repose. If you were to swim out between these two headlands and head to the right, you would be on direct track for the north eastern corner of Muttonbird Island.
Loch Ard Gorge under the stars at dusk.
This photo was taken from the Muttonbird Island viewing area. The headland with the reef in from of it and the obviously truncated point (due to erosion) is the western headland of the Loch Ard Gorge bay.

This small cove which is immediately adjacent to Loch Ard Gorge (on the western side), has a large cave at its northernmost point, and an interesting door shaped cavity nearer the seaward point. I’d love to investigate this area on the right day in a small boat. The second of these photos shows the fracture surface left after the southern tip of the headland completely broke away in a moment or two, rather than eroding away gradually.

If you swam out from Loch Ard Gorge and turned right at the western headland, you would see the eastern tip of Muttonbird Island (partially visible on the right of the image) directly ahead.

Left: a fracture line on the eastern tip of Muttonbird Island, indicating a possible eventual point of separation of this point into the sea below. The debris would probably form a reef if the water was not too deep at that location.

Right: On the northern end of Muttonbird Island there is a tunnel I never knew about until the day I took this photo. There is every indication that it gives clear passage (for a swimmer at least) through to the small circular bay on the other side of the arch. Plainly the route of choice if swimming around this island.

The green water passage under the arch to a small bay. This is a very inviting sight for any ocean swimmer.
I hope some time to get a water level photo of this arch and channel. That would be a swim to remember.

The short-tailed shearwater (aka the muttonbird)

An ocean swim around Muttonbird Island?

After the wonderful and memorable Boat Bay ocean swim (described in a post in this blog published 8 February 2020, and titled, ‘Two Ocean Swims West of Cape Otway’), there was talk of the possibility of the next such swim being around Muttonbird Island, starting and finishing on the beach in Loch Ard Gorge. Most disappointingly, it never eventuated. But I have not been able to let go of the idea of such a swim. The route I would suggest would involve swimming through the channel under the arch on the northern tip of the island, into the little bay as shown on the route line above. The distance of the line shown is 1850m. Obviously there are a lot of days in the year when ocean and weather conditions would not permit such a swim to be done safely. But I reckon autumn would have more of its fair share of good days than the other seasons. IRB and paddle board support would of course be essential. Are there any readers of this post who would be interested in doing such a swim? If the swim did take place, I would definitely want that pipe band on the beach in the gorge piping us into the water – just like they did at the Boat Bay swim. As an alternative to an organised and advertised swim open to the public, a smaller group may be easier to mobilise at short notice when the weather and sea conditions were suitable…. Public or private swim, either way I am confident it would be a wonderful adventure and a truly memorable swim.

A storm swept reef, the seals who live there & some kayakers who visited

Just off Hayley Point, south of Apollo Bay (on the south east coast of Australia), lies Little Henty Reef. It consists of two rocky low-elevation islands. The closest is about 150m from shore, and the furthest is around 600m offshore. There is a channel between them. This reef system is exposed to big swells from the Southern Ocean. Large waves and gale-force winds from the Roaring Forties are common in this part of the world. Despite such weather and sea conditions Little Henty Reef is the permanent home of about 200 Australian fur seals.

The two reefs and their immediately adjacent waters are protected by the 12 hectare Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary. The area is rich in marine life and is ideal for snorkelling (especially on the reef closest to the shore) when conditions permit. (See my blog post published 13 January 2020, titled ‘My first underwater look at Little Henty Reef, Apollo Bay’). There are many days when conditions do not permit.

