While we munched on some delicious lunch in Dwellingup’s Blue Wren cafe we ordered some gear to protect us from the cold. It was already well in the afternoon by the time we got going so after a modest 13km we reached camp for the night at Swamp Oak. As the sky darkened in the glimmer of dusk it promised to be a cold night. We pitched our tent, hoping to trap some body heat in the bubble and prepared another cosy fire to keep warm until bedtime.
Weather agencies have agreed in the mean time that an unusual cold spell is passing through this winter. Parts of Australia and New Zealand which rarely are covered in white have seen snowy days. Unusual wet spring in New Zealand, unusual dry summer, unusual early fall, unusual cold winter in Australia. Adventures down under 2014 – 2015 has seen quite the seasons.
Out of the past five nights out I managed to sleep completely through one. We think the boogie man to blame is the humidity: those temperatures hanging around freezing point do not work well together with a 90 – 100% rate of air humidity. Gradually the days became warmer, so at least under daylight hours we could power up. The nights have improved too, fingers crossed it stays that way.
After the Murray campsite – one of the prettiest ones we got to stay at so far – we reached the first major diversion after last summer’s vicious wildfires. From Dookanelly campsite on the track is closed after the Long Gully Bridge across the Murray River was wiped out. Because it was an additional 7km return trip to the camp site from the start of the diversion we decided to set up camp by the river. It would save us an hour of walking off the already 30km of the next day, and water was right there in the river. Brilliant.
We had heard that the water in the river was clean so assumed that would be alright. The first taste however was awful. Yet our steripen blinked its smiley face and it was all we had so it would have to do. It wasn’t a pleasant 30 long, thirsty kilometers under the blazing sun to the improved campsite at Possum Springs (the shelter was destroyed in the fires). Balancing somewhere on the edge of decent dehydration we quickly introduced ourselves to our campsite companion before indulging on the water jerrycans.
After she heard our story she explained that the water in the Murray River is salty. Now thát explained a lot. I hadn’t recognised the taste because I simply didn’t expect salt water in an inland river. PJ had stayed clear of it all day and made do with what he had left of the shelter the night before. The cause of the salt is deforestation in the wheat belt, the agricultural area where the Murray’s head waters are located. The trees no longer filter the salt from the ground so it simply runs off in the river. Of course, there was no water anywhere else to be found. Still getting used to the water situation here and still happy to be carrying dehydration salts at all times.
The Bibbulmun Foundation makes a bit of drama about the bush fires and the Murray river crossing (which didn’t even get our feet wet) while it’s really fine. All in all only about four shelters are destroyed and even while we walked through black, sooty landscapes for 1.5 days, the rest of the tracks and the woods are fine.
It’s pretty interesting too to see how resilient life here is to fire. Many plants store their seeds in the ground, creating a massive seed bank that will sprout up from the fertile ashes. Many trees keep seeds in sockets in the bark on their trunks and recover through them. So even though everything is black, the middle- and undergrowth are completely gone and the trees look as if they’ve been made pillars of charcoal, green is resprouting and regrowing everywhere.
After two weeks of continuous red dust, soot and gravel PJ, I and everything we own looked like we were a pair of coal mine workers. It’s really interesting to be walking through such a different, arid landscape but by the end of this week I realised something. When we take a break, we sit on gravel. When we hang around the fire, we sit on gravel. When we pitch our tent, we pitch it on gravel. I miss grass. Sweet, soft, green, fluffy luxurious grass. Right before we entered Collie, the ground turned sandier and a bit of the green magic appeared. I am hopeful for a grassy future.