Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Coast Walk

This Anzac day, Mel, her mate Jo, her cousin Jo and I packed our hiking gear and headed to do the Coast Walk. It runs from Otley to Bundeena (or the other way) through the Royal National Park following the spectacular coast line. We caught the train to Otley, chatted with some diggers on the way (one mocked our overpacking for one night...thinking about it now it must seem absurd, when you compare what they must have carried for wartime survival), and finally alighted ready to get walkin'. The hill out of the station was bloody awful, and it started spitting when we got to the top of it, but after wet weather gear and the official start of the walk were found, we were on our way!

The Coast Walk is 23 odd kilometres, usually done over two days. The first day we were walking 9k to the camping ground at North Era beach. We got off to a good start - the sun was shining, the leaves were glistening on the bush floor from the recent rain and every few metres you'd catch a sparkling glimpse of the spectacular pacific ocean through the trees. We stopped for lunch at a rocky outlook that had a view back down the coast towards the Gong. It was very blustery but gorgeous. A sea eagle flew overhead while we were eating - it was huge, even at a distance.

After lunch the walking conditions deteriorated significantly. We headed into much more rainforesty type bush, and due to the recent rain Sydney has had, the track was completely muddy. Like, up to ankle in mud in some places and of course very slippery. It made the next few hours fairly hard going - trying to concentrate on balance with huge packs and side step trees and fronds at the same time while trying our best not to fall over. A pity really because it was lovely lush scenery that was kinda wasted on me! We finally got out into the open - flat scrubby land with small grasses and shrubs in the foreground, but with the hills and the ocean all around. My absolute favourite type of scenery. At this point, the path changed almost to a trench, and it too was very muddy and slippery - there was evidence that other walkers had gone on slippery slides before us! During this section of the walk we heard an 'uh oh' from Mel - one of the soles of her hiking boots had started detaching. The uh-oh turning a little more serious when the whole thing decided to fall off. About fifteen minutes of very slippery and difficult walking later (for sole-less Mel at least!) the other bloody sole decided to make a break for it as well, leaving Mel with no grip and not much chance of walking in the awful muddy conditions! I must say she took it like a total champ, lots of giggles and not a second of crankiness! Of all the things to could never predict the soles would decide to go AWOL!

Luckily we weren't too far from North Era so we struggled on and made it to the beach to camp for the night. The beach was gorgeous - quite blustery but brilliant blue water and clean sands, amazing rock formations and hardly anyone around. There was also a midden site used by the Dharawal Aboriginal people, fenced off for protection but still quite visible. The campsite was spacious and although quite marshy we managed to find a great sheltered sport for our camp. Once we got there we pitched tents and set up, and when taking off our shoes I found that - gulp - I had my first leech! Gross! I've been terrified of them for years, but by some miracle never gotten one before. Luckily it had detached itself (obviously had its fill on my delicious blood) so I didn't have to do that; but it was nestled quite happily in my gaiter (you can sort of see it in the picture below, towards the shoe-end of the gaiter). I am afraid to say that I didn't let it live happily ever after, so after that was taken care of I strapped the leg up and we got on with the evening.

We took it easy with some relaxing ports, a delicious beef stew made by Mel and lumberjack sans custard (the trangia tasted too metallic!) for dessert. One never gets a good night sleep camping but I was certainly warm and relaxed when we retired (at really early o'clock, ah camping!).

We didn't rush off the next morning - we would have had to if we were planning on finishing the walk as there was about another 7 hours to walk to Bundeena. But luckily for soleless Mel there was a beach that has road access about a 40 minute walk from North Era. So we set off in idyllic weather - the sun was shining, a light wind blowing and the scenery was absolutely wonderful. The walk that morning was great - an easy coast side track, dry enough for comfort, and lush green hills and sparkling blue water as far as the eye could see. Looking ahead we could see several little beach inlets, golden sand and black rocks, rising up into rich green forest. With the sun shining down I felt a million miles away from anywhere and I couldn't have been more relaxed. We got to Garie Beach in good time and relaxed in the sun until Mel's heroic brother came to rescue us!

Despite The Shoe Incident and The Gross Leech Attack it was a lovely getaway. Even though cut short I felt like we'd been away for ages, and it was just lovely to see the amazing Aussie coast line, which I always forget is so close to home. And the best thing about not finishing is we have a great excuse to get back out and do that final leg! With soles, this time, I think.

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