Nightly Reflections – South Coast Track III

Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 12 Minutes)

For six nights along the South Coast Track I jotted down vibes from the trail. Nothing really here about the track conditions or distances between camps, mostly focused on how I was feeling returning to this wilderness coastline. Some short, some lengthy, all sweet. Here they are.

Day One.

Today I feel comfortable returning to the south west, my third time on the trail in as many years. 

The track is familiar, and I feel that I’m becoming seasoned in traversing the region. I think that there’s no reason I couldn’t do this every year, spending a week (or more) and adding on new side trips each time, revisiting but embellishing my knowledge and bringing others along for the journey.

I’m alert and excited about the year ahead of me and the personal challenges involved. I’m well rested from summer, now into my third week, time spent mostly eating and laying about. So I’m ready for bush time and especially eager if the weather is going to be good…

Day Two.

Today I hardly thought about anything. My mind could get stuck on a song (never a good song I’ll add), or be on repeat for a moment from the past, usually within the past week, the upcoming house move and subsequent search for our new place. Then after a while and a few dozen steps, something else would be on rotation. Classic day two vibes, when the city speeds and expectations are slowing down to a more fitting pace, one that is closer to the rhythm of heavy footsteps and the rustle of a backpack as it slowly reduces in weight with each meal.

The sun continued to beat down solid, and we can’t believe we forgot sunscreen. Mostly the exposed skin is alright, save my neck. It’s pretty red, hammered from hanging out too long on the beach over summer already. Eventually it sets into the ocean out west, a bulk of cloud fragmenting the light into oranges, yellows and pinks. It can’t penetrate through it all, and a mass of grey hovers slowly above the Ironbounds, the ranges tumbling into the Louisa valley below. Tomorrows ascent. 

I fell asleep for an hour on the beach, head on my runners, mini hiking towel flung over my legs fending of the March flies. I dreamt deeply into the soft sand, flashes of a memory reel reflecting in my mind. Pub hangs, silent strolls in town, or leaving the house to go to the shops. Simple everyday events that aren’t necessarily spectacular yet all add up. When I role from my snooze, I dig my toes in deeply to find the harder compressed sand, and massaged their tired ends into submission for another days hiking, tomorrow sending it steeply up and down in what will be my biggest trail day (in kilometres) on the south coast track yet. 

Last year on day two I was reflecting on returning, being back in this place with a swathe of new experiences. That’s still the case, and I’m still chipping away at trail time and wilderness readings. It’s part of our backyard that I want to see protected and adored. But I’m really not thinking about it. I just am. I feel like I’m home, and content…

Day Three.

Today was another perfect patch of hiking on the south coast track. Full blue skies and minimal wind, the ranges to the west, north and east squeezed in together, only separated in the faintest changes of silhouetted blue. Truely fantastic and beyond impressive. Catching our eyes was the massif of the Arthurs and the prominent Federation Peak, the plateau of Mt.Bobs, and those out west towards the harbour that sit lower than Able height and avoid my knowledge, for now. While up is an exposed tramp, down to Deadman’s Bay is a secluded steep send through my favourite forest of dense green. Here the forest is warm, the canopy alight with brilliant blue. Hidden in its density are the birds calling, the insects beating their wings en mass, and the frogs calling back and forth.

Sun disappears and my mind vacates the scene. I’m spent, heel aching, hips rubbed raw, fatigued for sleep. Tomorrow I might find the time to reflect on the roots and branches on the push down hill, avoiding the falls and trips, occasionally pushing myself a little too quickly and slipping into tree trunks.

Sleep tight whenever we are hey…

Day Four.

Today was divine, a near perfect day for hiking, pushing us on for a double day. There was a chance we could lag behind, or take the effort of yesterday to meaning today would just happen. Yet alarms rang and sleeping bags rustled early. Bacon and eggs danced in the last of the butter. Tea brewed on the cliff edge, a little dusting of powdered milk sat on the cup handle.

The infamous Precipitous Bluff appeared from the grotto on Prion Beach and joined us intermittently throughout the day. A fantastic mass of dolerite rock, nestled up against the major fault line that divides the states dolerite and quartz, it soaked up the sun from its 1100m+ in height a seeming stones throw from the ocean. As we rowed across the New River Lagoon, with a slight breeze from the east, the bluff loomed behind ultra impressive, making  a classy crossing photo opportunity.

The near permanent un-cross-ability of the lagoon means there’s a shuttle system of row boats on either side of the water body, that’s a few hundred meters wide. Naturally you can’t cross and leave a row boat behind as well, so in the case there’s only one boat on your bank, you need to do three trips – row across, hitch up a second boat, row back to where you came, drop it off, then row back across. In doing the crossing we risked taking all three boats back across as we knew there was a big mob of hikers coming down the beach just behind us, and sure enough as we were readying to leave they rounded the sand dunes, stoked with the extra boat! Given the heavy bias for people travelling west to east, you usually have to do the triple trip from this direction. What’s ace is the next group did the same thing, and paying it forward happened for a few successive hiking groups.

Retiring for a session in a fishing net hammock, I resisted the flies somewhat to get in a little rest and reading, delve into some deeper down time beyond cooking and making camp. The book I’m reading teaches teachers about teaching – by exploring the learning cycle and how we sense information, give it context in our lives, and (to complete the cycle) churn it into action. For a while I floated in the hammock, reflecting on how this applied to my hiking, either on this trip or over the years. There’s things sensed – maybe the tightening of skin being burnt, or a certain hunger in your gut longing for the flavour of fat/sugar. It could also be the sensation of being lost, being afraid, being fatigued. Each experience layers itself in your mind, allowing comparison of how and why each happened, and naturally how one would approach the situation into the future. With hiking, the resulting actions (or inactions) usually take form after the trip back at home. To try ensure minimal fuss before the next trip, I store and pre pack my gear once I get home. To try avoid confusion over meals, I have a pre-written shopping list of food.

We kick off again, out of the hammock and on to the warm, dry trail, undulating across the old sand dunes and under some difficult to negotiate wattle tree carcasses impeding the trail. It’s a challenge, squeezing under a branch or three, pushing uphill on a slope made of sand, as your pack inevitably catches a rouge piece of branch, dragging what minimal momentum you had to a halt.  Fortunately (as I’m not the biggest fan of this wattle stretch), it’s not long before we’re across the Rocky Plains and into my favourite patch on the trail. Truly ginormous gum trees, stunted in height like most coastal trees owing to the relentless barrage of winds of the Southern Ocean, for what they lack in height they make up in girth – with diameters at your chest height of five humans arm spans end to end: huge!

It’s right now I get to be so glad we pushed through to make it to Surprise beach, and to see this forest and the evening, golden sunlight filtering through the canopy.

