Gnarabup. Is it really a fortnight since I last walked? I have been to a couple of bird hides in Busselton and Bunbury in the meantime, though.
It is 9km from Gnarabup down to Redgate. The weather has turned cool and I’m not sure of the time it will take, so I decide to go in the morning, starting with a long uphill hike to the tanks and towers above Prevelly Park south of the Margaret River.
I march 3 km along an undulating 4WD track in the middle of a wide firebreak, the bush always just that little bit too high to allow wide sweeping views. Large shoe prints in the soft sand going the opposite way make me wonder what giant of a man has taken such enormous strides. A discreet cough from behind makes me turn in surprise and a lanky long-distance runner lopes past.
“I didn’t want to frighten you!” he says with an apologetic smile and no alteration in his stride. Comparison of the two sets of prints confirm that it is indeed he who is the giant.
Once off the motor track, hoof prints and horse droppings accompany me on an attractive path along a ridge overlooking fields of pasture and vineyards on my left, and thundering cliff tops to the west. A couple of viewpoints allow me to stop, marvel and take a rest. Then a very steep path, punctuated by comforting solid round logs as steps, plunges downwards in a spiral to Boodjidup Brook.
I pause below the canopy, surprising a delightful number of twittering fantails, silvereyes and a lizard or two. The brook below me is stagnant as I cross a high metal bridge (Click here for a panoramic view!), to follow the faint path along the south of the water course to the sea. It seems I will never get there.
The wind is full of sand and fine granules mixed with spray whip into my face. For a short stretch I am protected by the soft dunes, but I can find no track markers. The prickly bush is impenetrable in places and the notes tell me to follow the beach for three km.
Fearful lest I should get lost in the dunes, and already behind schedule for meeting Roy, who is never good at waiting, I decide to brave the beach. I am rewarded by a great sighting of an osprey soaring over a tidal pool, then landing for a leisurely bathe. But I dare not linger for too long. The wind hits me as I flounder in the soft slipping sand above the high tide breakers. I think of goggled mountaineers tramping through deep snow while a blizzard rages about them. Fine sand sticks to my face, my sunglasses steam up, and leaning heavily into the wind, I come towards a sheer bank sloping steeply upwards into a dune. The waves crash hungrily a meter or so away. No occasional tufted grass here to provide a precarious foothold. I remember warnings in Albany about notorious king waves. No way am I going straight on. Above me towers the bush-capped dune.
I turn inland, my boots submerging in the deep sand as I struggle upwards. A large clump of grass gives way under me and I land back to where I’d started. There is nothing else for it: I drop to all fours and, with my pack on my back like a giant turtle I crawl crabwise, floundering up the sliding sand. It takes me an age, and panic is not far away; but I reach the ridge, where I empty my boots of sand. The firmer going allows me past the obstacle until the prickly bush forces me again onto the beach.
A final laborious trudge round a rocky point, and I see Roy’s Ute move away from the car park on the cliff high above me. Ten minutes and a hard upward slog later, he is still not back, but at least I have time to drain my water bottle and gather my breath.
It has taken me nearly four long hours.