Again and Again

There are many places I call favourites and the Mid North Coast of New South Wales is one of those places. I revisit a fair few of the national parks and communities through here and often walk alone for days along long stretches of this coastline just for the fun of it, because I like it and it makes me feel good.

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Some places have official walks, usually these are day walks, but there is no reason you cannot simply connect the beaches, tracks and roads to make your own multi-day walk. It is possible for most of the east coast to walk without using main roads.

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Considering the population of the east coast of Australia it is surprising how accessible we are to solitude. I mean real solitude, nobody else in sight, no buildings or vehicles for hours, sometimes days. Just Nature and 1 human passing through. It makes for the best quality walking meditation and mindfulness.

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However, this is not the case for every beautiful beach and bushland, I share my admiration with others who also seek the same. I’m cool with that so long as they respect Nature and do the right thing.

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Unfortunately, with the increased popularity of certain places like the 4WD beaches between Crescent Head and Port Macquarie I am seeing an alarming increase in environmental damage, wildlife killed by 4WDs and unbelievable quantities of rubbish dumped on the beach, attempts to bury it, glass bottles and cans tossed out windows, bait bags, fishing line, buckets, not to mention all the other flotsam and jetsam washed up in storms from trawlers.

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I picked up as much as I could but the rubbish on most beaches could fill a truck and I was already weighed down with my pack. There were days I carried bags and buckets of rubbish bigger and much heavier than the pack on my back. By the time I finished walking in Newcastle it reached a point where I wished never to set foot on another beach for a long time so I could forget just how disrespectful and irresponsible humans are.

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It’s everywhere now, our litter problem is critical. Even deep in the coastal and alpine wilderness, kilometers off the track, I am finding rubbish. This is something we ALL need to take responsibility for, even if you do the right thing, we need to do more, even if it is not your rubbish, pick it up.

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“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” The Lorax by Dr Suess

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The Memory Sandwich

Have you ever had a memory sandwich?

Let me tell you what a memory sandwich is but first let’s walk to Crescent Head.

The east coast of Australia is one of my favourite paces in the world. From the Queensland border to Newcastle is my favourite section of the east coast. Between South West Rocks and Point Plomer is possibly the most beautiful stretch of coast in the world. In Australia 2 places draw me back more often than any others, Thredbo and Crescent Head.

As a kid my family spent summer holidays in Arakoon National Park near South West Rocks. We went walking around the headlands, beaches, bush but mostly played in the surf. It was here Dad taught me to count sets. He was a surfer in his youth and i occasionally watched him watching the ocean. He also taught me to let the salt water hold me and float over the swells when I was about 6 years old on a holiday at Noosa. I am not a surfer but I love watching the Ocean’s patterns, it is comforting.

The beach to Arakoon is littered with ruins from the convict gaol’s jetty and I found a big old ring bolt, possibly petrified dinosaur poo or a rusty croissant.

The walk from Trial Bay Gaol to Smokey Cape Lighthouse is spectacular. It is medium to hard with very steep sections for climbing and traversing. It passes some small coves and gullies on the way before finishing at the lighthouse picnic area. It is inside the national park so there are no garbage bins, please carry out everything you carry in to help keep the place beautiful for the next visitors.

By the time I finished cooking dinner it was dark and storms were coming in fast. There was a very brief spell when the rain lightened enough to get the hammock up. It was an awkward set up using two branches on one tree but I was warm and dry and nodded off watching the 3 beams of light rhythmically passing over like counting sheep. Youtube link to Smokey Cape light sequence in storm https://youtu.be/Te3HLpWpTpk

By this stage in the walk I was running ahead of schedule so it was possible to walk half days. From Smokey Cape to Hat Head was a half day, arriving at 11am. On the way I found a heap of huge ancient middens, mounds of white shells and bones discarded from Aboriginal camps. I stopped for an hour to watch the birds, gangs of seagulls walking down the beach catching sand crabs, oyster catchers sleeping in wheel ruts, scores of terns standing on their stumpy little legs, one leg, sitting on the dry sand crests of the scalloped beach looking out to sea waiting for a shoal of fish to swim by. After a while they behave as though I’m not even there.

When I arrived at Crescent Head I found an empty picnic table and laid out all my camping gear to dry. This is a ritual most days. If I start early my gear is packed away wet with dew and condensation which needs to dry before setting up that evening. A few people near by watching me were talking about how the homeless are ruining the place, with raised voices so I could hear. I thought of engaging them in conversation to chat about walking around Australia but chose to tune them out and enjoy the view instead.

I had an appointment in Crescent Head for a leg wax with Kate at Beauty and the Beach. It was still too warm for winter insulation. Kate transformed me back into an hairless ape again.

At this stage I hadn’t decided where I would camp but being familiar with the town I knew of a few places I could hang my hammock, quietly free camping where nobody would notice me. As Kate and I chatted, the plan to stealth camp came up, and Kate came up with a better plan. She invited me to be her guest for the night!

