Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Deserting of Altona Loop Carparks

I was late to arrive at Westona train station last Friday 24th February 2012 at 8.26 a.m. and was surprised to see the carpark only half full. The carpark used to fill up by this time in the not-so-distant past, with late cars flowing into the roadsides and surrounding neighbourhoods. The following photo clearly shows the stark emptiness of the carpark.

Westona Train Station Carpark

I have learnt from members of the Altona Loop Facebook Group that the same phenomenon is also occurring to the carparks at Altona and Seaholme, indicating that the cause is systemic in nature rather than restricted to isolated cases. I concur that this must be a consequence of the change in train timetable and operation to the Altona Loop introduced last May, for I could not think of other reasons that would lead to such drastic decline in patronage of the station carparks.

Discussions have been occurring that suggest people have driven their cars from Altona to park at Newport train station to catch trains to the City (Ref 1). This trend has been officially confirmed by a recent report released by Hobsons Bay City Council that stated more commuters were travelling by car to Newport station since last year’s changes to train services and timetables on the Altona loop (Ref 2).

The report also noted a new 200-space carpark would soon open on the east side of Market Street. You may have noticed this new carpark on the left side of the rail track before the train reaches Newport and the Substation travelling in the direction towards the City. The increase in parking space will make possible for even more cars to drive to Newport.

Is the reduced usage of Altona Loop carparks a healthy trend or something to be concerned about? Go figure yourself.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Special Rose Tree in Altona

My parents-in-law came here in 2008 to help with the arrival of our first child. While they were here, they would take daily strolls around the neighbourhood. My mother-in-law is a keen gardener so she is particularly interested in the plants and trees in Altona. To her surprise, plants and trees that she has not seen flowering in China, are in full blossom here. Also plants have grown to a gigantic size here compared to similar varieties in her hometown. When we moved to Altona in 2007, we were particularly attracted to a rose "tree" in the front garden of a modest house in our street. From botany lessons, I know that roses are classified as shrubs but I never know that a rose plant can grow so big that it resembles a tree, as shown in the following photo.

Medford Rose St 01

The rose plant reached almost the height of the brick and veneer house and carried huge, pastel orange-coloured flowers on its numerous branches. The roses were so many that it looked like a giant bouquet of assembled roses. At that time (2007), the house appeared to be vacant and under renovation. Our curiosity tempted us take a peek inside the house. There were no curtains so we could see the bedroom was spartan. It appeared that an extension, probably an extra living room, was being constructed at the rear of the house.

For some reasons (perhaps weak soil foundation or unbalanced development in the wrong direction), the rose tree is severely leaning to one side such that it needs to be propped up to prevent it from further sloping. The props were apparently not working well as they need to be constantly replaced and the tilting did not ease. The owner finally decided to take a calculated risk and give the tree a major surgery. It was uprooted, pruned until it was left with an almost leafless stock and transferred to another location with new soil. This is a gamble as one will not know whether the plant will survive the shock treatment. The timing is not good since it is summer when the rose is most vulnerable to cutting.

I happened to pass by the house that day and witnessed the operation. 4-5 persons, probably from a horticulture company that the owner had engaged, were digging a big hole around the rose tree, severing the roots, reducing the tree to a manageable size before moving it to a new garden bed. This is apparently not a small operation as it took almost half a day of hard work.

Days after, the plant appeared to be withering. I was skeptical whether it would survive and pondered whether the owner had made the right decision to uproot the rose tree. Roses are however known for their hardiness and resilience. There is a great likelihood they will turn out fine even when subjected to multiple injuries. The rose plant did survive but after 3 years, it looks stunted and produces sparse, small, faded flowers bearing no resemblance to its past glory. Perhaps, it needs the attention of its owner who currently has far more important priorities and does not have the time to look after it.

Medford Rose Street 2012
The rose "shrub" overshadowed by other nameless plants

Honk your Horn

When I boarded Bus 401 at North Melbourne train station this morning, I was surprised to find a rather empty bus. On normal days, it will be packed with people during the morning peak hours. I found out the reason upon alighting at Royal Melbourne Hospital.

A large group of nurses, all wearing red T-shirts, were holding a rally outside Royal Women Hospital at the corner of Grattan Street and Flemington Street. TV crews were also present, filming the rally. I guess a large number of passengers who would normally be traveling on Bus 401 at this time are hospital staff who took part in this rally and hence, arrived at the hospital much earlier than usual.