We arrive. Set up. Find water and guzzle it down. We’re parched as. A fantastic days hiking along the premiere wilderness track in the land. No place like it, facing away south across spectacular cliffs and beaches that have felt the barrage of time like few others. Curtains for the day were burning red and pink, a sunset for a lifetime, jagged rock enveloped in ocean and silhouetted on a pink-blood January sky…

Day Five.

Today I’m in love with our surroundings. Well, I am every other day, but today’s a special day for all the right, simple reasons. Woke up late without an alarm, body clock delayed in calling the shots, ended up just catching the end of the morning feeding session of the local birdlife. Made a cuppa in the vestibule, the sunlight warming my tent through the slowly moving tea tree. Gazed into the middle distance as the tea brewed, waking up to a gorgeous coastal morning, cracking a massive smile across my face. It’s a different vibe waking up next to the coast – everything has reset itself according to the waves relentless frequency, wiping away our footsteps on a high tide in the process.

Eventually we packed up, and after a cruisey breakie, remembered it was time to walk. I laughed straight into a hill, immediately burning the energy through my calves, and draining my water supply. Still, while the light washed out the landscape above the trees in overcast white, below a few rays managed to penetrate the forest and parried with the understory of ferns. Ferns grow in the most stunning soft greens, delicate yet hardy, controlling and covering the landscape from below.

We got through to Granite Bay in no time, dodging a basking snake on the final ascent to the campsite. At this time it was empty bar one other hiker, and we set up shop and yarned about hiking along the eastern seaboard, following our verbal trails as we listed hikes from Cairns to Cradle to Canterbury over the ditch, and how Covid changed our hopes for so many more. I love sharing our trail stories, carefully crafted and chockers with chance occurrences we use to share values and connect – conversations and kindness of those on trail or offering a ride, the mental hurdle of solo wilderness hiking, and more.

After a waterfall shower, located under the stream that falls onto the beach below camp, my body feels stiff and sore, time to rest it and not stretch it, a sage recovery session for tomorrow’s send over the South Cape Range. So I retired to tent bed for an arvo kip and to finish my book. I’ve been chipping away at The art of changing the brain for a couple of months now, made easier by the short and punchy paragraphs and blend of advice, research, and personal experience. I’ve relished reading and learning about learning.

It’s all part of perfect afternoon in, jogging the mind and resting my overloaded muscles.

Later, I woke up to a near howling wind and a packed campsite, maybe the potential rain on the horizon has accordion-ed everyone to this camp either side of the range, prepping ourselves for the up and over tomorrow.

Again I find myself reflecting on the special loving nature of our surroundings today. I love it’s quiet, even in the howling wind. I love how it welcomes us to the landscape, even when offering up impenetrable three-metre high vegetation across the trail. I love the sensation of coming across a snake, and love even more the distance we keep from each other…

Day Six.

Today is our second last day on the south coast track. Many kilometres, views, and beads of sweat later, we’re almost there. Woke up to a rapidly emptying campsite and a superheavy seabreeze slowly clearing at Granite Bay. Waves were pumping hard, the white caps and the deep blue water surfing in together.

Straight into sending it up and over the South Cape Range, into the mud mission, featuring the sloppiest and most consistent stretch of mud for the trip. I took a few falls, ended up with mud up to the ankle, and came so close to mud near to the waist. Elliott wasn’t as lucky. Super slippery navigating across delicate and exposed branches offering minimal purchase. The mud demands your focus, keeps you heavily in tune with your footsteps, draining all your energy as it is directed to ensuring you don’t slip. Every footprint is important, because a lapse could mean mud up to your knee, could mean falling face first into the mud, or of course for a more serious injury.

But it makes for a very entertaining hiking especially under the gorgeous canopy. Stunning eucalypt woodlands, some areas with amazingly huge leatherwoods, sassafrass, or places where a tree’s come down and the resulting exposure to the sun creates an amazing fern grove of green against the encroaching shadows. And of course the open areas of swampy heathland, where the scrub is at eye level as your meandering through the flowering landscape.

The stretch down into South Cape Bay is divine. From Trackcutters camp it’s mostly down hill with just a couple little elevation gains. Amazing views span out across the cliffs, down in to the wonderfully perfect opening up onto the sandy beach and rivulet to wrap up the days hiking.

Now that I’m here I’m ready to go home. I can sense it’s just a day away now. A bed, sleep and familiar smiles is that which I’ve been missing. I think on every second last day there’s a blend of reflection of the time spent on trail blended with the possibility of tomorrow and returning to friends and family.

I have loved this trip incredibly. The lucky weather will be in the records forever, so too gawking at the unbelievable views and summiting the challenge of starting with 28kg condensed into my backpack. Layering of experiences over the years, even the ability to give expertise to hikers, and reflect on three years running. The noticeable changes and the seasonal shifts – for example water availability or condition of the campsites. 

It’s exciting be in a position where I am learning about this beautiful part of the world. I’m familiar with it, and excited to think that over the many years to come how well I’ll get to know it as 3 trips becomes 10, maybe 20 or even 30. 

It’s exciting to know that tomorrow the adventure continues, and that means beginning to find a new place to live and begin building more settled and longer term future with in this beautiful island wilderness I love that I get to call home.

Happy trails my friends,

Jimmy Nails

During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of wilderness I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point.

Follow Making Tracks on Instagram, here, or on Facebook, here.

The South Coast Track – where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the Lyluequonny & Needwonnee people. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.

Bibliography / Suggested reads: 

  • James Zull ‘The Art of Changing the Brain’
  • Daniel Kahneman ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’

Back Home.. An Expected Connection

Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 6.5 Minutes)

Something grand, right out your back door.

Gonna be bold and start with a few hypotheticals: Imagine every mountain peak has a bitumen pathway to the top and helicopter access. Every valley has a bitumen road carved into it to the waterfall at the top of the valley. Every river has a bridge over it, and better yet each river is channeled into concrete canals. At the top of every peak is a cafe. And a hotel. And from each peak you can look around to all the others from the comfort of your car, every other high point covered in roadways and hotels and cars. At night, the stars are out competed by high beams.

Imagine this at your favourite piece of scenery – or to the top of Uluru, Cradle Mountain, or Wollumbin.

It’s a totally gross hypothetical. Most can imagine it easy enough, as most people in the world are surrounded by some/all of these elements in the urban environment. It’s straight up unacceptable that where we spend most of our time we can’t drink from creeks or rivers and don’t breath the cleanest air, and to do so have to travel to areas to ‘refresh’ and seek respite from the hectic nature of our urban life.

One of the beautiful elements of wilderness is the opportunity we are each granted to reflect, experiencing the sheer contrast urban areas have with the wilder ones. What elements of the wilderness would you like to see at home? Clean water? Clean soil? Strong biodiversity? Quiet, or the near silence of wind caught in the tree tops?

