19 October 2007

things that bite

No doubt Australia’s collective irrit-o-meter is registering a dirty big hit right now. Poor populous, with lounge rooms and TVs, witnessing night after night of hair-pulling in the electioneering ring. That must bite. ‘Specially now Johnny’s come over all ‘green’. In my little cultural vacuum (otherwise known as the boat), I’m contributing in my own meagre way, channelling irritation via an incursion of bites and welts. Big festy ones, with bits of arm and leg visible in between.

It all started with another Monday Morning Moment. Walking along the seaward shore of Hinchinbrook Island, setting off from George’s Point to walk the 32 kilometre, World Heritage-billed Thorsborne Trail. Sand-skirted forest. Jagged escarpments. Thumping surf. Sea eagles cruising. Bruised sky. Cool breeze at our backs after maddeningly muggy days. Like many a sorry tale, it began on a whim, with much giddy excitement.

First mate, deckie and I book our walk – four days, three nights – the day before setting out, provisioning as much as is possible on a Sunday in a small town. A billy is improvised from an International Roast tin (which, naturally, only saw Vittoria from thence on). A ride is hastily arranged – with Nino from Ingham, who’d been on the overnight sail with us to Goold Island – south to Lucinda, where Nino introduces us to the publican who lets us camp in her backyard. We have beach towels for sleeping mats and a flustery dome tent, which we nickname the Taj for its seeming opulence when erected next to first mate’s mozzie net, sans ground sheet. Curlews wail all night. Up early to thumb a ride (really) in the back of a ute (truly) down the road to the ferry.

To self: Why do I feel like I’m 19 again?

Night one on the island. Camp at Mulligan’s Falls and lovely swims in small waterhole with inquisitive jungle perch. We swim to escape the swarms of march flies, sandflies, mozzies – really, anything that flies and bites. Why did we choose to walk on an island with 31 species of mangrove? The Bushman’s puts up token resistance. By morning I’m having chickenpox flashbacks.

Our second day’s walk gets us out of rainforest and into coastal shrubland... grasstrees, she-oaks, banksias and big views over the Palm islands, Magnetic Island and the southern hemisphere’s longest jetty, at 5 kilometres – which delivers sugar to ships from the Lucinda wharf. I’m dog-happy as the bites get a good scratch on the overgrown track.

Swim and late lunch at an ‘infinity’ rockpool atop Zoe Falls, with The Most Amazing View Ever, followed by us pitching the Taj at The Most Stupid Place Ever for a Campsite: the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service established site, next to a mangrove-lined estuary and an ‘Achtung – camp well away from water’ sign. A temporary wire fence has been erected “due to recent croc sightings”. First mate requests permission to kip in the Taj tonight.

Here we meet Tom from London who is travelling solo. First mate urges me, as the token single female in our party, to get chatty and impose upon Tom's gas stove to cook our dinner. (Something we couldn’t acquire or improvise at short notice. We made a fire last night, in the absence of other campers, but there are two other parties at tonight’s camp.) Tom happily exchanges fuel for coffee, chocolate and a chat. We make a fire anyway, since we’re desperate to repel things that bite.

Day three on the island. We knock off almost half the trail in one go: 14.5 kilometres, Zoe Bay to Nina Bay. Rainforest, heathland, salt flats. Paperbarks and quandongs. Wompoo fruit doves. Orange-pink rocks and a lone sea turtle.

At a creek crossing, first mate applies mud to legs in a bid to soothe and repel. We watch his instant relief and follow suit. Tramping off, we come across three guys from Sydney, who think our muddy stockings are hilarious and want to take photos. We start hair-braining a marketing plan for Bandjin (Hinchinbrook's traditional owners) organic moisturising mud mask.

We swim and lunch at Banksia Bay (fondly renamed Salami Bay in honour of dwindling rations) and rock-hop a few headlands. As we hit the sand at Little Ramsay Bay, we spot a walloping big croc 10 metres offshore. Just cruising around looking hungry. Glad now to have finished the salami.

Arrive at Nina Bay before dusk and make a fire on the beach under a big she-oak. Pitch the Taj and sip a couple of coconuts through a pink bendy straw. I try not to ponder where the straw came from. Meet fellow campers, Adam and Andrew, who come in on kayaks. Turns out they also fly planes, scuba dive and climb big mountains. Before the year is out, one will climb in Nepal and dive in Papua New Guinea. The other’s off to China. Our Thorsborne attempt suddenly feels a bit lightweight.

(An aside in the realm of things I’m not but wish I was: we were mistaken twice in as many days as marine biologists following our explanation of Pelican’s work.

First mate goes into corrective mode: “Nah, we’re just deckhands.”)

We have a good night yakking round the fire with our new friends but worry about Tom, who was also going to overnight at Nina. We hope he didn’t stop to swim at Little Ramsay. Thankfully, he strides into camp next morning in time to join us for coffee. We farewell the kayakers. It’s a short walk to the end of the trail and a long wait with the sandflies for our ferry, which takes us to the Wilderness Lodge for showers, beers, lunch and a spot of aimless lounging.

Have uploaded a swag of photos from the Hopevale Rodeo, the Cardwell sails, Hinchinbrook (of course) and other miscellany.

The 7.30 Report feature will air next week... if you're tv-less like me, check out the vodcast.

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