South Coast Wilderness Walks 2021 Volume 1

This is a series of photoessays on days spent hiking in largely unspoilt National Park and Nature Reserve areas on the South Coast of Western Australia – the places which escaped the bulldozers of the white settlers and are still clothed in the original Australian ecosystems that go all the way back to Gondwana. The South Coast is a biodiversity hotspot and has truly amazing flora and fauna. Walking in these areas teaches us about who we really are – one species among many, in an intricate and complex web of life we destroy at our own peril.

I use the term “wilderness” with caution here. My own definition of that word was always about places that had not been spoilt by humans, where nature was present in fullness and abundance. Australian Aboriginal people call this “country” and before European colonisation, they actively managed these ecosystems for over 30,000 years, in ways that allowed them to live in harmony with nature rather than in battle against it. They say, “If you look after country it looks after you.” Permaculture folk think similarly, working on better ways to grow food in bulldozed places than broadacre monocultures run with agricultural chemicals and fossil fuels.

This series will present walks we have documented in 2021 – but I will start with our Christmas 2020 walk, half an hour from where we live and look after 50 hectares of on-farm nature reserve and 12 hectares of land cleared in the 1950s that we farm according to organic and permaculture principles.

December 25, 2020

BIBBULMUN TRACK – COSY CORNER TO DINGO BEACH

On Christmas Day, we spent the morning slothing about, opening presents and reading. After morning tea we drove down to Cosy Corner and went for a 10km hike along the clifftops, on the Bibbulmun track. The weather was kind to us; it was overcast and a cool 20°C, or we’d not have done this, so late in the day – we usually avoid being out in the middle of the day in summer.

A wonderful way to spend Christmas Day – taking a long walk in the coastal scenery 25 minutes south of us.  The botanical diversity here is so spectacular that when I did go back to Europe once, I was really missing it… and the coast around here is larger than life in many ways; it makes me feel like a tiny ant, in a very good way!  ♥

The steps leading up to the elevated coastal path from Cosy Corner:

Gorgeous woodland (Casuarina grove in this spot!) where the path runs between Torbay Hill and the sea – the hill sheds much water down to here:

This Dasypogon reminded me of Christmas baubles:

The trees grow every which way:

Old fire-scarred tree trunk:

Enormous dunes under coastal heathland:

The elevated track:

Extra-gnarly eucalyptus trees:

Dingo Beach. At the very far end, there’s a little white strip you can see nestled in the headland. This is Dunsky Bay, which has a fabulous little beach where the wave motions are so amplified that when you’re floating in the water just a stone’s throw from the beach, you’re going up and down around 4 metres, like a watery fairground ride …I found this out when I walked there with a colleague who was practising for climbing Kilimanjaro in Africa 15 years ago – she was dragging me all over the place for strenuous walks, which was a good thing!  :)

Migo and Richards Islands, off Cosy Corner, on the way back:

Eucalyptus “nuts” forming:

That’s a little selection of photos; for the full set, click here and then use the LEFT arrow for a slide show.

March 13, 2021

BIBBULMUN TRACK – COSY CORNER TO SHELLEY BEACH

Several months later, after a summer break from long hikes until the weather cooled and the stone fruit was all bottled, we did an extended reprise of the above walk with a small group of people, going on past Dingo Beach and the “Stonehenge” type natural granite formations down to Shelley Beach before retracing our steps.

It happens to be election day in WA, and the conservatives got comprehensively wiped out today, taking only 7 of the total of 59 seats. So this added to the happiness of doing a proper half-day hike across a pristine section of coast; 16km in 4.5 hours including breaks.  It’s the longest hike we’ve done all year so far, and also the longest hike since before we had hayfever really badly for three months at the end of last year.  We’ve been building our fitness levels back up recently, and it was fabulous to be back at the point where we were really motoring on the return walk – throwing ourselves up the dunes and then making long gravity-assisted steps on the downhill stretches.  It’s an amazing feeling when your body is capable of stuff like this again.  Here’s some scenery.