To complement the wilder places, I’ve been reminding myself to see the bush closer to home. Or the greener grass on this side of the range, I guess.

It’s mid-morning and a wallaby is startled out of the shade of a she-oak, hopping off through the sedges, taking pause to look back in my direction and check out what disturbed it now its intimidation levels have dropped. Day long on this aspect of the hill the bush is gorgeous when the sun’s out; it gets a real rich yellow colour from the ageing sedges that merges with the scattered crisp green canopies and shade of the eucalypts. Staring up the hill the curve meets the open blue skies, uninterrupted. The gulls down on the shoreline are always making a racket. Or when coming back here in the evening, you’ll have a couple yellow-thoated honeyeaters chasing every bird away, or a heap of swallows feasting on the wing.

I really dig my local patch of bushland, it’s delightful. During winter and spring I was out amongst it most days of the week, walking through the sedge and sitting in the shade of the Amigdalina gums. Studying or working away at home, I’d break up my lectures and readings with time in the bush, in some ways reinforcing what I’d just been learning but in other ways just pacing or running around, resting my mind. These days, after work I get home, drop my bags and keys inside, don my runners and go for a run through the same area.

From a purely human-focused perspective, this area ticks all the boxes, even though it’s entirely surrounded by houses. It’s close to home, can host walking/running recreation, I don’t need a heavy pack, native species and solid bird watching are on offer, and my mates are close by to join. It’s an all round winner!

These days words like pristine are essentially hollow, given the global changes to climate. Our species fingerprints are all over the scene. And much like our surroundings, the depth of our understanding of nature evolves over time.

I’ve just wrapped up reading two fantastic books that I highly recommend picking up/borrowing – the first is ‘Rambunctious Garden’ by Emma Marris. Through a swathe of angles Emma pulls apart some of the history of environmental and wilderness conservation, and casts her thinking into the future, into the myriad of ways we could protect and reimagine our backyards with wild values at heart. The second is Second Nature by Michael Pollan. He explores nature through the eyes of a budding gardener, and how the attitude of growing vegetables and establishing a garden have changed over time, and whilst complicated and nuanced, are an important interpretation of nature.

Emma, and most folk with an interest/obsession with land ethics or deep ecology, frequently refer to Aldo Leopold. An amazing writer, he brilliantly wrote about his interactions with his local patch of nature – open grasslands in central northern America – and helped redefine how many people thought about their surroundings.

Aldo wrote that ‘One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds‘. I agree in that once you see an issue of any kind you’re destined to forever see it (that’s confirmation bias for you). Although what’s more pressing than the frequency of observation, is being reminded that we are not alone. Knowing that there’s an ever growing number of people concerned with the health of their surroundings.

I do feel that if we’re able to see an issue, then we must do whatever we can to help it. People know and want to see the state of the environment improve for themselves and following generations of life, and rightly deserve to be able to live in homes surrounded by clean air, water and soil.

Given that we spend most of our times at home, one flow on from wilderness inspiration is, as Marris puts it, knowing that ‘there is nature in more humble settings’. Wilderness is just one element. We can’t be in the wilder places all the time. I dwell on wilderness much but I’ve relished in seeing the benefits and values of nature closer to home over the years. Because of the local bushland, I know our air is clearer, the hum of the city dulled, animals closer, and the water that runs into our backyard filtered. Without this patch of quiet and access to others like it, our baseline of expectations for ‘home’ would be different.

Our local patches of bush close to home are incredibly important to us. They need care and smart management given the close proximity to high densities of people. If we’re spending most of our lives in urban environments, these areas just have to be healthy, strong, and enjoyable places that don’t sacrifice clean water, air and biodiversity.

A favourite line from Rambunctious Garden is: ‘We’ve forever altered the earth, and so now we cannot abandon it to a random fate. It is our duty to mange it. Luckily it can be a pleasant, even joyful task if we embrace it in the right spirit.

I’m inspired by the wilderness but wilderness alone will not save us.

We need to protect our local patches too.

This piece (finally) wraps up my ‘Back Home..‘ series. I spent the summer months delving into what wilderness means to me. I wrote about being on the top of Frenchman’s Cap, on some of the challenges of being out bush, about lengthy multi-month hikes, and about the need to chip in with a changed attitude to protection for our backyards.

If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s here at home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas at threat from human activity? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails there’s always plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined nature.

Heading into winter I’m working on a physical print book, and excited to hopefully release it in coming months. Follow me on Instagram here for updates and where/how to pick up a copy.

I always want to hear what you think – what does wilderness mean to you?? Comment below!

Happy trails my friends,

Jimmy Nails

During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of wilderness I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point.

The inspiration for this piece is right outside my backdoor in nipaluna/Hobart, on the traditional lands of the muwinina people. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.

Bibliography / Suggested reads:

  • Emma Marris ‘Rambunctious Garden
  • Aldo Leopold ‘Sand Country Alminac’
  • Micheal Pollan ‘Second Nature

Back Home… Te Araroa (SoBo) Reflections

Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 6 Minutes)

Be back in a couple months.

Lost in a network of coves on the far north-eastern point of Aotearoa’s Te Waipounamu/South Island. The island here has being consumed by ocean over millennia, valleys filling with water and creating a myriad of jutting points and hidden bays. Loosing my bearings a little, my neck cranes left to right searching for what I think could be Meretoto/Ship Cove, the starting point for the southern leg of the countries national trail, the Te Araroa (the ‘TA’).

I was pumping with energy, excited and hanging to get hiking. The boat pulled up to the jetty, and so did I, grabbing my loaded pack from the legend of a captain as I did so. A quick smile, thanks, and beginning the 1500 kilometre stretch down to the southern tip! The cool weather rainforest here is gorgeous, the sun shining through the dense, brilliant green canopy and a path lined by tree ferns and nikau palms. Following the contour over a spur, I caught a glimpse of the ocean below, stunning blue and gently washing against an undisturbed shoreline below me.

Another TA hiker and I strolled into camp together an hour or so from the jetty, meeting a third TA hiker in the process. At this stage, our earliest of expectations were totally fresh, and I truely had no idea what the terrain and challenge ahead was going to be. I knew there’d be heavy packs, and lengthy week long stretches between towns. But these were just shallow, inexperienced expectations of a thru-hike. Over a dehydrated meal and spoons of peanut butter, we delved into the details of the trail ahead and what food we had packed in. The other hiker had hiked the Te Ika-a-Māui/North Island too, and I begun to learn a bit of the lingo (‘most people walk SoBo’ that is, ‘South Bound’), hear of other people ahead/behind us (we’d started between two ‘pulses’ of hikers, about three days apart), and what else I could expect from walking for months on end (podcasts, podcasts, podcasts).