The Seals, the Kayakers and the Swell

Real estate can be at a premium on the high tide. The photos in this post were taken with my 150-600mm telephoto lens at full stretch, in mostly overcast conditions. Some of the subject matter was over 600m distant. No excuses, just explaining why you can’t see the glint in the seals’ eyes.
Despite the appearance of crowding, the seals appear to be enjoying life.
Seven kayaks, each with two paddlers, had paddled about 500m to reach this spot. They had sufficient protection here from the breaking waves which were crashing on the southern side of the reef. The water they were ‘parked’ in was relatively protected, but certainly not calm.
This is a cropped closeup of part of the photograph directly above it. The large number of well camouflaged seals lying on on this rocky promontory are slightly easier to see in this image. The sea conditions even in this relatively sheltered spot are indicated by the fact that paddle blades were moving most of the time for stability, and probably to help hold position.
The kayakers were rewarded for their efforts with a great close up view of the seal colony. The foreshortening effect of the telephoto lens probably makes the kayaks appear closer to the reef and seals than they were.
Without changing my location at all, this photo was taken by simply turning about 45° to the right after taking the previous image. The kayakers would have had a good view of these waves breaking over the exposed southern side of the reef. They were also obviously experiencing some movement of the water created by these waves.
The seven kayaks heading around the northern end of the outer reef on their way back to shore. I understand paddles held horizontally aloft is a signal to stop. Whatever the reason, the paddlers were obviously in very good hands with the crew who took them out there. From afar, it appeared that five of the kayaks carried an adult and a teenager, and two had only teenage paddlers. There was an extensive briefing of all paddlers on the beach before heading out. Then there was a rehearsal in the calm waters close to Hayley Point. Then finally the group paddled around the northern end of the two reefs to their vantage point where they could safely view the seals. They stuck close together the whole time. My guess is that the teenagers were beginner kayak paddlers. The whole event went very smoothly. A credit to the organisers in conditions requiring local knowledge, expertise and judgment.. I’m sure the young paddlers were most satisfied with their adventure in paddling out with experts on a day that was safe, but with the ocean visibly stirring.
Moving through slightly less sheltered waters on the return to shore. A couple of cormorants toying with the idea of photo-bombing this shot.
Once again, a bit of a turn to the right, and this was the view. The uneven horizon also says something about the sea state at the time. The ocean was moving.
When the kayaks neared the shore upon their return and were in shallow water with small waves breaking, it was clear that all on board were keen to catch a wave if they could. But nobody would have been keen on catching a wave like this chaotic and ugly looking wave on the southern end of the reef. The waves where the kayaks came ashore were orderly and small and in sheltered waters.
Valiant attempt by the rear paddler to shift his weight back as the nose goes underwater.
The front passenger is obviously going underwater first, and appears pretty calm about it all.
Not sure if I heard the cry, “Getting out now!”, but if I didn’t, it would’ve been appropriate. It would also have allowed the defence to be run later that this was an intentional manoeuvre. But despite appearances, this was simply all part of the fun. They were in waist-deep water with no significant currents and they were on a mushy little wave. They gave it a crack, got wet and surfaced all smiles.
I don’t believe this to be the ideal orientation to a breaking wave, but they got away with it.
This was one of the all-teenage kayak crews, showing the others how its done in the shore break.
I think this was the other all-teenage crew, thoughtfully giving the boat a good rinse before taking it ashore.
A stylish and committed exit from a capsize.
Too late for an eskimo roll, but staying in contact with the craft.
The owner of this hand was not lost at sea, and surfaced all laughs shortly after this photo was taken. The kayak missed him by a good margin and the water was waist deep.