From being shamed in the park for being homeless that morning to being invited into the home of a compassionate human who was a stranger hours earlier. That was not how I envisaged the day to pan out 🙂 I love these surprises and I love being reminded everyday that this world is full of kind, caring, generous people. The next morning Kate packed me a Memory Sandwich for lunch and some healthy wholesome snacks!

A Memory Sandwich is a sandwich made from dinner leftovers. As I ate the sandwich the flavours brought back memories of smiles, laughter, stories and great company. Thank you Kate! You are a Trail Angel!

The Old Basecamp

From Lennox Head I turned west walking back up into the Byron Hinterland and stayed with my brother’s family for a few nights. They live on a macadamia plantation, surrounded by macas and tall native trees. All day the birds sing. It is a very relaxing place.

I call it Basecamp. It is also SoundLife Audio where my brother works as a music composer and sound engineer. Sil has a Nia dance and movement therapy studio down stairs, as part of I Am Strong , which is also the meditation room looking out at the trees through the floor to ceiling windows.

Chewy the dog, Pearl the cat and I spent a lot of time sitting in the sun on the balcony.

It was only a rest from walking. I had a lot of admin and PR to catch up on and send ahead. I was also lucky to be one of the judges for the Travel Play Live Women’s Adventure Grant. My brother showed me how to watch the video submissions in his studio. I tell you what! There are a lot of amazing women doing amazing things. I wish them all the best of luck in their projects. You can read about the winning adventures at Travel Play Live

While in the Byron Hinterland I was interviewed on ABC local radio and filmed by NBN Northern Rivers (click the link to watch the story). I scored the local media jackpot, so to speak, newspaper, radio and TV! This doesn’t happen very often, only once before and twice since.

I have described in past posts that I have a pelvic injury from the walk. It played up the day I left Lismore. It was aggravated by two things. Firstly, it was my fault but I’ll blame someone else, I stood for almost 2 hrs with the pack on while Ganja Gandalf wanted to tell me his life story, dance and play me a song, locals might know who I’m talking about without using his real nickname. I didn’t dare put down the pack in case he took it as a sign to keep talking and if I left the pack on I could grab the first opportunity to politely go which took almost 2 hours. Secondly, the balance of my pelvis is tenuous (pun intended) and a misstep on uneven ground is enough to trigger spasms. This happened several times within 5kms and by dusk I was in so much agony I thought I was going to collapse.

I stopped at a tiny church just out of Lismore on the river, stretched, took pain killers and had a look around for a place to hammock. As I shuffled back to my pack at the gate I saw my brother drive past. What! Just as I waved he spotted me and came back. Steve and Sil were looking for me, I had left my pen and very important notebook at Basecamp. The relief of having somewhere to go and recover for another 2 days was too much on top of the pain, the tears I was fighting flowed.

The coastline south of Cape Byron is familiar as I have previously walked most of it alone between there and Bairnsdale in Victoria. This area in particular was a marine mammal conservation walk from Coffs Harbour to Cape Byron early 2010. For this reason I made the call to skip a day of the walk and go to Black Rocks. I actually went to Evans Head to seek permission to walk the 12kms of coast past the Airforce bombing range if they were not practicing. They weren’t but were not going to make any exceptions either. Oh well.

Black Rocks is really beautiful! Did you know there are some walk in/paddle in sites up near the end of the Jerusalem Creek Walk? They are not maintained but the roos and wallabies help keep the grass down. There was a lot of wildlife along here including a distracted echidna and dramatically windswept trees.

The strangest (non-human) thing I have seen in a while were the leaning stones. The wind was fierce and the coast had been lashed by weeks of storms. The beach pebbles had been pushed up and the sand carved out to hold them all facing the same direction at the same angle. It felt like they were all looking out to sea waiting for someone or something. Fascinating.

There were many species of shore birds at the mouth of Jerusalem Creek who were reasonably tolerant of my presence. 3 different species of terns, both species of oyster catchers, gulls, dotterels, plovers, stints, sanderlings, snipes and a family of beach stone curlews. I could have spent all day watching them.

Black Rocks is named for the colour of the black rock outcrops along the receding dunes. These were formed by ancient decomposed forests. The rock is softer than sandstone and feels damp, the storm was eroding a lot of it away at the time I visited resulting in dark stained sea foam and tide lines.

There are places of incredible Natural beauty I look forward to visiting again. This is one of them.

To Byron and Beyond

WARNING! This update contains nudity 🙂

I enjoyed Brunswick Heads after finding a safe place to sleep.

The night before I saw on Instagram that my mate from the Blue Mountains, Michael, was in Brunswick staying with family so we arranged to have morning coffee. Michael was in town for the Byron Bay World Naked Bike Ride to raise awareness about bike safety by using naturism, ie, “Do you see me now?”.

