Sunday morning at Elwood

Autumn has settled in Melbourne, along with warm late afternoons, cooler nights and calm early morning seas.  It’s especially amenable to outdoor living in bayside carparks.

Arriving at Point Ormond at 8 am we are lucky to snag the last couple of spots where we can park until midday without paying a fee.  Campervans and station wagons, occupied mostly by European tourists with picnic tables, chairs and even a couch, take up much of the carpark.

At Sandridge Beach carpark, also a popular campsite, the Life Saving Club had made a number of complaints to council and police about campers defecating in bushes, running extension cords across the carpark, blocking access to the club’s ramp and camping there for days so that members on patrol, or conducting or running training sessions were unable to find a space.  However, when the issue was reported in the Herald Sun (January 23rd, 2015) and the Leader (February 23rd 2015), I am surprised to read that opinion was largely weighted in favour of the campers (although there were few respondants.)   Arguments in favour of illegal camping were the high cost of alternative accommodation and a view that council had a responsibility to manage all public places for public use of any kind. The problem is now considered solved at Sandridge with the introduction and enforcement of no standing rules between 11 pm and 5 am.

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Conditions were perfect though to leave all this behind and head from Point Ormond, Elwood, on to Port Melbourne then back after a coffee stop at St Kilda.


We could see Williamstown, the West Gate Bridge and Webb Dock along the skyline.  A large cruise ship and the Spirit of Tasmania were berthed at Station Pier.


A few days earlier, paddling from Sandridge toward St Kilda, another cruise ship was at dock, getting a fresh coat of paint in an inspiring challenge to the laws of gravity, not to mention proportions.


Princes Pier never fails to delight.  Whether swimming or paddling through the remains of its turpentine piles, it  is a little different each time.  Melbourne ports were busy places when the plan to build the pier was approved in January 1912.  The number of sheep exported had doubled in the 35 years since 1877. Greasy wool, wheat, butter and gold were the highest exports, followed by flour, leather, mutton and lamb, geldings, biscuits, books, newspapers and apples. Hardwood timber, bags, bark, cement, lime, sand and shell, soap, tallow and grains were unloaded from overseas and interstate.  Fully commissioned in 1916 as New Railway Pier, by the time the Armistice was declared in 1918, nine of the 193 volunteers from the Melbourne ports had been killed in the war.  Steamships dominated the northern part of the bay, although an occasional barque, ketch or schooner still sailed into port.

New Railway Pier was formally re-named Princes Pier in 1922 after the Prince of Wales who had visited on board the HMS Renown two years earlier.  Twenty-five thousand people crowded onto the pier to see the royal party and the HMAS Australia, berthed at the same time.  The Harbour Trust Commissioners reported with pride, that the water was deep enough not to have to wait for high tide for the Prince’s ship to depart, in spite of the Marine Engineers’ strike earlier that year, which had disrupted coal supplies and hence dredging operations in the Melbourne ports.


The wind picked up by late morning and followed us on our way back to Elwood beach.  Past Lagoon Pier, Station Pier and finally through St Kilda Pier with its landmark pavilion, re-built after being deliberately burnt down in 2003.


A short, three hour, sociable paddle close to home.  And back just in time to avoid a fine.

Take me to the river

A paddle down the Yarra to Williamstown a couple of weeks ago revealed some unexpected delights.

We put in at North Wharf, Docklands on a sunny, late winter’s day, then under the Bolte Bridge which looks so much closer to the water than from the road above.

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Past the industrial might of massive giraffe-like cranes hauling containers on and off ships. Even on a Sunday. Gasp!

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Bit of an obstacle course at first, dodging party boats, speed boats, all sorts of boats, and staying out of the way of a container ship.  A big container ship.

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Arrived at Williamstown in time for lunch but managed to avoid the seagull siege by putting in where only kayaks can get to, around the corner from the tourist park.  Thanks to Blunt’s boatyard – no cc cameras, no alarms, no rottweillers – no wonder you’ve been there for 150 years…

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Then, winter in Melbourne…on the Yarra.

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And now I know, the Bolte Bridge was designed to be seen from the water.


