Early Morning Light

Photos taken in the Solomon Islands, Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Lord Howe Island, Apollo Bay, Mt Buffalo, the Victorian high country, the Otways and Port Campbell.

You’re the stillness in the trees,

You’re my gentle offshore breeze,

You’re the birdsong that sends the night away,

You’re the promise it’s all right,

You’re my early morning light,

You are my early morning light.

Lizzie is the loving and much loved mother of these two (and the adored grandmother of their children).
This photo was taken in the late afternoon light, with Liz by my side.

The poem is the chorus of a song I wrote for Lizzie in 2015 to mark our 40th year together. The song has only been sung in public once, and that was in an Apollo Bay Open Mic Sunday Afternoon Session in the RSL club rooms around the anniversary of our 40 years together.

This post marks 45 years together.

Gibson Steps, Bay of Islands and Logans Beach

The migration of southern right whales and the humpback whales across the oceans south of the Australian continent is a winter phenomenon. After breeding in the warmer waters along the southern coast of Australia (and along the east and west coasts of the country) between May and November, they head back to Antarctic waters where krill abounds in the cold water. At birth calves would not survive the freezing temperatures deep in the Southern Ocean, which explains the annual migration to warmer waters.

Yesterday Liz and I drove to Logans Beach at Warrnambool, an established whale nursery, to see and photograph whales close to shore. With whale numbers increasing every year, whale sightings along this coast are increasingly common – except for yesterday. Despite keeping an eagle-eyed lookout whenever the ocean was in sight, and despite perfect whale-spotting weather and sea conditions, not a single whale or splash was seen. If you are a reader who likes a blog post to have a theme, then the theme of this post is photos without whales in them.

But the west coast of Victoria between Apollo Bay and Warrnambool is not lacking in points of interest, even when the whales are elsewhere.

The vista to the north from a high point on the Otway Ranges not far west of Lavers Hill. Cold air and fog was still nestling in the valleys, but the sun burned it off pretty rapidly from mid-morning. (The connection of this scene with the three places in the heading of this post, is that it was passed on our way to those places).
Coastal planes near Gibson Steps beach.
There was not much swell forecast, but the ocean and beaches west of Cape Otway march to their own drum in this regard. There was a light northerly, and glassy long interval swell lines like this were arriving from weather deep in the Southern Ocean between Australia and Antarctica. The refraction of sunlight shining on the curtain of spray raised by the offshore wind created these fleeting rainbows. This surf, despite its quality, was too small to attract the interest of any of the local surfers. To see the sort of surf at Gibson Steps that does attract the interest of local surfers, see my recent post: https://southernoceanblog.com/2020/05/20/big-clean-swell-at-gibson-steps/
At the Bay of Islands, just west of Peterborough, I had my camera switched on with settings for seascapes and landscapes as we walked out a narrow headland covered in hardy shrubs and surrounded by ocean on three sides. We spotted this nankeen kestrel hovering and manoeuvring rapidly with its eyes fixed on prey it had spotted in the shrubs below. Before I could aim the camera (with 150-600mm lens attached) skywards, it drew its wings in and with its gaze locked on its intended prey, dived vertically down to the scrub where it disappeared for a moment or two. It then took to the air and climbed away with this hapless lizard having its first trip by air. This was no mean feat, as the scrub was quite thick. The nankeen kestrel is a member of the falcon family. Falcons are fast flyers, with high level aerial hunting skills, which this bird displayed superbly. The nankeen kestrel can be found right across the Australian continent, but they prefer to breed on the south east of the continent and in south western W.A. I would not normally publish a photo lacking sharpness as this image does. My excuse is that the shutter speed I used, while suitable for seascapes, was too slow to properly capture an airborne kestrel in hunting mode. But the subjects can be identified, and I find the photo interesting enough to include in this post.
The offshore limestone stacks along this coast are wonderfully secure eyries for nesting birds. The silver gull makes the most of it, as do cormorants, shearwaters and a variety of other seabirds.
Nesting areas on these limestone islands are far more densely populated than this photo might suggest.
Silver gull on final approach to join his two mates enjoying the view over an ocean teeming with food.
Coastal cliffs east of Peterborough. Before the light northerly came up, the day had started with fog as a large high pressure area was centred over the state. Once the wind started to move the fog, the sun broke through and heated the ground which reflected heat back into the lower atmosphere which in turn accelerated the dissipation and disappearance of the fog. Low ragged patches of cumulus cloud were the last remnants of this process, which was followed by a cold day with a cloudless blue sky.
A singing honeyeater on the whale watching platform at Logans Beach. It lives on berries, nectar and insects in habitats including coastal shrub land, which covers the sand dunes in this area. An interesting fact I read about this bird is that it is one of the first birds to call before dawn (‘The Australian Bird Guide’, Menkhorst and others, CSIRO Publishing 2017, at page 376).
The singing honeyeater. The facial expression suggests it was not about to burst into joyous song during this brief portrait sitting. I liked its proud assertiveness.
Some rips are easier to spot than others. The surfers shown were using this and other rips for an easy ride through the shore break to get out the back at Logans Beach to their chosen takeoff point.
This well established rip was operating right from the shallows. The figure on the left is a bodysurfer who entered the water at the rip and used it for a speedy lift out the back. From there he paddled parallel to the beach to his takeoff point. It would be a simple swim to shore on the white water either side of this rip. But it would most likely have been impossible for anyone to swim against the current in the calm looking water of the rip which was flowing out to sea to just beyond the zone of breaking waves. The rip could be spotted from the sea beyond the breaking waves by looking shorewards. It would appear as a break in the line of white water of the breaking waves. Surf is not breaking over the rip because the water is deeper there. These rips were at Logans Beach, east of the whale viewing area.