Cosy Corner – our starting point:

Dingo Beach with views to Torbay Head:

Looking back over Dingo Beach towards Forsyth Bluff, with Peak Head across the bay in the far distance (the spiky faraway point across from the island):

Descending into Shelley Beach:

Fun and games on Shelley Beach:

Thanks to Eileen for the pictures for this one!

March 20, 2021

STARLIT BEACH WALKING, COSY CORNER

What do you do when a heatwave makes it impossible to do daytime hiking even though it is autumn?

We’ve got a late heatwave in Western Australia, where it’s impossible to do a hike in the middle of the day, which made me think, “There goes the weekend!” as the cool change wasn’t coming till Monday. So we did useful things around the house and outside (brief stints into the heat, like skin diving when you’re holding your breath, before coming back in to cool off) in-between recreational indoors tasks. A whole list of things was done between us by evening: House cleaned, laundry done, garden watered, all the stock troughs cleaned and filled, the nine honey frames from one super extracted – I was uncapping, Brett was spinning with our little two-frame hand spinner, end result was 20kg of honey but it does always take hours (CDs and iPod type activity). I did the daily supplementary animal feed at dusk and noticed the sky was clear, with a low half-moon; also the heat was finally subsiding for the day, and it gave me an idea…

So after flying my idea over dinner, we drove to our nearest beach for a night walk. Last time we tried to do this we ended up nearly freezing in a cold wind, having come unprepared for an Antarctic blast in mid-summer; also there was a bit of cloud cover. But last night, there was only the gentlest of breezes and it was still 19°C at 9pm. The sky was completely clear and the moon had dropped below the horizon – and this is the Southern hemisphere, 400km from the nearest large city, so what you get on such nights is a black velvet sky with luminous crystal-like stars.

The Southern Cross hung relatively low over the southern horizon and waves rolled in beneath it in the wide bay at Cosy Corner, the surf illuminated by starlight. You’d be amazed how bright moonless nights can get where we are – after starting with the red light on our head torches to get down to the beach, we switched that off and walked as our eyes adjusted. (Red doesn’t interfere as much with the development of night vision – don’t use a white light when you go do this because you don’t have proper night vision for around 20 minutes after removing yourself from that kind of light.)

This is the general view we had…

…except that’s just a diagram; in reality the stars look more like this:

I never used to see it like that in the Northern hemisphere as a kid; too much light pollution in Europe and you need cameras with long exposure to get a look at the smaller points of light there – but not where we are; the clarity is amazing. We were thinking that it’s so sad that since the invention of the Edison bulb, so few Westerners ever see a proper starlit sky – if they’re not confining themselves to the indoors at night as is the cultural norm, and actually make a point of going walking at night, the light pollution from others cuts the view down so much in many places in the Western world.

Night walks are great for other reasons too – during the day, the majority of our brain’s processing is visual. In the dark, other senses kick in far more strongly. I’m guessing most people reading know the difference between listening to music in daylight versus sitting quietly in the dark – now apply that to the outdoors…it’s amazing how much you become aware of what you’re hearing, and of the scents around you, and how your internal GPS activates when you’re walking in the near-dark.

We walk around the tracks of our on-farm bushland at night a lot, and you can really hear the crickets, the various different frog species, the odd chirp from a roosting bird, leaf rustling if there’s a breeze, and the low range of the calls of the hunting microbats – as well as some of their wing flapping when they get close! Also, the smell of Lemon-Scented Gum (a eucalyptus tree) on a still night is an incredible experience – it’s one of our favourite smells in the world, and especially extraordinary when your brain doesn’t have the usual background noise of daytime visual processing going on.