There was a lot of commotion, with a continuous stream of honking from passing vehicles. I was perplexed why these drivers acted so similarly in concert, as though they have rehearsed beforehand.

It was only after I knocked off from work while waiting at the traffic junction to cross the road that I found the answer to my puzzle on the roadside lamp post.

Nurse Rally - Honk your Horn

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Switch now or later?

Metcard machines will be turned off at stations on the Werribee and Williamstown line next Monday 27th Feb 2012, followed by the Sydenham line one week later on 5th Mar (Ref 1).

Passengers on these lines still using Metcards will then have 2 options:
  • Switch to Myki
  • Purchase Metcards elsewhere

I will recommend the first option. Why resist something that is inevitable? Furthermore, it is cheaper to use Myki than Metcard for certain travel usage (refer to these comparison tables).

I have read from Daniel Bowen's blog that you can purchase fares for any number of days rather than multiples of weeks or months. This flexibility allows you to get bigger bang for your buck. For instance, you are going on holiday 35 days later. Instead of buying a monthly and a 10-trip Metcard ticket, you can purchase a 35-days Myki Pass.

If you do not use public transport during weekends, you will be wasting about 8 days of a monthly Metcard. With Myki, you can purchase a Pass of more than 28 days to last until say the Friday of a week, then start a new Pass on the following Monday. You will still be not utilizing a number of Saturdays and Sundays (about 6 for a monthly cycle) but at least in theory, you can save 2 weekend days using Myki Pass rather than a monthly Metcard.

If you still insist on using Metcards, make sure that you still have values remaining or get new cards in advance. Do not get caught by surprise next Monday to find that you are unable to buy Metcards from the local train station.

Transport Ticketing Authority chief Bernie Carolan said public transport users should use up any Metcards they still had (Ref 2). I have not read anywhere that any residual value in Metcards can be refunded. Hence, the best advice is to expend them before they become defunct.

With the phasing out of Metcards, Melbourne will become the only city in the world where visitors and occasional users cannot buy a short-term ticket (Ref 3). 50 million single-use paper Myki cards, each containing a microchip and costing 31¢ or about $15 million in total, were actually made and stored on hundreds of pallets in warehouses in Altona and Rowville. These stockpiled paper tickets will never be used and will be pulped following a recommendation from consulting firm Deloitte to dump all short-term tickets to help the government reduce Myki's complexity and cut its operating cost (Ref 4). The only option now available to visitors is to buy the $6 non-refundable Myki card with no credit (Ref 5). This price has come down from the original $10, in a bid to encourage users to switch over from Metcards. Hence, now will be the best time to purchase a Myki card for its cost is bound to rise again once Metcards are phased out.

In Singapore, one can buy a single-use smart card, which is exactly of the same plastics material as the long-term card and thus does not require a separate system for its operation. After the trip, the user can easily get back the refund from the vending machine, which collects and recycles the card.

The lack of affordable short-term tickets is actually bad news for the tourism industry. Not all tourists to Melbourne travel on group tour coaches. An increasing number of tourists will be "free and easy" independent tourists who will make frequent trips on public transport to get around. Making travel more expensive is not a way to woo more tourists who are already bypassing Australia as a tour destination due to its strong dollar.

It is thought that a booming China would save Australia's economy. Likewise, it is thought that Chinese tourists would save single-use tickets. But this is not going to happen (Ref 5).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Love Letters in the Sand

Love Letters in the Sand 01
Altona 7/12/2011

On a day like today
We passed the time away
Writing love letters in the sand

How you laughed when I cried
Each time I saw the tide
Take our love letters from the sand

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Guitar ~ Pier

Playing Guitar on Altona Pier 01
Altona 19/02/2012

Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the tides roll in
And then I watch 'em roll away again, yeah

I'm sittin' on the pier of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I'm just sittin' on the pier of the bay
Playing my favourite guitar

Monday, February 20, 2012

Swarming of Silver Gulls in Altona

After an early dinner yesterday at around 6.15 p.m., we decided to go to Altona Beach. As we drove eastwards along the Esplanade, we were fixated by a spectacular sight.

Thousands of silver gulls were swarming above Altona Bay as shown in the following video. The gulls feel safer in packs/groups so they usually swarm around food and feed as a pack. From this video, you can hear the flapping noises, punctuated by occasional shrills, the most common being a harsh "kwee-aarr". Such a scene usually takes place during low tides.

The Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) also known simply as the Seagull, is the most common gull seen in Australia including Altona. It has a white head, body and tail, and a pair of light-grey wings with white spotted, black tips. Male gulls have red legs. Adults range from 40–45 cm in length with a mean wing span of 94 cm. Juveniles have brown patterns on their wings and a dark beak while adults have bright red beaks. The brighter the red, the older the bird.

Silver Gulls 01

The silver gull feeds on worms, fish, insects and crustaceans. It also scavenges dead animals and organic litter. It likes seafood especially clams. However, the shells are too hard for their beaks to break so they carry the clams over rocks and drop them to crack them open.

My wife discovered the exposed seabed on Altona Beach was teeming with living minute shelled creatures, which may provide a rich food source for the gulls, thereby explaining their abundance and the swarming spectacle. Shown in the photo below are numerous perfect circles (with a raised rim enclosing a depressed centre) littered throughout the exposed seabed. Maybe someone can enlighten me what causes the formation of these enigmatic structures.

Pool 01

Unlike most other animals, seagulls can drink both fresh and salt water. This is due to a specialized pair of glands above their eyes, which can flush the salt from their systems through openings in their bill. This ability makes it possible for them to spend days out at sea without the need to return to land for fresh water.

Seagulls 01
Sand shoals become islands of haven for these gulls at low tides

Both female and male seagulls take turn to incubate the eggs. The female will sit for around 3-4 hours and then switch with the male which will also sit for the same length of time. The seagull who is not sitting on the nest will hunt, feed and collect materials for the nest. When the hunter returns to the nest and if the existing bird does not budge, the hunter will push it off the nest!

Seagulls 02

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Laverton train will not run today

"The ??? p.m. Laverton train will not run today." Is this familiar to you? Well, this is my most dreaded and detested announcement from the station's loudspeaker at North Melbourne.

To exacerbate my frustrations, I often have to watch helplessly two Werribee trains and two Williamstown trains come and go before the next available Laverton service.  The Werribee and Williamstown trains run on the same train tracks as the Laverton trains but do not take me home to Altona. Newport is the closest station that I can alight with these trains but this is still a long distance from home. I always feel stranded, deserted and question: "Why can others go home but not me?" However, I firmly believe that it is not a mistake for me or anyone else to live in Altona.

An all-powerful voice from the master control room at Flinders Street station would then reverberate in my ears: "There is a shortage of trains on the Werribee line today. Not a problem. We can easily fix this by diverting some services from the Laverton route or cancelling the Laverton services".

No train today, my love has gone away
No train today, it seems a common sight
But people passing by don't know the reason why

No train today, it wasn't always so
But all that's left is a place dark and lonely ...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What do you dislike most about Melbourne?

My wife took the AMES course when she first arrived here in 2007. This is a government-funded program that provides 510 hours of free English classes to new migrants. She subsequently stopped attending the classes due to pregnancy. She will now like to resume the program with the remaining hours, fearing that her English competency will deteriorate beyond redemption if she continues to lose touch with the language.

Yesterday she called the AMES branch near Flagstaff train station for an appointment. She decided to take a train with the kids due to the difficulty of finding carpark in the city. She was greatly surprised that the train journey time to reach Flagstaff from Westona had dramatically increased from the 20 minutes that she could recall in 2007 to the current 1 hour and 15 minutes. She also found out that now she needs to take 3 trains and make 2 connections to reach her destination during non-peak hours while she only had to take 1 train in the past. My wife has remarked that it will be strange for non-English speaking people not to get lost under the new system.

At AMES, my wife sat an interview to assess her English competency and the level that she should enroll in.

The interviewer asked: "What do you like most about Melbourne?"
My wife replied: "Its multi-cultural character."
She followed: "What do you dislike most about Melbourne?"
My wife answered without hesitation: "The change in the train system."
She asked: "Where do you live?"
My wife said: "Altona"
The interviewer responded with a smile.

Monday, February 13, 2012

St Kilda Festival 2012

We decided to see the St Kilda Festival yesterday. I found from Metlink's website that Werribee trains were not running since Friday so we drove to Newport to take the Williamstown train. I asked the Metro staff at Newport station the best way to get to the St Kilda Festival. I was told to change to a Sandringham train at Flinders Street, alight at Balaclava station and then take a tram from there. I asked what about Tram Route 96 (which runs from Bourke St to St Kilda). She told me all trams, including 96, will terminate at Fitzroy so my best option is still getting to Balaclava.

