It’s grey and cool in the morning with a 30% chance of showers. Our walk begins at the Information Centre, where we’re greeted by little, orange men. They’re hunched over and shuffling and look how we felt yesterday arriving into town. Today they’re a bit of a downer because I already have traumatic-sized blisters on my feet. I don’t need reminding that more walking will have consequences.
We walk along the river mouth by paddle boarders in melancholy romance with nature. I’ve never seen it before but there’s lots of them on the Victorian surf coast. Neither of us surf, but we imagine the proper use of a surfboard is to be like a big kid. “I’m gonna stand up on a wave and see how long I can go for. You know, until I fall over.”
Naturally we ignore the Surf Coast Walk path and head straight to the beach. At 10am, we’re right on low tide. Maybe I won’t have to wear my shoes again today. It starts to rain.
The first rocky outcrop of the day is Point Roadknight. It has a strange, otherworldly feel about it. The waves and weather have worn it down into uneven pillars and pockmarks.
You can see the power of the elements at work. Large sprays of salty ocean fan out across the rocks and leap into the air.
An endangered hooded plover is nesting on the beach nearby. A volunteer warns us (in a friendly way) to keep near the water’s edge as we walk around because the birds nest above the high tide mark. He loses his train of thought as he sees me taking the photo. I think he’s a hero. He gives up his time to stand guard over a little bird and her young and they’ll never know about it or thank him.
The next beach is long and straight but we can see the end in sight. The lighthouse of Airey’s Inlet stands on the horizon like a red and white beacon, inviting us onward instead of warning us away.
There’s something about the enduring sameness of this beach that settles us into silence. We hold onto our shoes and wander in and out of the gentle water. The wind picks up and eddies the sand into whirling devils across the dunes. Later, he calls it the silent stretch, but we have a shared understanding. We’re free to inhabit the beauty of the world with simple, quiet respect.
The tide is coming in again. Earlier, the bird hero urged us to go inland at Urquart Bluff but we reckon we’re making good time. We make the risky choice to continue, leaving behind the last known path up the cliffs. We can always go back, we think.
It’s funny how the presence of other people lulls you into safety. Surely they know what they’re doing. Surely they know the way out. When you don’t see anyone for a solid half hour, panic starts to set in.
The cliffs are wild and windswept. In many places, there’s no way up, even if you’re driven by the waves to attempt a scramble. I keep one eye on the cliffs and start to make a mental note where places of last resort are. If we have to wait out the tide, that’s where we’d go.
Suddenly, there’s a tour guide coming the other way. She says hi and wants to know if we have sunscreen on. She’s cracking a joke for her highly slip slop slapped group, but she has no idea how relieved we are to see her face. Just around the corner is Sunnymead Beach.
We’ve learnt our lesson. Rather than risk another bluff crossing, we walk the final stretch along the clifftop.
The lighthouse and Split Point hold a stunning promise of what the Great Ocean Walk is going to be like later in the year.
Breaking blue on yellow.
Solitary limestone monsters all along the coastline, abandoned by the eroding shore.
I can’t wait.