It is hard to believe it, but as everyone is kicking off the start of September at home, it is Spring Break here in Townsville, North Queensland. Growing up, Labor Day weekend has always marked the last weekend of summer in my mind with camping as a family with many friends. This year for Labor Day weekend, despite being away from my family and in another country, I actually ended up camping, but here in the southern hemisphere, I was actually kicking off my Aussie Spring Break.
If you read my last blog post about Bushwalking Up Cloudy Creek, you’ll know that I have found a group of local bush-walking enthusiasts who love a challenging hike. After having such a great time with them last Saturday, when I heard they were planning a two-day, one-night bush walk to Cape Cleveland, I knew that hiking again to more places that very few people have ever been to was how I wanted to start my spring break.
This hike began very early. Another new club member picked me up at 6am and by 7am we had joined everyone else at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) parking lot. We stepped off at 7am onto a private beach accessible only by AIMS staff; conveniently one of the club members happens to work at AIMS. Our hike began by following dingo tracks along the sand.Although it was only 7am, the sun was already shining bright and warm. I knew that it was going to get hot. For this hike, we had to carry along all of the water that we would need for the day in addition to other day-pack standards. I carried 4.5 liters of water for myself as well as my lunch/snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, and first aid kit. My pack was pretty heavy at the start and it took quite a while for me to adjust to the way that a heavy pack changed my center of balance, especially on the rough terrain that we hiked. However, the saving grace was knowing that the more I drank and stayed hydrated, the lighter my pack would become. However, what I did not anticipate was how my lowering energy levels throughout the day would mean that even though in actuality my pack was becoming lighter, it felt like it was getting heavier. While walking along the beach, I also found the largest cuttlefish bone that I have ever seen. After doing a bit of research I learned that Australia is home to the world’s largest cuddle fish that can weight over 23 pounds! I am not sure what type of cuttlefish this bone came from, but it’s neat to know that perhaps it came from one of the world’s largest. Unfortunately, due to not wanting to weigh my pack down any more than I had to, I just snapped a couple photos and put it back where I found it. After we walked along the beach for about half an hour, we cut to the left and said goodbye for now to the sea.
We began hiking upwards towards the peaks of rolling mountains in the distance. The first view from above that we came to was incredibly impressive, but little did I know, the impressive views for the day were just beginning. As we hiked, there were many things to look at and take note of, particularly the various plants that we came across. The yellow flower on the right is the yellow Kapok flower and grows on a tree that essentially doesn’t have any leaves, just the bare branches and colorful blooms. Additionally, the lower left flower is one that I thought was particularly sweet and pretty, with a neat leaf pattern. As I was taking a photo of it, all I was told is that it is a weed and is really hard to get rid of. That comment made me realize how different things look depending on your perspective. To me, the foreigner, it was dainty and beautiful, but to the locals it was pesky and persistent. Although you can’t tell from the photos below, in order to get the view in the following three photos we had to not only climb to the top of a rolling mountain, we also then had to scramble to the top of a giant boulder. Thankfully, there was a tree growing between the gap of two adjacent boulders that we were able to use as a hand and foot hold. After climbing off the bolder, we took again to hiking through the brush and scrub of the wild Australian bush. The footing was uneven and often times unsure. But, at this point, I was still very sure that I was having a fun time and enjoying this adventure.
Around 9:30am we arrived at another beach with more mountains in the distance. As we walked along the sand, I noticed lots of plastic garbage washed up on shore. It is so sad to see that places that are hardly ever visited by humans still bare the damages caused by humans. Although I wanted to dump the contents of my pack and fill it up with plastic bottle caps, I knew that at this time I had to leave the waste behind and prepare for the ever-growing hill in front of us that we were setting to climb.Our next ascent was to Castle Rock, as the club has named the square boulder-formation in the photo below. From here, it looked so far away and to get to it, we had a lot of bush to move through. This area had recently been control-burned just about 2-weeks prior to our hike. The control burn had cleared out the grasses which made it much easier for us to choose our footing as we could finally see where we were stepping. We were stirring up ash as we walked and could still smell the smoky remains. Controlled burns are a very important management strategy that reduces the amount of dry, highly flammable fuel that builds up along a landscape. This makes it so that if, and when, wildfires do occur, they burn less intensely because there is less available fuel due to previous burns. It was nice to see a landscape that is being responsibly managed in this way. However, this is not always the case.
