[A mating pair of Black Swans]
These most elegant of birds are not great walkers, their insubstantial undercarriage and heavy body making them far more suited to their usual aquatic habitat. On land they revert to “ugly ducklings”, waddling a little clumsily, sometimes bumping into or brushing by whatever is in their way. Still, there’s so much to love about these striking black birds, with their gracefully curved necks, candy-red and white beaks, and soft, cow-brown eyes.
Europeans firmly believed swans could only be white, and that these antipodean inversions of the northern hemisphere’s mute swans were “impossible”. This illusion persisted even into the 20th century. Australia’s natural history has a way of messing with such Eurocentric notions.
Later we got to watch as the pair took off and flew a lap of the lake. With their long necks outstretched arrow-like, they flapped their broad wings forcefully, tooting softly to each other. We shared a moment of quiet rapture when they eventually glided in for a superb unison landing.
[Diuris orchids at our campsite]
The only other night noise – aside from a little neighbourly snoring – was a very unconvincing three minutes of “pitter” on our tents. There wasn’t enough rain to deserve the addition of a “patter”. In the morning, we started slowly. Tim D bated us about being keen to pack up and move on. He was not, and neither was anyone else. Two nights in this location was a unanimously welcome decision.
An earlier iteration of our walk plan had us packing up today, and walking on to Dixons Kingdom in the Walls proper. But that plan had been scuppered long ago when we realised the huge car-shuffle it would have involved. While today’s plan didn’t include a pack up, it would take us on some of that route, albeit with day packs. The walk up the Bernes Valley past Lakes Sally, Sonja and Solveig was new to everyone except Jim and me.
[At the northern end of Silver Lake]
We first picked our way up the western shore of Silver Lake, dodging inland through scrubby woodland when the shore was impassable. In less than an hour we’d broken out at the large grassy clearing on the north-western shore of the upper Silver Lake. This was where I’d camped previously, and where we’d originally planned to spend our first night. While its broad, well-sheltered and has plenty of tent sites, we agreed that the campsite we’d settled on had a better outlook, especially in the light winds we were experiencing. Sometimes the wisdom of ad-hoc decisions works out well.
[Merran looks out to Lake Sally]
Our plan from here was to walk to Lake Sally before diverting to the intriguingly named Ah Chees Lake. The story behind it is that some friends of Archibald (Archie) Meston slipped the name past the Nomenclature Board by giving its spelling an Oriental twist. (After his death in 1951, Lake Meston was also named after the Launceston born teacher/historian/anthropologist.) Libby had heard great things about the lake, including that it had some excellent tent sites, and she was keen to see it firsthand. But to see “Archie’s” we'd have to walk up the valley to Lake Sally.
[Easy off-track walking through wildflowers]
[Walking past an enormous cushion plant]
As long as we avoided boggy sections, it was a pleasant untracked wander through a plethora of wildflowers. We were staggered by some very large, old cushionplants; enchanted by some comely reed-filled pools; and occasionally spooked by fast-moving white-lipped snakes. Just before the northern end of Lake Sally we stopped for a drink and some scroggin, and to do some running repairs on blisters that had begun to trouble TimO.
[Tim D helping with TimO's blisters]
Then we left the Pine River and followed a creek west to Ah Chees Lake. We found a handsome, large, forest-fringed lake, the perfect place for a lunch break. Merran decided it was also perfect for a swim. She informed us it wasn’t cold, though the rest of us weren’t sufficiently convinced to join her.
[Merran swimming in Ah Chees Lake]
After lunch we split into two groups. Libby, Merran and Tim D were keen to explore the shores of this lake further, while Jim, TimO and I (the retirees) were happy with what we’d seen of Ah Chees. We’d complete our trek to Sonja and Solveig before returning to camp at Silver Lake. That sounded simple, and initially it was. We soon reeled in Lake Sonja, and Solveig wasn’t much further on.
[TimO and Jim at Lake Solveig]
But then the fun began. We wanted to return on the other side of the Pine River, which meant crossing what was a fast flowing stream. At the southern end of Sonja TimO found a crossing, and went over. But looking at it from a distance, and with the roar of a river making communication difficult, Jim decided it was too sketchy for his shorter legs. I thought it safest to stay with Jim. So we shouted that we’d stay on this side, and keep looking. We added that we should stay in visual contact. That also sounded simple, but the river had other ideas. What looked easy enough on our maps proved much more tricky. TimO had to divert east to avoid the lakeshore, while we had to meander all over the place to avoid river bends, marshes and bushy billabongs.
[Hibbertia carpet near Pine River]
Eventually, well south of Lake Sally, we finally came together again at a point where a crossing looked possible. TimO guided us step-by-step, but doubled the fun by filming our attempts, and adding an hilarious Olympic show-jumping-style commentary. No-one was harmed in the filming of the event, although one walker’s feet may have become damper than the other’s.
The non-retirees, meanwhile, had completed their viewing of Ah Chees, Sonja and Solveig, and were also coming back via the western side of Pine River. In fact as we descended from some unexpected scrub near Silver Lake, we heard a shout and saw them a couple of hundred metres behind us. Not being at all competitive, we retirees called a greeting … and duly doubled our pace. We weren’t going to let those youngsters beat us back to base!
[The waratahs were a welcome distraction while walking]
They didn’t either, but then they had the good excuse of needing to stop and search for Merran’s glasses, which she’d dropped somewhere near the Pine River crossing yesterday. So we were settled on our little campchairs, pretending to look rested and nonchalant, when they came in a few minutes behind us. Happily Merran saw us clearly: she had her glasses back where they belonged.