Big Clean Swell at Gibson Steps

A storm deep in the Southern Ocean created swell which quietly arrived on the west coast of Victoria on Monday. It was not a keenly anticipated swell event. Swell was forecast, but not in the exceptional category. Monday was a cloudless autumn day and a gentle offshore wind was working its magic on the ocean. The current closure of the Twelve Apostles lookout and visitor centre and the pandemic travel restrictions took care of the traffic one might otherwise expect on the Great Ocean Road on such a day, and it was all but deserted. We didn’t expect to see any swell out of the ordinary, and indeed Apollo Bay was without swell when we left.

But Castle Cove was indicating the presence of a some swell and excited our optimism about conditions further west. But it was not until we stopped at Gibson Steps that it became clear that this day the planets had truly aligned.

The swell at Gibson Steps on Monday morning

Not satisfied with the faint lines of swell to the horizon and the waves of consequence breaking well offshore at Gibson Steps, we drove on to check out Two Mile from the clifftops hoping for bigger things. But it was not to be. A couple of surfers had paddled out at Third Reef and were floating and paddling around in swell but the break was not firing. A jet ski and surfer had come out from Pt Campbell to Two Mile to find similar regular swell lines. But they gave it away after a lot of circles, parking and a couple of swims in clear water and swell that failed to reach the size required to light up Two Mile.

So after an enjoyable half hour swim in the bay at Port Campbell and lunch on the foreshore in cool air under blue skies, we headed back towards Apollo Bay planning to check the swell at Gibson Steps on the way home. This is what we saw. Ruler-straight swell lines to the horizon, and it had built since the morning.

The afternoon swell

A bit of rainbow action on the right hand end of the spray.
Close-out.

The Gibson Steps neighbourhood

The Twelve Apostles photographed through the anticyclonic haze from 11kms away. Gibson Steps is to the right of frame in this image.

The second image shows the point at the eastern end of Gibson Steps beach. All the wave photos in the post were taken looking about ninety degrees to the right of the direction in which this photo was taken.

Locals on the beach at Gibson Steps

Sooty oyster catcher possibly feeling on the outer of this group of silver gulls on Gibson Steps beach.

Foam ball

When a wave breaks and forms a barrel, the airborne spray and white water deep inside the barrel can be expelled forcefully with the air as the wave collapses. Surfers call it a foam ball.

Sizing up the swell

The swell showed no signs of fading while we were there.
We were lamenting that there wasn’t a surfer or two out there to give a scale reference for these mighty waves.
Then there was. A solitary local surfer drove into the car park and without delay got into his wettie and headed down the stairs and straight into the water. He too had given away Two Mile. He told me he had spotted a left at Gibson Steps directly out from the stair case on the cliff which he thought would be worth the paddle out. It turned out he was right. Surfers have a distinct preference with waves of this size for paddling over them before they break. Getting caught inside by a breaking wave of this size can result in lengthy hold downs, being carried some distance underwater, being pushed back towards shore and getting a general flogging under water. Surfers can duck dive under a breaking wave while on a surfboard and reduce the extent to which they are pushed back. But there are limits to the size of wave where a good result from duck diving is guaranteed.
This surfer repeatedly appeared to just make it over large waves that were about to break. So much so in fact that I was forced to conclude that it wasn’t luck, but the benefit of water knowledge and experience that I was witnessing. I didn’t see him caught inside once or needing to duck dive under a single wave. He seemed to always be in just the right spot.
A combination of his paddling speed and the crest of the wave starting to break just as he reached it saw him pop through the top of this wave to clear water beyond (or at least to the next wave) as shown.
Up at the eastern end of Gibson Steps this left was working with mechanical precision. I have seen it surfed, but not on this day. The next photo was taken a few seconds after this one.
This is the same wave breaking with its peeling long left going unridden and with white water exploding back up above the height of the unbroken wave.
Taking the drop on one of the earlier rides. This surfer caught a number of well chosen waves, and rode them all with style and finesse. In my humble view he was a talented surfer, completely at home surfing solo in these waves of consequence at this wild and remote location. Gibson Steps is fully exposed to the swell which powers in from the roaring forties in the Southern Ocean.
Building up speed as the crest of the wave starts to break ahead of him.
A sizeable wave threatening to break on the surfer. He made it over this one too.
Timing it perfectly, the surfer reaches the top of the wave just as it starts to break, and pushes through the lip easily to keep paddling. Had the wave looked like breaking on him, he would have duck dived under it with his board, as deep as he could, to minimise the impact of the wave.
Looking quite relaxed between waves in the middle of a solid set.
Looking a bit interested in the wave starting to lift him. But he rejected this one and took one a few waves later. It was a good choice.
This seems as good a photo as any as a basis for offering a view on just how high these waves were. Surfers use a measuring system which consistently understates the height of waves. Two big wave surfers I spoke to separately at Gibson Steps told me with straight faces that this surf was ‘solid 8 foot’. The surfer in this photo is about 6 feet tall….
I measure wave height from the lip to the flat water just in front of the wave. This is the distance a surfer about to take the drop when catching a wave would fall if he came unstuck. I have looked closely at the photos on this post and using the surfer as my measure, my view is that the faces of many of these waves were over 20 feet.

The wave of the session (sequence of 8 photos)

The drop.
Building up speed.
A good look at this powerful turn off the lip of the wave

The three photos on the left show the turn as seen through the telephoto lens from the shore. The photos on the right are cropped details to show the turn up close.

The speed with which he entered this turn can be gauged by the angle of his board, which has the rail buried as he tightens the turn. Centrifugal force is sticking him to the deck of his board.

Stylish completion of this radical turn throwing spray high into the air
What a spectacular turn. I’d score this ride a 10 on the basis of this turn alone.
All these wave photos were taken from the lookout at Gibson Steps, using a Nikon D810 and a 150-600mm Sigma Sports telephoto lens. The surfer was a long way offshore. The water’s edge was not an option because it wasn’t much closer horizontally than the cliff tops, and the waves were of a size that meant from sea level I couldn’t see anything past the closest breaking wave.