From fresh faced beginnings the distance unraveled underneath my feet as the scale of the undertaking hit me. I can tell you the exact location it began. For those playing at home it was in the Richmond Ranges, on the ridge line between Slaty and Old Man huts, staring south west to Mount Rintoul. After a lunch in the shade I stood there, staring at peaks innumerable in every direction, snow capped in the direction I was heading. Here’s an excerpt from my diary that day: ‘[the view] was humbling.. I felt alone for the first time in a while.. The scale was just huge, and my mind started to put it all together and went into shut down mode.

Here it hit that I was only on day eight of an expected seventy, and the vastness of the challenge sunk in. The sensation reminds me heavily of my time on Frenchman’s Cap, staring out over the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area, overwhelmed as I yet again reassessed my interpretation of the grandness of the outdoors.

Throughout the TA on the Te Waipounamu/South Island, you pass from one area to the next mostly surrounded by spectacular mountains on the eastern flank of the Kā Tiritiri o te Moana/Southern Alps. Mt Rintol in the Richmonds, Wiauo Pass in Nelson Lakes, Avalanche Peak in Arthurs Pass, the Two Thumb range and more. In evenings the sun sets behind the mountains, striking brilliant silhouettes and casting crisp shadows, even in February.

The shock of distance and the remote nature of my time on trail meant I had to reprogram my attitude to the hike. I realised that I was undertaking a mental marathon, not a sprint. The wild and remote backcountry of Aotearoa is what drew me here, and it provided the challenge I was seeking.

Feeling this remoteness is a crucial element to the wilderness experience. Some of the challenging moments of a lengthy, backcountry hike are tied to remoteness – the challenge of trails exposed to the elements with lengthy distances without water, of traversing free flowing rivers, or interactions with wildlife. In A Life on Our Planet, our favourite, David Attenborough, shares his changing experience with nature whilst the wild places of the earth have dwindled rapidly over the past sixty years.

Hiking through the remote places on the TA shines a light on how motorised transport can impact the nature of wild-ness. When your choice is purely by foot, the size and scale is almost incomprehensible; the challenge totally different. Yet you can drive the length of the south island in a day, or fly it in under three hours. Doing so the surroundings might ‘look’ wild (and well worth seeing none-the-less), but they really ‘feel’ and ‘act’ as wild by traversing them powered by your own energy. If a place retains a disconnection from transportation intrusion, the more remote and wild it can remain, and the richer the experience for those on trail.

We felt the tainting of the challenge when, after a serious and difficult day of hiking, a helicopter flew in people to the valley. Not only did the helicopter shatter the quiet completely, but it reduced our remoteness completely. The pilot even offered to take our rubbish out – a nice offer, but dropping 50 grams of scraps from my pack will never be worth it. Another element to this example is that we were hiking with speed to avoid the cyclonic weather pushing from the north east over the alps – whilst those in the chopper had a lift out with the chopper regardless. The extended consequences of introducing motorised access are broad and permanent – and I’ll delve in to some of the elements of this in future parts of Back Home..

The extent of wilderness – remote, challenging, and typically iconic areas – has a unique ability to humble. As we hiked/tramped on the TA, I relished sharing this experience with others. Our skill levels were different, so too our expectations of ourselves. But rolling into camp with pals and sharing a yarn from the trail – totally enriched the value of a wilder experience. I reflect on these moments a lot. Not a day passes where I don’t think about the TA and trail, and no week passes by where my pals from the TA don’t reflect on the experience with me.

Returning home was a whirl wind of adrenaline. Crossing the Te Waipounamu/South Island from north to south on foot was an emotional stretch. The pain and changes of twenty-nineteen being trampled into the path, or more poetically, set to rest in my mind in exchange for burning through kilojoules like they’re going out of style. Come a week into trail a was able to power through multiple burgers, pizzas, litres of milk, and keep operating, still retaining room for more food!

We were drawn together for a variety of reasons, but most common was the allure of the scenery and interaction with the islands wild and remote landscapes. How we share, care for and nurture these landscapes into the future will determine the quality of experience for those that follow in our footsteps.

Though ‘Back Home..‘ I’m going to delve into what wilderness is a little more.

If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s here at home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas at threat from human activity? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails and making up for lost time we’re teeing up for 2021, plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined nature.

So, here’s to turning a bit of home thinking time into home writing time, and looking forward to sharing this over the coming summer with you all.

What does wilderness mean to you?? Comment below and join me on Instagram here!

Happy trails my friends,

Jimmy Nails

During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign on wilderness protection with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of this I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point.

Hiking, tramping, trekking – whatever you call making your way across the land by foot – is an ancient activity. The original inhabitants of Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Maori, have travelled across the land by foot for aeons. Pathways have been trodden into song-lines and stories that are, in some cases, millennia’s old. Many modern-day paths, including portions of long distance trails such as the Te Araroa, incorporate these routes as part of the journey.

I pay my respects to the many and varied iwi and hapū whose land I was able to traverse and appreciate on my journey across Te Waipounamu/South Island. The land was my inspiration for this piece and where these photos were taken.

Back Home… Exploring for Protection

Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 5 Minutes)

A takayna/Tarkine Wilderness BioBlitz

NOTE: On March 20th, 2021, I’m running the the takayna trail run – 25km half marathon through the wilderness. I’m dedicated to raising donations for the Bob Brown Foundation that works tirelessly to protect this area of the world. You can help protect this special place by donating to my running effort here.

It’s nine o’clock on a Friday night. I’m prone in my tent, where the mix of last nights and this mornings rain has left the floor and lower ceiling sodden, absorbing and sharing the moisture of the rainforest floor wonderfully. My sleeping bag is twisted, and damp. My pulse beats loudly in my ears. It beats against my makeshift pillow, a trusty down jacket stuffed into a thermal shirt. Beyond the beat drifts in the finest mist of rain, struggling through the dense, ancient rainforest canopy and finally settling on my cheap, portable, thin walled home. It’s a soothing rain, almost dreamy.

The day wraps up and my eyes droop heavily to this pitta-patta, a few currawongs touch base with each other across an otherwise quiet canopy. They call a few rapid ‘good nights’ and one of ‘surprise’, a different call separate from their usual chatter. A call I hadn’t heard before. Today we put in a solid, lengthy days hiking. Pushing through and across a land dense and scarred by forestry, by fire, and by wind. The vegetation became thicker and thicker with confused regrowth. The ground undulating and torn by machinery. Further we pushed, deeper into takayna.

