The Bibbulmun section running alongside the southwestern edge of the Australian continent, where the roaring forties relentlessly crash onto the shoreline, is in my opinion by far the most scenic one. There’s a beauty in walking by the ocean, especially one as wild and untamed as this one between us and the Antarctic, especially so on storming days when winds blow in large swells with big waves that battle the rugged coast. Rainbows stand over the sea as rain and sunshine keep fighting over who’s to rule the sky. Though tiring and not always very appealing, there is something about it, and even the worst of days can leave good memories.
The lovely, sunny stroll into Peaceful Bay was but an intermezzo between fronts blowing in. Wind and rain increased again overnight, to such a height that we were left in doubt whether walking on the beach and crossing inlets in canoes was such a good idea that morning. But after gaining some local advice, a cleared sky and a weather forecast only going downhill for a few days we set out, determined to reach the canoes before noon when the storm would blow in with full force.
We walked along the beach rather than following the track leading into a swamp. The weather had become a bit calmer, though the wind and the swell still confined us to the very edge of the beach. After about 2 hours we reached the canoes. There was only 2 left, so we’d have to tow a few back across for the people behind us. Even a kilometre inland in the channel, the water was somewhat bumpy but manageable and soon we and our packs were on the other side.
As soon as we had them lined up for launch to tow them back to the western shore the storm broke. PJ was not keen on going, but I really did not want to be the person leaving someone standing there without a canoe. It was a bad idea, but we launched. After about 80 out of 120m I saw PJ started spinning. I tried to get over to help him but all I did was the same. We lost all control, and were set on a course out of the narrow channel and into the even bumpier waters of the inlet.
Battling it was useless and would mostly only have made things worse. We let it blow us in, trying to keep our heads cool while slowly heading back to the eastern shore. Paddling against the wind from there was still impossible, so what followed was an hour of dragging ourselves and the canoes back into the channel along the shoreline reeds. We felt guilty not having left a canoe, but we had no options and tried anything we could. We were relieved that we and all the gear in the end were safely back on the shore. Exhausted we discussed sheltering in the boat shed, but with no fresh water nearby the only option was to keep going and get our tired selves the 16km to Boat Harbour Campsite through the storm before dark. It was one of the most spectacular, yet also one of the hardest days. We stayed low the next day and waited for the storm to blow over, before moving on to the next inlets.
Gradually the storm subsided over the next few days and the seas calmed down. There was abundant wildlife along the coast: groups of dozens of kangaroos roamed in the grassy dunes, albatross hoovered the water, pelicans flew to and from the inlets, parrots and all sorts of colourful little birds were busy in the blooming shrubs. Green turned to yellow, purple and white as warmer weather set in the wildflower season. We grew more and more impressed by this final stretch, walking long days out into the beautiful sunsets.
The adrenaline was not over yet, with two more crossings to tackle before the straight line into Albany. The Parry Inlet’s fast-flowing murky waters seemed intimidating at first, but after some inspection the knee-deep channel was soon behind us. Torbay was supposingly even more straight forward, but almost proved impossible if it hadn’t been for a surfer who arrived with the same intentions to get across. We learned it was opened very recently, and its dark waters flowing strong bore witness. With quicksand, waves, a strong rip tide and an over belly button deep channel we were more than happy to have got across, and very grateful to the guy with the helping hand (we never got his name, he ran off surfing very fast).
In many ways the coastal section, and especially the last three days made up greatly for the overall disappointing feeling I had about this trail. I felt it was choked, overrun with warning signs, danger notes, absurd detours, until every sense of adventure had been squeezed out of it. But the coast challenged us, even after the sun came out again. It put some soul back into the trail.
For those final three days we finally left the scenery behind the dunes and came over the cliffs looking at sea. There were some spectacular beaches, dolphins were surfing in the waves, a whale rolled around in the distance. The thundering waters left a mist over the sunny cliffs. It was a beautiful walk into the end of walking for us, now that adventure year 2014 – 2015 is really at a close. I couldn’t believe it: it almost feels like yesterday since we left. Then again, thinking about all that passed since October 2014, Europe feels a lifetime away.
I thought about going home and how it somehow makes me anxious, returning to a life not as the same person who left it. I thought about friends feeling so distant I’m not quite sure what to talk to them about anymore. But I also thought about family, and those friendships to whom distance nor time seems to matter. The prospect of seeing many of them again occupied my mind more and more during the last few weeks and it’s something I’m very much looking forward to. I have a collection of resolutions in my head on things I want to keep up or habits I want to change, and hopefully will be able to stick with them once the trails are far behind us.
But before all that we’ll be taking a rather well-deserved holiday, exploring some more of Western Australia. I’m actually looking forward to warm weather, lying on beaches and camping in the desert. Though I’m sure it won’t be long before both of us will miss the feeling of wandering wild with nothing but what we have on our backs, and it won’t be long before a brand new idea will grow from a mere distant plan into a new adventure to look forward to.