Friday, October 12, 2012

This Ancient Land

Wow, time passes. My last blog post was about walking the Coast Track through the Royal National Park. Much has happened since then, including buying a vehicle (Hyundia Santa Fe), leaving on a three week road trip, which, for reasons which will soon be disclosed, turned into a three day road trip, and watching a big storm hit the NSW coast while humpback whales breached off-shore.

The thing with moving to a new country – and, although I grew up in Australia, I left when I was 26 and that was 23 long years ago so coming back home feels like moving to a new country – is that there are so many things to do that it's hard to decide what to do first.

In any case, after much dithering, and with a somewhat uncertain forecast – spring in NSW is proving wetter and colder than we anticipated – we packed up the Hyundia and drove south. As usual for us, we didn't get very far – blame it on an extreme aversion to driving – in fact, at our furthest we didn't get more than 1.5 hours from the cave in Loftus. Our first day was spent on coastal beaches south of Wollongong as a big rain event the night before meant that the crags at Mount Keira that we had been intending to climb were wet and dripping. So, we drove south to Killelea State Park where we had a wonderful walk along Mystic Beach to the Minnamurra River and camped for the night. Next day, we visited “The Farm”, the other beach in Killelea State Park. The surfers were out, somewhere in Australia surfers are always out, and we both conceived an almost overwhelming desire to learn to surf!

Doug on Mystic Beach

We spent the rest of the day climbing at Mount Keira enjoying a full range of grades, although we actually weren't climbing that big a range – it just seemed that way. That evening, we drove west up Macquarie Pass to the top of the Illawarra Escarpment and camped at a deserted NPWS campsite near Carrington Falls in Budderoo National Park. Australia is a funny place where passes are actually routes up to higher ground instead of being a low passage between two heights of land. It's also funny to pay $30 to camp at a State Park yet camp for free (for up to two weeks) in a National Park.

It rained in the night, and the next morning was fogged in – in Canada we would call it a white-out were you on a snowfield - and the fog was actually easily as dense as I've ever seen it on a big Canadian Icefield. We walked through the misty forest with huge gum trees looming overhead and the eerie calls of Australian birds echoing through the forest to a series of look-outs above Kangaroo Valley. Standing out on a rock promontory overlooking – if being totally surrounded by white can be called overlooking – the gorge carved deep into the sandstone of the Illawarra Escarpment was like standing at the edge of the world, and I thought what an ancient land Australia is, with everything worn down to its essence. 

Nellies Glen

Later that day, we walked an 8 kilometre loop through the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve, a heathland area on the Illawarra Escarpment bursting with spring native flowers and the calls of birds. A big storm was predicted and, our telephone search for reasonably priced ($15 each) indoor accommodation for that night was unsuccessful so we drove back to the cave for the night and, sure enough, overnight a tremendous wind arose and lashing rain came in.

On Friday, during a lull in the rain but just as the winds were increasing in strength we drove down to the Kurnell Peninsula to witness the storm. The ocean was a mass of white spume spraying the cliffs for 50 metres and, in the two hours we were out, the wind increased to such a force that walking was difficult and spray from the ocean was blowing inland 100 to 200 metres. We were lucky to see a pod of humpback whales breaching off shore as soon as we arrived. For half an hour, we watched them leaping almost entirely out of the water then crashing back in, before the seas became so rough that they were all but obscured.

The day after (today) dawned clear and sunny with only light winds. For newcomers to the country, used to the (usually) gradually building and dissipating storms of western Canada, the nature of Australian weather, where blue skies become storm clouds rapidly and equally rapidly clear, the weather is hard to read.

The week ahead has lots of fine weather forecast and tomorrow we leave for the “Blueys” (the Blue Mountains) for some climbing and hiking. Hopefully we won't be back in three days. 

Humpback Whales

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