Like last year, I joined my neighbours and friends from Geelong and the Bellarine for their annual week of camping at Blanket Bay near Cape Otway.
Last year my car was already packed full with gear, and I purchased plenty of new gear since then, so days before departure I had to hurry to Geelong and pick up a roof rack tray for my car. Carrying the bulky parts on the roof rack freed up a lot of space inside the car.
Very funny to see a roof rack like this on a Volkswagen up!, but also great to see how much that tiny car can handle. Despite all the luggage and the roof rack, fuel consumption was still only averaging 5l/100km.
Friday was still a normal work day in Melbourne for me, so after work I had to stay up until late at night to prepare my car in order to avoid running late by hours again, like last year. I also tried to hurry because the annual mussel festival was on in Portarlington that Saturday and I wanted to avoid traffic.
I managed to leave almost on schedule and drove to Apollo Bay via Deans Marsh and Skenes Creek. The Great Ocean Road had reopened days earlier – following the bushfires on Christmas – but through Barwon Heads I saw so much traffic and so many campers that I assumed the worst and chose the inland route instead where there is hardly any traffic.
After a 3h drive I arrived at Blanket Bay and had even caught up with Sue & Frank just after Apollo Bay. In previous years the campsite bay I had chosen for this year was always frequented by koalas, and when I arrived there were indeed koalas in the trees only metres away from my camp.
Setting up my camp took noticeably longer compared to previous years, but the family tent I brought this year (for additional comfort) was probably not designed to be set up by one person only. In the end I got there and then went for a walk on the beach before meeting with the rest of the gang for the daily round of snacks and chat before dinner.
One of the benefits of the larger tent was that I now had enough space to switch from an inflatable mattress to a stretcher, and I slept noticeably better. I also got to enjoy the comfort of my own portable shower tent, which is a useful addition on a week-long camping trip in the bush (I only hate packing it up again, because it's one of those foldable tents that are an absolute pain to fold back together).
After breakfast I went for a long walk on the beach before preparing to go bushwalking. It was very hot, but I really do enjoy bushwalking in heat and sunshine. It's often a chance to see interesting snakes, and the sun always creates wonderful lighting through the forest canopy.
I walked about 7km to Parker Inlet and back, and saw 3 or 4 koalas on the way. Due to overpopulation several hundred koalas had recently been resettled to Lorne, but the area around Blanket Bay seemed unaffected, fortunately.
After returning I went for a swim to cool down, then joined the others for fishing. Later that evening we had a few drops of rain, but then it turned into a magnificent starlit night and so I went to the beach in total darkness photographing the Milky Way before going to bed.
Pretty slow day with a beautiful morning and windy overcast afternoon. I went swimming early in the morning, it really helps with waking up and I felt so much better for the rest of the day.
The entire day I didn't do anything other than writing, reading and a bit of walking on the beach. Later in the afternoon I went experimenting with time lapse videos using a new Sony Action Cam I purchased before the trip. Later I met the other guys at the campfire again.
It looked overcast and not very warm in the morning, so I went straight back to bed. Later I had another swim in the bay, it's such a great lifestyle when you can start the day swimming in the ocean.
After breakfast I prepared my surf fishing rod and went fishing on the rocks towards Parker Inlet. No luck but at least the weather was stunning. By then it had turned into a beautiful summer day with clear blue sky.
When I returned I grabbed he chance to try the action camera underwater and went snorkelling. All the other guys went swimming too. I've never been much into diving, but snorkelling on shallow reefs is great.
Later we met for pre-dinner snacks and campfire again. It was still clear sky, so before I went to bed I took another set of Milky Way photos, and watched shooting stars from the beach.
I decided to get up at 5am and record a time lapse video of the sunrise from the beach. It looked like a great opportunity for it, because it was a mild starlit night without any clouds. There is something beautiful about watching the sun rise or set behind the ocean.