Both my wife and I had experienced being given wrong information by Metro staff numerous times before. What she said sounds really dubious to me as I could recall from viewing the 2012 St Kilda Festival's website that it is possible to take a number of trams to get to the Festival. Not trusting what she said, I decided to approach the BIGGER information booth at Flinders Street station upon arriving there. I guess the information given out by this dedicated booth will have to be more reliable. This time I was told to take either Tram 16 or 3A outside Flinders St station along St Kilda Road.

Tram 16 was jammed with people, moving at snail pace and constantly rocking forth and back. I was feeling dizzy and both my children fell asleep in the pram due to the tram's erratic motion. We had to support our daughter's head with our palms as her toddler seat, attached above the pram, has no headrest.

St Kilda Festival 01

After what must be a pretty long journey, we finally arrived at St Kilda. There appears to be many more people than in 2008 when we first visited the Festival. The St Kilda Festival which started in 1980, is now in its 32nd year.

The trams stopped way before the terminal stop and the roads were transformed into pedestrian thoroughfares. Street performers took centre stage on the strip in the middle of the road where the trams run. Steering clear of large crowds, I stopped by to watch a beatboxing performance.

By this time, my daughter had woken up and we encouraged her to socialize with the Living Statue, a favourite among kids.

A drizzle started, which gained strength and eventually became a downpour. I thought that we should have stayed at home as we were pretty tired after four modes of transport (drive, train, tram and walk). This unwanted rain had extinguished any residual enthusiasm that I might have in lingering around.  So we made our way back to the tram. This time round, we decided to walk a bit further to catch the Route 96 tram, which was much less crowded and faster, as a section of its track uses the old train track and does not compete with motor vehicles.

Living Statue @ St Kilda Festival 02
The best shot of the day

Thursday, February 9, 2012

TV Crew at Harrington Square

Network 7 was filming its TV series "Winners & Losers" at Harrington Square on Tuesday 7th and Wednesday 8th February 2012.

The TV crew was early for they were already setting up equipment at the filming base besides the Bec's Beauty Salon by the time I passed by on my way to Westona Train Station at 7.50 a.m. There were quite many people inside the beauty salon. I presume they were the extras playing the salon customers.

Winners & Losers 02
Several TV vans at Harrington Square's carpark

There are good reasons why Harrington Square is popular with film makers. What were easily noticeable are the big vans used to ferry the video and audio equipments. I am perplexed why so many vehicles and heavy equipment are needed to shoot just a salon scene. Nevertheless, they were there. Transporting the equipments is made so easy by a carpark that is right in front of the shops and that can easily accommodate several large vehicles.

Winners & Losers 01
Filming/Equipment Base

Furthermore, there is ample open space at Harrington Square to set up a filming/equipment base or station, without causing much interference to local businesses and residents. Harrington Square is a rather quiet area with not much human traffic while some degree of crowd control may be needed at busy filming locations.

When I returned home from work on Tuesday at around 5.45 p.m., the TV crew was starting to pack up.  I was a bit disappointed yesterday as the crew was gone by the time I reached home.

Altona Tour Brochure

It beats me why there are no tourism pamphlets or brochures for Altona. This prompts me to create one using Adobe InDesign. Currently, this brochure covers only four highlights of Altona so it is a work in progress. I will provide an updated version whenever it is available. You can download an interactive pdf copy of this brochure by clicking this link. This copy will enable you to turn the pages and to access the interactive buttons for zooming, printing and email. Only a soft copy is available as I will not have the money to print them. I have also uploaded the pdf to scribd so that it can be embedded in this blog post for viewing. You will not be able to try out the interactive features without downloading the pdf.

Altona Tour Brochure


Terang, meaning the Tree Town, is a small Victorian town 212 km southwest of Melbourne on the Princes Highway. Its first dwelling, comprising a slab hut, was built in 1840 by Donald McNicol on the east bank of the now drained Lake Terang. The township was developed in the late 1850s, with opening of the post office on 1 March 1859.

Terang 08

A regular coach service from Geelong to Warrnambool, stopping en route at the Commercial Hotel in Terang, commenced in the 1860s. The Commercial Hotel was built in 1866, later demolished and replaced but the tower portion was retained.