We established our camp on the slopes of a ridgeline that’s wonderfully remote. It’s one of the few, if only, times I would get close to using the word pristine. With a human-changed climate, pristine no longer exists. But a slip, trip, fall or bite – and our only option out is emergency helicopter. That, or being hauled for hours through the density, which is not ideal. We scattered our tents through the forest, beneath ginormous trees that allow such little light in that hardly a plant can grow beneath them. This is old forest. Very, very old. 

From above, the ridge line is an array of different greens. Some glossy, some matte. A total canopy carpet. Survival of the fittest is always at play. Here, every species around us is competing within a crammed forest. Those that can survive the longest – damp, dark loving species like the myrtle beech – grow slowly and gnarly, twisting through time for hundreds of years.

In the morning, the sun fights through cloud and wins but for a moment. We’re setting ourselves up for another day in the forest with a cold musli and lukewarm cuppa. Today we’ll be surveying and documenting whatever species we find – animal, plant or fungi. I’m balancing tea on one knee and book on the other, getting my eye in by scouring through pages of identification books, flipping from tree to shrub to orchid.

Traversing the Bertha ridgeline from north to south, we hug the eastern flank to avoid the dense fire instigated wall of life dense with batwing ferns and stink bush. The vegetation, although consistently rainforest, changes frequently, as the plants adjust to the lay of the ridgeline. We bio blitzed the whole ridge.

In one moment I’m photographing ferns cloaking a tree whose crown towers forty metres above. Next moment, I’ve discovered two tiny jet black beetles under the leaf litter. Moments later, a minute mantis fly (scientific name Calomantispa venusta for those taking notes) with wicked black and yellow forearms and antennae. Then, calling out to a mate, having found another special shaped fungi breaking down a fallen giant log. Find. Document. Repeat.

After a while, the groups rate of discovering new species drops off. Naturally, considering we’re bound to one form of vegetation. Everything has its limits. It’s at this stage I get to concentrate on my presence in this fantastic forest. A place where not many – if any – humans have traversed given it’s remoteness, and the preferable travel routes at lower altitudes where river and creek flow. I’m thinking about the future, and what it holds for this place…

One way I like to connect with new places is by finding commonalities – through similar species, shared climates, and familiar communities of plants, animals, and fungi. Here, a fern grows on the drier flanks of the ridgeline, and also grows at my favourite beach two hundred kilometres away as the cockie flies. How are they surviving in two totally different regions? What role in their surroundings are they creating that makes them the species best suited to grow there? Likewise is by finding new (to me) species, and trying to ID them and interpret where they sit in the ecosystem; again, all about what role do they play in the whole.

Another way is through experience, principally through hiking. My emotions and behaviours within a place are altered, or adjusted by, my surrounds. How this goes down solo is different from with a group. Not better or worse, just different. There’s plenty of laughs and reflection time either way, and I prefer both. In takayna, I felt extremely comfortable with my surroundings, owing much to our capable team. I felt calm. As opposed to other hikes, there was a defined task to locate and document species – to continue to build our case that this region deserves protection.

This region deserves world heritage listing, to join the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The fact that areas as internationally significant as this are being clear felled, bulldozed and burnt for wood chips is disgusting. Utterly disgusting. A truely outdated and unacceptable way of interacting with our surroundings. The darker, hidden side to wilderness protection is the actions that destroy it. That’s for another piece.

For now, you can enjoy a selection of photos from the BioBlitz here, or find out how you can be involved in future BioBlitz and help protect it through the Bob Brown Foundation, here.

Though ‘Back Home..‘ I’m going to delve into what wilderness is a little more.

If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s here at home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas at threat from human activity? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails and making up for lost time we’re teeing up for 2021, plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined nature.

So, here’s to turning a bit of home thinking time into home writing time, and looking forward to sharing this over the coming summer with you all.

And I want to hear what you think. What does wilderness mean to you?? Let’s chat below!

Happy summer trails my friends,

Jimmy Nails

During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign for wilderness protection with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of this I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point. You can follow my more erratic self on Instagram.

The takanya/Tarkine region of lutruwita/Tasmania – the inspiration for this piece and where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the tarkiner people. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.

Back Home… Fresh from Frenchman’s Cap

Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 6 Minutes)

Re-wilding my thinking

This piece was brewed from the kilometres and sweat of being out on the Frenchman’s Cap trail, where the wilderness put me in a mind primed for writing after the time on trail was done. I opened the piece with ‘Back Home:…‘, as it’s not only written in the comfort of my home and shelter from the relentless summer heat, but home is my favourite flip side to wilderness. It’s where our experiences and memories of being out bush are allowed the time to solidify and take on meaning of their own. And I’m not going to pretend I don’t prefer my bed, clean clothes and fridge full of food.

After being on the west side of the island, I was hanging to share some post-hike thoughts with you. But first step was to figure out what it was I was feeling perched up on that quartz peak deep in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. At the time I was overwhelmed. Physically not so much. Mentally, wiped out. Staring out for hours over a horizon filled with ridge lines and valleys. Every moment spent in the vast, vast, vast outdoors – especially these places void of almost any physical alteration or addition to the landscape by humans – adds to the complexity and scale of the area. I feel increasingly small, with a growing desire to hike further and deeper into the place.

“Should we hit up sunset up top?!”
“Yeah, I reckon!”

Not a cloud in the mid-December sky. Southern sun beating down on our dusty hats and patchy shirts, my exposed upper knee, between gaiters and shorts, holds an experienced and sturdy tan from previous weeks. My neck, freshly exposed from a haircut the same day, not so much. From the trailhead we yarned about how we’d approach the peak, and we decided on trying sunset. Pretty easy decision given the weather, and its unique calmness on offer up top.

I won’t bore you with a break down of the peaks, but from up on ‘Frenchies’ you’re over 1400 meters above sea level, and in the right conditions it’s a three-sixty delight of geological activity stretching as far as your eye can see. Shards, crescents and walls carved into rock by glaciers in previous ice ages compose your skyline. In the shadows below, rivers like the Franklin flow free from its headwaters through to the harbour, this river famously protected thanks to tireless campaigning by those before us. People that loved wilderness and natural areas shaped the conservation movement in Australia forever. Folk who’s footsteps I’ve literally followed, right up to working with the Wilderness Society.

Strolling into camp on night one, we’d left town later and arrived with headlights and star filled skies lighting our path, after negotiating our way over tree roots and muddy segments after sunset. In the quiet of the night we muffled our enthusiasm and excitement a little easier given our tiredness, to the benefit of our fellow hikers already well asleep. Satellites and shooting stars kept eyes focused above, and after a few failed late-night exposures (photographs), I bunked down on my newly acquired sleeping mat and sleeping bag liner, vaguely listening to resident frogs. My little tent is home. My sleeping system and pack all have their place, the pack contents too – exploding over the floor, food sealed and away from the tent walls, save a repeat of the possums breaking in. It’s extremely rare that I don’t fall asleep within five minutes. The combination of relaxation and exhaustion guarantee a solid nights sleep. Beside me as I sleep, my morning musli soaks in a red, trail beaten, metallic cup.

