It’s 4.45am in Perth, a midwinter’s morning with no sign of daylight on the horizon.
I’m standing on my front veranda, sleep still fogging my head as I wait for the crunch of AJ’s tires on my driveway. We are going to meet Mike, jump in the one car, and drive the five hours down to Walpole for a two-night walk in the Nuyts Wilderness Block, my first walk since COVID-19 arrived in our isolated city.
As I stand here in the darkness, collar up for the cold, I consider that for me, there are two types of trips. There are trips to remote wilderness areas in far-flung corners that challenge us mentally, physically and emotionally. And then there are those trips closer to home, to areas of the bush where we feel comfortable, that give the brain a rest from the modern world and help us get back to where we need to be.
For me a visit to Nuyts is a chance to relax, to allow the outdoors to bring me back to life. This, in itself, is not without cost. Like a kid before Christmas my excitement has robbed me of a restful night, replacing it instead with tossing and turning, waiting for the early alarm.
AJ arrives. I jump in the “Silver Fox” (his 80 series Land Cruiser), and he immediately starts regaling me of the Balti curry he made the night before. I know I’m in for a classic trip.
The journey south disappears quickly; we bypass Bunbury and before we know it, we’ve traversed the forests around Manjimup and are rolling into Walpole. We meet our connection and head back out of town the way we came in to get dropped off at our starting point: Mandalay Beach.
It’s been stormy on the South Coast for days before our arrival. The beach is littered with blue bottles, cuttlefish and other marine debris. Big fish shelter in the inshore gutters, trying to find respite from the pounding surf.
Turning inland through the dunes behind Mandalay Beach, we come across a freshwater pool, not far above sea level, teeming with tadpoles. These signs of life are uplifting and the abundance of fresh water, while typical and expected in the deep south, always seems to catch me off guard. I think back to hot trips in Northern Australia, walking between intermittent water sources, and I’m grateful for this reliability.
The plan for today is to follow the Bibbulmun Track for a few hours before cutting cross country to drop into the coast, finding camp near Little Long Point. We climb a low ridge above the beach, then turn east across a series of gullies that ripple the land, full of grass trees and coastal flowers. I grab a couple of frames of a kangaroo bounding down the skyline as we rise to our high point for the day, and the first sighting of Little Long Point, to have lunch.
I have many memories of this coastline, but most of my activity in recent times has been further east, closer to Nornalup Inlet. My recollections of the space between Mandalay and Nuyts Wilderness Track are from a wet, cold trip short on views and clouded by the passage of time. Today, under a blue sky and calming swell, we can see all the way to the horizon. Easterly we look across Little Long Point to Long Point, our collective gaze mind-walks the landscape, finally resting on our destination for the evening.
From this perch we follow a curving single-track back inland, crossing a gully where the land flattens before turning back to the coast. The Lost Beach lookout provides a view down into the protected inshore lagoons which AJ assures us would be sheltering plenty of sea life.
Excitement builds as we discuss a return to fish this area at a later date. From here we also have a line of site directly to our desired camp spot. The next move navigationally is to follow the Bib track for 700 metres, cutting east before the hut to meet the trail that heads down to Little Long Point. Instead, we find ourselves descending directly to the hut, the position of which, and access track for, are not marked on my old map. You can’t win them all!
We say hello to a couple staying in the hut, discussing the recent wet weather and the massive mosquitoes before heading down to the water, finding camp on the point, overlooking the Southern Ocean. Whales breach in the background as we enjoy a bowl of curry and a glass of red. The evening becomes night, a lantern in place of a campfire as we enjoy a peaty Scottish number to round out the evening.
The morning arrives, clear and cold. It’s one of those days where you put all your insulation layers on just to get out of your sleeping bag, only to remove most once the sun cracks the horizon. We relish the clear weather, soaking up the sun as we pack down our tents and discuss our route out of there.
