Not even the beginning

By Vita Forest

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“You mean this isn’t even part of the walk?” face sweaty, voice grim.

“That’s right.”

I walked on.  We would not turn back, not now, no way.

But now it was THE walk, not a walk from the station, not the walk down the hill but THE walk.  See – the dreaming poles marked it.  It was not the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end but it was the beginning.  There was mutinous muttering from Max and Lucy, Fleur whispered she could take them back.  But no!  We were going to do this walk and we were going to enjoy it…

The kids took off their shoes to wade through the water at Werri Lagoon and did not put them on again on the other side.  They stalked on grimly in barefeet.  And I thought why not? And pulled my shoes off again too.  The grass was soft and buoyant and the wind from the sea felt good on my bare skin.  We stepped along up the hill, away from the beach, away from the shrieks of the swimmers and the drone of the cars and into the silence.

The complaints stopped as we climbed the bare grassy slopes that hid the town and the road.  The kids fell silent and felt the breeze, saw the blue water sinking back from the black rocks, saw the green hills rising away into the distance along the coast and the wildflowers buzzing with butterflies and crickets.  All you could hear was the booming breath of the sea, rising and falling and the hundreds of birds hidden in the undergrowth.

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“Is this The Shire?” they asked, but we didn’t come across any hobbits.


Further on, pelicans flapped by lazily in formation, so close you could hear the air against their wings.  I stopped and stared up at the hill rising to the west and even though it was “just grass” every blade was alive in the wind, not a solid monolithic mound but a writhing, dancing collection of stems, each one clutching a fist full of rattling, plump seeds.

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Later we went off the track into a stand of remnant rainforest – the rainforest that used to run all the way down to the sea.  We sat enclosed in the shady room fretted with tree trunks and ate fruit.  I climbed down deeper and found a circular cairn built around the sinuous roots of a tree that was totally enclosed by the scrubby foliage around it.  Cradled inside it like a snow dome.  Someone else had visited too.

I had promised them cows and we saw some, staring and edgy at Max’s frenzied hooting.  We were disturbed to see an anxious calf on the wrong side of the fence.  We wondered how it had got out and how it would get back?  Barbed wire was strung tight across the top of the fence and the gate we eventually passed was locked.  There was also wild fennel, identified by rubbing its lacy leaves between finger and thumb and inhaling deeply.  Aniseed.


We peeled eggs under a tree at lunchtime and looked back across the path heading south.  And after lunch we came to the stile, THE stile and I told them the story of how, years ago, I had looked at this stile, every day, every time we came down to the beach, the stile in the distance on the headland, near the dry stone walls.  How I’d watch walkers climb over it and hike along the headland, coming from who knew where?  How I stood rooted on the sand, small children at my feet.  Them.  And I had wondered – what had those people seen?  Where had they come from?  With their backpacks on their backs, while I watched, anchored to the beach.  Now I knew.  They were us.  Ten years later but there we were, walking out of the wild.  Walking north along the track.  It was us all that time.

We stopped again at Easts Beach, Lucy tumbling and dancing on the sand and falling into the splits.  Max watching critically and remarking, “When she laughs, her bum shakes.”

And it did.

Max and Lucy swam in the surf (Neptune’s son). I made do with a paddle and Fleur with a siesta under the tight shade of a juvenile pine.

Walking on, I watched a bare-chested man saunter past the “No dogs on the beach” sign carrying two black Chihuahuas, one tucked under each armpit.  He carried them into the water where they bobbed serenely, safe in his arms.

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Can you see the Chihuahuas?

I guess they were never on the beach.

At the end we found we were all sunburnt despite hats, sunglasses and slathered sunscreen.  There were red stripes where we had been absentminded with the lotion.  And my toes… well they appreciated the cool dip at sundown in the rock pool at Blow Hole Point.

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And Fleur said that she doesn’t know if she would do it again.

But she’s glad she did it once.

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At Bombo

By Vita Forest


On Wadi-Wadi land, where Charmian swam, we walk out to Bombo.  We fill up our water bottles from the last tap, pull our hats down low and sling our thumbs through the loops of our backpacks.  The sun grinds down, shadows crouch and hide from its glare, pulling their knees up to their ears.  It’s nearly noon.

