Tuesday 15th December To Portland

We are away on our first holiday for 16 months – after the introduction of Covid-19 to the world and all the ensuing travel bans and lockdowns. A very long time for us. We had thought of going down to south-west Victoria – there was still uncertainty about whether the state borders would be open – and Alison found a supported walk on the Great South-West Walk, from Portland.

A similar thing to what we would have been doing in Scotland in July, so we booked it. And now we're on the train to Warrnambool, to be followed by a bus to Portland.

It's always busy leading up to any going-away, but this time was a little different. We needed to leave Lothian St. by 7am today, but the sort-of unofficial Corker Orchestra concert (in the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens) was on last night. I didn't want to miss this, and I am glad I didn't; it was a celebration of how the orchestra had managed to survive the lockdown and get back to a normal existence again, with all its members. Wendy (the conductor) has been having conducting lessons and chose me (why?) to be “concertmaster”; this means I walked on (from behind some bushes to one side), the orchestra all stood up, before I allowed them all to sit down again; I asked for an “A” to tune to, and then Wendy came in from behind the bush; we all stood up again; and then we all began. We were a bit rusty, because of the lack of practice together over the year, but it all went very well. And went for an hour over the scheduled finish time of 7pm.

So we couldn't hang around for picnic and conversation, as many did. We drove back home, ate some (pre-prepared) dinner, and drove back to Melbourne. A last re-pack of the bags we'd left packed there, into bed, for our early alarm this morning.

The train was fine. Not very full; patronage is still down after the Covid lockdown. We were amazed / horrified by the vistas of cheek-by-jowl housing on the flat plains all the way to Werribee, and perhaps a bit beyond. So much more built-up than when we last saw things down this way.

And after yesterday's very hot weather we saw the clouds of the change coming as we traveled west. In Warrnambool, it was cool and cloudy. We had ½ hour before our bus to Portland left, and it was time for our morning coffee. We had thought there'd be somewhere near the station to get a coffee, but no: we had to walk up into town before we finally found somewhere to serve us one. Then on the bus for a further 1½ hours, getting to Portland at 1pm. Where it was just as cool as Warrnambool.

We walked the short distance to the Quest Apartments and got into our room. A very reasonable apartment with full cooking facitlities. There is a swimming pool which yesterday would have been appealing, but today is not.

Then, out for a walk. Lunch at the Lido Larder, of a not terribly good pie and coffee, before we walked around town. It was a pleasant afternoon but we are both a bit tired; we bought some Op Shop stuff and then went to the supermarkets to get food for dinner. But after walking around them we were both uninspired and decided, despite the full cooking facilities, to go out for dinner. (We were able to leave most of the stuff we'd just bought here to pick up when we return, on Monday.)

We lay down on the bed and both found it a bit difficult to get up again. I looked up the weather forecast to find that it is expected to be cool and cloudy, and a bit rainy, the whole time we're down here. Better than being a scorcher!

By 6pm it was time to go out and get some dinner. We walked down to the (recommended) Mac's Hotel, where we had a good, and not disappointing, meal. Then a walk down by the huge woodchip pile at the port, through the Botanic Gardens (some of the oldest in Australia), bought a salad for lunch tomorrow (along with our left-over zucchini slice, and remnants of my birthday cake from work last year, recently retrieved from the freezer there) and came home.

We are both feeling a bit stuffed; it's now nearly 9pm, and we think we'll be in bed soon after that. It's often this way at the beginning of a holiday, after the period of hectic preparations is over.

Wednesday 16th December Moleside to Sapling Creek

We slept well, got up, and put on sunscreen for today's walk. This was a mistake. Ate breakfast in our apartment, and then packed up and were waiting outside at 8am for our taxi. He arrived on time, and drove us up to the beginning of our section of the walk, 50 minutes drive away. Rain had begun while we were waiting for him, but it had stopped when he dropped us off at a rather nondescript track crossing the road.