Returning to shore

After the waves break well offshore, white water, waves, chop and currents are generated as the waves’ energy dissipates further over the reefs, channels and sandbars in the final 300+m of the journey to shore. Transport for a surfer from the end of his last ride to shore is basically a matter of taking anything and everything on offer, as shown.

The footprints show where he stopped, unhurried, and turned to have a look out to sea. I had a chat to him and didn’t get the impression this was a standout session by his standards. I suppose with his experience on breaks like Gibson Steps and Two Mile, this is understandable.
Respect.

The Glenaire Valley

The natural wonders of Gibson Steps and the surrounding coast and ocean do not overshadow the contrasting quiet beauty of the rich hinterland. This is the Aire River flowing through the Glenaire Valley after a period of good rain. It’s just starting to spill over its banks. This location is only a short distance from the coast about 25kms west of Apollo Bay and only a couple of kms from Castle Cove.

[With the exception of the photo of the Twelve Apostles, which was taken in the morning all photos are posted in the order in which they were taken.]

Beauty beneath the Surface

The reefs and rock pools along the west coast of Victoria only reveal their beauty to those prepared to get wet.  For half the time they are entirely concealed by the ocean at high tide, and for the other half they present as relatively unattractive seaweed filled pools scattered between rocky outcrops on the reef, visible only at low tide.

But for those prepared to slide into the kelp, the seaweed and the still water of these pools with a face mask and snorkel, a beautiful world awaits.

 

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While most of the pools are connected one way or another to the ocean through the maze of channels between the rocks, at low tide much of the water in the pools is still and clear.  The further from the breaking waves a pool is, the clearer it will be.  A glance from dry land as shown gives some hint of the plant life beneath the surface, but no hint of the beauty beyond.

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Prolific kelp beds dominate the larger marine plant species on this reef.

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The safest way to enter these pools is to sit on the edge, which will feel upholstered as it is cushioned with Neptune’s necklace and other seaweed forms completely concealing the rock on which they grow.  Then slide on your backside down the sloping wall of the pool on the slippery beds of seaweed.  To attempt to walk in this shallow water near the edge, with or without flippers, seems to result in me sitting down in the water after a fall or a near fall on the uneven rocks concealed by the seaweed.  As soon as the water is deep enough to float face down and prone without scraping rocks or sand, do it.  Gentle kicks with suitable fins will see you effortlessly gliding at the speed of your choice to deeper water.  At their deepest these rock pools are 12-15 feet deep.  But 18 inches of water is also enough to glide over the pristine sand and sea gardens.

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Generally speaking, views of the surface of the sea from above or below are not available simultaneously.   But the gentle movement of the surface of these rock pools can allow you to view both at once, even if only for a moment.  

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What a contrast between the bare rocks above the surface, and the richly coloured world immediately below.

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The unhurried visitor to this world will see the gentle curves and arcs of the water surface, and the mesmerising movement of refracted light patterns on the contours of the seabed.

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 Boundaries between ecosystems in nature are rarely so clearly marked as they are by the surface of the sea..

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These pools have an abundance of fish in them.  But mostly their colour and markings make them very hard to see in a still photo.  While snorkelling, it is only their movement that allows them to be seen.  They are only easy to see as they swim over sand.

This 24 second video clip shows the abundant fish life in the vicinity of a rocky outcrop with all sorts of hiding places on and under it.  In still photos of the fish shown swimming here, their camouflage makes them virtually invisible unless they are over clear sand.  This area was close to the ocean beyond the reef, and so the water was highly aerated and moving constantly.  If I were a fish, I would seek out such conditions.

The parts of these pools connected directly to the ocean have currents pulling out to sea on the outgoing tide.  But there are lengthy sections which are perfectly calm and still. I cruised slowly through them turning left and right as pathways presented themselves.  This 21 second video shows  me swimming through a wall of kelp which opened up into a wide and deep pool fringed by kelp beds.

 

I drifted weightlessly at low altitude over the white sandy trails through the rock pool labyrinth.  Enjoy some of the highlights of the tour.

 

 

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An Hour with an Egret

The ever elegant egret was the subject of a post on this blog in August last year.  I have long wanted to see and photograph this bird displaying its breeding plumage, which until yesterday evening I had only ever seen in photos. The mud flats and tidal shallows near the mouth of the Barham River play host to many species of birds especially around dusk.

So as the breeding season for this egret is October to December, yesterday evening I walked slowly along the banks of the river when the sun was an hour or thereabouts above the horizon, hoping the egret might make an appearance. Golden evening light alternated with duller light as occasional low clouds west drifted through the area. As it turned out, I was rewarded with the arrival of this solitary eastern great egret. For an hour or so, he walked up and down his side of the river, and I walked up and down mine. We kept a close eye on each other. From previous experience I know that a river width is about as close as this bird will let me approach without taking off. It was a most enjoyable hour.

But as usual when I’m on a mission armed with a camera and with a particular subject in mind, serendipity threw irresistible distractions across my path. The first was this new holland honeyeater, which momentarily alighted on a solitary fragile looking reed waving in the wind.

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The new holland honeyeater will not pose for photos. It’s a case of point and shoot the second you spot him land, or he’ll be gone.

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The new holland honeyeater up close. That is indeed a stern look. I was clearly in his sights.

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There are many varieties of crimson rosella differentiated mostly by colour scheme. The vivid crimson and bright blue displayed by this bird is my favourite.  I wasn’t sure whether or not he thought he was hiding behind that vertical stick up the midline of his face. He sat frozen in this position while I took a few photos.

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I took this photo in winter last year (also at the Barham River). I include it here for contrast with the photo immediately following. The flawlessly smooth surface of the plumage on this bird is the non-breeding plumage.

