Sunday 22 January 2012

A Choir of Waves

South West Cape Walk, Part 2

Tim takes in the wild south-west coast at New Harbour 

They say 24 hours is a long time in politics. Which just proves how little bushwalking has in common with “the art of the possible” (as von Bismarck defined politics).

For us 4 hours – the time it took to trudge, wade, grumble, leap and muddle our way from Melaleuca to New Harbour – felt an eternity. With our packs at their heaviest; our feet at their tenderest; the weather at its most recalcitrant; and the daylight waning, it felt like bushwalking had become the art of the impossible.

I’d been trying to play the optimist card all day, reminding the group how beautiful the destination would be. Would there be mud, they’d asked early on? I’d pleaded that it was about 15 years since my last visit here. But yes, I did have memories of “a bit of mud” towards the end of the day’s walk.

As we hit the worst of that “bit of mud”, the promised hail came. Jim was almost gleeful, in an Eeyore kind of way. The rest of us pulled our rainhoods tighter and trudged on.

Memory is a fickle beast. Both precious and daunting memories are subject to the attrition of time. One particular fragment of memory chose to reactivate just as we started to hear the roaring of waves on the shore; just as we’d begun to grin at the nearness of our camp. I confided to Lynne my recollection that there was a scrub band guarding the beach.

“What’s that?” she asked innocently, trying hard to keep both energy and optimism intact. I explained that my vague memory of it was that we had to push through some “jungle” before we’d get to the beach. “And then it’s still a kilometre or so along the beach to our campsite.” I’m not sure I heard Lynne’s response but, bless her, she kept going. And so did everyone else.

At about 7pm we broke through the “jungle” – which actually wasn’t that bad – and stepped out onto New Harbour beach. We were greeted by a bedraggled and grizzled looking group of walkers who had occupied the easterly campsite. “It was more sheltered from the wind here” they told us “although there’s lots more room at the next campsite.” I would have taken this as a territorial hint had I not recalled that the next campsite was far superior to this one.

Lynne arriving at New Harbour as day fades 

We left the group to their dinner, and immediately had to work out how to cross the fast-flowing freshwater lagoon. Both Jim and I still had dry socks: something of a badge on a walk like this. We walked as far seaward as possible, and found the shallowest crossing point. The wet-socked ones were less worried, and soon we were all over and lumbering up the long beach towards home.

And what a home it would prove to be. New Harbour is a vast, wide bay held in the embrace of long, south-trending rocky headlands, all set about with hills variously wooded or buttongrassed. This evening, as must often be the case, wet and fresh winds were conversing loudly with long sets of waves, while oystercatchers, gulls and plovers strutted, flew and trotted along the strand.

Amid all this wildness it was oddly comforting to find a set of wooden steps leading from the beach to our campsite. There, sheltered under a dense stand of native laurel trees, we found plenty of fine tent-sites. We used the last of the day’s energy and light to set up tents and get dinner cooking.

Camping beneath native laurels at New Harbour 

And after that? How blissful was it to be horizontal, dry and warm inside a tent, and to be sung to sleep by a loud choir of waves? Worth the pain is my answer.

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