A night beach walk too is a totally different experience to going there by day, even on an overcast night. You become aware in ways we’re not normally aware in everyday Western life. But on a starlit night, the universe is right there, without a curtain of clouds or daytime Rayleigh scatter (which gives us our blue sky). You can see beyond “Earth view” into “here we are in the universe” view – and you go from, “Look at all these amazing things everywhere!” to, “All this stuff around us is really small by comparison, as are we…”

Now add to that a little reflection on the speed of light and that when you look anywhere, you’re always looking into the past – even when you look at your foot, the image is slightly in the past because of the tiny delay from the photons travelling from your foot to your eye. Across the vastness of space this becomes super significant – if you turned off our sun, it would take 8 minutes for us to notice – and the distant stars are many light years away. Sirius, which you can see from both hemispheres, you see where and as it was nearly 9 years ago when you look up at it. The Magellanic Clouds we get in the Southern hemisphere are around 200,000 light years away, so that’s how old the image is that you see of them – and Andromeda, if you see it, you see where and as it was 2.6 million years ago…

Here’s a song by Australian band The Church which conveys some of all that – with a lovely clip on the theme. Enjoy!

PS:  If you do ever stand on the seashore looking at stars, you’re essentially looking at two cradles without which you would not exist:

1. Because all of us are made from what we can romantically call “stardust” – as the heavier chemical elements from which we are composed, such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, iron – were all formed from the nuclear fusion of lighter ones like hydrogen and helium at the cores of suns, in a process called stellar nucleosynthesis – more fun reading about that here; and

2. Because our ancestors crawled out of the sea…

March 25, 2021

BIBBULMUN TRACK – MOUNT HALLOWELL CIRCUIT

Our free weekday coincided with my birthday this year, so we could go bushwalking on the actual day. The birthday person always gets to choose the hike, and I chose Mt Hallowell – again! A 16km circuit going up Mt Hallowell and then down to Monkey Rock, returning on the road – that’s the boring part, so lots of ridiculous word games on that section. But the first three hours through the wilderness are superb and make up for that last hour. It features Karri forest, granite monadnocks and “Stonehenges” plus a cave, and several lookout points along the way with ocean views when you get over the top.

This is the section from the car park to the cave, which takes under an hour to reach.

Karri Tree - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia
Karri Forest - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia
Granite & Trees - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia
Granite & Trees - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia
Forest - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia
Mouth of Cave - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia
Sue in Cave - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia
Forest from Cave - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia

Brett and Jess demonstrating their “mirror neurons”… ?

Brett & Jess - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia

We had an unexpected birthday cake that became hilarious by the time we’d dragged it up the mountain. When we’re in Denmark, we fuel up for the walk at their prize-winning bakery and also take a few items for food breaks on the hike. I was going to get my usual individual strawberry tart for special occasions when I noticed they had a giant strawberry tart for eight people for less than half the normal price – just a few dollars more than the single serve. Talk about fate! Their strawberry tarts are amazing… ?

The slight problem that presented itself was that we didn’t have a sturdy container big enough to put the giant strawberry tart into for carrying it up the mountain, but the nice person from the co-op next door gave us a spare shoebox that fitted. Sadly, the only way to fit the box into the backpack was vertically. ? So by the time we got to the lookout, its shape was rearranged by gravity…

We actually have a clip on discovering the state of the birthday cake.

This was Take 2 on the theme of “gravitationally rearranged birthday cake” – and what an apt metaphor this is for reaching the half-century mark! ?

Views southeast from the lookout:

Views of Nullaki Peninsula - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia

This is Jess on Monkey Rock, at the other end of the Bibbulmun track part of this walk – we didn’t take many photos in-between as we’d photographed this walk so many times before, but we do thoroughly recommend this walk.

Jess on Monkey Rock - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia

Just before we did the boring section back on the road, we let the dog have a good swim in a farm dam across the road. The farm owners host the next section of the Bibbulmun track, so allow public access, obviously with appropriate etiquette.

Jess Swimming - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia

Meanwhile, Brett sat on the stile enjoying the view.

Brett on Bibbulmun Stile - Birthday Walk, Mt Hallowell, Denmark Western Australia

April 3, 2021

BIBBULMUN TRACK – LOWLANDS TO WEST CAPE HOWE HUT

Walking from Lowlands to West Cape Howe Camping Hut and back today – 10km.

More walks soon.

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