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This is the breeding plumage. The feathers on the neck and body can be smoothed down as shown in the next photo. But the mantle of feathery tendrils trailing from the back of the bird are always visible during the mating season. The marked display of the breeding plumage here, including the feathers on the neck standing out from their normal smooth appearance, seems to be a state of display which the bird can produce at will, as shown here.

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This bird was feeding very successfully. A small light brown flattish fish seemed to be on the menu in this location. The egret would walk slowly through the shallows looking down at the water very attentively. Then it would freeze, the neck would slowly extend but with a marked kink, from which position it would wait for target prey to be exactly in the cross hairs at which point it would fire the beak into the water at high speed to seize the fish. There were very few misses with this hunting technique.

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Success! (again).  They were only hors d’oeuvre sized snacks, but as anyone who has starved at an event offering that inevitably inadequate substitute for a proper dinner of drinks and finger food knows, if you eat enough of them…..

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There are a number of species of egret. But only the great egret has this wonderfully extendable long neck. The breeding plumage is at rest here, just hanging from the bird’s back like an ornamental cloak.

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That’s a lot of neck to manage in flight, and indeed at other times. It also presents a daunting task for any fish who survives being plucked from the water and swallowed, and who has plans for a last ditch fight back up the neck to freedom. I saw zero escapes of this nature.

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Not a lot of moving parts on this face for expressive looks. Perhaps this one look simply has to fit all situations, and hence, not being equipped with a smile or language, the need for breeding plumage to attract attention and to remind any who need reminding that ’tis the season for perpetuating the species.

The next five photos are a sequence showing the bird doing a hover-like vertical takeoff. It took some creative and very energetic wing movements before it was safely airborne, with the landing gear retracted, and the head in a streamlined position directly in front of the body.

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Standing tall, and looking directly at me.

Two photo sequence of the very effective feeding routine.

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The egret is so effortlessly elegant.

Three photo sequence below. This bird just kept striking beautiful poses. The lush banks of bullrushes and the foliage behind them provided protection from the wind. Good for egret fishing, and for photos.

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The sun was setting when this was taken. The three ducks had obviously given it all away for the day. But even as I left and glanced back, the egret was still strolling around, feeding pretty much at will. Perhaps the ducks with their blunt rounded beaks, their short necks, their flat feet and stumpy little legs just accepted that they were outclassed in the conditions on the day at this location by the superbly adapted and equipped eastern great egret.

Four image sequence of the egret feeding on edge of the water near the mud flats. Beyond the mud flats was the banks were crowded with lush green foliage, visible in these photos only as reflections in the water.

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A most enjoyable hour.

 

Postscript

When not being the star of the sunset feeding rituals performance as shown above, this egret lives just  a few hundred metres upstream, on a quiet corner of the Barham River away from the public and paparazzi (well, most of them anyway). The extras also retreat to this spot.

Cockle Creek to the West Coast of Tasmania

Cockle Creek in Recherché Bay is remote. It’s the most southerly point you can drive to in Australia. It’s below the 43rd parallel of latitude in the direct path of the roaring forties. It is closer to Antarctica than Cairns. The next land mass to the west is South America, and to the east New Zealand.  It sounded to me like a good spot for a swim.

Our overnight accommodation on our way south from the Bay of Fires to Cockle Creek was at the very comfortable Wave Station near Middleton. It faces Bruny Island, over the interesting waters of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. The few shacks at Cockle Creek are in a quite different architectural style.

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Cockle Creek and Recherche Bay

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Because gales continued to lash the state as we headed south, once we got off the bitumen we came across a lot of fallen trees on the road.  Someone with a chain saw had already cut access through most by the time we arrived, but we had to pull a few off the road ourselves.

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On a point in Recherche Bay is this (life-size) statue of a 3 month old southern right whale, by sculptor Steven Walker. It’s a sad reminder that this species was hunted to the brink of extinction from the earliest days of settlement in Australia. Recherche Bay featured prominently in the whale industry in Tasmania in the 1800s.  Yet the sculpture is also a powerful reminder of the living and breeding southern right whale, said to be increasing in numbers in some areas.  It remains an endangered species, but there is reason for some optimism that in the right place at the right time these remarkable creatures will be visible in good numbers from our shores, perhaps for generations to come. It must not be forgotten that such was the decimation of this species in the height of the whale hunting industry, that the number of southern right whales said to be in the southern hemisphere now is only around 12,000. A soberingly small figure compared with the estimated 100,000 that swam free prior to the years of slaughter.

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I settled for a 500m out and back swim at Cockle Creek. I measured the water temp at 11°C. The air temp was around 8°C, with wind chill taking it well below that. There was a reasonably solid left to right current in the water shown in this picture. A welcoming committee of sea birds (silver gulls or cormorants) was waiting for me just offshore. They were placid and remained so. Agitated birds diving and squabbling over a small area offshore is a sign to consider the whole situation carefully before proceeding.  11°C water is not much different to the 12/13C temps at my home beach at Apollo Bay in winter. But the remote and historic features of this location were  different, as was the fact that I really knew nothing about the behaviour of this water or the creatures in it. It felt like a very wild and remote part of the ocean for a solo swim. That’s why I swam there.

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Completing the 500m into a head current.

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Imposing and compelling from any angle.

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The entire coast in this area consists of deep and wide sounds like this one. It is little wonder that those on the first sailing ships to find this area were so pleased to find refuge in these protected and roomy anchorages.

Across the western mountains to the west coast

We drove from Cockle Creek to Strahan on the west coast via Queenstown and Derwent Bridge, with an overnight in Huonville en route. There is a 90km stretch of the Lyell Highway from Derwent Bridge to Queenstown which crosses some high country. It is regularly snowed-in during winter, and icy roads are common. But we crossed the pass with no problem, finding only roadside remains of snow clearing activities last weekend. There was snow on the highest of the surrounding peaks.

