The excitement to start our second long-distance walk grew so large that we both couldn’t sleep the night before departure. I had been coming down with a flu which was half healed, half not, but going out into the peace of the bush seemed like a better cure than hanging out in hostels in Perth. We took an easy start: only 10km to the first campsite that day. After the obligatory pictures by the northern terminus sign we were on our way down the Bibbulmun Track at noon.
Admittedly that first day I suffered some snake-spider-scorpion paranoia in the country “where everything wants to kill you”. After seeing some Aussies happily running around in the bush collecting firewood that night and arrive long after dark the nerves subsided. Everyone kept saying that we’d be lucky if we even saw a snake during winter, they’re all sleepy and drowsy from the cold.
I almost forgot how nice and quiet it is to be out. As we sat in our first shelter – a sort of 3 walled open hut – and the evening sun lit the woods around the world already seemed a million miles away. We couldn’t have picked a walk to contrast our last one more: this semi-arid environment with its spacious, open forests and rusty red soil is something completely new to us.
From our fellow travellers we have been learning about the different plants and trees. Lots of colourful birds and several types of parrots have flown over, happily squawking to each other. On the first day I fell and injured my knee watching a rare and beautiful red-tailed cockatoo. Almost every day some kangaroos hopped by, always a sight that makes us smile. Southwestern Australia is one of the globe’s biodiversity hotspots so there is so much we haven’t seen yet and lots to discover.
Besides of the wildlife the geology of the area is amazing. This is one of the few places on the planet where a large craton – a piece of stable continental crust that hasn’t been modified for over 500 million years – exists. The rock outcrops we walk on and by are up to 3 or even 4 billion years old. As a geonerd I find their appearance and composition very fascinating. But even for anyone,trying to imagine such a timescale or looking at remnants of Precambrian, young Earth is pretty cool.
It took a few days before we were fully in the zone again. For the transition we had the lucky company of a group of older walkers, ranging from 50 to 68. Around the campfire they shared their cheese, wine and dampers (a sort of sweet bread roasted over the fire) with us and we happily offered our chocolate in return. Good on them for being out there. I hope that when I reach their age, I will be too.
On day 5 we experienced that it can and does actually rain here. After 4 hours of continuous downpour we pulled out halfway our goal for the day at 16km, soaked to the bone. But the biggest surprise has been the cold. Those biting cold winds straight from the Antarctic make their way here too, raging through the forests and every layer of clothing like freight trains.
The nights became increasingly cold as the wind turned south. More and more we slept uncomfortable and couldn’t get warm. On our sixth night out we woke up after a few hours and didn’t sleep again. As we tossed and turned through the night we layed pondering about why we couldn’t cope with it. Why weren’t we comfortable here with exactly the same gear we used in New Zealand?
The morning explained a thing or two. Our water bottles had not a bit but an actual few centimeters of ice in them. Pj’s hat that we had left on a pole to dry was frozen solid as a rock. We learned later that a new cold record had been set: -2 in downtown Perth, so we estimated that it must have been -5 or below where we were. Originally we had planned to bypass North Bannister and go straight to Dwellingup but the idea of a warm meal and a warm bed were too appealing.
After leaving the Darling Range the remainders of the trail offered easy walking. Yet as the cold persisted everything became harsher. Starting out early in the morning was difficult after a poor night’s sleep. Freezing hands made packing slow and even made me having to take breaks to warm up as they hurt too much. It’s been tough on our spirits too. Putting our tent up under the shelters to create a warm air bubble helps, but it is still on the edge.
We didn’t anticipate this at all and it’s been the biggest influence on our progress not being as steady as we wanted it to be. So we keep moving from Dwellingup, powered up after a couple of good meals. Onwards and southwards, to Collie.