Fronting up in the west

Victoria’s latest sea kayaking sensation the “Retired or Unemployed Melbourne Paddlers” (RUMPs) and their SeaSaWW colleagues (Sea Swimmers and Work Waggers) set off from Altona on Monday for a paddle to Point Cook. A tight-knit and disciplined bunch, they paddled off with grit and determination for the arduous journey ahead. DSC_0466 Struggling in the harsh winter conditions and a tough following sea…


 the paddlers finally sighted land – Point Cook. DSC_0469 After an onerous seven kilometres, the weary kayakers struggled ashore, skilfully guiding their boats over concealed rocks and bravely confronting the corpses of massive blubber jellyfish floating in the shallows. DSC_0474 Tired and exhausted but always prepared for an expedition, the RUMPs staggered up the beach to take shelter in an abandoned farmhouse, and replenished their energy from their meagre supplies. DSC_0478 Faced with the long journey home, all that lay ahead was wilderness.


 But this historical event did not go unrecorded. DSC_0482 As the wind picked up, so did the nuggety RUMPs’ spirit and after a democratic discussion to decide on the best paddling strategy…. DSC_0484 …the paddlers soon reached Altona pier… DSC_0489 …unnoticed by the local authorities. DSC_0486 At last, the Gondwanan vegetation of the western front. DSC_0491 Age will not weary them…. DSC_0494   Altona to Pt Cook

Fishies Beach to Mt Martha

The weather’s been a bit wacky recently, even by Melbourne standards, swinging between mid thirties to low twenties, winds all over the place.  The forecast doesn’t play out as predicted.  Still, at 9.00 am on a Monday morning at Fisherman’s Beach, Mornington, all’s good.  Light winds mostly coming from somewhere north, sunny and warm.  The plan is to paddle to Mt Martha Beach for a snorkel on an outgoing tide.


Haven’t been to Fisherman’s Beach for a very long time.  In fact, I’ve never swum here in spite of growing up on the Peninsula and coming over to Mornington for Sunday School picnics, a change of scenery during school holidays, birthday parties on the beach, or simply to escape the brisk southerlies of Westernport.  That’s mainly because in years gone by, Fishermans Beach was well-known for the stench of rotting fish guts and sewerage.  Although I’m told by one of the real locals that this was only down one end of the beach and were really no big deal.  Thus, I suspect that my early impressions of Fishermans Beach are more about Westernport snobbery than reality.  Either way, these days it’s all in a name and the bay as a whole is a lot more civilised now that sewerage is directed elsewhere and tossing fish remains around is forbidden.


Doesn’t take long to paddle to Mt Martha’s brick-red bluffs at the end of the beach.  I remember clambering down these with friends to swim, snorkel and collect abalone off the reef in the late 1970s and early 80s and it’s tempting to abandon the kayak and jump in the water here.

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Tamsin paddles on around the base of the bluffs embedded with limestone through opalescent water.  For a moment we wonder if we’ve somehow landed in the Whitsundays.

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Not knowing what the wind will do, we decide to turn around and leave the kayaks on the southern end of Mt Martha beach while we snorkel around the rocks.

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Ceamy corraline alage, clouds of filamentous green algae, bunches of sea lettuce and golden balls of brown seaweed cover the rocks.  Occasionally a grass whiting darts past.

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Surfacing occasionally, to keep track of where we are, the reflected textures of the cliffs and bright blue sky merge in the water.  It’s all a little surreal.

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On the paddle back to Mornington, the tide has gone out enough to expose tiny islands offshore.  Seabirds quickly occupy the rocks, which one by one emerge from the sea, until the tide reverses and they sink beneath the surface.

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Back at Fishermans Beach, I’m keen to practice some bracing and have a go at rolling.  After swapping my kayak for Tamsin’s Nadgee Solo, and with a bit of tough love, I get it.  Three times.  Wahoo!

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About 15km all up.

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Canadian Bay to Mornington

The beaches at Mt Eliza are lovely.  Ranelagh, Moondah, Sunnyside.  Canadian Bay Club, established in 1957, the year I was born, was also a location for the film “On the Beach”, the film of the Neville Shute novel of the same name.  It starred Gregory Peck, Ava Gardiner and Fred Astaire.  Other scenes were shot around Frankston, so can be claimed as the Bay’s own.  More significantly, at least from veteran local kayaker Bill Robinson”s point of view, the club provided an unofficial heaquarters for the sea kayak club for many years.

It’s a fine place to put in, for a paddle to Mornington.


The coast seems to drift by quickly, past some very large properties, the province of the rich and, bizarrely, Sunnyside nudist beach.  I imagine it is one of the most exclusive sections of coastline on the Bay.  And for good reason.  The beaches are secluded, and the properties are fortified against public intrusion by the rocky red bluffs which protrude from the coastline between Black Rock and Mt Martha.


By contrast, the pretty bathing boxes arescattered along the coast all the way to Mills Beach bely their asking price in the contemporary real estate market.