We crouch on the cliff and watch the surfers below as they bob lazily, straddling surfboards and squinting out at the horizon.  Watch as one paddles, then stands and streaks along just in front of the curl of a wave.  An admirer claps and a friendly dog rubs her snout into our open palms.  Watch as another surfer scuttles down a goat track beside us, board beneath his arm, runs, runs down the spit of rock, runs at a retreating wave, then hurls himself onto the fizzing foam.  The sea is wild today.


We walk on and pause to see A View.  A long-haired boy heaves rocks, chucks them with all his might so they land, just past his feet.

Heavy.

“I can do this,” he explains, “coz now I’m six.”

The water boils and roars and surges high through the red columns.


His mother shouts, “Stop throwing rocks!  There are people about!”

And high above on the rocky hill, built with boulder and facing the sea, a shriek, a whoop as the sea slaps down those reckless climbers who sauntered past us moments before.  We make sure they emerge again.  No need to call for help.  Just yet.


We follow the path deeper, between the tossing grass and humming insects which scatter yellow as we approach.  Into the bowl of the headland, into the hollow, the hole, the crater between the land and the sea.  See how the water rises?  Angry, foaming at the bit.  Seething.  We dare not climb the columns as I’ve done before on another calmer day.  We stand back and feel the spray as the sea finds a crack, smashes hard on solid rock.  It will hold, I imagine, I trust, I hope.  Fishermen peer out to sea behind the barricade of boulders, slinging a line out to sea like a grenade.  The water exploding with a Boom! against the cliffs.


We pick our way across a desert of red rocks.  Sun scorching down, burning the backs of our necks.  Lizards scurry at our shadows and I stamp hard, warning off the serpents.  I had seen one at this very spot.  Not rainbow but a killer, red and black.  Red for danger!  It lay on the path, soaking up the sun before sinking back into the waving grasses off the track.  Sinking back like the sighing sea as we tiptoed past as far away as we could manage.  We pick our way across the desert of red rocks, calves flex as we balance on those boulders.  Like those surfers on the sea.


 

This week

By Vita Forest

Costume craziness

Costume craziness

This week I have been

READING

  • Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta (love spending time with those Skuldenorians)
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell (on Max’s recommendation)

WRITING Day tripping

MAKING costumes, costumes and more costumes!

WATCHING Borgen Series 1

VISITING

  • Gerringong and Kiama with Saskia
  • Cockatoo Island

CATCHING

  • up with some lovely colleagues past and present
  • up with my old Mothers Group.  What an amazing bunch they are, what a lot we have gone through since we first met.

DOING some “extreme sketching” at Cockatoo Island in wild winds and with aggressive sea gulls dive bombing.  Who knew sketching could be such a daredevil activity?

 

Day tripping

By Vita Forest

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On a glorious spring day, Saskia and I set off to revisit a favourite walk – Gerringong to Kiama.  We did it in January, in the middle of summer, stopping for a swim on the way and racing a storm back to the holiday flat.  This time it was a day trip from Sydney, travelling by train for a full day out.

The train ride itself, down through the Royal National Park, and then along the Illawarra Escarpment is very spectacular.  The train cuts through thick swathes of bush, climbs across high, curving bridges straddling steep valleys, and clings to the side of the cliffs with the Pacific Ocean gleaming away into the horizon.  Sometimes you see hang gliders drifting off from Stanwell Tops, sometimes you see whales breaching off shore.  Sometimes you just have to settle for the clear, endless blue of the ocean.

Below Wollongong, the train turns inland a little through lush dairy country which continues down around Kiama and Gerringong.  The hills are rolling and green, the cows are black and white, the fields are dotted with cabbage tree palms and giant majestic fig trees, remnants of the rainforest that once extended from the mountain ridge right down to the coast.

We changed trains at Kiama and went one stop to Gerringong, we would be returning by foot.  It is perhaps three kilometres from the station to the start of the Kiama Coast walk, but half of this is along the pristine Gerringong Beach, a long stretch of sand with a dramatic grassy bluff at its southern end.  There were surfers enjoying the water, and we enjoyed a paddle, but the water was still a little too bracing for swimming.  For me anyway.

Gerringong Beach

Gerringong Beach

At the northern end of the beach, we cleaned the sand from our feet and put on our walking shoes ready to start the walk.  A pair of wooden poles, decorated with local Indigenous symbols, mark the start of this section of the walk.  You pass through them, and head up the hill, and away from civilisation.  This area seems like a wild place, despite the fact that it edges around farmland.  Though there may be cows munching the grass to your left, on your right are steep cliffs, clambering wildflowers and dramatic black boulders plunging into the sea.