Commercial Hotel
Commercial Hotel with its original tower

The early 1870s saw Cobb & Co commence a regular service between Warrnambool and Camperdown. The Camperdown-Terang rail link was opened in 1887 with the line extended to Mortlake and Warrnambool in 1890. The branch to Mortlake closed in 1978. The local railway station is now served by V/Line train on the Warrnambool line.

Terang is a National Trust Town of Historic Trees, with several individual trees protected under the National Trust. It features magnificent avenues of trees - English oaks in High St (planted in 1890s), cottonwood poplars in Thomson St (1900) and plane trees along Princes Highway (1910s).

Terang 04

There is a Heritage Trail walk which passes by these trees and many historic buildings. A good example of Terang's fine turn-of-the-century architecture is located at 22 High St, which sites the former courthouse (1903-1980) and police station and residence.

Terang Courthouse
Former courthouse

This now houses the Terang Cottage Crafts which offers locally-made handicrafts and souveneirs and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Terang Cottage Crafts 01

Adjacent is the post office in which its clock tower was allegedly the first in the Commonwealth to be funded by public subscription. The courthouse, police station and post office were constructed of Northcote bricks by the same Melbourne builder, Mr. Harvey in 1903-04.

Post Office & Clock Tower 01

The Terang War Memorial, a 20-metre tall granite obelisk located in the middle of Princes Highway, was unveiled in 1923 to commemorate soldiers who served in World War I.

War Memorial

The Band Rotunda (a WWI memorial for band members) and Rose Gardens at the town centre, opened in 1927. The Rose Gardens were established due to the overwhelming donations of over 1000 roses from the town residents after being asked by the local Rotary Club where they might like to donate a rose for a rose bed.

Terang 11

Further west along High St, on the corner with the Promenade, is the Civic Medical Building and the Shire of Hampden building, erected in 1898 as a Mechanics Institute and Library. At its rear is a wooden hall dating from 1886 and on its the western side is the present Civic Hall (built in 1910). 

Terang 02

The Centenary Park is located to the west and south of Civic Hall. This basin, with its ornamental and native trees, was once Lake Terang which attracted many waterbirds. It was used as a sheep wash by the early settlers and for recreational purposes such as fishing. However, it was prone to periodic evaporation. In 1933, the peat bed caught fire and burned for some weeks. It was subsequently drained, turned into a park and a 18-hole golf course, and used by various clubs (golf, cricket, pony, croquet, athletics).

Lions Walk Track B

Lions Walking Track is a 4.8km trail around Lake Terang, with magnificent views of Terang and the surrounding area. The entrance to the walk is at the Apex Playground. There is a public toilet next to the playground and some carpark lots along the Princes Highway.

Terang Apex Community Playground B

Thomson Memorial Presbyterian Church 01 Near the western end of Terang is Thomson Memorial Presbyterian Church. It is named after John Thomson who squatted on Lake Keilambete (6 km northwest of Terang) in 1840. He is said to have built the first brick house in the district, was appointed a magistrate in 1840 and was also a founder of the first church in Terang, erected by the Bible Christian denomination in 1863. The Thomson Memorial Presbyterian Church was erected at his instigation in 1893-94 on the site of an earlier Presbyterian church. Unfortunately Thomson was killed in a driving accident before work started but his wife ensured its completion. A Gothic Revival design in sandstone with a wagon-headed roof and stained-glass windows, it is one of the largest country town churches in Victoria and is loosely modelled on Scots Church in Collins St, Melbourne.

Terang has a few notable residents. The first powered flight in Australia was made in 1910 by John Robertson Duigan who was born at Terang in 1882. The craft was designed and constructed in Australia with Duigan himself building the aeroplane's frame and ancillary gears. The Australian immunologist Frank Macfarlane Burnet (1899-1985), awarded the Nobel Prize in 1960, grew up in Terang. He attended Terang State School and his father was the manager of the Terang National Bank. Burnet spent much time studying the life in and around Lake Terang.

Noorat, 6 km north of Terang, was the birthplace of popular fiction writer Alan Marshall (1902-1984) whose autobiography "I Can Jump Puddles" (1955) told the story of his childhood and his battle with polio which he contracted in 1908. Noorat holds an annual Noorat Show on the third Saturday of November, which is one of the largest one-day shows between Geelong and Mt Gambier.

Ref: 1, 2, 3, 4

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


The choice of the Pelican as the logo of Hobsons Bay probably reflects the abundance of this interesting bird in the municipality, with as many as 50-60 pelicans found in Altona - a population size hardly replicated elsewhere in Melbourne (Ref 1). Pelicans have been reported breeding at 11 sites across Victoria, with Mud Islands in Port Phillip Bay and French Island in Western Port Bay being the closest to Melbourne. The pelicans in Altona probably come from the breeding grounds in Mud Islands.

