Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Island Dreaming

Desolate beaches, blazing red sunsets, empty dawn mornings, the fiery sun on the eastern horizon, kayaks floating silently over clear green waters, many coloured tropical fish dancing over gardens of coral, sandstone cliffs stretching down into translucent waters, hoop pines standing sentry on rocky promontories, tidal rips and standing waves, kayak sailing and tenuously paddling kayaks into the wind, packing at dawn and unpacking at dusk, the memories of a seven day trip around Hook Island in the Whitsunday Group. 

Somehow, a day by day report of our trip around Hook Island in the Whitsunday Group of islands seems too pedestrian a format to capture the nature of this much anticipated, partly feared sojourn among these beautiful islands traveling in that most intimate of boats, the sea kayak. It seems impossible to describe the excitement and anticipation of the night before we leave, when the gear is all packed, the plans are complete and the last weather check has been made. It's also impossible to communicate our ephemeral feelings as we watch the last sunset of the trip blaze in brilliant hues of crimson and red across the western sky, the colours stretching out across the cloud caps in time and space for an hour after the sun has disappeared.

 Dawn on the east side of Hook Island

I have probably never planned a sea kayak trip, including the six weeks we spent circumnavigating the Solomon Islands or the four weeks around the Palau Islands as carefully as I planned our second Whitsunday Islands trip. Each day was designed to ensure we paddled with the tidal ebb and flow, campsites were plotted so that we reached them at mid or higher tide, and slack water was used to cross difficult channels or round exposed points. Not only was this trip meticulously arranged, but we also stuck to our predetermined schedule! Apart from spending an hour or more caught in a tidal rip near the south end of South Molle Island, the entire week long trip unfolded flawlessly.

Sea kayak trips have much in common with long ski traverses. Both activities require traveling through untracked terrain self-propelled, relying on your own judgement and skill to deal with the hazards and complexities of travel. There is always the ceaseless push and pull between taking the time to explore the landscape through which you travel (climbing peaks on ski traverses, circumnavigating islands on sea kayak trips) and making distance while conditions are favourable. One can seldom, if ever, know in advance when to push forward and when the weather favours dallying. 

The last sunset

If you are lucky, your judgement calls prove correct, peaks are ascended, islands circled, and the next day, conditions still allow forward progress. At the end, there is always the deep satisfaction of time spent in the wild, the lessons learnt, the experiences shared, the sunrises and sunsets that allow us to step out of time for just a moment and treasure the beauty of our earth.

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