Seals by Sea at Cape Bridgewater
The industrial port of Portland lies at the far western end of the Great Ocean Road. Just to the south is a large promontory with three capes that jut out like prongs on a fork. The weather here on the edge of the Southern Ocean is changeable. The first afternoon we spent at Point Danger, home to a large colony of gannets. It was cold, windy and damp ... more like a day on the south west coast of Ireland and perhaps why many potato-famine migrants found a home here in the mid-1800s.
By evening, the wind had dropped and the clouds cleared, revealing a starry sky and planet Jupiter. By morning it was calm, sunny and warm, so we headed to the exposed tip of Cape Bridgwater, about 20km west of Portland. The main visitor attraction here is the 'petrified forest', though despite the name, the formation has nothing at all to do with forests. The pipes were in fact formed by dissolved limestone.
It's an other-wordly landscape, made all the more bizarre by the backdrop of gleaming white towers and shimmering rotating blades of futuristic wind turbines. These installations are a fitting reminder of the unrelenting power of the southern ocean wind and sea. Huge chunks of limestone cliff are shattered by waves and recent heavy rainfall washes all but the tougest of plants from the thin rusty soil.
The morning's calm conditions were ideal to search for another of the Great Ocean Road's iconic and monumental features - the great Blue Whale. This, the largest animal that ever lived on Earth, congregates here every year from November to May. Within five minutes, we'd spotted one near the horizon.
The Great Ocean Road is only one of a very small number of places in the world this happens and with the right conditions, a pair of binoculars and some patience, it's usually easy to spot them from the cliffs. They are a long way off - usually between 5-10km. All you are likely to see from here is a blow and maybe the roll of a back as the animal slips below to engulf hundreds of tonnes of krill-enriched seawater. If you don't get lucky here, you can also try from Cape Nelson lighthouse.
From Cape Bridgwater it's only a few minutes to the beautiful secluded hamlet of Bridgewater Bay, where 'Seals by Sea' runs daily trips to view seals at the largest mainland colony in Australia. It offers another unique perspective of this amazing volcanic landscape. The ceiling architecture of the seals' caves is made up of folded and compressed volcanic ash. The contrasting colour of the turquiose blue sea and reddish cliffs is breathtaking, as is the occasional stench from the seal colony (but only when the wind blows momentarily in your direction.)