Sunday, 5 February 2012

Pages from the Book of Time


"Sleep by the ocean, letting yourself unfurl." - John O'Donohue




Before the descent to Ketchem Bay, SW Tasmania 

The roar of waves on the shores of Hidden Bay is our accompaniment all night; that and the intermittent shoosh of showers on the tent.


When the showers continue through till a late breakfast, we’re not too concerned. This is to be our rest day, although that is a relative term when you’re bushwalking. To us it means not packing up our tent and all our gear; not carrying a full pack; and not bothering too much about our destination. But we do want to go exploring.

We leave Hidden Bay late in the morning with light packs and varying degrees of spring in our steps. Fifteen years before I had walked the track from here to Ketchem Bay, and I recalled a series of steep ascents and equally steep descents. Both ups and downs were prone to dispiritingly deep and difficult erosion gullies.

Today’s track, by contrast, is a testament to modern trackwork. Instead of making a contour defying bee-line between bays, the re-routed track now takes a long, gently undulating detour along the contours, arcing inland like a spinnaker tethered between the bays.




A quartzite gravel track high above the southern coast 

High above the sea we crunch along the narrow quartz gravel track. Here and there crags of quarzite stand beside our path, miss-shapen in a Dali-esque manner. With the exception of South West Cape itself, most of this part of the south-west is fashioned out of quartzite. This ancient rock, some of the oldest in Tasmania, began life as sediments (sand and silica-rich silt). After hardening into sedimentary rocks – probably more than 700 million years ago – they were subsequently heated and tilted and buckled over many millions of years, eventually forming the tough and resistant rock we wander through for most of our walk.




Deeply folded quartzite, SW Tasmania 

At one point I pause to examine one of these outcrops. Layers of once-horizontal sediment now stand almost vertical, each layer separated out like the pages of a book. It is like gazing back into the book of time itself, though it is a book which poses more questions than it answers.


Layered quartzite: pages from the book of time 

I wonder, for instance, what kind of world wore away to form these base layers. Back then there were no plants and no animals on earth, only rudimentary life forms like fungi and algae. There was no Tasmania, no Australia, indeed no recognisable continents at all. And we can only conjecture about the weather systems that wore away at the mysterious geography of the day. If the historical past is a foreign country, the geological past is an alien planet.


But our gaze is not only backward. The views towards the Maatsuyker and De Witt group of islands, through a moist, sometimes showery haze, are equally compelling. And when our high meandering path reveals the magical – and more intimate – views over Ketchem Bay, we struggle to find superlatives.

We make the steep descent to the bay, our exploration of which somehow brings me forward to the time of pirates. It’s the kind of nooked and closeted place that we can imagine holding buried treasure. Near our lunch spot we find two sea-eroded caves, while behind the campsite is a tanin-tinted creek and waterfall with an ink-dark plunge pool. 


 The ink-dark pool near Ketchem Bay
But just as my imagination – and manner of speech – are trending piratical, rain showers threaten again. While Tim and Liz are all for going on to the next high point, the rest of us head back towards the tented safety of Hidden Bay. After all, it is a rest day!
Post a Comment