As the sun dimmed on night two, three of us walked around the massive bulge in the earth, laughing or stuck for words with how amazing our backyard is. A truely special place, that we’re fortunate to be able to climb and experience. The mountain highs saturate your thoughts and senses. In the past few days I’ve drifted through the hours, chipping away at work, at planning the next four weeks of hikes, and snagging the last few xmas presents for the festive break on the coast – but always returning to this moment up top.

For day three, we powered out to the trailhead through the first real heat of the summer, and cut a path back to Hobart and a burger and chips. Being on trail and returning home with mates is a totally different experience to hiking solo. Yarns, laughs, advice, support – all you’d expect from sharing a memory. Be it in the morning over breakie and a tea-leaf filled cuppa (or for the prepared, a pressed coffee!), spreading out a map beside our gear, or pointing to landmarks and sharing our gathered intel as the day progresses. We all gravitate towards sharing, and making memories together. It’s one thing humans can do really well.

Now in the settled, post-hike respite, I’m preparing for next weeks trip, and building a stockpile of food for two weeks wilderness hiking in the new year. My thoughts have settled and they’ve settled as this: Sharing wilderness is really important to me. Sharing the quiet. The remoteness. The quality of the experience on hand. I’m fascinated with these places and what it means to people. How it inspires them. How we all have our different interpretations of it. I love hearing these different takes on the special landscape around us.

And every time I return home from a sojourn out bush, the experience shapes my relationship between home and wilderness, it changes and continues to take on new, exciting, and even challenging forms.

Though ‘Back Home..‘ I’m going to delve into what wilderness is a little more.

If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s that mean for our home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas under threat? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails and making up for lost time we’re teeing up for next year, plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined ways.

So, here’s to turning a bit of home thinking time into home writing time. I’m looking forward to sharing this over the coming summer with you all.

And I want to hear what you think and what does wilderness mean to you! Comment below!!

Happy summer trails my friends,

Jimmy Nails

During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign for wilderness protection with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of wilderness I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point.

The Frenchman’s Cap Trail, and the Wild Rivers National Park – the inspiration for this piece and where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the Toogee nation. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.

Previous photos from Frenchman’s Cap, here.

Out Of My Depth, At Depth

Snapshot: “My first dive into Victoria’s cool underwater wonderland”

Twenty metres below the surface, I’m resting on my knees on the sandy sea floor of Port Phillip, waiting for my instructor to join me. I’ve descended to depth, whilst the rest are slowly falling from above, their new silhouettes taking a while for me to recognise who is who. At twenty metres below (well, 17.5 to be exact) I’m at this dives deepest depth, and this becomes the deepest I’d ever plunged into the underwater/marine world.

I let it all sink in and catch up to my excited self, letting myself be consumed by the new world around me.

It’s not every day you just drop into a new world for the first time – a new house, building, football field, vehicle – maybe. But dropping from terrestrial being into the marine world of our very distant evolutionary ancestors is as big a contrast in environmental composition as a human can experience on this planet.

Breathing, reliant on cylinders of compressed gas; vision, reliant on perspex windows suctioned over your face; speech impossible, only simple hand gestures remain; smell limited to the faint idea of the plastic of your mask; taste, the dry sensation of canned air infused with saliva and the remnant salt water I consumed upon entering the ocean.

Like nowhere else are the human senses under such abnormal conditions. Surrounded by our aquatic origins, we are uselessly versatile, at the complete mercy of whatever we interact with – and this is oddly liberating!

You’re totally overwhelmed by your immersion.

Much like the iconic inhabitants of our much more familiar above sea level landscapes, the life underwater in southern Australia is just as strongly beautiful and unique. Here, knees on the sandy floor, I explored the graveyard of shells and discarded lives at arms reach – limpets, barnacle particles, bivalves, even fragments of sea star – all bleached white from an age of absorbing the sun in the shallower water, before finding their way to deeper depths. Nearby a soaked underwater escarpment composed of the sharp sedimentary rock identical to the Port Phillip Heads is swaying in synchronisation in the slack tide. Smaller creatures – a fascinating array of colours and shapes – sea stars, sponges and the like, grip hard and some permanently to the rock. I venture over to peer closer, still waiting for my instructor, like a child exploring while waiting for their parents to stop talking. There is enough going on just in front of me to last an entire dive of exploration – or more!

I’m fascinated by the density of life, each square inch of rock is home to sometimes multiple creatures and species. It’s so true that the closer you look, the richer your landscapes become, and you can begin to construct the scene before you not visually but mentally, on the basis of experience and strong understanding. Since this first dive I always begin each drop to depth by aquatinting myself with the community of the small and colourful, those usually ignored and clinging to the rocks.

There’s beauty in the most simplest of things.

Aesthetic beauty and the fact that these are simple creatures living simple lives, of which some, like the barnacle, never move after fastening themselves to the rock. The little and erroneously dubbed ‘insignificant’ creatures.

Loosing my sense of direction in the defused underwater light, I am a complete visitor. Out of my depth at depth. Two thirds of the worlds surface is water. The deepest trench on earth delves to twelve kilometres below the surface. In our oceans there are volcanos, cliffs and desserts, from the shallows to utter darkness under many atmospheres worth of pressure. There are creatures great and small, some existing beyond light and warmth, or next to volcanic vents intruding into the darkness at many hundreds of degrees Celsius. Whale song can be heard hundreds of kilometres away. Octopuses have three brains. Camouflaging cuttlefish are colourblind. Male seahorses give birth to young.

It blows my mind..

Roadtripin’ the East Coast

Day breaks over the ocean in a golden wash of light. Waves end softly below as you welcome another day on the coast, with a cuppa in hand, hidden in the sand dunes. Typical Tassie.

You’ve been up for halfa, awoken by maggies, cockies, and a myriad of other birds calling you up for sunrise. No Tassie adventure is complete without trekking through the hardy coastal vegetation to arrive at a sweeping beach of gorgeous white sand and the cleanest, clearest waster in the country that makes for the most invigorating morning swim.

Once sun’s up, it’s not long ’til you feel the burn, the summer sun of Tassie. Despite its reputation of short, cold days of aurora australis and snow capped mountains, the state’s east coast summers are sharp and the UV burns through classic blues skies.

This is a starting guide to your East-Coast Tassie Roadtrip – it works best over 4-5 days, taken slowly to achieve maximum relaxation. Don’t let Tassie’s (relative) small size fool you – its a massive place, and one not built for rushing, hurrying, or cramming too much into a day.

