Sunday 31 May 2015

Freycinet Experiences 4: Egotourists

A favourite cartoon of mine has a man in a pith helmet arriving for a bush holiday. Its heading says “Egotourism”, and the helmeted man is commanding those around him: “Tell the wildlife I have arrived!

This comes to mind on the final morning of our Freycinet Experience Walk, and not for the first time on the trip. We’re gathered on the beach in front of the lodge for some pre-breakfast stretching exercises. As we finish, no-one is in a hurry to leave. Breakfast can wait as we sit and stare out at the low sun over the ocean. Birds fly over; the waves whisper; the sun scintillates off waters that match the blue sky and raise it a notch or two.

[A pair of pied oystercatchers at the Friendly Beaches] 
I shade my eyes, straining to see what’s happening beyond the waves. As if on cue a pod of dolphins surfaces. I’ve left my camera behind, so I simply take in those moments. We all watch, mesmerised, for several minutes. Yesterday we’d looked through the translucent waves and had seen schools of small fish through the water window. Perhaps these schools were drawing the dolphins.

If I were inclined to be an egotourist – and I see tick-lists of species as one form of that – I would have stoked my ego on this trip. I could have counted off dozens of bird species; multiple mammals of both land and sea; raptors and albatrosses that vie for the largest wing span; and fish swimming and jumping – some of them onto our plates!

But today as we pack up and leave, it’s my own species that I will miss the most. Meeting as a group of strangers, we have become friends. We’ve shared jokes and conversations; walks and wordless wonders; wildlife and weather, and those seemingly endless beaches. And, despite plenty of exercise, we’ve also shared a girth increase thanks to some amazing food!

[A group shot on the final morning at the lodge] 
For once breakfast is perfunctory; ‘though we’re promised a sizeable brunch before we have to leave to meet the bus. But first we have to pack our bags and head off to explore the bush property that belongs to the lodge. It’s all but surrounded by national park, nestled beneath hills that are somehow named mountains.

We climb up the ridge that leads towards Mt Peter, but today isn’t a day for mountains, however small. Instead we pause to hear about the property’s history, then share a little more of our own with our walking companions, before we’re on our way downhill towards Saltwater Lagoon.

[Another walk along the Friendly Beaches] 
And yes, yet more birds are there waiting for us, including some shy pelicans. If birds had egos, Australian pelicans could boast they were the equal of albatrosses when it came to wingspan. And they’d surely use their enormous bill as a trump card. But thankfully the birds aren’t concerned with such nonsense, and they quietly go about their business.

From the lagoon we walk back up the beach, sans shoes, chatting; splashing; taking in the incomparable peace that is the Friendlies in fair weather. From time to time we cast our eyes seaward on the off-chance of seeing more dolphins. Indeed why not hope for whales this time!

[Hannah and Daniel talk us through the brunch] 
And then we’re back at the lodge, and it’s time for brunch, whether we need sustenance or not. Hannah and Daniel haven’t let us down with any single course yet, and their hand-made pizzas are as amazing as anything they’ve prepared for us.

We dally over the food, not wanting our time to end. But too soon it’s group photograph time. And then we’re stacking our bags for Gil’s minibus and farewelling Eric, Hannah and Daniel, who will stay back at the lodge. The rest of us have one more long, lingering stroll up the Friendly Beaches to Isaacs Point.

[Gil and Jodi share a joke - probably at Eric's expense!] 
There Gil meets us and we’re soon driving out of the Friendlies and back to our various “other” lives. After an experience like this, I hesitate to say it’s “back to reality”. The profound reality of this place will carry on perfectly well without us. We could see that as a threat to our egos. Or we could accept the grace and generosity of the wild, and carry some of its reality with us.

[I walked the Freycinet Peninsula as a guest of Freycinet Experience Walk]

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