We have a habit preferring the beach to the official trail. It all sounds good, if you imagine strolling hand in hand along a sandy shoreline with warm, gentle waves lapping at your bare feet.
That’s not Cape Conran.
Cape Conran is a wild, rocky shoreline of inlets, seaweed, crags, black volcanic columns and reddish, salmon coloured rocks. It’s full of mosses, spinafex, shallow pools and yes, some stretches of soft, white sand.
In short, it’s awesome. Cape Conran is one of my favourite beaches.
For a start, it’s immensely more interesting than Lake’s Entrance, but it’s not distant and unreachable like the mysterious wilderness zones further up the Victorian coastline.
We began our hike at the brutally named Sailor’s Grave. Australia has a grim past of convicts and Europeans ill-prepared for our harsh and uncaring land. Our history is marred with countless stories of how things didn’t go so well. I think that’s why we have a lot of places like Indented Head and Sailor’s Grave.
Sailor’s Grave looked apt enough in the steely grey weather that morning. The water was choppy and dangerous and the seagulls picked over the spoils left land bound and trapped in seaweed piles.
The Cape Conran Nature Trail only goes inland, so we took the East Cape trail instead. It took us through a series of tiny bays, curiously different despite their close proximity. Some were rocky underfoot, filled with worn pebbles and seashells, others were gritty with sharp rocks jutting out from the sea or smooth sand with smooth boulders. It’s hard to imagine how such a jumble of different environments co-exist side by side when the same forces created, nurture and batter it day after day.
The East Cape Trail is only short and it heads back inland quite early on. As blue sky opened up above and the low tide opened out before us, we decided see what lay along the coastline instead.
It was a naive decision. The stretch of Cowrie Bay to Joiners Channel is an almost impassable but altogether joyous scramble. We hauled ourselves over tall, sharp rocks upturned and thrust rudely through the earth’s surface during a great upheaval millennia ago. It was a wild landscape without human infrastructure as far as the eye could see.
We blessed our sturdy boots, balancing and wobbling across the extended obstacle course. A slip and a rolled ankle were always imminent, but would have been disastrous. By the time the cape came into view, we were exhausted and more than pleased to see other people. Other people meant car parks and return trails.
After resting at the cape in the last of the warm sunlight (the clouds that had dogged our trip to the eastern coast scurried over again), we headed back.
The Cape Conran Nature trail was an easy peasy cake walk compared to the coastline. The perilous scramble to the Cape had taken hours. We barreled back to the car along the wide and well cut path in about forty-five minutes.
The rock scramble along the beach was amazing, but the official trail back was a beautiful and welcome relief.