Days 182 – 184 (Nov 30th – Dec 2nd) At sea and Australia. Phillip Island and Melbourne

Our day at sea saw us still sailing up the east coast of Tasmania through deep waters but as we approached the northern tip where the Bass Strait separates the island state of Tasmania from the Australian mainland the average depth decreases to 60 m (200 ft) and it is at this point where marine wildlife is most often found as nutrient-rich deep water is forced into the shallows. The Bass Strait is notoriously rough due to the the strong currents between the Antarctic-driven southeast portions of the Indian Ocean and the Tasman Sea’s Pacific Ocean waters. The shipwrecks on the Tasmanian and Victorian coastlines number in the hundreds, although stronger metal ships and modern marine navigation have greatly reduced the danger. Many vessels have disappeared without a trace or left scant evidence of their passing. Despite myths and legends of piracy, wrecking and alleged supernatural phenomena akin to those of the Bermuda Triangle, such disappearances can be invariably ascribed to treacherous combinations of wind and sea conditions, and the numerous semi-submerged rocks and reefs within the Straits. As we passed through into the strait, there were several whale sightings, a pod of dolphins followed us for some time and Short-tailed shearwaters became increasingly evident.

The ventures team have been a positive force onboard and have contributed significantly to this trip being a success (for us at least). On this morning they were filming for their blog

The same day a Grand Gala dinner was arranged in the evening. We were all invited to hosted tables and music was provided by the cast

Steven (ex-truck driver), Rachel, Ellie & Matt

We were sat with 2 other couples, one from Argentina & Germany and the others from Chile. The Argentinian lady was delightful, if a little snooty, as she agreed with me about the merits of the tango but complained about the deckchairs making a noise on the ceiling of the “Owners Suite” in the morning, a first world problem if ever there was one!. For reference the owners suites are extremely expensive.

Phillip Island, connected to the mainland by a bridge, 11/2 hours drive from Melbourne, turned out to be our last stop of beauty and adventure before hitting the mainland.

The tender was a good 20 minute ride into the jetty due to low tides and sea depth. On the way, we spotted Australian pelicans, which have much longer and thinner beaks. On arrival we were greeted with a jazz concert from the local Rotary club. There was a shuttle bus to Cowes, the nearest large town and you could go onwards to Ventnor. Were we on the Isle of Wight by mistake? The scenery and gardens of the houses were very British but no, we were on another idyllic island and chose to walk to the headland and the famous wetlands, looking for waders after another chance to eat off the boat presented itself and an enjoyable and tasty lunch was had.

Walking up to the headland we spotted a strange little animal scuffling around in the grass, a mixture between a hedgehog and a porcupine. We were later told it was an Echidna or spiny anteater.

Walking back through the park, we were treated to the very noisy Galahs, a grey and pink parrot that abound all over Australia and ticked off a few more Aussie bird species

That evening was the long-awaited sunset walk to a Short-tailed shearwater breeding colony on Cape Woolamai. Guided by Graham, a naturalist who is a ranger for Phillip Island Nature Parks, and who has worked on the colony for many years, we had a superb trip out. Firstly, walking along the pristine beach towards the headland

Carefully monitored by the local wallabies

We started coming across eggs randomly strewn across the landscape

These are shearwater eggs. They are quite large and are found because inexperienced shearwaters arrive back on land, can’t make their burrows in time and lay the eggs, undoubtedly with a great sigh of relief. Unfortunately, these are quickly picked out by gulls and by the next morning have been eaten.

As the sun starts to set, hundreds of thousands of shearwaters start to accumulate in huge rafts off-shore, waiting for it to get dark so they can safely fly to their burrows. We were all treated to a glass of champagne and settled down to wait for the spectacle to begin.

On the headland there are approximately 2 burrows per square metre, so the whole area, away from the paths which cross the headland, is a network of burrows in the sand, accompanied on occasion by the tracks left by the Copperhead snakes which predate the eggs, much to Helen’s horror…. As the sun sets, the shearwaters fly overhead and round, slowly dropping down as they pick out landmarks near their nest holes. They then drop down silently and scurry into the nest holes, from which come delighted calls as the birds are reunited with their mates, who having been egg sitting for a few days, and will be desperate to fly out to sea and feed.

Flocks building up over the sea
Getting closer
Final approach

Graham explained to us the history of this site, which used to be a poorly maintained farm and was taken over by the Nature Parks group so it could be restored to its former status. As a result the wallabies have returned in numbers and the shearwaters are maintaining their numbers. One major predator, foxes (inexplicably introduced by the English so they could go hunting…) has been eliminated but one non-native predator remains, the domestic cat. We passed the remains of a shearwater predated by a cat and these animals present a real threat to these defenceless birds. Quite incredibly, from next year it will be illegal for a domestic cat to be allowed outside. They can be housed in cages in the garden, but roaming free will be banned, punishable by a large fine. Each cat has to be tagged and neutered. The argument is that the shearwaters are a natural phenomenon and something special to Phillip Island so they should be protected.

We walked back along the beach to the light of a crescent moon, a fabulous night.

Melbourne is very close to Phillip Island and we were supposed to be arriving at 8am, ready for a tour out with the head chef buying food at the local market for the chef. These trips are very popular and we’d bagged spaces on the last one only to hear the ship couldn’t dock until 10am and the trip was cancelled.

Instead we walked into Melbourne City, past the beach

Up Bay Street, past numerous cafes, restaurants and bakeries through to an area of historically protected housing

And into the centre of Melbourne which is very modern. At this point we were lost so jumped on a tram, were helped by people until we got to a shopping centre, bought the suitcase we needed to send stuff back to the UK and returned by taxi. This is a lovely city, the people were very friendly and we’ll certainly try to make more of it on a return visit.

Apparently, sailing out of Melbourne is quite difficult as there are lots of dangerous sandbanks

so the pilot didn’t leave the ship until sunset.

Tomorrow was our last sea day, the grand trivia final and brunch for 11!