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Queenstown’s gravel football oval

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Queenstown is a tough mining town. The wood-fired machinery used here in the early days resulted in all visible nearby hills having been scoured of forest, including cool temperate rainforest trees, as the mine grew and the demand for wood grew with it. It is an ugly landscape. I met an old local in a cafe in the main street while passing through, and he suggested I visit the town’s footy oval. It was worth a visit – it’s gravel, and always has been. The explanation given is that the high rainfall has always made it impossible to grow grass here. Apparently visiting teams feared the games on this oval against the tough mining stock that pulled a jumper on for the weekend game for one of the 9 teams the town boasted in its heyday. Apparently taking a fall in a manner which minimised skin loss was and remains to this day a taught skill for players who put in four quarters on this ground. The gravel rash carnage doesn’t bear thinking about. Has Aussie Rules on the mainland got a bit soft?

Arthur River

The Arthur River flows into the Southern Ocean at the small settlement of that name. This settlement is on the lonely north-west coast of Tasmania. It faces due west and gets the full brunt of the roaring forties sweeping in from the Southern Ocean. There was a near gale blowing when we arrived.

The Arthur River flows to the sea from deep in the heart of the Tarkine temperate rainforest which is the largest temperate rainforest in Australia (over 400,000 hectares of virgin wilderness) and the second largest in the world. Fallen trees from this forest which find their way into the river, make the distance to the estuary. The result is logs on the beaches, the river shores, the rocky reefs and most alarmingly for boats and swimmers, in the sea. It would be a whole new level of risk to see a 60 foot log dropping in on you on a wave. I imagine that in heavy seas, timber of this size could sink or capsize a small boat in an instant. It could certainly ruin a good body surf.

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The locals call this headland the edge of the world.

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There must be a lot of timber in the area for driftwood of this quantity and quality to remain on the beaches and not end up in fireplaces.

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Near gale force winds were producing seas like this out from the Arthur River mouth. The brown water in the foreground is discolouration from the river water rich in vegetative matter flowing into the sea to the right of frame. I had the wetsuit and swimming goggles on board, but decided this was sufficiently different from the Bay of Fires and Cockle Creek to refuse to add Arthur River to my list of interesting places at which to have an ocean swim.  Swimming in this water would’ve been too interesting, but not for very long. To look at the 6-7 lines of breaking or broken waves and contemplate the prospects of success of swimming from the shore to ‘out the back’ is a frightening prospect. Equally, to contemplate having survived your boat sinking beyond the breaking waves, and to be treading water out the back contemplating the best way to get to shore, could surely only yield one answer, helicopter winch rescue.

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This impressive nautical hazard stands squarely and defiantly right in the middle of the ‘entrance’ to the river. I use the word ‘entrance’ with care, because to be named such it would need to have had at least one boat successfully enter the river from the sea, on purpose (not as a floating wreck).  Otherwise, it simply remains an estuary. I guess this rock has been pounded by the sea in this manner for millennia, and that one day, it will eventually yield. But not any time soon.

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Marrawah on the north west coast of Tasmania

Marrawah is a small farming centre 17kms north of Arthur River, located near the long curve of Anne Bay. The land is impossibly rich and green, and the green foreground in the photos below is a paddock on a working farm on which our rented cottage was located.

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Ann Bay in stormy onshore conditions.

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Ann Bay. This was the view from our cottage as sunset approached.

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The orange cottage mid-frame is where we spent the night. A perfect little cottage with uninterrupted views to the Southern Ocean and Ann Bay, and to the headlands and points beyond to the north. The wind blew, the sea raged, we stayed cosy and dry. This is a top spot.

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This is the view of Ann Bay which greeted us with the new day.

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The strong winds and big seas had abated and the wind had swung around to the south west. The seas looked a little more manageable from a swimming point of view. But I passed. This is a seriously wild west coast beach, with some swell running and about which I knew nothing.

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There is a lot of effort put into saving the Tasmanian devil from becoming roadkill, not all of it entirely successful it would seem. Further down this road there was a dusk to dawn speed limit of 45kph, which existed for the sole purpose of avoiding hitting a little devil. Sadly, all we saw of this small carnivorous marsupial in 2500kms of driving around Tassie was roadkill after the nightly toll. (See postscript below)

Next stop Cradle Mountain.

 

Postcript: At Cradle Mountain we visited the premises of a breeding program aimed at increasing the numbers of healthy Tasmanian devils in the wild. They also have a breeding program for the spotted quoll, another carnivorous mammal and a direct competitor with the Tasmanian devil in the wild. (These are only iPhone photos, but better than nothing).

The end of the road for a faithful friend

Being sentimental about a car does seem pointless. But my blue Volvo has served me so faithfully for so many years, that driving her on her final trip today (200kms from Apollo Bay to Melbourne) made me sad. Hence this brief photographic reminiscence about my favourite mode of transport between my house and the sea for all those years, to mark the end of my Volvo era.

All these photos (with the exception of the final one of the Volvo under the Milky Way) were taken on the final drive today.

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This is the machine that waited patiently in my driveway for my arrivals on all those Friday nights. Racks for the surf ski, solid plastic floor mats with short vertical sides to contain sand and salt water dripping out of a wetsuit, and a heater made for the Swedish winter which could warm up from stone cold  by the end of my street and need turning down opposite the surf club. The engine started first time every time, and purred without a single fault for the whole time I owned the car.

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A last look at Apollo Bay from the lookout above Skenes Creek.

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Seriously, does this car look unroadworthy to you? Gleaming, powerful ageless design – a motoring icon if ever there was, and a fine example of the type.

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The missing reversing light lens has never impeded my driving. I drive the car forwards not backwards. This car rarely went anywhere at night.  Anyway, the globe still worked.