The Seals and the Swell

The previous shots were taken from the shore near the car park at a spot about 500m from where the kayaks were semi-rafted up on the eastern side of the outer reef. For the remainder of these photos I moved from my spot near the car park to a grass-covered clifftop on Hayley Point, nicely sheltered on three sides by bushes. My new location was about 450m from the seals on the northern part of the outer reef and about 700m from the more exposed southern end of the outer reef where the larger waves were breaking. I have seen waves breaking right over the reef shown here, but not on this day, and not all that often.
The view due south from my grassy knoll. The swell was not abating.
Seals feeling smug that the waves are breaking either side of them but not on them.
Wide angle shot of the outer reef and its occupants.
Cropped closeup of part of the previous image. I didn’t see a single underfed-looking seal. I think if I were a seal, I would choose to live in a marine sanctuary.
White water all around them not interfering with sun-baking, sleeping and quiet conversation.
You can see the exposed reef here as the water sucks out in front of the wave. I have seen waves breaking on this part of this reef for many years. Despite its disordered appearance, waves at this location seem to break as shown here most of the time. When the waves are scaled up, so are the various features visible in this wave. But essentially, the breaking wave always follows the dictates of the shape of the rocky reef on the ocean floor over which it is breaking. Wind strength and direction can of course have a big effect on such a wave, but the essential elements shown here can usually be recognised.
Up close, it seems there is a nook or a cranny for everyone, birds included. These reefs are a real haven for the Australian fur seal. I intend to paddle out there on my surf ski some time for a closer look and hopefully to get some proper photos of seals.

Postscript

Little Henty Reef is at the southern end of Mounts Bay. The adjacent bay to the north is Apollo Bay. Seals from the Little Henty colony often make their way around into Apollo Bay, either singly or in pairs. I have had them approach me on my surf ski, and playfully dive around and under the ski. I have seen them in the water while I was swimming, but they have never approached me as a swimmer. They often hang around the harbour mouth feeding if the opportunity arises but mostly they just loll around seeming to enjoy the change of scenery.

Earlier this evening, three days after the photos of the kayakers were taken, I wandered out along the town jetty and came across this solitary seal enjoying the view from his vantage point on the harbour wall. After all the distance shots of seals in this post, I thought a few closeups of a seal might be of interest. These images were taken with a zoom lens.

Australasian Gannets breeding on Southern Ocean clifftop

The Australasian gannet has a remarkable set of flying and feeding skills. It is also a very beautiful bird.

It’s perfectly adapted for flying and soaring, as well as for diving at high speed into the sea to catch fish. An Australasian gannet can fly in excess of 500km in a day seeking food, at speeds of 35-40 knots. It soars whenever possible on its outstretched 2m wings. I admire the capabilities of this bird.

They sometimes herd fish (pilchards are favourites) into dense shoals by soaring 10m or so above the surface. Then they dive and eat. They fold their wings back to dive from heights of 15m or so, with the ability to repeatedly dive to depths of 15-20m. They can also dive effectively from lower heights, usually done in rougher conditions. They hit the water at speeds up to 80kph (some say higher speeds are reached in the dive) and can propel themselves and manoeuvre under water (i.e. swim!) using their wings. They have been observed to catch as many as five fish in a single dive. Their eyesight is specially adapted for the underwater phase of their hunting. They only stay underwater for around 10 seconds but will generally swallow the fish before surfacing. I have witnessed a group of Australasian gannets plunge diving en masse and feeding very successfully offshore at Apollo Bay (photos below). It’s a great spectacle.

The gannets are found mainly in southern and eastern Australia and New Zealand. There are established gannet migration routes between these countries. They are very strong flyers, and fly well out to sea for food, as well as between Australia and NZ on migration journeys. Gannets from Australia have been recorded flying as far afield as Mauritius and New Zealand. But more typically, they fly long distances around the southern half of the Australian coastline. Fledglings leave the nest around 100 days after hatching. They travel many thousands of kms until around the age of three they return to their home nest to begin breeding when they are 4-7 years old.

They nest and raise their young between July and April. The period of incubation of a gannet is around 40 days. The young birds fledge around 90-100 days after hatching, and are able to fly from this time.

They live to around 25 years old, and form monogamous long term relationships with breeding partners.

What an interesting and impressive bird! They are also one of the most elegant and beautiful seabirds to grace our coast.

