Three of the best things about walking alone around Australia are seeing beautiful places, meeting wonderful people and solving problems.
Rivers always presented me with several choices. Wade over at low tide, risk wading/swimming over during ebb or flood instead of staying in town overnight until next low, stay in town, camp rough in town, pay for a campsite which can be $25-50 unpowered p/n, go the long way around which can be a 15-60km detour, ask a boatie to ferry me across.
I never chose the detour or attempting to cross on the wrong tide. I rarely had the money spare to pay for a tent site and usually camped rough in town if there wasn’t enough time to get into the bush before dark. Some rivers were too deep, fast or wide to cross so i asked for assistance.
Between Coffs Harbour and South West Rocks I had a few more river crossings. The first was Bonville Creek at Sawtell. After walking down the beaches and arriving close to dusk it was nearly high tide. I had been told it was okay to wade across at low tide but I found the shallowest section and sat watching it, the speed of the water and eddies. While there someone else crossed from the other side and was up to their armpits. He looked taller than me so I decided to wait until the next day.
It was also the first day of the Easter long weekend and the quiet little town of Sawtell was filling up fast with holiday makers. I did a quick round of all the parks where I could hang the hammock and realised it was too busy and a security risk for me to sleep in the hammock with my pack and boots lying on the ground under me. I was not afraid of my own safety, I was afraid my stuff would be nicked while I slept. The holiday park was too expensive so I walked down river a bit, in the light of the Easter moon, looking for trees to hammock. There was human noise everywhere which makes me nervous when trying to stealth camp. The only decent places to hammock were back around the edge of the holiday park, a few long term park residents had already eyeballed me, the staff were doing regular rounds and the sites were filling up. I walked back towards town and slept on the ground under the vestibule of the arts hall using my pack for a pillow. It felt safe because they had security motion sensor lights. I set them off walking to the vestibule but then found the blind spot, which was the same length as me. Once the lights reset I figured they would wake me if triggered. Waking at first light, smiling out from the hood of my sleeping bag, a friendly local passing with her dog said a cheery “Good Morning”.
The next low was 2pm. I walked back at sunrise to reassess, it was too deep and fast. Iwalked to a cafe for coffee to have a think. Walked back to the crossing again before asking a local for directions to the boat ramp. A couple of young lads were about to head out so they gave me a lift across. I saw lots of stingrays in the shoals, camouflaged until stirred up by the boat.
The walk down Bongil Bongil was AMAZING! the only beach i had been on since near Diggers Rest that 4WDs cannot legally access. Don’t get me wrong, i know most drivers are responsible, i was in a Rovers (Scouting association not vehicle make) 4WD club a long time ago. Unfortunately, I see a lot of stupidity and damage caused by the bad ones.
After the lovely long beach I reached Bundagen Headland and met some people from the intentional off-grid community of Bundagen. In my life I have been invited to visit, stay awhile, live at quite a few intentional communities through Australia and overseas. It is my intention to stop at one, perhaps one day I will accept the invitation to rest at Bundagen. They make good chai.
After walking with one of the community members he pointed out an alternative track to Mylestom through the Bundageree rainforest. It was cool, shaded and quiet, a very welcome relief. Thank you.
Every day since I resumed the walk it has been over 30’C, some days were up to 38’C. Even in the brief breaks between rain showers back in the Northern Rivers it would suddenly steam up like a sauna. It was confusing me. I know when a new season is coming, it is a seasonal calendar in my brain just like intuitive orientation. The region I was walking through has 9 subtle season changes but it skipped one entirely. What we traditionally call autumn was 6 weeks late. My body could compensate for the heat but my brain or heart of something inside was alarmed by the change. I’m sure a few people spotted me muttering to myself about it. It’s okay, I am crazy 🙂 This distressing climate change continued until late April.
In Mylestom I stayed with a beautiful couple, Georgie and Margie, who were also members of Bundagen. Georgie and Margie are WarmShowers members who host cyclists touring through the region in a granny flat beside the big vegetable and herb garden. I completely relaxed with them, I felt safe and at peace. Thank you.
The next river I hitched a ride over was the Bellinger. It is a very popular river for water skiing and sport boats and the opposite river bank was rock so the first few I asked explained it would damage their hulls. There is a small jetty at the oyster shed I wanted to avoid because it would be locked for the Easter holiday but it was my only safe landing point. The 6th boaties to launch at Mylestom gave me a fun and fast ride over to the oyster shed which I had to “break out of”! Somehow I managed to unlock a side gate into the mangroves and, locking it behind me, weaved my way to the edge of the fence and climbed over into waist high grass. Was I thinking of snakes? Yes, but trying to imagine only friendly pythons. It was snake country all the way up to the Urunga bridge and I spotted red belly black snakes. The highlight was finding a guava tree in fruit, eating a couple there and picking some for lunch.
The next few days went by in a bit of a blur, lots of long beaches and knocking out a solid 32kms walking on sand. One night I slept at Valla Beach where the tourist park had no unpowered sites left but allocated me a powered site at an unpowered off-season price and I could look around and put the hammock up anywhere that wasn’t on someone else’s site. Because the night dew was very heavy I found somewhere undercover and settled in for a night listening to 570 possums running back and forth between 11pm and 4am! I might be exaggerating a wee bit, it was only one possum but he was 10ft long with 32 feet, I’m sure of it!
Nambucca Marine Rescue gave me a lift across the River. When I arrived in Nambucca I had a look around for the town jetty or boat ramp, stopped for coffee and saw the Marine Rescue station next door so I thought they might like to do something a bit different. After explaining what I’m doing Graham agreed to help. I had enough time to walk up to the supermarket and buy a day of fresh food. During that time someone mentioned to Graham it was April 1st. If I was late back to the water I wasn’t going to get across, they thought they had just been pranked on April Fools Day. When we reached the other side I offered a donation but they refused. Thank you!
That trip across the river with Graham and Kev reminded me of the years I was with Southport Marine Rescue VMR400. It opened a flood gate of wonderful memories from that time living, working and racing on the water. For a few weeks I had been playing around in my imagination with an original concept for a future adventure and that ride across Nambucca River pretty much confirmed in my heart that it will happen. It has been 9 years since I had a severe concussion on the Sea Shepherd ship the MY Steve Irwin sustaining a brain injury which effected my balance. It might take another 9 years but I’m planning a return to the ocean.
As if this update isn’t long enough already without the detours! So let’s take a break, but before you go, here is a piece written by my old school friend, George Dunford, for Lonely Planet Newswhich was published on International Women’s Day!