After another morning swim followed by breakfast I packed my camera and hiking gear and went for a short bush walk, only 2-3 hours on Telegraph Track and Blanket Bay Track. Morning is a good time to see plenty of wildlife, and I not only found plenty of koalas, but also wallabies, rosellas and a fairly large snake.
The morning and afternoon were very hot and humid, but later in the day we got overcast skies and a cool change was coming in. Occasional rain showers went through, but at least they produced a beautiful rainbow.
I didn't get a lot of sleep during the night. There was one male koala on the campground, and during the night he moved into the tree just above my tent. With his nearly hourly grunting noises he pretty much kept me awake for much of the night.
It was quite a significant temperature drop compared to the previous day, so swimming was definitely not on this morning. It didn't look very inviting but at least it didn't rain.
After breakfast I went for a walk at the beach and on my way back I ran into some of the other guys who went fishing. I then went to get my gear and joined them. Some of the guys I camped with have decades of fishing experience and I can learn so much just by watching how they do it, it helps me immensely setting up my gear correctly, use the right bait and finding the right spots to catch the fish species I'm after.
In this case, we were looking for whiting, but because there were no sand holes nearby and I didn't bring my surf fishing rod — which allows me to cast very far out — I was only fishing on the reef and I caught several different fish, much of an improvement to last year already. None of the fish were good eating fish though, so I released all of them.
Later we had the daily round of snacks and campfire again, but occasional rain and cold temperatures meant I retreated to my tent early.
The weather was much like the day before, overcast and not very warm. After breakfast I went fishing, just by myself. Last chance to catch something good, and after yesterday's catch of 5 or 6 fish I had a good feeling.
The sea was rough, and my first casts were very unlucky, getting snagged between rocks. I lost my whole fishing rig and also got caught by a rogue wave, leaving me almost completely wet. Frustrating start, so I looked for a quiet spot between the rocks to set up my fishing rig again. I'm now pretty good at tying fishing knots, so a short time later it was all ready to go again.
I caught a small wrasse and released it, then got snagged again once more had to set up my fishing rig. I decided to cast one more line at that spot before moving to another location.
Suddenly I could feel something big grabbing my hook but it was so strong that I first thought I got snagged on a rock again. But it moved and I had to work really hard to lift it up onto the rocks where I was standing. I couldn't believe what a big and beautiful fish it was, it was a male bluethroat wrasse, ~45cm long and about as heavy as what my fishing line could handle. Just when I landed the fish on the rocks the line snapped.
I've debated with myself whether to keep or release the fish. It looked so beautiful with it's yellow fins it would have been heartbreaking to keep it. But it was probably the biggest fish I was going to catch, and some say it is a good fish for eating. So with a heavy heart I decided to keep it. Deciding to keep a fish and then having to kill it is the only thing about fishing I will probably never get used to. But at least I'm fishing for my own consumption and living off the land is something I admire, as opposed to relying on industrial food production.
I really enjoyed the compliments of all the other campers and the kids for having landed such an impressive fish. Gary then showed me how to properly fillet and de-bone it, in style on a rock down at the beach. Frank let me use his BBQ and the fillets were enough for two main meals — one for me, one for sharing. We cooked it wrapped in foil, with some salt, pepper, butter and lemon. It was delicious.
This was probably the highlight of a really great week. I finally caught a big fish in Victoria, after so many unsuccessful attempts. Still not a whiting, but at least the wrasse was much better looking.
With the new tent and more furniture I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to pack up, so I started early. Usually when I get up in the morning and it’s dry conditions, I pack up as much as possible before having breakfast, just in case it starts raining.
My tent and gazebo were really dirty from the koala living in the tree above, but there’s no point cleaning it on the campground. Best to pack up as it is and then clean at home. At 11am it was all packed up and I was ready to drive home, but not before one last walk on the beach.
This time I stayed on the Great Ocean Road and it was shocking to see the destruction caused by the Christmas Day bushfire, much worse than I imagined. Very lucky no lives were lost.
Back at home the big cleanup began. Fortunately it was sunny and dry so I could get most of my camping gear cleaned the same day.
More photos in the album Blanket Bay.