Currently in Oregon, my beautiful home state is literally going up in flames in a fire that is spreading at unprecedented rates. Heartbreakingly, the cause of the fire was completely preventable human action. However, that aside, the rate and intensity that the fire is spreading at could have been less if more frequent controlled burns had been conducted routinely. It is so saddening to know that when I return home, many beautiful and iconic Oregon landmarks will be gone. However, I am thankful for everyone, including my mother, who is working hard to protect the people, animals, structures, and forest that is threated by the fire. I pray that it is contained soon and that a fire never again starts in such a way. Once we got to Castle Rock, I was completely covered in soot. My ankles were black and so were the sleeves of my shirt, but the toughest climbs make for the best views. We enjoyed morning tea from Castle Rock. If you notice my shirt, it is blowing in the wild. But what is hard to grasp from still images is how hard it was blowing. I was standing on the boulder and had to lean into the wind to prevent getting blown over and off the big rock.After morning tea, we continued hiking. And then stopped for a quick water break. And then hiked, and then rehydrate,d and so on and so forth throughout the rest of the morning. For much of the time, we had a great view of the ocean. And most of the time I was wishing that I could have been in the ocean as it was getting quite hot and we were not even half way there yet. We did see some more neat rock formations along the way.Finally around 1pm we stopped for lunch under some shady trees. I would have gladly skipped lunch to take a nap if I could have, but the ants crawling all around kept me sitting up right as I munched on the peanut butter sandwiches and bananas.
After about an hour to rest for lunch, we were back to hiking. This time we were hiking across a saddle that did not have many trees to provide shade over head. Earlier in the morning I had noticed how everyone was wearing a hat except for me…. And this is when I realized why. My head was feeling so hot with the sun beating right down. No matter how much water I drank, I could not cool off. This is the point when the adventure began to get a little less fun as I started to wonder why I had chosen to hike miles and miles across the Australian bush for fun. During our Cloudy Creek hike, the hike leader mentioned a couple of times that “the adventure begins when the fun ends.” At the time, I thought to myself that an adventure should always be fun. However, today I realized that perhaps he was right. This was getting a bit less fun, but with each step I was going deeper into the Australian bush and thus, my adventure was growing. I also realized that to be on a fun trip does not mean that every moment has to be fun. Its the over all experience that counts, for everything has its ups and downs.
As we continued hiking, it seemed as though every time I needed to feel a cool ocean breeze quite badly, we would finally meet the crest of a ridge to be greeted by a refreshing wind. It always felt so amazing, I welcomed it with open arms as I aired out my arm pits.
The next landmark that we came to is called the Armchair Rock, because its a big rock that is perfectly shaped just like a chair. As soon as I took a seat on it and looked out into the ocean view, I thought to myself that perhaps God put this chair here so that He can come visit and admire the beautiful world He lovingly created for us to explore. It was pretty crazy trying to imagine God sitting in this armchair, but I know without even seeing it that He was there. Aside from laughing kookaburras mocking us from the trees and other birds flying over head, we saw a few signs of animal life up in the dry hills. The left is the skin of a snake, the center an empty and sun-bleached snail shell, and the right is a cicada exoskeleton. We also happened across a wallaby den that was recognized by the few pieces of wallaby poop that were laying outside it.Finally, after what seemed like a never ending amount of time hiking through the blazing sun, we saw water again in the distance. This was the last beach that we were waiting to arrive at, knowing that after we passed the beach, we would have about a 45 minute hike left. After we walked past the beach, around the mangroves, and along the rocky shore, we were poking around trying to find the best entrance back into the bush for the final stretch of our hike. As we were just about to hesitantly plunge back in to the think of it, we heard a friendly shout.The day before, another group of the bushwalking club had hiked in to camp an extra day. it just so happened that one of them had wandered back down to the shore to shuck a few oysters. When given the option to continue to the camp site or double back to try my first oyster, it was a no brainer. I found some extra energy and with enthusiasm retraced my steps because when someone offers to take you oyster shucking on the coast of Australia after an adventurous day of bushwalking, there is only one right answer.
We had to work quickly because the tide was coming in, but I still got to find and shuck my own oyster for my first time ever eating one. I was trying to be optimistic that I would like it and kept telling myself that new food is my favorite food. Butttt, unfortunately, albeit not unsurprisingly, I did not like the oysters one bit. I couldn’t even partially swallow it. It simply tasted like a mouth full of seawater and my body new better than to let it go anywhere past my mouth. Almost as fast as I slurped the oyster into my mouth it was headed back out again. I apologized for wasting it, but no hard feelings were had. I then took to holding the cup as the master oyster-shucker collected some to take back to share at camp.Once we finally crested the final hill after 4pm and I saw our campsite for the night, I was so relieved to have finally arrived. Our destination was the Cape Cleveland Lighthouse. It was built in 1879 and is usually only visited by people who come via ferry. We had spent over 9 hours and hiked over nearly 11 miles across elevation ranging from sea level to 650 feet above to make it to this point. And just like a beaker guiding us along the right way, the sun shone bright around the lighthouse and welcomed us warmly.After saying hello to everyone and dropping my pack, I found my over-night bag that was brought over with everyone else’s camping gear on a boat captained by the gentleman who currently has the lease for the light house property. I was also quickly lead over to the edge of the cape where 15 sea turtles were swimming in the water below just off the rocks. It was amazing, my first time seeing sea turtles in person. They bobbed up and down with the waves, and therefore, were challenging to photograph. But, there is one in the photo below. Can you spot it?After changing into my togs (swimsuit) I headed back down the hill for a long-awaited swim at the beach. As I eased into the water, it felt a bit cool. But once I was hip-deep I dove on in and loved the feeling of goosebumps that covered my skin. After feeling dreadfully hot for so long, it felt great to be a bit cold. I also loved getting to scrub my feet around in the sand and get off all of the layers of soot and sweat that had built up throughout the day.