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Somewhere down the track I guess this rust might have become a problem from a technical roadworthiness point of view. Interestingly, the car has four door sills and only one has rusted – that’s the one I step over when I get out of the car, at least half the time with salt water dripping off me. Serendipitously this rusty door sill has had a positive impact on performance – whenever I hit bump and a bit more rust falls of the car it gets lighter. The laws of physics dictate that provided the power of the car does not decline for some reason at the same time, the power to weight ratio of the vehicle improves with every bump. I have noticed and greatly enjoyed this steadily improving power over the years.

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Age barnacles – harmless

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More age barnacles. Cannot possibly affect safety.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This high point is a favourite lookout spot on the inland road. It offers the first sight of Apollo Bay when inbound, and on today’s drive, the last sight. The mighty 240GL was champing at the bit to get into those 2kms of curves. It’s never happier than hunting through a corner  with two wheels on one side unweighted or even just lifting, a bit of opposite lock to keep on track around the corner, the logo on the front grille rising as the power is steadily applied and the turbo kicks in, the firm push in my back from the seat a bit like when a jet takes off….  It’s a real wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s actually a very cleverly disguised racing car. I have often gone the whole length of the Great Ocean Road in this car with nobody able to pass me. What a machine.

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I expect to hear from Volvo about using this shot in a global promo before too long. The country looking wonderful and the car looking even better.

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I detoured on the drive to Melbourne and wandered a km or two along Turton’s Track. This road winds through the cathedral of the soaring mountain ash and the permanently dark and damp under-storey of massive tree ferns with an almost  impenetrable profusion of cool temperate rainforest vegetation beneath. Inhaling the air here is a privilege and a joy. How can a car that looks this good, even though it was made in 1986, be considered no longer fit to be on the road? Yet that is what a kindly country police officer suggested to me in a conversation on the side of the road in AB one night recently. He did not do anything unfriendly  such as booking me or grounding the car, but I independently formed the view not long after the chat as it happened,  that perhaps the Volvo’s time had come.

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A Jurassic Park vegetation feature.

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Silence and awe in the cathedral.

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It seems impossible and just a little sad that the Volvo will never again see this road.

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It hadn’t been raining, but it was wet and fresh everywhere in this part of the Otways.

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Magazine cover if ever I saw one.

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This could be an ad on the back of National Geographic – a caption could be, ‘Some things are timeless’.

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The 240GL has not been certified organic, but parts of it definitely are just that. This naturally occurring garden is on the passenger side roof gutter. In keeping with many modern gardens, it is at a convenient height for tending, to avoid having to bend over. Foot-level stationary gardens are so 1900s.

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Lichen is aerodynamically well adapted to its chosen home – the roof gutter. The airflow here is laminar, and therefore free of turbulence. This allows the lichen to stay very well oxygenated as well as stuck to the roof. (Disclaimer: I am not a formally qualified botanist).

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Note the beautiful dark green moss mound growing above the rear passenger quarter window – just around the corner from a healthy patch of lichen. Possibly my favourite corner of the car’s roof-garden.

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I wanted a picture that said, in a general sense,  ‘Not everybody trades up to a new one after a couple of years’. I feel that the improvements on the agricultural land (the shed and the windmill) demonstrate that the Volvo is still very much in its fully functional youth. The windmill is of course of very advanced years and will need some maintenance soon.  But these are some fine examples above and below of getting the most out of a product.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is perhaps my favourite photo of the Volvo because it was taken on a memorable night. The photo is of a track near Princetown on the Great Ocean Road, and it was taken very late at night under the arch of the Milky Way. I had spent many hours between Peterborough and Gibson Steps taking photos of the coast and the Milky Way and the heavens generally. Those photos are in a post on this blog called ‘Loch Ard Night’. I took this photo on the return trip to Apollo Bay. It was a warm night, and there wasn’t another soul around. The Volvo has taken me and my camera and gear to many wonderful locations where the sea and the sky have captured my imagination. What a comfortable companion it has been all these years. This car will remain indelibly associated with so many of my adventures along the west coast.

Being sentimental about a car does seem pointless.  But nevertheless,  I will miss this car.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apollo Bay beach at dawn, a New Holland honeyeater at dusk, and playing in the shorebreak

Paradoxically, my favourite sunrise photos are taken before the sun rises.

These dawn photos were all taken from the beach at the bottom of my street in Apollo Bay, on the south-eastern coast of Australia.

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The view to the north-east. Cape Patton in the distance, starting to glow. Shallow water in the foreground momentarily mimics the curve of the bay.

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The view straight to the east, straight out to sea..

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The view to the south-east. The harbour mouth navigation light still shining.

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Wet sand at low tide looks perfectly flat, but of course it’s not.  The subtle gradients of the sandy expanses are revealed as the spent waves meander back to the sea.

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A solitary and camera-shy seagull getting his day under way.

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Intersecting long lines create fleeting geometric shapes.

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Perfect curves and arcs of shallow water overlap and intersect as the edge of the sea gently advances and retreats.

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Then there’s the vast perfect expanse of wet sand with not a foot print, not so much as a drop of water flowing – a blank canvas for the next wave, the new day and the next incoming tide.

 

Beach reflections

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While taking the above photos as dawn approached,  I turned around to see what the sky behind me was doing. These three trees are part of a long broken line of such trees right behind the eroding dunes. The moon was fading in brilliance and also in size it seemed as the sun prepared to take centre stage on the opposite horizon. But at my feet, in the expanse of pristine wet sand, were beautiful reflections of the trees under the moon in the fading night sky. Of course I turned the photos upside down to make the most of the beautiful effects of the water on the image.

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This photo suggests to me that it could’ve been taken from under the water just offshore, or more obliquely, that it is an impressionist’s interpretation of trees by the sea. Such lofty mental meandering was stopped short when a friend volunteered that it looked as though there had been a jam jar over the lens when I took this. The eye of the beholder….