Pelicans 01m
Altona Bay

Apart from the municipality's logo, the word "Pelican" also appears in several local newsletters, businesses and communities.
  • Pelican Post - newsletter of Hobsons Bay City Council
  • Pelican Brief - newsletter of Altona Meadows Community Centre
  • Pelicans Landing - restaurant at Gem Pier, Williamstown
  • Pelican Bistro - at Altona Bowling Club, 113 Civic Parade, with menu and a favourable review
  • Pelican Peddlers - a Tuesday group of bike riders that often meet at the Altona Pier.
  • People, Piers & Pelicans Coastal Trail map - tourism map created by Hobsons Bay City Council   

There is a pelican named "Altona" at the Melbourne Zoo. She was found with a serious wing injury in Altona and brought to Melbourne Zoo for treatment in February 2002. She remained at the Zoo as she would not be able to fly again and fend for herself in the wild. Together with another treated pelican, Altona is staying in the estuary area of the "Wild Sea" development. Other injured pelicans may not be that fortunate. According to this news article published in 2008, at least two pelicans and several ibis were killed each week after straying into high-voltage powerlines, littering an "informal pelican graveyard" besides Kororoit Creek near Grieve Parade, Altona.

There are 8 pelican species, the smallest being the Brown Pelican and the largest is believed to be the Dalmatian Pelican. The Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus), found along the Australian coastline, has the longest (40-50 cm) bill. These are large birds weighing 4.0-6.8 kg, measuring 1.6-1.8 m in length, 2.3-2.5 m in wingspan and may live between 10-25+ years. They have black and white bodies, enormous pouched bills, blue legs and yellow eye-rings. The pouch turns from pink to bright red, blue and orange during courtship. A pelican's bones are very light but not hollow like most other birds. They are filled with a material like the foam found inside a surfboard.

San Remo Pelicans BeeLing 16m
Taken at San Remo

Pelicans eat mainly fish but they are opportunistic feeders and will eat crustaceans (like prawns and crabs), squids, tadpoles and even turtles. They readily accept "handouts" from humans, and a number of unusual items have been recorded in their diet. During periods of starvation, pelicans have been reported capturing and eating seagulls and ducklings. The gulls are held under water and drowned before being eaten headfirst. Pelicans will also rob other birds of their prey.

San Remo Pelicans BeeLing 13

Both the bill and pouch play an important role in feeding. The sensitive bill helps locate fish in murky water and has a hook for gripping slippery food items. The pelican uses its pouch as a net to scoop small fish and shrimps and to collect water (including rainwater). An Australian Pelican can hold up to 13 litres or 3.4 gallons of water in its pouch. Once the pouch is full, the pelican drains the water and consumes the preys that remain.

Pelicans 03
Altona Bay

Australian Pelicans often feed as a cooperative group known as pods, scoops or squadrons. Sometimes these groups are quite large. One group numbered over 1,900 birds. A pod of pelicans works together, herding schools of fish into shallow areas where they are easily scooped up.

San Remo Pelicans BeeIng 01

Pelicans are not capable of sustained flapping flight but can remain in the air for 24 hours, covering hundreds of kilometres. They are excellent soarers and can use thermal updrafts to rise to considerable altitudes. Flight at 1,000 m is common and heights of 3,000 m have been recorded. The birds spread out from their colonies with slow and heavy wing beats, searching out suitable updrafts. When one is found, the lead birds begin to circle, flapping their wings intermittently, rising steadily up the sky. Within minutes a "staircase" is formed, with 10, 20, perhaps 100 pelicans spiralling steadily upwards. When they reach a suitable height, perhaps thousands of feet, they peel off and glide towards their destination. By moving from one thermal to the next, pelicans can travel long distances with minimum effort, reaching air speeds of up to 56 km/hour.

Ref:  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Altona Bird Theatre

Do you like the experience of a drive-in cinema? Well, there are numerous such locations in Altona. The actors are however somewhat special for they are not humans but are rather the abundant birdlife attracted to the charms of Altona.

There are actually quite many carpark lots directly facing the Altona Bay along the Esplanade. One particular carpark area where you can get a good panoramic view of these beautiful creatures is opposite the G.H. Ransom Reserve (GPS coordinates S37.873855, E144.816529) as eeen in the following map.