The Gannet Colony at Point Danger

The white mound on the promontory is the Point Danger Australasian gannet breeding colony. Its 5-6kms south of Portland, on the southern coast of Australia. The rocky outcrop visible offshore is Lawrence Rocks. There are around 6,000 breeding pairs on Lawrence Rocks. The Point Danger colony has about 300 breeding pairs. Some say this rookery is an overflow from the crowded Lawrence Rocks population. The fence in the foreground is high and secure, and is monitored by video. The gate is securely locked. There are also a number of electric fences around the breeding colony (including low down on the promontory cliffs) to keep foxes away. A committee of management and a number of volunteers will, by prior arrangement, accompany those interested inside the reserve for a closer look at the birds.
This is the only mainland Australasian gannet breeding colony in Australia. New Zealand only has two mainland breeding colonies. Islands are preferred.
There was continual movement of birds most of the time. It seems that at some point or another most of them chose to get airborne for a short flight. Some went out to sea and back, perhaps to try their luck for a snack. Others would lift off and lazily put in a couple of flaps to join the glassy ridge lift on the windward side of the promontory (to the right in the picture above) then stretch out their wings with only minor movements thereafter for turns, climbs and descents. They would soar back and forth before returning for more socialising and relaxing. Others would simply do a short circuit after taking off into wind, wheel around to the downwind side of home and then land into wind. Between such sorties, they were conspicuously relating to each other. It is said they are quite gregarious, and this was borne out by what I observed.
The information board at Point Danger Gannet Colony. This board and the fence around the tip of the promontory together with the nearby observation platform were the only signs that humans had any interest in the place. But interestingly, directly behind the observation platform (from which the first photo in this post was taken) was a solid mound of earth, plainly put there for some purpose. A short look around revealed that it was sitting directly in front of the targets of a rifle firing range, the line of fire of which would go directly over the gannet colony (and the observation platform!). A peek around the corner of the mound revealed the back of the targets, stern warnings and a clear view of the shooters end of the range which was far too close for my liking. They say the hooded plover in choosing to breed on the sand on open beaches is not showing great judgment. Well, setting up home directly in the line of fire of a shooting range also seems a questionable choice leading at the very least to a noisy neighbourhood. But my guide informed me that neither gannets nor those who come to see them have ever been shot by a stray bullet coming over the top of the targets.
This is Ewen. He’s chairman of the Point Danger Committee of Management. He is a volunteer guide, a gentleman and happy to share his extensive knowledge of the Australasian gannet. He also has great patience. As I took these photos revelling in the opportunity and privilege of being so close to this colony of such beautiful birds, he gave me no hurry up. Thanks Ewen. The volunteers make themselves available for tours of the breeding colony up close, by arrangement with Portland Information Centre.

How Gannets Relax

These two birds gracefully intertwined necks and beaks in a gentle interaction that continued for quite some time.
While appearing as though they might be ‘crossing swords’, they weren’t. This was very friendly behaviour. They truly are gregarious.
The same pair having a spell from the neck intertwining thing.
You write a caption.
An active fledgling overlooking a snoozing adult. That robust blue covering of the eyes when shut is part of the adaptation necessary for comfortable high speed diving into the sea. When the eyes are open, this blue shield is simply a blue circle around the eye.
The colony was densely populated. There was room to spread out, but they seemed to prefer being in close proximity to each other. While some of the chicks and fledglings were sticking together on the edge of the main group, there was a lot of apparently easygoing intermingling between generations on the main mound of the rookery.
None of the birds showed any fear as I stood quietly taking photos from close up. Those are serious feet for a seabird.