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The visual suggestion of this being taken from underwater is disturbed a little by the clear focus of the seemingly subterranean layer.

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The original orientation of the photo below. Note the sea water easing into the picture at lower left.

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I like the juxtaposition of a little hint of the ocean (top right) at the same level as the moon in a vast sky, when in reality it was all really just a lot of wet sand with light playing on it.

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All is revealed.

 

The elusive New Holland honeyeater

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The golden hour is much loved by all photographers. I spotted this natural frame from the deck of my house at Apollo Bay before I saw any bird life in it. But I knew birds were plentiful in the area. The air was still, and all sorts of tiny things were suspended or slowly floating through the golden light.

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The natural frame in close up.

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With more than a little difficulty, this bird was later identified as a New Holland honeyeater. It was sitting just below the ‘frame’ I had found, and was eyeing off its next branch to perch on.

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The honeyeaters are real darters and to capture one in flight and in focus is difficult. This was taken at 1/4000th of a second exposure, and could’ve benefited from an even higher shutter speed.

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Bad moon rising

I’ve taken many photos of the moon appearing to rise out of the sea. So this marine buoy which courtesy of a gentle swell was rising like a full moon (repeatedly), seemed worthy of a photo or two. Adobe Lightroom does facilitate such childish mischief. But entertainingly, more than one person saw this photo without hearing how it came about, and after a superficial glance declared it a lovely moon shot….

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The moment the idea to capture my ‘full buoy rising’ shots occurred to me. I should’ve resisted, I know.

 

Simple pleasures

Just bobbing around in the shorebreak when nobody else is in the water is one of life’s joys.

Catching a wave, diving under a few sometimes out  of necessity but mostly just for fun, enjoying the brief ride skywards as a wave rears before breaking, allowing yourself to be tumbled in the alternating dark green water and clouds of white bubbles, diving deeper to touch the seabed as a larger wave breaks overhead, or simply floating on my back and enjoying the views all around me – these are among the things that keep me returning to the sea

A lot of my ocean swimming is preserved in sets of numbers. So a swim without numbers, just playing in the sea, is truly tranquil. I often think of how sea creatures swim when I swim over longer distances, yearning for the tiniest fraction of their streamlining and effortless power and elegance. But when playing in the shore break, only the seal comes to mind – the masters of joyful play in the ocean.  There is a permanent colony of 100 or so Australian fur seals on a reef off the point of the next bay around from where I was playing in the shorebreak.

When I swam yesterday there was an offshore wind, rain showers passing through, and the weather generally felt more like winter than autumn. There was a good long-period groundswell building, big enough for some fun, but not anywhere near the size where vigilance and planning and timely action are required for the experience to remain enjoyable. These were solid but friendly green waves, bearing only good will to any who surrendered themselves to the ocean. There were no adventures on offer today, just peace and relaxation. The sea is not always thus.

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Floating just behind the shore break, enjoying the lifting and lowering of the swell. Wild Dog Creek valley in the distance just left of my right foot.

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Sunny breaks in dark skies. Beautiful light on the textured surface of the sea. The offshore wind putting a mane on the breaking wave in the distance.  Marriners Lookout is the high point on the horizon.

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I love looking down the line as the wave rises and the first hints of white water start feathering on top of it before it breaks.

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White water reaching the shore in front of a very familiar landmark on our swims, the surf life saving club.

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That dark green triangle at top right is the crest of the wave about to break. I took this as I was about to submerge and have the wave pass over me.

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This captures the elements of the view under water as a wave breaks. The dark patches on the sea bed are clumps of seaweed.  I was in calm water when I took this. But the white water in bigger surf, especially in shallower water, can give you a flogging if you don’t or can’t avoid its power.

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After the wave has passed over me and the white water is heading away from me, I come to the surface through the sloping green water on the back of the wave. It’s a peaceful process with ample time to enjoy the beauty (provided you duck dive early enough).

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A wave breaking over the sandbar, as seen from behind the wave. The offshore wind is in evidence to the right of the line of sunlight.

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In my element.

 

Chasing the Southern Lights

I have long wanted to see the aurora australis (southern lights) from my home coast, but living in Victoria as I do, it seems I could be waiting for a while. Gazing south from some coastal vantage point on a moonless clear night and seeing the southern sky lighting up on cue with dancing curtains of green light (or some variation on that theme) is not a common event for Victorians. Those in Antarctica see them best of all. Residents of Tasmania and the south island of New Zealand see them regularly even if not frequently. It seems Victorians should really view themselves as lucky if they see one from their local coast at all. I may eventually decide that a better solution than waiting is to visit somewhere closer to the south pole.

But two nights ago, a rare opportunity to see the southern lights from Victoria (and places further south) was promoted with excitement by numerous boffins, their animation index peaking (excitement is a relative concept, but I could tell they were excited about breaking this news to an aurora-hungry population of Victorians and others). This was in stark contrast to the kp numbers (a scale of 0-9 where 9 is a strong geomagnetic storm with visible auroras likely) which were excitingly high, but started to drop off as soon as my alarm sounded at 3am yesterday.  Should I go back to bed after seeing these disappointing numbers? Well, I was already awake, the moon would soon set, the sky was completely clear of cloud, and while the air a little chillier than I would have preferred it was tolerable in appropriate snow clothing including thermals, neck muff and NZ possum hair hat (9°C wind chill 7°C), so I decided I would not ignore the advice (promise?) of some, umm, unknown persons and unidentified organisations on the internet that this was the morning I would see the aurora. I stoked the wood fire in readiness for my weary and chilly return after dawn and drove a short distance to where I took up position in long dewy grass on a small cliff on the Great Ocean Walk overlooking a beach, a reef and the Southern Ocean. A refrigerated light northerly on my back prevented overheating.

