Last week, I embarked on my first solo 3-day hike to Wilsons Promontory. I completed a circuit, starting and ending at Telegraph Saddle, via Sealers Cove, Refuge Cove and Little Waterloo Bay. Below is my recount of day one, with the next two instalments to follow! Please excuse the photo quality, as I only took my light-weight compact camera, AND had it on the wrong image quality setting!
DAY ONE: The Unexpected Can Happen.
I was not sure what time I arrived at Sealers Cove, but it was sometime late in the afternoon, when the tide was heading lazily back out into Bass Strait. I removed my boots and socks, and waded through the rusty-brown water of the tidal inlet, relieved to find that it was only knee-deep. The water was deliciously cool, and the sand beneath my feet felt soft and velvety.
I scampered up the opposite embankment, walking barefoot through the forest, feeling the firmness of the earth, cool and compact against the soles of my feet. Sandy campsites lay scattered among the Bracken Fern and Messmate, each one worn smooth and level by the pitching of tents and the patter of boots from the thousands of hikers that had come here before me.
I set up camp behind the Rangers hut, deserted, and made good use of the deck by emptying the 18 kilos of stuff from my pack onto the worn timber boards. Hungry from the walk into the Cove, I devoured some salted peanuts, followed by biscuits and cheese then put all the excess back into snap-lock bags, and into a plastic container. Satisfied for now, I left it all there, assuming it was safe, and set off to explore.
I scrambled down a narrow track, onto the sand, and waded through the shallow water, following the broad arc of the shoreline from south to north. I was headed for the far side of the cove, lured by its wildness, and the dark, mineral-green colour of the water I could see lapping at the base of the rocks.
Occasionally, I left the water and headed up into the soft, dry sand. As I walked, the soles of my feet skimmed across the sand, making a strange squeaking sound. Beachside graveyards appeared, scattered in the high-tide line. I picked up a collection of Gull bones, bleached white by the sun; some dull and chalky, while others were as smooth and shiny as plastic. When I played with them in my hands, they sounded like the rattle of chopsticks in a game of ‘pick-up-sticks’.
In front of me, blankets of shadow were draped across the mountain in horizontal bands, and patches of granite-rock appeared through the greenery like giant pock marks. I looked straight ahead at the mountain as I walked, and even though I advanced, it seemed as though I gained no distance.
I followed a tracery of bird prints across the virgin sand, and to the east, the never-ending expanse of vacant sea rose and fell gently, as though it lay sleeping in the quietness of the evening. As I looked back to the southern end of the cove, I realised that I was the only one standing on the shore; bathed in the golden glow of a nearly setting sun.
I reached the end of the cove, where moist air seeped out from the trees, and huge granite boulders fringed the waters’ edge. A partially constructed raft lay on the sand, like a prop from “Cast Away”, and all around me, the silence fell in soft layers that seemed to stretch back to the dawn of time. I stayed there awhile, sitting in the warm sand, watching the surface of the glassy water reach the shore, before peeling back like a shiny skin to merge once again with the dark-green depths.
Eventually, I left, and returned to my camp in time to see a wallaby quite close to my pack. As I neared, he took off, taking giant bounds through the Bracken, tail stiff, and held high. When I approached the table where I had left my food, I saw snap-lock bags, empty, littering the ground. As I stood there, quite stunned, I saw part of my block of cheese on the ground, a few metres away. As I strode over to retrieve it, a black raven launched off a nearby tree branch, locked eyes with mine, swooped, and collected the cheese.
I surveyed the damage; my food container was empty, meaning that about half my food was gone. I now had no lunches, no cheese, no snacks, and two days to go. Feeling a slight sense of panic, I set up the stove, making dinner in the fading light, with the sound of the surf rolling rhythmically in the distance.
Later, I made my way down to beach, the moonlight tinting the sand a ghost-white, and in the distance, the mountains crept in, dark and solid, their jagged outlines etched sharply against a smoked-purple sky. Stars twinkled above, tiny pinpricks of light sprinkled across the darkness like a shower of fine spray. I saw myself standing there, in a vast open space almost too difficult to comprehend, feeling humbled, and just as small as a star.
Night had descended in the forest, the sky, an inky-black, peeked through the tree canopy above, and small bats took flight just metres above my head. As I crawled into my tent and snuggled into my sleeping bag, I heard a Southern Boobook Owl calling deep into the darkness. The sea rose and fell in deep breaths, each exhalation equalling the gentle slap of water as it lapped against the shore. I closed my eyes and let the waves carry me, each one taking me further out to sea until I was cast adrift, floating on an endless ocean of sleep.