water

Five Spectacular Waterfalls Near Melbourne

There’s nothing quite like a waterfall: an awe-inspiring show of nature’s strength and beauty. Although we in Victoria don’t have anything akin to the massive Niagara or (ironically) Victoria Falls, you still don’t have to venture too far outside Melbourne to hear that roar of water cascading down a cliff. Whether you’re after a quick pit stop, a leisurely stroll or an epic day trip – here are some of the best falls in easy reach for Melbournians.

Erskine Falls – Lorne (2hr 15min from CBD)

The namesake of the famous Falls Music Festival, these falls are out the back of Lorne nestled amongst the Otway’s mountain ash rainforest. The lookout for the falls is just a short five minute walk from the car park, but if you’re after a bit of a hike, head along the track to the base of the falls. It gets a bit steep and wet in places, but is well worth the effort. Erskine Falls are surrounded by a beautiful fern gully, and are a favourite stop for those exploring the Great Ocean Road.

Erskine Falls, Lorne. Photo: Tim Brown

Erskine Falls, Lorne. Photo: Tim Brown

Mason Falls – Kinglake West (1hr 20min from CBD)

A must-see for all those exploring Kinglake National Park, Mason Falls are surrounded by towering forest that is bursting with regrowth after the Black Saturday bushfires. The lookout is an easy walk from the picnic area and car park (which is well equipped with toilets and BBQs). If you want to spend a bit of time exploring, head down some of the other surrounding tracks. Keep an eye (and an ear) out for lyrebirds; there are plenty of males around here trying to attract a mate with their famous mimicked calls!

Mason Falls, Kinglake West. Photo - Ella Kelly

Mason Falls, Kinglake West. Photo - Ella Kelly

MacKenzie Falls – Grampians (3hrs 40min from CBD)

The Grampians National Park has no shortage of spectacular views, but MacKenzie Falls is up there in one of the best spots! It’s an easy 40-minute walk (paved and wheelchair accessible) to the Bluff Lookout, where you can admire the falls from high above the gorge. Alternatively, you can take the longer path down to the base of the falls, which passes by Broken Falls lookout. This will take a bit longer (an hour and 20 minutes), and the path beyond the lookout is steep and can be slippery, but it will be all worth it when you reach that special spot at the end.   

Mackenzie Falls, Grampians National Park. Photo: Skare Media. 

Mackenzie Falls, Grampians National Park. Photo: Skare Media. 

Trentham Falls – Trentham (1hr 10min from CBD)

Located on the outskirts of Trentham, Trentham Falls is the longest single drop waterfall in Victoria. It’s an easy stroll from the carpark to admire the falls from the lookout, a perfect stop on the way home from lunch in nearby Daylesford or Castlemaine. The public used to be able to access the base of the falls, a large pool, but it’s recently been cut off for safety reasons.

Trentham Falls, Trentham. Photo: Mattinbg

Trentham Falls, Trentham. Photo: Mattinbg

Steavenson Falls – Marysville (1hr 50min from CBD)

With a drop of 84 metres, Steavenson Falls is another awe-inspiring site, located a short drive from the township of Marysville. You can drive to the car park, then follow the short path to the lookout at the base of the falls. But if you’re interested in a bit of a longer walk, take the Tree Fern Gully Trail that leads from Marysville to the falls. This easy walk will take you up to an hour and a half each way, through the scenic ferny mountain ash forest, finishing at the falls.

Steavenson Falls, Marysville. Photo: John Sharp.

Steavenson Falls, Marysville. Photo: John Sharp.

Cover image by Skare Media. 


Ella Kelly

Ella is a PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne, where she spends a lot of time thinking about why some quolls don’t eat cane toads (if only she could ask them!). She also enjoys talking and writing about science, and would ultimately love to have an actual impact on the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity.

You can find her on Twitter at @ecology_ella.

Monotremes in Suburban Streams: Surveying Melbourne's Platypus Population

Weaving and winding through city suburbs flow the many streams and creeks that make up Melbourne’s water catchment. These waterways extend from the mountain ranges surrounding the city where they carry away excess rainfall, guiding flows seaward into Port Phillip Bay. A multitude of life forms make use of this drainage system, although one in particular seems to capture our attention: an exceptionally peculiar creature renowned for its egg-laying abilities, venomous spurs, duck-like bill and webbed feet - the iconic platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus).


One of the many picturesque streams found around Melbourne which are home to Platypuses.

One of the many picturesque streams found around Melbourne which are home to Platypuses.

Despite its well-known identity and presence within metropolitan streams, the majority of Melburnians are unlikely to have seen a wild platypus due to their predominantly nocturnal behaviour and shy nature. For those who have been fortunate enough to sight the elusive creature, it surely proves for a memorable and enlightening experience. This was certainly the case for me whilst recently assisting environmental consultant and wildlife ecologist Josh Griffiths with platypus population surveys in Melbourne’s north-western suburbs.

Platypus surveys are undertaken twice yearly around Melbourne in order to assess population health and determine long-term population trends. The surveys involve setting specially designed traps at fixed locations within Melbourne waterways in the hope of catching platypuses which may inhabit an area. Once a platypus has been caught, various data is collected on the sex, weight, age and health of the individual, with each platypus also being equipped with a unique microchip (the latter being used to identify previously caught individuals in subsequent surveys).

Setting one of the many specially designed Platypus traps used during the population surveys. As can be seen in the photo one trap opens upstream whilst the other opens downstream.