Following the anonymous but unanimous advice online that 3am-5am would be peak aurora viewing time for Victorians on Friday, I positioned myself in the cold and dark by 0315 with my camera on its tripod and pointing south. As my eyes adjusted to the dark,  I realised it wasn’t all that dark, thanks to what must have been a noteworthy astronomical event in itself – the brightest moon for quite a while. The sky was bluish, and the Milky Way and the rest of the star show a little dim as a result. Apparently an aurora can be so faint that a glance at your luminous watch numerals can ruin your night vision and deprive you of your next ten minutes of aurora viewing as your eyes re-adjust. Even on a moonless night the naked eye (pluralise if that better fits your particular eye situation) may not be enough to allow you to see the aurora show in full flight or at all. So with a near full moon on a cloudless night that was outdoing the MCG night lights, I realised that until 0501 (forecast moonset time) I would have to fill in time by taking photos of the Milky Way, while monitoring the gradual onset of my hypothermia. As it turned out between 0501 (moonset) and sunrise was the most productive time, not for aurora photography but for Milky Way and dawn photos.

The photos below appear in the order in which they were taken, between around 0330 and a bit after 0700.

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This was the view to the south from the Great Ocean Walk track near Marengo (one bay south of Apollo Bay), with a full moon dimming the star show but providing useful light for photographing terrestrial objects. The moon also caused the sky to have a beautiful soft blue depth to it. Upper left is the small Magellanic cloud, and front and centre is one end of the Milky Way.  Back on earth in Marengo there was a bit of swell running, and the silhouetted foliage on the right is a hardy native bush on the outskirts of Marengo.

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Moonset occurred as advertised at 0501 and produced a rapid and dramatic change in the night sky. Space turned black, and the stars looked a bit brighter. The photo editing options I have would permit me (if I were so minded, which I am not) to create an image with much brighter looking stars and  entirely visible waves and reef. But that is not what I saw. This is a less spectacular looking image, but stars on a black back drop, blurry white water of breaking waves and a palpable blackness and darkness overall were what I saw and experienced.

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Similar scene to previous photo, but with wider angle and including a meteor which just happened to enter earth’s atmosphere and burn itself out as it blazed through the atmosphere during the 15 second exposure time it took for this photo. Part of the Milky Way is visible on the right. The small Magellanic cloud is top and centre, and on the left is the meteor – one of many which I saw in the darkness before the first dull glow of dawn in the east gradually faded the stars and meteors to off. If I was going to see the southern lights on this occasion, the time when I took this photo was surely my best opportunity.  But there was not even the faintest hint of green (or any other aurora colour) that could be seen, looking south or on the camera screen. I checked my aurora information website on my iPhone, about which I was becoming increasingly sceptical, to learn that the Kp number was now four and reducing. My chance of seeing an  aurora was rated as very low. So I decided to head to a nearby lookout to catch at least the pre-dawn and sunrise vistas to the east on a clear morning before heading home for breakfast (and possibly a bit more sleep).

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Marriners Lookout in the foreground, the lights of Skenes Creek right on the shore (mid-image), Cape Patton protruding into the sea on the furthest part of coast that can be seen, and a solitary star in the east seemingly stationary overhead.

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The blue hour between first appearance of dawn light and sunrise. Apollo Bay township, a glassy ocean and the vibrant colours of dawn rehearsing below the horizon as the appointed time for sunrise drew closer.  The bay beside the tree-lined great ocean road leading to the curved corner of the bay near the harbour in this image is where I do most of my ocean swimming. I did my usual km or so there later in the day.

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Some light cirrus high enough to catch the pink of the morning sun which was still below the horizon for Apollo Bay residents. But there was enough light for the street lights to be turned off in the town.

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Sunrise was imminent when the photo was taken from Marriners Lookout. Cape Patton in the distance is more clearly visible in this photo. Ninety degrees to the right of the direction of this photo is the township of Apollo Bay.  Still no visible aurora australis.

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The new day officially dawns.

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POSTCRIPT

A mysterious thing happened with some of the images taken from Marriners Lookout between first light and sunrise. On the viewing display on the camera I could see a faint but unmistakeable green arc of light which may or may not be from the aurora australis. It was where the aurora was meant to be, it was the right colour, and there was nothing else in the heavens casting an arc of light of this colour, dimension, proximity to the horizon and orientation. Further, I have taken a lot of dawn photos and never seen a green arc such as this associated with the gradual spread of morning light from the east. It was invisible to the naked eye, but recorded nonetheless by the sensitive light sensor on the Nikon D810. The mysterious thing was that the faint green arc of light visible on the image on the camera display, was not visible on the downloaded image on my computer.

Each of the two images below is a photo of the actual display on the back of the camera of the images on my camera memory card. These photos have not had any editing or post-processing whatsoever. It is far from the mesmerising display of coloured light dominating the southern night skies that I’d hoped for and that I would associate with the aurora. But I have seen similar single green arcs on photos confirmed as capturing the southern lights. It may however be some reflective or refractive effect above the boundary area of the advancing morning light. Or it could be an artefact of the camera optics or the digital photo process. I will seek expert advice on this. 

Update: the experts seem to agree that the source of the green light was not an aurora. There are numerous speculative explanations for the green light on the image (along the lines I suggested above), but an aurora is not on that list. My novice status as an aurora hunter is confirmed.

 

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Seeing the full show of the southern lights remains a tantalising and elusive goal. But spending some hours on a clear dark night gazing south from Marengo or Marriners Lookout, with meteors occasionally blazing across the skies and the grand arch of the Milky Way scintillating overhead with countless stars spread from horizon to horizon in every direction, is always a wonderful few hours. Then there is the sunrise. All this is available every single night the sky is clear, yet it always feels such a privilege to be on some lonely and chilly vantage point to see it.