View Larger Map

The actors are committed, professional and have strong work ethics, for they replay their acts continuously and consistently on a daily basis, 365 days a year. I only discovered this spectacular phenomenon recently when I jogged to the beach one early morning. The best time will probably be around 7-8 a.m. as the birds may become less abundant later as the day gets hotter.

Bird Flight 01
Altona Pier and Norfolk Island Pines along the Esplanade in the background

I told my wife we must wake up early, go to the beach and enjoy this scene together as a family. I suggested to my wife the next time we should pack a sandwich breakfast, bring some coffee and newspapers, and watch nature plays itself from the comfort of our car. This idea is however not original as I believe many people would have done the same thing but without drawing the analogy to the "drive-in theatre".

The most abundant birds that you can see are the seagulls and the black swans. In the photo below, you can see a large number of black swans and four ship vessels in the far horizon. It may be possible to identify these ships for you can click here to know what ships are currently in Port Phillip Bay.

Black Swan C
The Black Swan Ballet

The swans seemed to move in synchronized steps like in a dance choreography. Sometimes, they all straighten their necks high as in the above photo and the next moment, they all arch their necks down into the water as in the following photo. My wife was wondering where these numerous swans come from. Are they the indigenous inhabitants or are they released exogenously into Altona Bay through deliberate human actions?

Black Swan 03

When we were about to go home, we saw a number of pelicans, that are about the same size as the black swans and are white in colour. In the same photo, the black swans are swimming in a single file, all in the same direction to the west.

Pelicans 02

Among the many seagulls, we can spot one or two white ibises which coexist peacefully with their more numerous neighbours. Being rarer and having a longer beak and pair of slender legs, they stand out from among the smaller seagulls.`

White Ibis & Seagulls 02

Photography enthusiasts have organized special trips to places like Livingstone Island, Nelson to take photos of birds there. When I was there, I could only see a handful of birds which contrasts sharply with the abundant birdlife that I see in Altona. I should count myself fortunate to be able to live only a short distance from such a bird haven.

Black Swan B
Serenity of the Altona Bay

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Livingstone Island, Nelson

On our second last day of stay at Cape Bridgewater in December 2011, I decided to visit Nelson. The journey via A1 took about an hour, passing by dense forests/plantations of Christmas trees.

Christmas Tree Plantation A

The first place of call in Nelson was its Information Centre. I was told we could do the 2.5 km Livingstone Island Nature Walk which is suitable for prams and would take about an hour. After parking at the end of Beach Road and following the track past the toilet block, we came to a beach, which was packed with families. This is probably Estuary Beach, according to this map.

Livingstone Island Beach 01

We realized that we were on the wrong track so we walked to a farther carpark where I found another beach, which I now think is an extension of the same Estuary Beach. There was a big group of senior citizens carrying a lot of photographic equipment. Presumably, they are members of a photography club on an excursion to take photos of the birdlife. Many people had set up tripods and were aiming their cameras at the estuary, as seen in the following photo.

Livingstone Island B

Still I could not find any sign for the Livingstone Island Nature Walk or any indication of a walking trail. I started asking people but they too do not know. Fortunately a lady pointed me to an inconspicuous location which leads to the entrance of the walk. The walking paths around the island are mainly dirt surfaces that have been cleared of vegetation. We really regretted on doing this trail as it was really difficult to push a pram through certain sections. It was also very hot on that day with little cover vegetation so negotiating a pram through the bush was an exhausting and uncomfortable experience.

Livingstone Island 08

In particular, there were a number of difficult steps prior to a boardwalk across the salt marshes, which emitted a foul, decaying odour.

Livingstone Island C
The boardwalk on the left

There is a wide variety of wildlife inhabiting Livingstone Island. Around the salt marshes you may see Striped and Spotted Marsh Frogs, as well as many types of water birds.

Bird 03

The large variety of birdlife on Livingstone Island include black swans, pelicans, spoonbills, herons and ducks. The island is also home to many kangaroos, which we did not manage to see.

Bird 02

Flora found on the island include Moonah trees, Coast Wattle, Coast Beard-Heath, and Beaded Glasswort.

Flowers 01

A viewing platform at the north-end of the track offers views of the Glenelg River, the estuary mouth and the Southern Ocean. There is also a bird hide on a branched path to the east of the island.