Setting one of the many specially designed Platypus traps used during the population surveys. As can be seen in the photo one trap opens upstream whilst the other opens downstream.

During the volunteer placement, a male individual was caught, which allowed for a close inspection of the formidable venomous spurs that adorn the rear ankles of male platypuses. These impressive spurs, of approximately 1.5 centimetres length, are used against other males during territorial disputes throughout breeding season. In some instances, humans have been envenomated by these spurs, causing prolonged, excruciating pain. However, as Josh explains, given that a platypus is handled competently and correctly (by its tail), the spurs pose little danger to the handler. Nevertheless, as the surveys were undertaken outside of the platypus breeding season, all animals caught were relatively docile and cooperative, lying quietly in white cotton bags whilst the relevant data was collected.

The spur of a male Platypus. The pinkish sheath at the base of the spur denotes that this individual is a juvenile animal.

The spur of a male Platypus. The pinkish sheath at the base of the spur denotes that this individual is a juvenile animal.

A total of three platypuses were caught during the survey - a good result, Josh informed me, indicating that platypus numbers may be finally stabilising after a long, drought-induced decline. Drought led to reduced flows and pooling of many of Melbourne’s waterways, resulting in a drop in overall platypus abundance as individuals generally chose not to breed in the poor conditions or were unsuccessful in doing so. Josh also emphasised that the clearing of riparian vegetation hinders platypus procreation, as the burrows in which the animals rear their young require stable soils held together by tree roots. Nonetheless, such results were encouraging, indicating that the local platypus population and waterways were in good health.

All Platypuses remained relatively calm throughout the handling process. Here an individual’s bill protrudes thorough an intentionally made opening in a cotton holding bag.

All Platypuses remained relatively calm throughout the handling process. Here an individual’s bill protrudes thorough an intentionally made opening in a cotton holding bag.

An unfortunate Platypus who has become entangled in human litter—in this case a rubber wristband. The band was later successfully removed. Photo credit: Josh Griffiths.

An unfortunate Platypus who has become entangled in human litter—in this case a rubber wristband. The band was later successfully removed. Photo credit: Josh Griffiths.

To work with the enigmatic platypus has undoubtedly been an incredible experience. Such research is paramount to conserving this charismatic creature for future generations and to ensure the ecological health and functioning of our waterways. To assist in conserving this unique species, be sure to collect any artificial litter that may end up being flushed into our waterways. Disturbingly, Josh has informed me that of all platypuses caught during the 2013/2014 surveys, 10% were entangled in some form of litter, ranging from wrist bands and hair ties to balloon strings and elastic bands. To aid Melbourne Water and cesar (Melbourne Water’s research partner) in understanding and protecting platypus populations within Melbourne, submit any sightings of the species to the specifically created PlatypusSPOT online database at http://platypusspot.org/.

A Platypus re-enters a creek after being processed, within a second it is fully submerged and very difficult to see as it glides swiftly through the water.

A Platypus re-enters a creek after being processed, within a second it is fully submerged and very difficult to see as it glides swiftly through the water.

The Black Swan of the Family.

Photograph by Christopher McCormack. 

Photograph by Christopher McCormack. 

If you’ve ever been for a stroll around Albert Park Lake, been down to Swan Bay outside of Queenscliff, or visited another of our region’s wetlands, then you might have found yourself staring at one of our country’s oddest waterbirds.

The Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) has turned heads even prior to Australia’s discovery by the British. The Dutch were the first people from the Old World to see the birds when they came ashore in Western Australia, and these birds have since come to adorn the state’s emblem and the logo of the famous Swan Brewery. 

Before Europeans first encountered them, the concept of the Black Swan had always been considered a mythical anomaly. Indeed, philosophers who argued that some truths are obvious and do not need to be proven would often support their contention with the notion that all swans are white. The discovery of a whole new species of black swans threw a spanner in the works, and would come to support those who argued that all truths require evidence.

But while Europeans were astonished, the Black Swan had long been a familiar sight to Australia’s Aborigines – they of course made for good eating.

I don’t know how swans taste, but I do know that they are far from “sitting ducks” and, if unable to fly away on their large wings, will defend themselves with an unexpected ferocity. Their long serpentine necks are incredibly manoeuvrable and allow them to reach vegetation underwater, but also to strike out and rear up at potential threats. They hiss in a highly reptilian manner, and while their bills are relatively soft, some of the bones in their powerful wings are rock-hard and capable of inflicting considerable damage – word is that they can break bone!

Of course, while capable of defending themselves, Black Swans are usually placid birds. If you take a walk around Albert Park Lake (keep your dog on its leash!), you may find the occasional demanding individual who desires bread. However, you needn't fear them - although you should respect them.

Around this time of year the swans are breeding. They can have up to six eggs and are often very devoted parents. Pairs reaffirm their bonds and celebrate territorial victories by calling to one another, bowing their heads, and lifting their bills to the sky in a display known as a triumph. Males are typically larger than females, although overall the species shows little difference between the sexes.

 

Photograph by Christopher McCormack.

Photograph by Christopher McCormack.

Here are some fun facts about these strange birds:

 

- The Black Swan is one of the smallest swan species in the world, although it has the longest neck proportional to its body size.

- About 1 in 6 Black Swan cygnets are fathered by a swan not paired with its mother.

- The white band across a Black Swan’s bill is used in social signalling, such as a marker for dominance.