Off we went. In 5 minutes we got to Moleside Canoe Camp, where there was a tent and a canoe. We found the inhabitants a little further away, eating breakfast under the shelter at the walkers' camp. We didn't stop; continued on. It was a very pretty walk through bush by the Glenelg River. The only problem was the rain resuming; Alison got out her pack cover, then I got out my poncho, then she got out her “waterproof” jacket, which turned out not to be very waterproof.

Two hours of walking got us to Saunders Landing. We had hopes of finding a shelter here, like the one at Moleside; but there was not one. As it was time for our coffee (Auswalk supplied us with a thermos) we stopped and had it - in the toilet. Not our ideal, but it was the only dry place.

(Walking along I considered: my day pack weighs 5kg. I am now 8-9kg lighter than I was 15 months ago; so it's equivalent to a day pack of minus 3-4kg.)

We continued. 35 minutes to Pritchard's Camp (again no shelter) and then 1½ hours on to Battersby's Camp. By now it was 2pm, and time for lunch; we ate it, in the rain, on one of the wooden landings there. Then, onwards; but a few minutes later we found a shelter, with dry seats and a dry table! So we stopped and reorganised our packs a little while we could. Our walk notes describes it as “yet another lovely picnic area right on the river” and I'm sure it is. But in the rain it's not quite the same.

Another 1 hour 45 minutes got us to Sapling Creek, where we were to be picked up by John, from our accommodation in Nelson. We arrived there 45 minutes early – and so did he! He drove in just as we walked in! And we were driven back to Nelson (seeing more kangaroos to add to the 10 or so we saw while walking), and shown into our accommodation there – Nelson Cottage, the old original and very much extended original police station. Trish offered us a choice of 3 rooms – there is no-one else here. It is a very nice place to be. We had a hot shower, put on clean dry clothes, and set about drying all our wet stuff, had a coffee and the last of the birthday cake. We felt rejuvenated but also like we'd had a decent walk – today was 27km.

A little walk around town (carrying umbrellas, though the rain held off) checking out its 3 businesses (the store, the pub, and the petrol station) and home for a lovely dinner, with wine, made by John & Trish. And now it's nearly time for bed, though not as early as last night.

Thursday 17th December Sapling Creek to Nelson

This morning, I discovered that if my phone is turned off, the alarm I had set on it does not ring. I also discovered that we could be up, showered, and dressed, and along to breakfast in 10 minutes! Tonight I'll leave the phone on.

We were offered a cooked breakfast but opted for something like our usual one; and then at 8.15 John drove us back to Sapling Creek. After a few words to a fly fisherman unloading his boat, we set off. The rain was not as heavy as yesterday; but it came and went all day, and my poncho was mostly on. There was total cloud cover; despite seeing shadows on 6 occasions during the day, we saw no blue sky.

It was an hour along to Paterson's Camp; a lovely spot by the river with a good shelter. (Shelters are the main feature we look at now). Then it was on again; we stopped for a break at a dryish spot with a good view across the river, then continued. We planned to eat lunch at “Gizzy's” picnic area, where there is a shelter; and we did, despite the shelter being very small, with no seating or table, and next to the toilet. It did keep the rain off.

Soon after, we entered South Australia. The vegetation in SA was much more sparse and stunted – more limestone in the soil? We had a short detour down to Hirth's Landing – a pleasant spot. And then, it was on – slowly getting back into civilisation and walking back into Nelson.

We saw kangaroos, a couple of koalas, heaps of scratching from echidnas but no sign of a single echidna; and lots of rabbits when we got back to Nelson.

We arrived back much drier than yesterday. We can both feel it in our legs today. But despite the weather we've had, it has been a very good walk. Tomorrow it changes to beach-type walking.

After going out for a reasonable pub meal at the hotel, as the evening wore on, we both found it harder to move than we had. Our muscles are setting. The sitting room here has deep armchairs which are not ideal for getting out of in our situation. Though we are glad to be in here, because the weather, though drier now, is windier and colder. I've had to put on my puffer jacket, in the middle of December!

Friday 18th December Nelson to Lake Monibeong

We always say “the first day is hard, the second is harder, and then it gets better.” And it is very true – our legs are loosening up a bit after being very stiff and sore last night. But also, today it didn't rain; we had largely blue skies; and to add to that, we had a tail wind as well.

