Monday, 20 October 2014

Day 32 - A Remarkable Day

Looking through an arch
at Remarkable Rocks
It not often - okay never - that I'm lost for words but today might be one of those days.

It's known by anyone who reads these pages that I love being in nature's backyard ... moving about, watching, listening, wondering how that got there and then sometimes just gobsmacked by how brilliant God's creation is. No apologies. I'm a Christian. God has to be mentioned from time to time.

This is our first time in Flinders Chase NP. First times tend to polarise your reactions. It's either amazing or crap or is that just me. Never have been a lukewarm kind of person.

Flinders Chase fits into the former class.

I've seen the pictures. I've read the reviews and I've read loads of online comments about the key features of this place but nothing prepared me for the sensory explosion that those features created in me. It started at the NP headquarters as we were greeted by a friendly lass, originally from the west country (Wiltshire to be precise), who came to Oz and married an Aussie bloke, had a couple of kids and ecentually set out on the Big Loop. At some stage of seeing the place, they all wound up in KI, to see friends as it turned out. Now she has a contract for the summer with the national parks, so has hubby, the kids are enrolled here and life is pretty good. I was so enthused by her story - she told me she had nothing to tell me that was interesting - that I wrote a poem about her!

The road out to the Cape Du Couedic is sealed but slow as it twists and turns and rises and falls at no more than 60kms/hr and bends along the way a lot slower than that. There are no tall trees, only low salt tolerant shrubs and trees stunted into pygmy versions of their original shelves. In many ways, it reminds you of heath country of northern Scotland only with more vegetation. The twenty minutes it takes you to reach the first turn - to Remarkable Rocks - builds the anticipation.

Remarkable Rocks from a distance
Remarkable Rocks - pretty big claim and from the approach and the first chance to park and look at it from a distance, it looked just like a few odd shaped rocks sitting on a display plinth. It reminded me of a sculpture seen across the room in an art gallery. Good marketing perhaps?

Even walking across the board walk to its base wasn't all that inspiring. It looked like a cross between Bald Rock (Northern NSW) and the rather giant, by comparison, Uluru. In fact, it wasn't until we walked up its granite slopes that the impact of the place started to smack us fairly firmly in the face. What you see from the car park is a small portion of a great variety in size, shape and colour of granite boulders, some of them massive, shaped by the salt air and the blasting wind. There are passageways, overhangs, vertical walls, hollows, rocks to climb on, in, around and all of it placed in random arrangement on a giant monolith dome which appears to have risen out of the ground like some sleeping giant gradually coming to consciousness.

That's just the size and complexity of the shapes. There is also the colours. Inside hollows and caves there are blacks, on the southern exposed slopes there are orange stains from five hundred million old lichen. Crystals sparkle from the granite as you take up different angels with the sun.

The complexity of shapes lends itself to all manner of unexpected views, as openings reveal partial windows on beaches or ocean, like unexpected glimpses.

When you think you have seen all it has to offer, you emerge on the eastern side and the world dips disconcertingly away from you. By the time you might see the small markers which warn you of the prohibited area, it may be too late. A combination of the angle, the unexpected slipperiness of the red lichen under your feet, vertigo and the wind amplified through narrow passages at more than 70kms/hr can easily and without warning cause a stumble, an uneasy step and almost certain death. In 2003, a German tourist went too far and tumbled down the seaward face and into a sea whose punishment for lunacy is severe to the point of death. Two blokes followed him in to save him. The whole thing took minutes and he was eventually bought ashore over the tortured rocks which lie in jagged tumbles at the foot of the big dome, pounded constantly by ocean waves that are never calm, never supporting of error, He had multiple fractures, lungs full of sea water and blood form cuts and abrasions to 90% of his body.

His rescuers were not so lucky. Both died that day in saving his life.

I stayed well clear of the signs.

By the time we left, remarkable was a wholly inadequate word.