Saskia preparing for the walk

Saskia preparing for the walk

We saw many birds – a number of hawks (cruising over the cliffs or perched imperious and solitary on a fence post), flocks of seagulls (following fishing boats or fishing themselves in flickering white formation), an elegant heron, some crows, and jaunty squabbling fairy wrens, who love the thick dense shrubs that border the pathway.

We stopped for snacks and lunch on the grassy path, looking out to sea and back down the coastline.  As the day progressed, the sea changed from smooth and glassy to a heaving, swelling living thing, causing white breakers to smash against the rocks at the shoreline.  (This was also convenient when we reached The Little Blowhole – the rising swell of the water shooting a dramatic white spray vertically into the air, much to the delight of the onlookers).

We climbed over the stile at the southern end of East’s Beach, a landmark I used to look at from the sand when my children were very young and wonder about.  What was past it?  Where did it go?  Now I know.

Our shoes came on and off as we walked along sand, then back on grass.  There were steep steps, thick grass and even at times, concrete paths.  We inspected gardens as we walked along headlands, sat on generously placed seats, and chatted to people and dogs.

We arrived back at the Surf Beach and dusted off our feet for the last time.  There was a train heading back to Sydney in a few minutes so we hurried up the hill and sank satisfied into north-facing seats on the train.

Another marvellous journey on the Kiama Coast walk.

 

Kiama Coast Walk in Numbers

By Vita Forest

Gerringong

Werri Lagoon, near Gerringong

Another post hand-written while on holidays…

By Vita Forest

2 walkers – Saskia and Vita.

1 stop on the train – Kiama to Gerringong. $4 for my train ticket (because I left my opal card at home… $2 for Saskia, she remembered hers).

2 legs of the Kiama Coast Walk – Gerringong to Loves Bay and Loves Bay to Blowhole Point.

14km walk from start to finish.

3km walk from Gerringong station to the start of the walk at Werri Lagoon.

2 pairs of wooden dream poles covered with local indigenous symbols, at either end of the Gerringong to Loves Bay leg.

Dream poles, Kiama coast walk

Dream poles, Kiama coast walk

1 herd of black and white cows huddled together in an adjoining paddock.

Millions of golden dandelions covering the hills.

Dandelion covered hills, Kiama Coast walk

Dandelion covered hills, Kiama Coast walk

1 woman using the hillls over Werri Lagoon as an outdoor gym – interval training, jogging up and down the steep hill and stopping at the top to do push-ups or squats…

Millions of hidden insects in the swaying grasses, chirping and clicking.

Thousands of visible bugs in the vegetation – butterflies, crickets, flies hitching rides on the back of our backpacks.

2 girls overtook us on the walk.

1 train line disappearing into dark caverns beneath the hills.

1 handful of delicious, wild, sun-ripened blackberries picked from the bushes along the path.

Blackberries

Blackberries

Thousands of purple wildflowers tumbling down the steep escarpments.

Wildflowers on Kiama Coast walk

Wildflowers on Kiama Coast walk

4 sea kayakers passing below the cliffs as we walked in the opposite direction, 2 with tiny sails to take advantage of the sea.

8 pelicans flying in formation.

Pelicans on the Kiama Coast Walk

Pelicans on the Kiama Coast Walk

1 electric blue fairy wren balancing delicately on the barbed wire fence beside the path.

4 patrolled beaches along the route (Werri, Easts, Kendalls and Surf).

Near Easts Beach

Near Easts Beach

3 caravan parks.

1 stile over a dry stone wall near Easts Beach.

1 heron that stood silent and still before launching off over the cliffs at Easts Beach when I ventured too close.

1 amazingly refreshing swim at Kendalls beach.

Storm approaching, Kendalls Beach

Storm approaching, Kendalls Beach

Several rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightening as we neared the Surf Beach.

1 downpour just as we neared our holiday flat.

1 blister on the bottom of my right big toe.

29 degrees C in the middle of the day, 22 degrees after the storm.

2 tired but happy explorers sitting on the balcony with a cup of tea watching the rain.

Kiama

Surf Beach