The first 2.4km today were along a road, down to the ocean beach. John offered to drive us there, and we accepted; and on the way took us on a diversion along to where the Glenelg River runs into the sea, when a sand bar hasn't developed blocking it – which is a regular occurrence.

Then, we were left to walk. Along the deserted beach of Discovery Bay for a couple of hours; it was low tide, the walking was easy, and it was very pleasant. On the way we saw two flocks of hooded plovers – tiny birds, in flocks of ~60 birds, wheeling around (on foot) on the beach a bit like budgerigar flocks wheel around in flight.

We reached the cliffs of McEacherns's Rocks, where we had to head inland through an enormous midden – the most extensive one I've ever seen – and up on top of the headland, with excellent views.

Then a walk for another 45 minutes or so before we descended to the beach again for another 20 minutes walking before the track turned inland; an undulating walk through scrub for 1½ hours to Lake Monibeong. At the beginning of this Alison sat down to get grass seeds out of her socks, in the process getting far more grass seeds in her pants. But eventually they were cleared and on we went. We stopped for lunch along the way, in the shade of a little stand of trees; and eventually came to the large freshwater lake. The track did a bit of going on and on; it turned out the the car park, where John was coming to pick us up, was at the far end of the lake.

And again, as we walked in, John drove in at exactly the same time. Amazing. He drove us back to Nelson – quite a distance – where we spent to first ½ hour picking grass seed out of our socks. They were terrible! But apart from that, it has been a pleasant sunny but cool afternoon; we've had a walk around the (little) town and a coffee at the store.

And then, John and Trish joined us for dinner; we had a very nice dinner with a lot of talk till 10pm. Later than we usually have been to bed while on this walk.

Saturday 19th December Bridgewater Lakes to Bridgewater Bay

Alison had a cooked breakfast this morning – our last in Nelson. But I had the usual; and at 8.15 John drove us away to Bridgewater Lakes; freshwater lakes just inland from the beach, at the base of the Cape Bridgewater peninsula; and at 9am said goodbye and we set off, along the west coast of the peninsula, which houses lots of wind turbines – 30 or more. The first couple hours went along the tops of rocky cliffs; through lots of area of “petrified forest” limestone tubes, though the official bit of this is further around. We stopped for our morning tea at the Springs campsite; a very nice campsite with a good shelter and a water tand, and well sheltered from the wind. Though not close at all to the “springs”, which are freshwater pools down just above sea level; we passed these as we continued on. Then, on the headland in front of us, we saw other people! We are so used to not seeing anyone else as we walk along, and these were the first we'd seen since we started this walk.

Then it was further along the cliffs past some rock pools to the Blow Holes. Thanks to the calm weather conditions today there was not much blowing happening.

Then a short side trip to the “official” petrified forest.

We rounded the end of the peninsula and lost sight of Discovery Bay. A brief stop for lunch, and on the the lookout over the seal colony – the largest on mainland Australia. There were masses of seals down there; Australian fur seals to the left, New Zealand fur seals to the right. They do not mix their races.

From here it was short walk up and down into Bridgewater Bay. We stopped at the cafe for an uninspiring coffee; our impression that it is a holiday beach resort, without the character of Nelson. Then on a few hundred metres to Seaview Lodge, where we are staying. The proprietors were not here but had left instructions to our room, where we found our bags.

Unpack, shower, clean clothes; and now we're having a quiet relaxing afternoon, which we haven't really managed to have so far this trip, yet.

The afternoon continued relaxing; but then I did “brain drain”, which took ages and in the end annoyed me so much I turned it off! Then we had our nice heated-up dinner in the kitchen; went for a dusk walk down the beach; and.... went to bed.

Sunday 20th December Bridgewater Bay to Cape Nelson Lighthouse

Another good sleep in the huge bed here; we were the first down to breakfast, where Dennis offered us a cooked breakfast, but we declined. But “ordinary” breakfast was very nice anyway.