After you’ve had a read, check the ‘Making Tracks: What you’ll need to bring’ download and give us a follow on Instagram – its a starting point for the basic gear/clothing you’ll need to consider before hitting the road and camping.

The trip – From North to South..

Binnalong Bay

Kick things off from St.Helens. This is a top hub to start from – there’s fuel, food, a pharmacy – you name it! Given the sometimes scarce nature of services down the east coast, we find it best to stock up here, especially if you have a fridge with you.

Binnalong Bay, the southern point of the Bay of Fires, is only a short drive out of St.Helens. This is a collection of bays that stretches up the coast, filled with beautiful white sandy beaches in stunning contrast to the red lichen-painted rocks. Back over Georges Bay is the turnoff to St. Helens point, which is equally as impressive! These are both great spots for swimming, snorkelling, or simply catching some sun.

From here, make your way down to the south part of the Douglas Apsley National Park, only a minute or so north of Bicheno. Here you can pull up stumps for the night. Take the coastal route, it’s far less windy, and there’s beaches for everyone and plenty of views to take in. There’s a short walk in to the top little campsite.

Once you’re set up, check out the Apsley Waterhole in summer for an evening dip. Classic. With a bit more time, hike the great half day walk around the Apsley Gorge Circuit.

Note: You’ll need Parks Passes in any of the national parks you visit. When visiting over a few days, pick up a holiday pass. Heaps cheaper.

St. Helens Point

Start day two right in Bicheno, at the east coast renowned Bicheno Bakery! Then it’s only a short drive and you’re pulling into Friendly Beaches, in Freycinet National Park, and it’s just the beginning. Amble up magnificent empty beaches, or set up for a morning of waves. Eventually head into the heart of the park, and if camping, find your campsite and free up your afternoon. Sites are super popular here, so you’ll most likely have to book in peak periods. You’re not going to want to miss the sunset from here either, it’s always a stunner! Top spot to check it out is the balcony at the lodge bar with a cool beverage, or chilled out on rolled out towels at Honeymoon Bay or Richardsons Beach.

Get a good kip, tomorrow’s world famous Wineglass Bay!

Friendly Beaches, Freycinet National Park

My tip is to get up early and greet the suns rays as you’re gazing out over the perfect waters of Wineglass Bay. The Wineglass Bay-Hazards walk is an awesome day trek, usually walked in clockwise direction. Be sure to pack plenty of water and time so you’re not rushing it and keeping those hydration levels up. If it’s hot, the western portion packs a punch in the arvo!

A side trek with a bit of elevation is up the gnarly granite bulge that is Mt. Amos. It’s tough (and near impossible to hike if raining/wet, given the slippery nature of the rock), but hands down the best view in the park. If your hiking shoes are going to pay for themselves, this is the hike they’ll do it. Grip=Stability=Good times on the slopes!

Enjoy another sunset from Freycinet or roll down the coast to Swansea or Mayfield Bay campground, and dig the spectacular Freycinet silhouette from another angle.

Note: **Don’t drive at night! It’s stupid!!** By now you’ll have noticed the high amount of wildlife and higher amount of road kill. You might on the mainland, but not in Tassie. The place is lucky to still have an abundance of wildlife – kanga’s, wombats, quolls, and of course devils –  but driving at night is a sure way to contribute to the populations demise. So don’t be stupid – get to where you’ve got to be before the sun goes down!

Wineglass Bay, from Mt. Amos

An island national park – what could be better?! Maria Island National Park (confusingly pronounced Mar-eye-a) is a half hour ferry ride from Triabunna. Timing and bookings are made here.

You can day trip or stay longer in hostel accomodation in the old goal, or camping at various spots. There’s no cars or food on the island, so pack smart if you’re camping (remember this list as a guide). Plenty of parking at the ferry terminal in town to leave your car too.

Lots of classic Tassie hikes, vistas, and guaranteed wombat sightings here! Stroll on a clifftop overflowing with fossils, walk under the amazing swirling painted cliffs, or climb/scramble the peaks of Mt. Maria or the Bishop and Clerk. For multi-day adventure, walk down to the remote bottom end of the island and have the park to yourself..

Note: There’s a population of Tasmanian devils on Maria Island and you might be lucky to spot them. The numbers of devils have declined dramatically due to the Facial Tumour Disease wrecking havoc on the population. Maria Island was chosen as a site for captive breeding, and 15 disease-free Tasmanian Devils were introduced to the Island in 2012.

Maria Island, fossil cliffs on the Bishop & Clerk trail

Back on the mainland, still bearing south. Depending on what car you have, there’s a few ways to get to the Tasman Peninsula National Park, be it to Eaglehawk Neck or on to Fortescue Bay for camping. FYI You’ll need to drive on gravel road out to Fortescue.

D’you dive? Eaglehawk neck is amazing diving, largest cave system in Australia in waterfall bay! Give Eaglehawk Dive Centre a call and go check them out, the caves are mind-blowing!

Tessellated Pavement is a little cheesy, but make the drive out to the Blowhole and Waterfall Bay and you won’t be disappointed! Towering cliffs sheering off into the ocean, pillars of volcanic rock and layers of ancient ocean sediments laid down millions of years ago create one of the grandest cliff lines in the country.

When you’re done with cliffs and hikes, settle in to Fortescue Bay campground, and reflect on your journey so far!

Tasman Peninsula National Park

You’re probably rolling into day six by now, and it’s time to cruise back to Hobart. In Tassie you’re spoilt for good quality local produce – cherries, apples, whiskey, cheeses – keep an eye out for roadside stops along the way and don’t shy off from treating yourself to quality food!

Good luck on your Tassie adventure! This East Coast Roadtrip could easily be longer, wider, quicker, or include more stop offs. There’s boat trips and multi-day hikes, conservation centres, wineries, and so much more.

But in Tassie we roll with quality – remember, it’s not not built for rushing, hurrying, or cramming too much into a day. Take your time, reacquaint yourself with the little things, and be blown away by the island state..



Kakadu NP – November ’17

Kakadu National Park – what an ancient patch of the world. The land demands your respect, from its rich cultural indigenous heritage to the ever relentless scorching heat. The place is massive – a quarter the size of Tasmania – and the countries largest national park. This size, you feel it – you sense it’s grandeur as the endless kilometres of Top End woodland draws your attention for hours on end. And of course, lurking mostly hidden in every drop of muddy water, there’s the living fossils – the Estuarine Crocodile Crocodylus porosus.

Heading into Kakadu – it’s an adventure definitely worth making the trip north for!

(You can click on the images to get a proper look at them).

For a wider selection of images, there’s another batch of photos from other areas in the park you can check out here.

A glimpse of summer

Power’s out
Really? Geez… getting pretty blowy hey..