Individual Portraits

Fledglings and Chicks

Landing approaches at the busy Pt Danger breeding colony

Because of the dense covering of birds on the nesting area, birds returning from flight had to take great care in landing. The gannet is all elegance and efficiency in full flight. They seemed to me to also be quite agile and adept a low speed flight and manoeuvring. But on foot, they are merely ordinary – they are plainly built to fly. Just as an aeroplane becomes ordinary once its wheels touch the ground and it is reduced to tentatively plodding along taxiways at walking pace, so it is with the gannet. Both were made to fly, not taxy. Landing on this busy site involves approaching from downwind, then slowing down while looking all over for a spot to put down. They must remain ever ready to abort the landing and go around if required. Initially during the recce the wings are stretched right out to maximise lift for slow flight.
This bird is slowing down and descending. Tail feathers seemed to play an increasing role in manoeuvring as the wings are increasingly busy maintaining height or the required descent rate.
Seems as though a vertical hover straight down would be required for the spot currently being looked at. Helicopter pilots train in confined space operations. I believe the entire gannet species could be signed off right now as fully competent in this regard.
As slower and slower flight is required for some landings, the birds wings need to be flapped a little, with wingtip feathers extended right out to reduce drag and maintain lift.
This is a closeup of the bird in the previous photo. The focus is intense. This must be the same head and neck position of the gannet when it enters the water in a high speed dive for feeding. The form and streamlining is readily apparent in this photo. These qualities are of course also very useful in flight.
Those wings are amazingly flexible and variable in all parameters. Nothing out of the ordinary though it would seem. If beaks are any indication, this radical approach seems to have captured the attention of only one bird on the ground.
Closing in on the chosen touchdown spot. If there were regular landing collisions, these birds would of course quickly learn to get out of the way when there was inbound traffic. The audience on this all over landing field is utterly ignoring the bird approaching to land.
Even in such close proximity to birds on the ground, they don’t seem to be giving the risk of a wing in the face any thought at all. It seems clear that the approach and landing is and is perceived to be a low risk event.
Throttle back – touchdown is only a fraction of a second away. The bird doing the landing made no contact whatsoever with any other bird during this landing.
This bird was slowing down, but it was just too crowded. The feet were deployed as shown to create drag in to assist in the descent to land. So a decision was made to ‘go around’. The undercarriage was retracted, the wings started flapping and flying speed increased. Then he did another circuit before touching down smoothly and without incident on the second attempt. The webbed feet deployed as shown, would act a bit like the drag function of flaps on an aeroplane. A bird that is so streamlined and built for speed and soaring needs some control surfaces to slow it down in the circuit area.

Gannets on the wing

To be fair, this probably should’ve been in the approach and landing section. Same can be said for the next photo. But these two were in clear air above the colony, and I saw quite a few birds slow down for a quick look just as these two are doing, before giving it away as too crowded and heading off for another short flight in the area before setting up the next approach. That their legs are tucked away in the streamlined position indicates to me that the decision to land has not been finally made yet.
Full flight mode. Apart from landing manoeuvres, I have very few photos of an Australasian gannet flapping its wings. The reason is, they only do it when necessary. This bird was in ample ridge lift on the windward side of the promontory and effortlessly maintained height and speed with the wings fixed as shown.
The streamlining of the gannet is obvious in this picture. This serves it very well not only in long distance flight, but also in its underwater activities.

These are Australasian gannets plunge diving on a school of fish. It’s a spectacular thing to see – the vertical dive, with the last minute folding away of everything that might come unstuck upon hitting the water at up to 80kph, the fearless beak first entry at maximum speed, then the dive to perhaps 15m or so using its wings underwater to swim and manoeuvre. Fish are caught and often eaten before the bird surfaces. These photos were taken from the shore at Apollo Bay in December last year. Please excuse the poor quality of these photos – the birds were feeding over 600m offshore, the sky was overcast and this was the best the big tele lens could do.

This bird gave the landing approach away early, and was ‘going around’ at low altitude at reasonably high speed. I wonder if gannets enjoy doing low high speed passes.

The Australasian gannet species is not under threat. The populations are in fact growing in both Australia and New Zealand.

It was a wonderful privilege to spend an hour or more with these gannets. The pleasure was added to by their utter lack of concern at my presence. Opportunities to observe such wild and beautiful birds up close and in their natural habitat are rare. Prior to visiting this breeding colony, the best gannet sightings (and photos) I had were of them soaring high above me over a beach near Freycinet in Tasmania. My hour at home with the gannets was memorable.