Then we set off along the beach away from town along Bridgewater Bay. We were not the only ones on the beach; there were other walkers, some with dogs. All were female; what were all the men doing? After 25 minutes we got to the end of the beach; there were some steps going up, but we walked to the headland at the end and climbed up there; not too difficult, but some very thick scrub to get through back to the path and the steps would have been more practical. Then it was along the path above beach / rocky headland, through scrub up and down, to the Trawalla campsite. A nice campsite with a good shelter (which we didn't need – it has been a lovely day), where, despite it being only 10am, we had our coffee.

We walked through more undulating scrub and 15 minutes later came onto the next beach. We walked along this beach for over an hour; a good walk but not as good as the Discovery Bay beach, because as well as a headwind (not too strong) the sand in places was boggy and sticky. In other places it wasn't. We passed a row of four washed-up shipping containers, then got to the end of the beach where we had to go back up to the top of the ridge again. They had put a bench to sit on at the top, and we ate our salad rolls for lunch here. A pleasant spot.

From here the track stayed high, along the top of cliffs and above Murrell's Beach, where we could look down on surfers; some a very long way offshore. The cliffs got steeper, the views got better; we went though some stands of soap mallee (which grows only right here), close to some more wind turbines, and got to the Cape Nelson lighthouse a little after 2pm. You could see the town of Bridgewater Bay, where we'd walked from, and it looked a very long way away across the water.

Dennis was coming to pick us up at 3pm; we had a nice coffee in the cafe at the lighthouse before he arrived and drove us back to Seaview Lodge. It is a lovely afternoon here.

A lovely afternoon; but with a strong south wind blowing, and it was cold outside. A couple of groups of motorcyclists arrived; I had to point out to both of them the sign on the door saying where their rooms were. We watched the news on TV in the lounge, for a change; chatted to Dennis for a while; ate our dinner. Then, we were a bit at a loss; too unpleasant outside for a walk.... we ended up chatting to the group of three motorcyclists, all from Melbourne, quite reasonable guys. Though we also heard the weather forecast for tomorrow: a lot of rain. Not what we wanted to hear. But – it is what it is.

Monday 21st December Cape Nelson Lighthouse to Portland

After a good sleep, we both were awake to see a red sunrise. But when we went down to breakfast it wasn't raining. We packed, and Dennis drove us back to the Cape Nelson lighthouse, where, at 9am, after donning waterproof coverings, we set off. We were both wearing crocs on our feet as we didn't want to get our boots wet again; and crocs are very comfortable to walk in.

We were very lucky. The rain didn't start for nearly an hour, and then it was fairly light, and on and off. We got down to the Enchanted Forest by a little before 11am, and then had our coffee sitting on the steps at Yellow Rock lookout; there wasn't too much rain and we didn't seek out shelter too hard.

At this point we could have taken a short cut into Portland, but with the weather holding we continued the normal way; out the peninsula the smelter is on, very close to some wind turbines; around the end of the peninsula, then down to Point Danger where we could see the large gannet colony. See, but not get close to; they have a fence to protect them from predators, a fence which obviously at times you are able cross; but not now, the gate was locked. When is it open? No idea, no information.

The rain was heavier. We ate our salad rolls as we walked because there was no sheltered, dry place to sit. And we came into Portland, through an industrial area and then past the woodchip pile we'd walked to when we arrived here. And on to Quest Apartments again.

Here, we were given a bigger apartment upstairs – and the rain got much, much heavier. Shower, clean clothes; we have a washer and dryer so we have washed our dirty clothes. We went out and bought some food for dinner. And don't think we'll go out again this evening.

We had a good dinner and now it is pouring with rain.

Tuesday 22nd December Back to Home

No alarm, but of course we woke at 7am anyway. Had breakfast, packed all our stuff up, and went out fr a walk – which ended up with us having a coffee and buying salad rolls for lunch, before returning to Quest, checking out, and walking to the bus stop in the next street. Luckily there's a decent shelter there, as the rain has persisted all day today.

Soon we'll be back in Melbourne, then drive to Castlemaine; back to North Melbourne for Christmas.......