The sheer cliff face were
supplies were winched
On our way to the lighthouse on Cape Du Couedic and Admirals Arch which lies below it, we called in at Weirs Bay, so named because it was the place where supplies and mail were landed for the lighthouse keepers and their families after the lighthouse was established in the very early years of the twentieth century. A small jetty was built with a precarious footing at the base of the cliff and a passage quarried down the face of the cliff to allow materials to be winched up to the storage shed above. Again, the wind played a large part in our experience. Stepping up to the edge, it wasn't the drop that threatened by the blast of air that bodily smashed you, as though the full force of it was channelled up the shute to assault you. How could people live in these place, let alone work here? The old stone storage shed is currently being restored, as its timbered support beams and roof have long since been claimed by the salt air and wind. Big signs on the site reminded all not to enter as it was a hard hat area, although the two blokes we saw working up long ladders in the howling wind had neither hard hat or harness.

We passed the lighthouse and went instead to the walkway to Admirals Arch, which exists below the land we would traverse to get there. Just opening the car doors was a gamble, as I had chosen to park with the back of the car to the gale. It took both Sue and I to keep her door under control. Despite the need for speed in donning cots and warm head wear, it is, under such circumstances, impossible to do so quickly. The wind just attacks you.

The walk down to the arch is a very cleverly constructed series of jigs and jags along a boardwalk, with stops at various point to admire the view and eventually, to watch the New Zealand Fur Seals which use the area to birth and train their pups. There were several times when I lost my footing and was blown sideways. I admired ladies who persevered with hats which must have been nailed in place. I can't think of a time when I have experienced winds so severe.

This is to take nothing away from the scenery. It is staggering in its beauty and in articular, its wildness. Rarely can we experience wildness in these days of OH&S. Rarely can we get close enough to wildness to understand its untamed nature and the inherent danger that is part and parcel of every minute. The water pounded the rocks below and fur seals played in it like it was a late afternoon bath taken in defiance of responsibility. Above them, we clung to rails and steady ourselves, offering human shields for the photographers when even image stabilisers couldn't cope.

Admirals Arch
The final decent to the arch was either hair raising or hair destroying, depending on gender. This was not a place to test your toupee glue. As it was, I suspected I would be bald before the afternoon was through. Your drop down through a seal rookery and suddenly any breath you had left leaves you as you stare out through Admirals Arch. It perfectly frames the seals who live their land lives here, with a raging, angry ocean behind it. From the roof, spindles of rock and moss dangle down. You are left with the impression of looking from your world into another, altogether wilder, untamed one in which our brittle forms would soon perish. Even the wood of the sturdy platforms is disappearing under the combined effect of the salt air and punishing wind. It edges are turning to a pulped mush in an attrition which is weighted very much in favour of the forces marshalling against it.

Its and exhilarating place, one where every sense seems tuned to its maximum capacity. You are at once alive and awed and terrified in the same moments that you try to hold on to.

It was so hard to leave.

The return journey had all the difficulties of track in, only now we had to climb. On reaching the car, I almost lost the back door whe  I neglected to hold it against the wind and it made a most unhappy cracking sound when the gale caught it and tried to make it operate beyond the manufacturers specs. Safe in the car, we shot some video amongst the howls and rocking of the car.

Before leaving, I inspected the lighthouse, a rather poor cousin to the natural beauty we had already seen but amazing in its own right. Constructed in 1906, it has the most beautiful architectural lines. I shot photos and dashed for the car.

The afternoon included a visit to the platypus waterholes, always a fruitless exercise in the middle of the day. Inland and out of the wind, it was much warmer in the sun and we only gave it brief attention before finding the picnic area to gather ourselves over sandwiches. Coffee followed at the NP headquarters and after another lovely chat and sharing the poem I had written, we returned back to our campsite.

Plans to revisit in the golden hour before sunset were thwarted as we were both exhausted from fighting the wind in the morning and didn't fancy returning to the front line so quickly. Another time, perhaps. Instead we did the short walk from the caravan park and saw three koalas in trees along the way. Not as hard as it sounds as KI has an overpopulation of between 16 and 27 thousand, depending on which study you read.

A stunning day and one that has informed us for the decisions we have been facing in terms of the next phase of our life together. We can no longer do this travelling about the place as a hobby. Its time to concentrate on this lifestyle full time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments will be moderated before being posted.