Local Celebrity!

When I arrived at Mum and Dad’s the walk was running a week ahead of schedule. During the planning of this final leg I made the days short as I was returning with injuries and in daily pain. In the “outback” sections of the walk the average day was anything up to 50 kilometres and sometimes more than 60. Down the east coast I slowed down to 20-25 with lots of rest days. Because that is an easy day, especially if I time the beach walking for low tide, the rest days were not as necessary until I reached Mum and Dad’s.

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It was necessary to rest for a week because of the timing for the finish in Newcastle. My arrival in Newcastle had been organised around another event already so I decided to stick to schedule instead of changing everything. As it panned out that other event cancelled I should have changed it, but it doesn’t matter anymore. I chose a mid week evening when it should have been a weekend afternoon. I’ll know better next time. But I digress.

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ALL the local media covered my story so when the walk resumed people were stopping to say hi. It was both funny and fun being recognised and encouraged by new and familiar faces. I made an attempt to sneak through Laurieton and skip a section I had previously walked about 100 times, otherwise I was not going to make it to Kylies Camp before dark.

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On Dunbogan Beach I took a moment to reflect on the year I was a volunteer for ORRCA and watched out for a leopard seal which had hauled up on the beach. There were reports of kids hitting it with their boards, they obviously had no idea that leopard seals are deadly fast with razor sharp teeth. That day, when I received the call, it was lying in the sun sleeping, stirring slightly when groups of people came to have a look. My job was to both protect the seal and the people, take photos which may help scientific research and identification as well as notes on behaviour. It hauled up for less then a day and I watched it return to the water. It was greeted by a pod of agitated protective dolphins. This was probably why it needed time out, the dolphins probably attacked it to protect their feeding grounds or young. Dolphins are not the kind gentle marine mammals we imagine, they are killing machines if you are a threat.

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This time, though, the beach was mostly empty all the way to Diamond Head, which was surprising given it was still school holidays. The headland is unique as it has broken into rough pillars. I met some cool local kids who raced over worried I would slip on the rocks and not be able to finish the walk. After I assured them I had some experienced both walking around headlands and slipping they climbed to the top of the biggest pillar like mountain goats. This is what school holidays are all about, being outside exploring and fearless freedom!

At the park office I bought a pass to camp overnight and walked up over the headland to Kylies Beach Camp. Kylie Tennant was a writer and the hut built as a writing retreat by Ernie Metcalfe still stands. The forest walk to the hut is beautiful. I walked though at sunset and arrived at Kylies Beach in last light.

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The next day was exhausting. I made an assumption which turned out to be a bad mistake. There is a kiosk on the beach at Crowdy Head and I would arrive at lunch so I didn’t pack lunch and planned to restock food daily as I passed though towns. Unfortunately, this kiosk was cash only and guess who doesn’t carry cash. They filled my water bottles and I rested long enough to dry the night dew from the hammock and tarp.

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There is a takeaway store in Harrington but they are also “cash only”. I just wanted a veggie burger! The poor postmaster in town experienced a hangry walker when he told me they do cash out but not for my bank. Why not cash out for every bank, why discriminate one bank? I could have been much hangrier but was too tired and hungry to put much effort into it. After getting cash out at the pharmacy I finally ate some food and went back to the post office and apologised.

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The next morning I had one last river to hitch across so that night I camped beside the jetty and boat ramp for an early start. The only problem with this plan was the public toilet block was locked so I had to use the bush, which was fine in the dark at midnight but at sunrise with joggers and dog walkers it was a challenge finding a spot of scrubby bush thick enough to hide me. I also had drunk visitors from midnight until 2am. Two brothers reunited by tragedy, bonding and fighting and reminiscing an hellish childhood. I just lay there as still as possible hoping the hammock would not be noticed.

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Getting across the Manning River was easy! As I stood on the jetty watching sunrise a young fella and his dog pull up and also stand waiting. When an oyster barge arrived I ask if they can help me across. “No worries!”

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The public toilet block in Manning wasn’t locked, what a relief! Small things like public amenities, drinking water, ripe bananas and coffee become big things when you travel without the conveniences of home.

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Manning is a great township! They care about each other, the town, their environment and they have coffee. From here I walked down the beaches all the way to Hallidays with a detour into Old Bar to buy supplies and dinner with friends in Tuncurry. Kerryann and Fergus came out to meet me at Black Heads and one of their friends found me 2 kms away struggling up the road at sunset. They took me back to their place for a shower and dinner and gave me an early birthday present, a buff and vest from Travel Play Live magazine. After dinner they dropped me back at Black Heads and I camped in the jungle. It felt like the jungle as it was dark and thick with thorny vines. I cut a few away to clear a patch between trees about 50m back from the beach. At least the “jungle” hid me from the headlights of the 4WDs passing through the night.

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During the morning I was delighted by a big pod of dolphins surfing and leaping beside me. I like to believe dolphins are as interested in us as we are of them. Pods coming in close and swimming parallel with me happens a lot, it is nice to imagine they are keeping me company. They are vagabonds of the ocean and I am a vagabond of the land.

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