If I didn’t hang around too long I had a chance of walking to Byron Bay with enough time to check into the YHA and watch the bike ride. It was a wet walk down the beach with some of the heaviest rain I had experienced all week. Maurice and Em came down to the beach to say goodbye, part of me wanted to stay. Maurice sent me the feature photo he took as I left.

I knew the weather was going to clear up because I had friends from Seattle, Susanna and Patrick, joining me in Byron Bay for a couple of days.

For the last 2kms of beach the sky cleared and it didn’t rain again for nearly 2 weeks!

Byron is always wonderful! I don’t care what anyone says about Byron Bay. I don’t look for the changes or bad stuff therefore i don’t see it. The staff at the YHAs looked after me. A couple of weeks earlier I had made a booking and then I made a last minute booking. I didn’t know there are 2 YHAs in Byron, I had booked a dorm bed in both, but they sorted it out so I could stay in one instead of moving. In fact, an interview with Thredbo YHA manager, Bianca Bott, came out in their internal news while I was staying with the Byron Bay crew. It may have had some influence getting a 5 share dorm entirely to myself. Thank you Bianca and YHA!

Susanna and I met in the summer of 1988 in the Snowy Mountains. She came down to stay with my family when she was over from the United States. We hit it off immediately and filled our days with lots of adventure on the Kosciuszko Mainrange and the tracks around our place at Sawpit Creek. I lost a lot of photos of us when my hard drive broke but I don’t need them for the memories.

We wrote and exchanged photos, lost touch and found each other again on social media. 30 years later we meet in Byron Bay, Susanna and her husband Patrick! We had 1 1/2 days together so we walked up to the lighthouse, down around the beautiful beaches, out to Killen Falls in the hinterland and watched the sun set over Lake Ainsworth at Lennox Head. We filled the day to the brim and pretty much collapsed into our seats at the Mexican restaurant. I tried a Mojito for the first time, it went straight to my head!

It was very interesting watching friends from another country discovering new and wonderful things about mine. Like spotting a wallaby on Cape Byron for Susanna would be about the equivalent of the excitement I’ll have when I see my first raccoon. Wallabies are animals I see almost everyday but when I see a raccoon it will be something exotic I have never laid eyes on before. I loved watching Susanna reacting to our gorgeous wildlife and bushland, she allowed me to see it with new eyes. Thank you Susanna.

Saying goodbye to friends is hard, but I had to put on the pack and continue south. I’m tearing up writing this and remembering your smiles, hugs and your big beautiful hearts.

That afternoon I walked down the beach to Broken Head picking up 2 bags of rubbish. A few people saw me picking up rubbish and gave me some more to carry which they “helped” me pick up (or in one case a guy kicked over a bottle I had missed). Good, but not good enough, giving more rubbish to a walker already loaded up with a big pack and full bags isn’t cool. Maybe I should start carrying extra reused shopping bags to give to people who try adding to my collection. There is a great initiative in Sydney by 66 Second Challenge where people can take a bucket down to the beach, collect rubbish and return it in exchange for a free coffee. Love it!

I had a rest on the deck of Broken Head Community Hall and refilled my bottles from their kitchen. When I saw the cost of camping in Suffolk Park and Broken Head I decided to illegally free camp on Broken Head, i simply couldn’t afford to stay in the tourist parks.

The walk across Broken Head is beautiful, even more so as the sunset. I saw about 40 wallabies and many birds including a lyre bird in the soft cool dusk light filtered through the rainforest. The damp evening air intensified the sweet smell of fertile red volcanic soil and dark decomposing plant litter. In the Byron Shire all you need is Nature to get high. You’re welcome 😉

Camping that night was interesting. I found two good trees on a dune but very exposed to the exceptionally loud roar of the stormy surf, thick ocean spray and heavy dew. On the way I had passed other campers so I walked back and asked if they minded me camping close by in the trees. The disadvantage of hammocking in the dark is not being able to inspect the trees before setting up. The first one I tied up to was a burnt out dead one that nearly fell over when I sat in the hammock. Eventually I found a clear line between 2 of the stronger looking trees, tied up, set the fly and sat down. The trees flexed and slowly lowered the hammock until my bum touched the ground. It was okay, when I lay down, stretching my weight along the length of the hammock it rose to about 10cm off the ground. More than enough clearance 🙂

In the early dawn light I had a look around and saw that I was camped in a new forest. The trees were young beech, regrowth from a fire. The tide was slack so the surf was not so loud but it still drowned out the morning bird chorus. When I can’t hear the birds it feels like something is wrong. It was also cold and the sun was weak.

On the way down 7 Mile Beach I found a big ice cream tub and filled it with rubbish then a bucket and filled it too. A large fish trap was washed up so I filled it also. It ended up weighing more than my backpack, walking down the beach was hard work wearing 14kg and dragging more. It was good to see a couple of people begin to pick up rubbish after walking past me. This isn’t a walk about litter but if my actions can influence others to do something small which can collectively make a big difference then I’m happy!