Great Ocean …

… no road.

As beautiful as the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Peterborough is, it does mean that there are no secluded hideaways along the coast. It’s one of Victoria’s top tourist attractions but I can’t help feeling that an inland road with dead end offshoots would have given the magnificent coastline more of a Cornwall feel. For me the adventure starts where the road stops and this road goes on and on.

But at least there is access. Continue west beyond Peterborough and the highway ducks inland. It hits the coast at Warnambool, very settled and domesticated but a good place to see whales in the winter. You can get to the sea again at Port Fairy, more rugged and way more charming. After that access to the coast is extremely limited until you get to Portland. Tourists can look across privately owned farmland to the distant ocean and wonder what they’re missing.

In fact they’re missing scenery that is the equal of the Great Ocean Road.

From the Crags and from Yambuk Lakes you can see Australia’s only off shore volcano, Lady Julia Percy Island. It’s been fairly quiet for the last 6 million years but you could get lucky. The island is home to Australia’s largest fur seal colony – about 27,000 strong. Sea Lions and Elephant Seals are occasional visitors. A number of different sea birds nest there. It’s the long flat topped one on the horizon …

Ship wrecks are a dime a dozen along Victoria’s coast but plane wrecks are not so common. There is a memorial at the Crags to four airmen who lost their lives in 1944. They were the crew of an Avro Anson thought to be looking for submarines. For reasons unknown it failed to return to its base in Mount Gambier. Wreckage was found on Lady Julia Percy Island and in the sea nearby. The bodies of the crew were not found.

You can visit the island by boat from Port Fairy courtesy of Southern Coast Charters. It’s a great trip.

Griffiths Island …

The early history of the European settlement of the Victorian coast is shrouded in mystery. Most of the early players came across Bass Strait from Van Dieman’s Land to explore and exploit what was then the Port Philip District of New South Wales. By ship it is less than half the distance from Launceston to any part of the Victorian coast than it is from Sydney. Settlement was forbidden and mostly went undocumented.

Port Fairy gets its name from The Fairy, a cutter that visited the Moyne River in search of fresh water in about 1828. Sealers and whalers from Van Dieman’s Land were probably using the area from about that time on.

There were three islands at the mouth of the Moyne. Some characters named Penny and Reiby established a whaling station on the  largest of them.

In 1834 the Henty brothers settled an area about 70 km to the west which would become Portland. They were the first settlers to come to the government’s notice, their presence being discovered by an exploring party commanded by Major Thomas Mitchell. By the time officialdom, in the form of Foster Fyans reached the area in 1839 there was already a settlement at Port Fairy catching whales and growing potatoes. Captain Foster Fyans, magistrate and Commissioner for Crown Lands arrived in Geelong in 1837 charged with the virtually impossible task of overseeing the orderly settlement of all of south west Victoria. Geelong and Portland are 240 km apart. Fyans and his party made the first recorded overland journey between the two.

In 1835 a gentleman named John Griffiths purchased the whaling station at the mouth of the Moyne and the island acquired his name. The station operated until about 1843 by which time Southern Right Whales were too scarce to warrant such an establishment. But as whaling declined the importance of the port increased.

Melbourne was also pioneered by adventurers from Van Dieman’s Land. The founding of a town wasn’t approved until 1837. Until Melbourne eclipsed it Port Fairy was the busiest port in the district. It remained busy until 1960 when the harbour at Portland opened for business. It still is a working port – 30 tonnes of squid were landed during my stay.

Victoria gained its independence from New South Wales in 1851. Van Dieman’s Land became Tasmania in 1856.

A lighthouse was built on Rabbit Island in 1859. Various improvements were made to the mouth of the river which combined with natural build up of sand caused Rabbit, Goat and Griffiths Islands to coalesce into one, still known as Griffiths Island.

Griffiths Island

The lighthouse was manned by two keepers until it was automated in 1954. The keepers’ cottages were demolished soon after but some plants from their garden linger on.

The island is home base for a colony of Short-tailed Shearwaters. They nest in burrows during the summer. They spend the remainder of the year on an extraordinary journey that takes them way into the northern hemisphere.

A stroll around the island takes about 45 minutes. You are quite likely to meet one of these on the way …

Pied Oystercatcher

Port Fairy Again …

In the old joke an Arab goes to Blackpool for his holiday. On his return to the desert he’s asked how it was. He replied “Perfect, it rained every day”

It hasn’t rained at home in the Goldfields for two months, three days in Port Fairy and two cold fronts later has me wondering if the grass will be green by the time I get home. I doubt it but the sea looks even more exciting in a gale …

… and the sun has been out between showers. A bit of bad weather can’t spoil Port Fairy. Stay at Doc’s at the Mill, it’s right on the wharf. You book through Langley’s (03 5568 2899), tell them I sent you and I’ll get a discount next time! A morning walk on East Beach and lunch at Rebecca’s. You can’t beat it.

The mill was built in 1860 and enjoyed a relatively brief career as a steam driven flour mill. It’s right on the wharf and the tallest building in town.