The South Coast around Walpole is rocky headlands and cliffs, punctuated by white sand beaches. In many places, the land drops steeply to the water’s edge and access to the ocean is often tricky. There are two creeks which converge on the beach at Little Long Point, and it is here that we need to go to refill our water, and then link back up to the Bib track heading east.
The night before, without a pack, I scouted the best line to the beach. In the morning, AJ is chomping at the bit to check out a lagoon below. I give him some directions, sending him on his way, while Mike and my expectations for a fresh fish breakfast soar. In the end, we settle for oats and coffee, as AJ hadn’t even assembled his fly rod!
After filling our bottles, we slowly make our way up the hill. I turn to take a photo of Mike, with the beach in the background, and as I move to return my camera to its clip, I somehow manage to disconnect my lens, dropping it in the sand. The disaster of the trip…
Inland we head, and as we do so our day’s journey presents itself to our right; single track past peppermint groves and a sharp climb towards the coast, up on to the cliffs of Hush Hush beach. We see kangaroo and emu footprints, as whales breach off the coast. The scrub is thick, waist to chest high on both sides of the track. We finally spot the emu, big and with a brilliant blue neck plume. Becoming aware of our presence, he breaks off into a run, disappearing into the scrub. Emus are common down here - my last trip I saw a group of chicks running through the heath. The coast is alive, even in the middle of winter.
Towards the North, we can see Mount Clare, our climb for tomorrow, and the line of trees surrounding the Deep River which cuts along her skirt. We meander through seas of grass trees and a pitch-black mushroom to make a junction with the Nuyts Wilderness Walk track, meeting the first other people we have seen all day.
Coastal fever takes over and we race down the path, climbing to the watershed, eager for a view of Thompson Cove, our destination for the evening. With the sun disappearing we descend into the peppermint roofed campsite, dropping packs and grabbing rods to fish the cove in the failing light.
Its low tide and water is pouring from the creek - a clear indication of the deluge two days earlier. We’re hoping the storm has caused some big species to find shelter inshore, but we’re off timing with the tide and while I’m getting a couple of hits on worms, there aren’t any takers.
AJ toys with a squid around the rocks, roll casting his fly back in front of it. The sun disappears, taking with it the last warmth of the day, and leaving a purple-hued sky in its wake. The boys rush back to camp. I pack up slowly, shooting a few frames on the manual 35mm before washing my hands in the icy waters of the creek. It takes the whole walk back to the peppermint grove, through the jungle and a headlamp failure before they start to feel normal again.
Dark now, I pitch my fly for the evening. I’ve chosen to go without an inner tent for this trip, for the tiger snakes won’t be getting active around here until it warms up a bit. Something I hadn’t considered has got me worried, however; ticks. I find two on the top of my sleeping mat. It looks like I’ll be sleeping with them, the choice was made when I packed for the trip, so I put it out of my mind and occupy my thoughts instead with the dinner AJ is whipping up on the Primus - Drunken Noodles! One of the best hiking meals I’ve ever had, followed up by the remainder of the scotch and an early night to escape the cold.
The morning sees a Vermicelli Pudding (dessert for breakfast, a perk of being adult) before a slow walk back up the watershed, and across the heath to the Deep River. Fungi aplenty, wet underfoot, the Deep lets you know it’s there, even from hundreds of metres away.
Arrival at the swing bridge sparks gasps. There is not a breath of wind and the blues of the sky and the trees above are reflected perfectly in the cold, tannic final stretches of this majestic river. We pause a moment, this is usually where the car’s parked. Instead, we must climb Mount Clare before a long descent into the town of Walpole, 7km to the east, for a beer and a burger.
We make it home at 9.30pm on Sunday, the solstice, thrown back into city life too soon but just in time to avoid a severe weather warning, now crossing the coast we have explored. The storm would wash away our footprints, leaving the memory of this trip no longer carved in the texture of the earth, but instead in the cupboards of our minds.