Bushrangers Bay sits in the area known as Cape Schanck on the southern tip of the Mornington Peninsula. A 5.2km return walk from the Cape Schanck car-park to Bushrangers Bay offers some of the most spectacular coastal scenery that you’ll find in Victoria. I managed a sunny, child-free day in winter to indulge my appetite for rugged and wild places, and set foot on the trail to this untamed coastal paradise where I discovered more than just sand and water… The walk is well sign-posted. It begins at the eastern end of the car-park with the Parks Victoria sign easily visible from the road edge. I can’t believe how lucky I am with the weather, with a sunny 17 degrees forecast for a winter’s day in southern Victoria. I set of full of energy and anticipation, and am pleased to see the car-park is fairly quiet. That’s the bonus of getting up a bit earlier, and of living local! I step lightly through the Moonah Woodland. The twisted Black Tea-Tree mingles with the Coast Tea-Tree, creating beautiful curvaceous lines that stretch and curve with sculptural fluidity. It’s a story-book landscape that has me thinking that something quite elfish might appear fleetingly between shadows and light. I’m almost disappointed when mythical creatures fail to appear, such is my conviction that I’m walking through a Tolkien landscape. I allow my imagination to fill the void instead. The eastern lookout reveals the first glimpse of the cliffs. Below, I can hear the sound of the waves as they crash onto the rocks that line the edge of the cliff-face, and the smell of salt-water is carried on the gentle breeze of the morning. There is that unmistakable scent of wild and untamed forces riding in on the whitened crest of the waves, full of energy and power, and ready to be unleashed when least expected. I quicken my pace as I leave the lookout. The vegetation around me is interesting enough, but I am bewitched by the smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves calling me forward. I race up the steps, two at time and begin to walk faster. There are small clearings here and there on the track verge. Not official lookouts, but clearly used by walkers to get a view down below from a different perspective. Warning signs have been put in place to reinforce the danger of getting too close to the edge. These basalt cliffs are steep, and easily eroded by the waters of Bass Strait below, making them extremely fragile, especially to unsuspecting visitors. None the less, I do not surprise myself at all my going as close to the edge as I possibly can. What’s with that? As I head further eastward, the views become more extensive. Pulpit Rock is now easily visible, as are the layers of basalt rock in the cliffs, formed thousands of years apart by separate flows of lava that varied in thickness. In 1802, Mathew Flinders described Cape Schanck as follows;
“a cliffy head with three rocks lying off, the outer most of which, Pulpit Rock, appears at a distance like a ship under sail.”
As I walk just a bit further around I can make out the lighthouse in the distance, to the right, as it peaks just above the line of vegetation. And looking further toward the east, Elephant Rock can be seen, but Bushrangers Bay is still tucked around the corner. The Tea-Tree scrub converges around me as my hurried footsteps propel me forward. The wind has shaped them into a strange, wild arbour that makes me feel like I’ve stepped into some weird vortex. The ground beneath sculptured into a concave dish that mirrors the convex roof line of tree branches overhead. I get the feeling of Alice in Wonderland as I have to stoop my head to emerge from the other end. I spy Elephant Rock again through a gap in the tree branches, looming a lot closer! To my left is farmland. It seems most out of place so close to this rugged and rocky landscape that plunges down to Bass Strait just a few hundred metres away on my right. I envy the cows, with their lush green pastures and breathtaking views…
Once I pass Burrabong Creek, I know I am almost there. As I begin the 160 metre descent to Bushrangers Bay, I photograph the following sign. In my last blog post I grumbled about people bring their dogs into National and State Parks, so I was very pleased to see this uncharacteristically bright Parks Victoria sign. The 160 metre descent is completed. I have arrived face to face with another warning sign, the brightness of its colour rivalling the previous one, tenfold. I make a mental note of the warning and head off to explore. I am stunned. The place is magnificent. Strong, powerful and full of untamed beauty, it is a place possessing extremes of temperament. On a calm sunny morning, it appears friendly and enchanting, and I get the feeling I could linger here for ages discovering shells among the rocky alcoves, and making sculptures with the rocks. I could while away the hours until they slipped by almost unnoticed. But I have been here before. I have seen this place under a barrage of strong, relentless winds that force huge waves to smash onto the sand, hurling seaweed and debris in piles on the shoreline. I know what it is capable of, and I remain on guard despite the calm appearance of the water at the moment. I walk around the bay to my right, keeping high up on the rocks and savour my solitude alone on the beach. When I can go no further I turn back and head further east. Huge drifts of seaweed lie in piles on the shore-line, like miniature-mountains spewing forth ribbons of coloured fettuccini.
I am standing close to the water photographing the seaweed when a roaring sound, like a train gathering momentum, cuts through my concentration. I look out toward Bass Strait in time to see a huge swell building, and make a run for it just in time. Within minutes a rogue wave has crashed onto the shore with amazing intensity, and gushes up on the sand several metres further in from where the previous waves were lapping the shore-line. It is now that I begin to understand the dangers of the surf, and I vow to remain ever more vigilant. The cliff faces are near vertical and taper only slightly as they touch the waters’ edge. Shallow rock pools converge in circular patterns that spread out before me like a lunar landscape. The cliff walls of the shore-line jut out with ragged edges that contrast strongly with the smoother contours of Elephant Rock. I wander the pockets of sandy shores between the cliffs and discover a world of sea-sponges and alien-looking seaweed ‘antlers’.
After devouring all the food I have in my backpack I decide it’s time to leave. As I jump over Main Creek to get back to the path, I follow a set of Kangaroo paw prints etched clearly in the sand. The tracks disappear over the dunes and into the distance. I follow them only a short way, and discover an Aboriginal midden in the sculptured contours of the sand. I turn and look out towards Bass Strait and Pulpit Rock. With the Aboriginal midden in the foreground, I stand in quiet reflection as I ponder the lifestyle of the original people of this land. This would once have been a meeting place for the tribes, a place where they gathered food sourced from the land, creek and sea, and shared it amongst themselves in the soft sandy dunes tucked away from the wind. It is quiet here along the creek-line with the sand-grass and vegetation absorbing the sound of the surf, and in the stillness the presence of these tribal people is almost tangible, as though it lingers in the air like an invisible mist. For reasons I don’t quite understand I am drawn to this spot and stay awhile lost in silent contemplation. Something begins to awaken within, but I cant put my finger on what it is. I can picture myself standing next to the men and women and watching as they cooked their food by the fire with the sound of the distant surf pounding the shore-line and the Kangaroos and Wallabies coming down to the creek to drink. I begin to feel the strength of these people who possessed such a powerful identity, and who lived such a simple and dignified life that was rich in meaning and tradition. And I realise how much we have lost, by all that we have ‘gained‘ since those days of living as one with the land and understanding the value of life in a primal state of existence. Days later while walking my usual track through the bush I suddenly begin to understand a little more about what my experience at the midden has revealed to me. It’s as though the water on the surface of the pond has stilled enough for me to see the rocks below. I grasp the realisation that on some level I seek to connect with life on a more primal level. That it is only by releasing myself from the modern world and submitting myself to the natural world, will I be able to understand who I am, where I came from and what my place is in this world. This fragment of understanding goes only part-way towards answering the question that I take along with me every time I go in search of the wild;
“Why am I so drawn to wild places?”
But I know that each time I slip away from the every-day and into some form of wilderness, answers will come to me that will help to define the person within. For as John Muir so famously said,
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out until sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
Where: Bushrangers Bay, Mornington Peninsula National Park. Start from Cape Schanck car-park. Distance: 5.2 km return walk. Time: Allow a minimum of 2 hours, but definitely longer to linger!