After my swim, I returned to camp to set up the tent that a club member had generously loaned me with a sleeping bag and pad. This was the perfect little single person tent. It literally set up in less than a minute and is a great size for one.
Next, it was time to watch the sunset. I had never before worked so hard to watch a sunset in my life. And it was well worth the effort. Someone pointed out that it is rare to be able to watch the sunset over the water in Queensland, since it is on the east coast of AU. While it had not occurred to me before, it was true.
While I had seen the sunset from the shore of Maggie Island before, tonight I got to watch the sunset behind Maggie Island.After the sunset, it was time to relax and enjoy everyone’s company. I was amazing by what everyone had packed for dinner. Many of them had hot soup that they warmed over snazzy little gas burners, while others had steak and salad even! I had packed more peanut butter and flat bread for myself. When someone asked what I had brought, to my response they said that didn’t count as dinner. I told them not to underestimate a college student’s ability to survive off peanut butter, but as I did so, our host for the evening asked if anyone would like a bacon roll with ham, cheese, onion, and tomato. And thus, like any good college student, I thankfully accepted the offer of free food from a generous donor and was very happy to get some real protein after a long day of physical activity.
As everyone chatted into the evening, chocolate and other sweets were passed around the circle along with stories and fun conversations for everyone to share. It was around 9pm when everyone started heading to bed. I was so tired, but also so content and thankful for the adventure that the club had welcomed me on and helped make possible for me. As I snuggled into my tent for the night, I quickly realized that the sleeping bag was better suited as extra padding than for warmth since it was still fairly warm out, by my North American standards.
The next morning I woke up around 6:30am to watch the sunrise. And, even though the sunset was nice, this sunrise was one of the best I have ever seen in my life. We were able to watch both the sunset and rise over water from the same point, which is even more spectacular. With a view of the lighthouse, the tip of the cape, and the surrounding waters with the sun and clouds above, I don’t know what else could have made the sunrise any more perfect.After sunrise, we had breakfast. Again, perfectly content to eat my peanut butter sandwich, our host offered to make me a fried egg and bacon sandwich. I absolutely accepted this with great thanks. Afer fueling my body and refilling my water bottles for the long hike back out, I packed up my tent and said goodbye to the sea turtles.For the start of the hike, we continued back along the rocky shore where we had come through the evening before. But then we took a different course.
For our return trip, we were sticking to lower elevations and cutting through between the saddles instead of summiting each of the ridges as we did the day before. We also had a bit of a cloud cover that made a world of difference in keeping us all much cooler.
Throughout the day, we hiked through tall grasses that at times were over my head height. Mostly, we were blazing our own trail. But at times we found a pig trail leading in the direction we were heading that made the trip a bit easier. There was also a big difference between being second person in line or the 12th person in line. The farther back you were, the more well-defined the path would be by the time you walked along it. For me, my placement all depended on how many photos I stopped to take and who passed me along the way.
From the valleys we saw gorgeous cliff faces that we had not seen the day before, as well as different wildlife. While we were hiking along a dry creek bed, hundreds of Blue Tiger butterflies fluttered all around us. It was spectacular and truly felt magical. We continued hiking through the bush until we arrived at Paradise Beach, which we had been to the day before. But today, its name rang true. After hours of hiking in the heat, looking out at the rolling waves truly did look like a paradise. Many of us jumped in the waves or went for a swim to cool off before having lunch. As I ate my peanut butter, I soaked in the view as much as I could knowing that this was somewhere that very few people have ever been to and likely somewhere that I will never visit again. After lunch, we pressed onwards for the last leg of our journey. Once Back on the AIMS beach, I pulled out my plastic grocery bag and began filling it with plastic garbage until it was full an my arms were loaded. I felt as though it was my obligation to give even the littlest thanks in this way to the oceans we had visited. Although we had all packed in and packed out everything we brought with us, there still was endless plastic waste washing up on the beaches we had visited, a sobering reminder that the waste of humanity has massively damaged beautiful places without people even visiting it by the masses.In total, our hike out from Cleveland Bay was much faster. It took only 7 hours and was about 9 miles in length, bringing our total distance hiked in two back-to-back days to 20 miles. I have never hiked so far on such rugged terrain in my entire life, but I am proud to have done so now. However, I would not have been able to complete this first adventure of my Aussie Spring Break without the help and generosity of the Townsville Bush Walking Club. I am so thankful for their willingness to share their rugged backyard with me and for teaching me so much all along the way, whether it be about Australian flora and fauna or themes of bigger life lessons.
With this just being the first two days of spring break, I know that I am in for a whole week of great memories. The next mini-adventure that I am headed on is to Orpheus Island.