Livingstone Island E

You can visit this website to see what are the things you could do at Nelson. If we have managed to catch the Glenelg River Cruise or have visited the Princess Margaret Rose Cave, our experience may have been different.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Flying Sandals on Altona Beach

Today is quite hot so we decided to go to the beach after dinner. If not for the commencement of the school term, the beach would have been packed with people due to the warm weather.

My children were having fun at the beach, throwing sandals and slippers around. As I played back the photos on the small screen of my camera, this photo struck me. I discovered an object in front of my son. I realized this to be a pair of sandals after zooming in. I am really pleased with this photo as it had frozen the motion of the sandals in mid air so I am sharing it with everyone.

Flying Sandals on Altona Beach

Whatever thing he got hold of in his hand, would "become" a mobile phone.


Blue Lake, Mount Gambier

I had originally planned a visit to just Nelson. But when I realized from the Nelson Information Centre that I had just missed a 3-hour Glenelg River Cruise and could only do a 1-hour track around Livingstone Island, I decided to visit Mount Gambier, which is just 35 minutes drive from Nelson, specifically to see its famous Blue Lake.

Jens Hotel 01
Jens Hotel in Mount Gambier

Mount Gambier is the largest South Australian regional city, 450 km south of Adelaide and just 17 km from the Victorian border. It is renowned for its volcanic features and the Blue Lake, which is one of four crater lakes on Mount Gambier. Only two lakes remain as the other two (Leg of Mutton and Brown Lake) have dried up over the past 30-40 years as the water table drops.

During December to March, the lake turns to a vibrant cobalt blue colour, returning to a colder steel grey colour between April and November. The exact cause of this phenomenon is still a matter of conjecture but it is considered likely that the lake surface warms to around 20 degrees Celsius during summer, causing calcium carbonate to precipitate out of solution, forming micro-crystals which scatter the sunlight's blue wavelengths. During winter, the lake becomes well mixed and somewhat murkier due to the redistribution of tannins and calcium carbonate particles throughout the lake. Solar elevation has also been found to influence the perceived colour of the lake. The seasonal and daily movement of planktons within the lake may too contribute to  the colour change.

Blue Lake from the Rotary Lookout

Blue Lake receives underground water that has passed slowly beneath the city and filtered through limestone. The lake is massive, measuring 1,087 m by 657 m, with an average depth of 72 m and containing 36,000 ML (million litres) of water. 3,500 ML of water is pumped annually into holding tanks which gravity-feed drinking water to the city and surrounding areas. Bathymetric survey in 1967 located the deepest point in the lake at 77 m. Subsequent diving explorations discovered a fresh water sponge species, other invertebrates and stromatolites along the north-eastern perimeter down to a depth of 40 m.

View from the Blue Lake Lookout (accessible from the Bay Rd Underpass)

The crater rim, measuring 1,200 m by 824 m, is circumnavigated by a 3.6 km road and walking track which provides access to many viewing points. An underpass beneath Bay Rd between the Blue Lake and the Leg of Mutton Lake offers great views of both areas. The Blue Lake Reception Centre provides public facilities and a comprehensive interpretation of the volcanic area. From the Reception Centre, visitors can take the 45-minute Aquifer Tours in a glass-paneled lift down the dolomite well shaft (from which water was originally extracted), walk through a tunnel to see the Blue Lake at close proximity and learn about the hydrology of Mount Gambier’s water supply and the aquifer system.

Leg of Mutton Lake

The Leg of Mutton Lake is situated in its own smaller crater. It is surrounded by many varieties of deciduous trees and is popular for its walking trails. This lake has a history of varying water levels and was recorded as being dry as early as 1859. Nearby is a commemorative obelisk erected on 8th July 1887, to commemorate what became known as the Gordon's Leap. In July 1865, the famous Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon made his famed leap on horseback over an old post and rail guard fence onto a narrow ledge overlooking the Blue Lake (70 metres below) and jumped back again onto the roadway.

Crater Lake

The Valley Lake is very popular all year round with excellent playground, picnic and grassed areas, 16 free gas barbecues and covered shelters. There is a Wildlife Park and boardwalk at the Valley Lake, which presents indigenous species of flora and fauna in an environment very similar to that which would have originally been found in the area. Nearby is Browne’s Lake which is again suffering from a fall in the water level as it did in 1841.

The Blue Lake and the Crater Lakes area is a significant site within the Kanawinka Geopark and is a State Heritage Area.