Mills Beach from the waterThe beach is as it has always been:  Yachts, swimmers, sunbathers, kids and people paddling  in the shallows.


Sleepy and sunny.

Looking north from Mornington Yacht Club Beach

Then it’s back to Mt Eliza.  A relaxed and companiable paddle about 12 km.

Heading back toward Mt Eliza about 1 km north of Mornington

Canadian Bay

Boxing Day at Black Rock

The tide is just starting to come in on Boxing Day morning, in time for a paddle from Ricketts Point at Beaumaris, north to Black Rock.  Ricketts Point Marine Sanctuary is another of the Bay’s little surprises.  Through clear turquoise water, algae, rocky reefs, fish and sea grass combine in a display of colour and texture invisible from the flat, sandy beach only metres away.

Tide coming in at Ricketts Point

Tide coming in at Ricketts Point

Looking across the Bay to the south, smears of distant showers and a smudgy grey sky and the diffuse grey green sea are precursors of the cool change predicted for around midday.  Still further, the granite You Yangs  squat above the flat volcanic plains north-east of Geelong.

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Cool change coming in over the You Yangs

Still, there’s still time to paddle toward Black Rock and beat the weather.  Occasionally, the wake from a speed boat disturbs the mild swell and current of the incoming tide but otherwise conditions are pleasant and the paddle is reasonably easy work under the cliffs along the beach which shelter the coastline from the north wind.


Heading off before the cool change (photo: Greg Skowronski)

The Spirit of Tasmania, momentarily caught in the pre-storm light, heads out toward Bass Strait, then on to Devonport.  Otherwise, there are surprisingly few craft out, possibly because of the threat of unsettled weather.  Thankfully though, there are no jet skis.

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Rounding the orange calcarenite cliffs of Half Moon Bay, the wreck of the HMVS Cerberus comes into view.  It’s closer in to shore than I had imagined and much smaller, since the rising tide conceals part of the hull.

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The wreck receives considerable attention from volunteers, Heritage Victoria and others. This includes Federal Government funding of $500,000, probably well in excess of Parks Victoria’s budget to manage the Bay’s marine parks and reserves.  The HMVS Cerberus website lists ways that the public can help:  everything from making general suggestions, to joining the navy.

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The Cerberus has a number of claims to fame, which to fully appreciate, some knowledge of maritime history is needed.  That counts me out.  I find it a little hard to believe that the wreck “is important as evidence of the development of Australia as a nation and as part of the British Empire…a period in Australia’s history when the colonies were thought vulnerable to coastal attack and invasion. This was especially felt by Victoria, the wealthiest colony, and from which, a significant amount of the wealth from the goldfields was exported” (

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The Cerberus is, however, the only remaining breastwork monitor class warship…

On the way home, I stop at Sandringham to have a look around.  The modern yacht club building dominates the beach but moored along the older jetty, away from the marina, are a number of small old-fashioned sailboats, with their own place in the history of the Bay.

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The paddle, an easy 7 km, return.

Ricketts Pt

Willy to Altona

It’s a bright, sunny morning but I feel like I’ve forgotten something since I am now much more efficient at getting packed up and ready to go. The plan is to paddle from Williamstown to Altona with Ron.

There is a traffic jam on the Bolte and in the distance, the West Gate Bridge looks like a giant slug.  I am sandwiched in between roaring trucks but on occasion get a glimpse of the sapphire blue water of the Bay.  Finally get to the beach and unload the kayak, then find Ron,who is waiting in the carpark behind the Life Saving Club.

After navigating the fishing lines off the breakwater, it’s full sail to Altona, at least in Ron’s case, who soon has his sail up and angles his boat for a bit of product placement.  Show off.


It’s a nice run to Altona, birds perched on the emerged reef at low tide stare haughtily at us across the water.


Altona Beach is a bit of a hidden treasure, especially on a sunny day.  We haul the kayaks up onto the sand and have lunch at a picnic table overlooking the beach.  Have to be worse ways to spend a day than this…


  A few jellies have washed up on the beach.  We saw them in the water where at first we mistook them for discarded plastic bags.  They are blubber jellies, only mildly venomous but their lumpish shape and lack of decoration or elegant trailing stingers makes them look slightly sinister.  Once washed up on the strand though, they are pretty huge.  Their presence in the Bay seems to be seasonal, blown in on the tide and wreaking havoc with swimmers.


On the way back, we have a bit of a play under Altona Pier before paddling the five km back to Willy.


An uneventful, lovely day.  Simple pleasures of sun and water and lunch on the beach.  A bit of wildlife and good company.  Doesn’t get much better than this.



will to altona Google Earth