The wind batters our window again, making a close pass and catching the slight opening we’ve left for a breeze, rattling the old thing in its track. Consistent, the wind’s growing as the night goes on.

There’s probably a line down or something. Heaps of leaves and what not blowing around down there when I came in.

Laptop closed. The absence of foreseeable power increases the value of what’s stored on the battery exponentially. We’re back onto rations.

Who’d’ve thought, after the day we had yesterday and this morning?! Unbelievable to this in a couple of hours.

More rattling..

Might as well hit the sack hey.
Yeah I reckon. I’ll be off too soon in a minute.

Knackered conversation after a massive weekend. Sentences stripped down. Not offensive, just brief, to the point. Footsteps half sticking to the tiles in the remnant moisture left by the humidity on the large square kitchen tiles. A closing door. Closing a little louder and usual, helped on by the final push given by a still open bedroom window beyond.

It’s crazy how things can change up so quickly.

Catchya tomorrow hey.
Yeah, ‘night mate.


Haha! You’re kidding?!
Nah, the whole thing. It’s just a burger.
What, after we’d already had lunch!? Don’t know where it goes – look at you, skinny as a rake.
Hollow legs, hey.

There’s a crowd ‘round the corner shops, people splayed out over the concrete or perched in the minimal October shade, propped up on a single row of dark bricks typical to suburban shopfronts of the time – those shops which double as a shop at front and tight living area out back. This tiny stretch of bricks becomes the unofficial seating of the fish’n’chip shop in summer. Usually there’s a simple aquatic scene stuck to the window, like a faded beach or an underwater view of sea characters with (somewhat ironic) smiles on their faces. Just behind the window legs shoot back and forth handling the chips and loading them into the fryer – a role that almost always populates the front of the shop.

Thongs slap. Towels flap. Shoulders prepare for an onslaught of Australian sun, the first real session outside of summer.

The horizon is water – and cooling.

Blue, flattish with only a slight pulse of wave through it. Perfect for entertaining the idea of swimming off the edge of the rocky sandstone cliffs.

Banter bounces to and fro – it’s been a big week for a few of us – the final pre-chrissie rush has really kicked in, or our travels have taken us between Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney in a week. We’re stoked to be hitting the ocean to wash it all away.

Our laughter’s drenched in the need to..


Everything’s blurry, indecipherable shapes and a basic colour pallet shift and shimmer. Creams, greens and browns adorn what you know are rocks from experience and a lower tide. A dark forest of seaweed and kelp sways hypnotically not too far away in front of you, guarding the deeper water near the cliff edge.

You’re kicking yourself you forgot your mask and snorkel – the visibility would be amazing – with the pre-summer conditions of low off shore winds and low nutrients from the cold, post-winter, southern ocean dominated water. It’s always a winner.

Holding on to breath, you dive deep….. and sign up to my newsletter to see the second half next week (I won’t be publishing it broadly; it’ll be a treat just for you!)..

World turned upside down??

There/here you stand, face to face with one of the deadliest animals to have ever existed. You’re captivated by its colour, its movements, its curiosity as it explores your shared surroundings.

You stand silenced, and wait for it to strike…


The landscape at your already sunburnt feet was a seascape over a metre below the surface not too long ago. A spectacle that has to be seen to be believed has since swept across the sea.

Before your very eyes, almost like the plug of the ocean was dislodged when the tide ticked over from ebb to flow, the ocean to the horizon nearly disappears, leaving seabed behind. You sink with the water, locked into a natural swimming pool separated and bordered by coral, sand, rock, and a bustling horizontal wash out.

Endless expanses of lush mangroves around you take a breath, whilst a plethora of coral spews out organic sunscreen to prevent themselves being scorched in the relentless tropical sun. The drying exposed earth, crackling with minute activity, is a roaring chorus when the whole landscape chimes in together as it’s once again uncovered through the daily pull of the orbiting moon.


Darting from a vantage point, inspecting its Territory and then darting back to cover. From liquid to air, through plant and rock, its actions are precise, aware, and focused.

Getting closer still, you’re stunned, glued to position, captivated by its fantastic contortions and charismatic flesh.


Imagine travelling to a place for over a generation and rarely seeing another person besides those in your company? That’s decades of memories and exploration of an entire land/seascape. A region brimming with tropical life – pods of dolphins, splashes of turtles, the continual unknown whereabouts of crocs, countless birds, and thick schools of fish.

This patch of the world you visit is special in that what is, is pretty much what has always been. The harsh and yet abundant nature of the scene demands all of your sensory attention – the sound of gushing water; the scent of baking aquatic life stuck to the breeze; the taste of salt on everything; the touch of your skin firming up, red from the suns rays; the sight of…


Now, imagine something else..

That this site, this place, this magnificent slice of earth now tells a different story.

People have planned a new future behind closed doors and haven’t told you.

In it rolls. The lives you’ve shared the space with are gone overnight. The larger creatures were possibly lucky, able to have evacuated their home to head out of range, yet the smaller others are chewed up, crushed, squashed, and yanked from the water and left to gasp for death in a slag pile of waste. Massive remnant stands of the coastal savour – the mangrove – are ripped up and torn down, snapped and burned in piles larger than some buildings. The ancient seafloor and coral beds are carved up to the horizon. The once deliciously clean water is contaminated; tainted. Noise, slicks, plumes, and fire foul your senses and replace what it was you once lived along side.


People destroy these places.

What if this was your own backyard, would you want this to happen anywhere in the world? Would you allow it to happen??

But this IS your backyard. This IS your land and water.

There are no map lines and boundaries in the real world. There is no isolation of damage, despite the maliciously biased impact statements that say otherwise. Because you’ve spent a generation mingling with the region you’ve noticed the coming and going with the seasons, the changes and alteration of species interactions that vary month to month, year to year, even decade to decade.

The impact of destroying an area to the horizon cannot be justified and cannot be undone.

The threats to this very real-life place are very real.


The moment’s over – the small, palm sized creature has found a place to rest, shifting shades of colour from near-orange to sand-grey to blend in to the backdrop of coral and seaweed. To think, one bite from the beautiful octopus will have your body shutting down to die in minutes, as the toxin so potent your diaphragm is struck with paralysis and you’re caught short, unable to breathe.

The moment’s over – so you shuffle back to the waters edge, chuck on your mask and snorkel, and make for the boat, just before the tide swings around and flips the world back over..


With a tail wind back to the ramp, towards a halted storm cloud penetrating deep into the atmosphere. Behind, the sun’s giving up for the day in the most wonderful of ways.

You’re outwardly smiling and stoked to hold the fresh salty-memory of the open water once again…

…and inside, you hope that there really is such thing as ‘forever’ for the worlds remaining beautiful places.

If you’re in the Territory, you can help this incredible place. Seek out the team at Keep Top End Coasts Healthy –