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  India   All India  30 Dec 2019  Up close and personal with little wonders

Up close and personal with little wonders

THE ASIAN AGE. | R MOHAN
Published : Dec 30, 2019, 7:47 am IST
Updated : Dec 30, 2019, 7:47 am IST

Nature is never far away, not in Australia where the great outdoors takes on a different meaning of space and time.

The spectacular limestone stacks of Twelve Apostles against raging ocean is a top tourism spot in Victoria.
 The spectacular limestone stacks of Twelve Apostles against raging ocean is a top tourism spot in Victoria.

This is the most surreal experience one can ever imagine. Getting up close and personal with penguins on Philip Island is akin to Hernando Cortez on a peak in Darien glancing in wonder at the Pacific Ocean. There is nothing quite like this by way of a natural treat than to see the little creatures come to the beach every evening. A hush descends on the viewing galleries as the first scout emerges. He waddles on for a bit and then goes back to the edge of the water, not certain the sun has quite gone down. There seems to be a team meeting on the edge of the water and then suddenly they start coming on to the sand like partygoers determined to have a good time.

The sight of a couple of thousand of these little “men” and “women” waddling through on a cold night seeking the sanctum of the beach for the night is quite out of the world. They seem well aware that human beings in this large, open and inviting land would not harm them. Remember they are the smallest of 17 penguin species and a whole colony of them waddling in the fading twilight makes an unforgettably natural scene no film maker could duplicate even with the best of Computer Graphics.

You can’t be closer to nature than on Philip Island after a thrilling RoRo journey across from the Mornington Peninsula with dolphins playing around at the ferry’s bow. A word of warning though - It can get uncomfortably cold on the island that is open to the Antarctic Ocean and every possible covering is recommended. The cold has a tendency to creep in as you sit on the edge of the beachfront boardwalk and wait for the sun to go down so that these incredibly gorgeous flightless birds could teach us a thing or two about living in a colony.

The sense of peace is transcendentally calming as they “huk huk” and waddle on into nooks and crannies to find themselves a comfortable lie-in for the night. And they walk inches from you below the boardwalk laid out in a nice pattern that blends with the terrain. What was even more touching was the concern the penguin watchers had for their conversation as well as comfort. Not too many took out their cameras to sneak in a shot. Photography is strictly prohibited during the Penguin Parade and whoever tried to defy the ban was told off by the watchful Rangers.

The Rangers are so knowledgeable on the subject it’s fascinating to listen to them as they project the conservation effort while pointing out to sets of penguins nestling in their nests in the dark corners along the popular pathway. They count the penguins coming to shore every evening and put it up on the notice board at the visitor centre. The evening we were in at the Penguin Plus viewing platform, 2,214 penguins had come ashore in a stirring parade that warmed the heart even as the night was getting bitterly cold, that too in the spring in November.

Twelve Apostles

Nature is never far away, not in Australia where the great outdoors takes on a different meaning of space and time. Driving on the Great Ocean Road is an experience not to be missed much as doing the short helicopter hop to view the Twelve Apostles, which are basically a set of limestone stacks off the cliffs on the shore of the Port Campbell National Park. The helicopter ride is smooth as silk and we had a lady pilot who seemed so confident and secure as she whisked us off to the ride of a lifetime.

Wonder why then would the Chinese President Xi Jinping never take a ride on a chopper as it’s officially forbidden. But this seems so safe as the whirligig took us to the Loch and Gorge, The Arch, London Bridge and then the twelve Apostles (Although only seven are left standing after an eighth one collapsed in 2005). The power of the Southern Ocean is brought home even as we incessantly videograph the ride or click away on the mobile phone through the Perspex windows.

This handiwork of Nature as it chipped away at the limestone over centuries has been masterfully promoted as a great tourist attraction of Victoria.  Seeing the coast even closer from the pathways gives you a raw and real feeling of the power of the ocean as the waves crash into the Apostles. And our tour coordinator, the loquacious and indefatigable Anthony Poletto reels off stories about shipwrecks on this coast as waves of sailing ships came with people joining the great Victorian Gold Rush.

The story of survival of a sailor who rescued a co-passenger, who was a high society lady, through the rugged coast and cliffs was to be one of unrequited love, but its telling was the highlight as we walked miles to take a closer look at the ocean and the caves and cliffs. The walk may not have matched the majestic sweep of a panoramic view as the helicopter curved along flying low on the spectacularly scenic route. Visit Victoria had really laid it for us in giving us an extensive experience of the delights of a Stat, which was once the richest on the planet at the time of the great gold rush.

(R. Mohan is the Resident Editor of the Chennai and Tamil Nadu editions of Deccan Chronicle. His trip to Melbourne was arranged by Visit Victoria and Scoot Airlines)

Tags: pacific ocean, computer graphics