In the evening as the lights come on …

The town is situated where the Moyne River reaches the Southern Ocean. It is one of the oldest settlements in the state of Victoria and was once an important port.

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Sheep Hills …

On the way home from Wail I took a little detour to Sheep Hills for another look at the silo.

It still looks great. It’s the work of Adnate, a Melbourne artist.

The silo art trail stretches from Rupanyup (Remember to say Re-pun-yip) to Patchewollock about 200 km north. It’s classic sheep-wheat country.

You can find the original of this map and more information <HERE>.

My favourite is the first one at Brim with Sheep Hills in second place but they’re all worth a look.

Wail …

The Wimmera River rises on the inland slopes of the Pyranees Ranges near Ararat, western Victoria. It heads in the general direction of the Murray but it doesn’t make it that far. It flows through the towns of Horsham and Dimboola and usually discharges into Lake Hindmarsh. When times are particularly dry Lake Hindmarsh dries up. When times are particularly wet it may overflow and begin to fill a series of usually dry lakes on the fringes of the Big Desert. It is the longest land-locked river in Victoria.

Along the way the river forms the eastern boundary of the Little Desert National Park. It is one of my favourite places. Whether it should be called a desert is a moot point. It is certainly sandy and in places there are well formed dunes, the region is quite arid. On the other hand vegetation cover is pretty good for the most part. The further west you go the more convincing the argument  for a desert becomes especially if you bog the wheels in deep sand on a hot summer’s day.

The river margins are quite different. Black soil covers the sand and some quite tall trees, River Red Gums mainly, attract the birds and other creatures. The trouble with national parks though is the prohibition of one of my dearest companions. Wail State Forest is on the eastern bank of the Wimmera River. You can camp on the bank and look into the park. Two hundred metres back from the water you can bog your wheels in deep sand, the same birds fly back and forth and you can take your dog.

I was there last night.

Varanus varius

I was setting up camp around midday when this big lizard decided that he’d be happier up a tree. The day before had been cold (by local standards, everything’s relative). It was a little sluggish. Usually they are quick to get well away from people, this guy was happy to sit in the sun for a while.

I surprised a second one later on and was able to get some closer shots in better light …

The claws are impressive, so too is the tongue …

Monitor Lizards are found in Africa, Asia and Australasia. There are about 50 species in all. The largest of them is the Komodo Dragon Varanus komodoensis in Indonesia. It gets to more than 3 metres in length. Australia has 27 described species but Victoria has only two monitor lizards, the Lace Monitor and Gould’s Goanna. A big Lace Monitor grows to a little over 2 metres whilst Gould’s can only manage about 1.6 metres. The dark and light bands under the lower jaw are diagnostic of the Lace Monitor, V. varius.

They eat birds eggs, nestlings and any other small animal they can catch. They lay their eggs in termite mounds, mum comes back to break the youngsters out when they hatch.

Salt …

There is a vlogger posting regularly on Youtube by the name of Thomas Heaton. He is a landscape photographer who produces some truly beautiful images mostly from sites in the northern half of England.

He describes his thought processes in a very pleasant north country accent and conveys the impression that he is a really lovely guy. I’m sure he is.  Watching his posts is one of the ways that I’ve tried to improve my own landscape photography. I would love to produce images like his but Australian landscapes are very different from the Lake District or the Isle of Skye.

And this is as different as you can get …


This is Lake Tyrrell, Victoria’s largest salt lake. On this visit the camera rather than the binoculars was given priority. And because it’s late summer the (alleged) road than runs around the margin presented no traction challenges, I was able to get around to the salt works.

Richard Cheetham founded the company in 1888. Their first plant was in Port Phillip not far from Geelong. I haven’t been able to find a date for the Lake Tyrell plant but it’s still going strong today.

But wait there’s more, as a bonus a free introduction to the work of Thomas Heaton.

The Thomas Heaton Channel.


Back to Braeside …

Braeside Park was a regular haunt when I lived in Melbourne. It’s located in the eastern suburbs not far from the bay. The land has been used for a sewage treatment plant and then for horse agistment and training. There was a beautiful old stable there years ago. Every time I drove past I would say to myself “must take a photo of that”. I never did, can’t now. It burnt down. Let that be a lesson.

These days it’s an oasis of nature sandwiched between residential and commercial development. It preserves some River Red Gum grassland, some heathy woodland on an old sand dune and a wetland rich in swamp paperbark. It’s great place to watch birds. A three hour circuit will generally turn up at least 50 species.

This morning I concentrated on the wetland.

Great Egret
Royal Spoonbill

Darters and Little Pied Cormorants are nesting in the Paperbarks out on an island.

The woodland is home to a number of species. The ubiquitous and aggressive Noisy Miner and a bird that can hold its own against a pack of them were kind enough to pose …

Noisy Miner
Grey Butcherbird

The highlight, however, was a bird that I rarely get to see. It is probably more common than we think but it mainly skulks in the reeds. When it does venture out it is always ready to bolt at the slightest alarm. Photos … forget it , you won’t get close and you won’t get time … unless luck is really on your side.

Baillon’s Crake