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To the Lighthouse

cows & walk sign

GREAT OCEAN WALK: Day 2

For the second time this morning I stop, lean onto my stick, and ask myself what the hell I am doing.I’ve been awake since 3:00am, too excited to sleep; finally deciding to make the most of the early hour, eat some chocolate and and start “hiking” by 5:00. Well, trudging, in utter blackness, down a succession of sloppy 4-wheel-drive tracks. The trickle of a stream to my left, giant tree-fern fronds in the headlamp beam to my right. Wet socks, shoes full of mud: a swamp.

“What the hell are you doing, Goat?”

A wallaby thumps through the foliage. Silence again, the hint of tall timber overhead. On I labour, reassured by sporadic little glowing arrows confirming I am still on the “track”.

Around 7:00 the sky lightens. The world outside my head is revealed:

The sound of waves. Down switchbacking steps, emerging onto a beautiful surf beach, dawn spilling molten pink and orange into the ocean. Blanket Bay:

Chilly out here, but soothing. I wash my pant legs, shoes and socks at water’s edge, make breakfast while they dry off:

A cornucopia of seaborne treasures:

Blanket Bay was the landing site for resupplying the lighthouse at rugged Cape Otway, today’s destination. There was also an infamous massacre near here of local Gabubanud aborigines by whites assisted by members of other tribes.

In 1846 George D Smythe was contracted to survey the Otways [mountain range and forests]. One of his surveying party, Conroy, was murdered by a party of Gadubanud, although there are no details on whether they may have been provoked in some way. Smythe returned to Melbourne to organise a retaliatory expedition which took place in August 1846. The party, which included several Wada Wurrung people, came across seven Gadubanud at the mouth of the Aire River at Blanket Bay and attacked and killed them. [Wikipedia]

The remnant chimney of a hut, presumably dating from the 19th century:

Clean and caffeinated, I resume the trek. Real walking today, and only 22km of it. I keep my eyes peeled for lethal reptiles and murderous vegetation:

Trail hazards

A glance back

First of a few wonderful stringybark forests, the bracken under-storey giving way to classic Australian grass-trees:

Stringybark wonderland

Grass trees

I don’t know what these flowers are but they’re found all along the G.O.W.:

A black wallaby watches as I intrude:

The first half of the day is characteristically gloomy:

But there’s the promise of sunshine as I descend to Parker Inlet, cross the little creek, and rise steeply to the headland:

An American vessel came to grief nearby in 1878, surrendering, along with a few human lives, a cargo of pianos, silver plate and choice tobacco to the grateful marine gods:

I eat lunch on a big rock, transporting myself to the formidable coastline of 130 years earlier. Over 50 ships were dashed onto rock or reef along this treacherous stretch of limestone.

Two young Europeans, glazed-eyed, emerge from a camper-van and spend about 15 seconds soaking in the history and views. One farts, loudly, three times, to the other’s great amusement. I resume hiking, fast.

Back in the chill breeze, I pass through banksia scrub and spy the far-off lighthouse:

The path rises to enter Cape Otway Shire. Dairy country. I cross and parallel the deserted road towards the lighthouse:

Some vandal has graffitied the livestock:

Unfortunately you’ll have to make do with this picture, stolen from Wikipedia, of the lighthouse, which was constructed without mortar from 1846-1848, as they want $17 to enter, despite a reported discount for thru-hikers. It’s the oldest surviving lighthouse on the mainland. Maybe next time.

In the gift shop, there’s something revolting about the patronising tone of a certain staff member addressing some Asian tourists, and I’m also perturbed when he offers paper “to light a fire”. When I reply that fires are banned along the path, he observes that “rules are made to be broken”, warmly recommending a nice roaring fire. Odd considering that he’s working in a National Parks concession.

Again, I’m fleeing, into the scrubby dunes, tingling with annoyance, startled when I quickly arrive at calm, quiet Otway Campsite. It’s deserted; I take my time selecting the best site, and then, from the shelter…

..I notice the koalas:

I’ve never seen wild koalas so close; they’ve always been tiny blobs high up a tall trunk. This pair is coming to life as the sun goes down, a few metres above a deserted tent site. Evidently they’re grumpy types in the “morning” — whether it’s a mating thing, or territorial bluster, I don’t know, but pretty soon all hell breaks loose.

They shriek and bark and growl and…yes, ROAR at each other, like something you’d hear on the Serengeti. The branches are shaking; it’s unnerving. I creep in through the thicket beneath them, getting as close as possible, They’ve seen my kind before. This guy has had enough; he’s moving out in search of a new roommate:

As the show concludes, I walk the short distance to the tiny lighthouse cemetery, back in the dunes, as lonesome and eerie a place as you might imagine. Half a dozen graves huddled in a sheltered nook, in remarkable shape, a few shipwreck victims and two of assistant lighthouse-keeper William Evan’s infant children, who died within a year of each other in 1867 and 1868.

A spindly old oak, a few dead winter leaves lingering. The whisper of a sea breeze in the shrubs. A hard life, back then, in this still-remote place, and sometimes a short one. Still, there are worse places, I suppose, for your remains to lie a century or two:

I hurry back to camp in the last light, slapping the chill from my hands, thinking of hot soup, my thick down sleeping bag, a warm and hopefully temporary repose…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

Next post: Day 3

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Those koalas certainly know how to make a rumble don’t they?! It’s funny how something so small can sound so fierce! Good write up and yes, the $17 entrance fee to the lighthouse sucks. I paid it for the opportunity to inhale some different food at the cafe :)

    June 23, 2011
    • Yeah, Greg, I read online that the manager had decided to change the policy and let hikers in cheaper, but they acted all ignorant when I got there.

      Those koalas will haunt my nightmares for a long while. THe tourist-friendly ones at Australia Zoo must be drugged!

      June 23, 2011
  2. Hiker 816 #

    So do large trees in Australia really have a tendency to fall straight on top of frightened hikers running for their lives? That might be the most awesome sign I have ever seen.

    June 24, 2011
    • Mate, the whole country is a deathtrap. Just this morning I bent down to pick a flower and it bit my finger off.

      June 24, 2011

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