The Stirling Range is a line of bush-covered, odd-shaped peaks sticking out of the south west Australian landscape on a roughly east-west alignment.
I decide to climb the highest peak – Bluff Knoll (1094 m). It is a 6km return hike, the blurb says, which will take me 3-4 hours.
The tourist track bobs up and down the foothills in dappled shade, then turns right in ever-increasing steepness as it winds beneath the vertical bluff towering ominously above me. The sky is so blue, and I stop to gather breath at each small piece of shade, so precious in its scarcity now that the bush is becoming lower. My car in the sun-exposed park below gets quickly smaller and smaller, the view ever wider.
Steep steps, bigger boulders, more breaths, one water bottle already finished. The path winds on and up towards the saddle where the south-east side opens itself two hours later. I still cannot escape that sun.
An overhanging boulder looms a little off the path. Keeping a wary eye out for snakes, I make for it. I squeeze under the meagre shade and settle down to eat my roll and a biscuit, while savouring the patchwork fields far below. They stretch out towards the Porungurups and the hazy twin peaks where Albany nestles.
Refreshed, I clamber back onto the path and trudge less steeply up to the bluff itself.
The view widens and I see a series of salt lakes to the north. 360 degrees of wide open spaces, some signs of farms, but mostly bush. A trio of wedge-tailed eagles swoop and dive above me.
I stay up there an hour before steeling myself to face the long downhill walk. The sun seems, if anything, to be even hotter and the shade just as elusive. I pass a large straggling party on their way up, sweating, panting and suffering. As I near the car park, my limbs correspondingly become weaker; but finally – oh bliss – I arrive. 4.45 p.m. – five hours of self-inflicted torture.
At the Retreat, I wallow thankfully in the pool, eat a meat pie in my caravan, and sleep like a log. Then I am informed the temperature during the day was 42C.
The following morning I drive the Sterling Range scenic route, stopping off at sites and viewpoints in this wild and wonderful place. 60 km per hour is the right speed to ride the rutted road. A short hike takes me to a beauty spot to admire yet another vista, punctuated by peaks of different shapes and sizes.
A long haul takes me past the salt river and lakes, which I had spotted from the Bluff, and I arrive at the Porongurups at 1.15 p.m. The park at Castle Rock is shaded, so I put my feet up and doze for an hour to avoid the heat of the day. I needn’t have bothered. The 1.5 km hike (45 minutes) to the top is beautifully shaded by karri trees. I pass the precarious Balancing Rock and find a convenient slab just below the Castle Rock where I sit and eat an orange. A noisy party is there before me, disturbing the peace by vociferously sliding down through fissure. I wait for them to leave before scrambling the last 30 metres up solid rock and mount a ladder to the top. Miles and miles of Australia spread into the distance, and I discern the faintest glimpse of the town of Albany on the far horizon.
It is time for me to return the car to my family and say goodbye to Australia.