Back to base

A short while later we started the return trek. From the northern end it was impossible to see the southern end of the beach, but we knew it was there.20171225_115819.jpgOff we went, one step at time.  It helps that I practice yoga, and that I was familiar with a ‘legs up the wall’ position which re-energises feet and legs.  On the way back to the cottage, I sometimes lay with my legs up the steep dunes and head bolstered by my day pack and a mound of sand.  On these occasions, Jeanette happily napped in the sun. Half way along the long beach I noticed a massive tree trunk had washed up on shore and realised this provided another opportunity.   When I lay with my legs up on the trunk I could feel strength returning.  In this way I returned to the southern end of Marrawah Beach, gathering sand in every orifice and letting it go later in the shower base.

With aches and coughs I knew I was ill and once back ‘home’ I let go; succumbed.  At the cottage, I was showered and in bed by 5pm. I felt sorry for Jeanette who had to cook her own meal and eat alone, and we had no debriefing session that night.

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Arriving at Mt Cameron West

After every 100 metres it was clear there was still hundreds of metres to go. It was as if my critical faculties of measurement and distance had failed.  Reaching the beach end was not concerning rather it was the knowing I had to walk back.  There was no public vehicle access to the beach so if I couldn’t go on for health reasons there was no way I could be assisted.  Knowing I would have to walk the distance regardless of whether my hips, knees and feet wanted to continue, was foremost in my mind; but I was determined to do it. Of course, at the rate of one step at a time, every length can be walked.  20171225_115506.jpgEventually the northern end of the beach was under my feet. 20171225_115935.jpgRocky volcanic rocks edged the crescent leading out to the point, and a massive scree cascaded down the side of the mountain.    20171225_125507.jpg

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20171225_115830.jpgA slight indication of a track encouraged us to walk up into the dunes, where we found the remnants of a 4WD track and lay down on its edge for protection from the wind.  End beach and track into dunes.JPG

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20171225_115903.jpgWhile we munched our picnic lunch and swatted the occasional heavy resting ‘March fly’, having the mountain with its cairn marking the top at my back was somehow reassuring, comfortable.  We snoozed for a while.  After waking, I walked along the track until reaching a T junction at the bottom of the mountain; to the left and heading towards the sea was a track that seemed as if it would extend to the bottom of the scree slope. 20171225_115919.jpgMy only regret for the day was that I didn’t have the legs for more walking and exploration once I was at Mt Cameron West. Somehow, failing to explore made the walk along the beach seem a little pointless. I realise I had learned a lot during the walk, the smooth easy walking surface was incredibly pleasant, and I had loved the purity of the environment  – but I was sad that I did not have the energy reserves to discover any mysteries around the base of Mt Cameron West (I remembered that the aboriginal community did not want people to climb).  I would strongly recommend all visitors to Marrawah walk this way to recharge their spirit, to raise their level of personal confidence, and to understand more completely why such environments need protection from development or ‘progress’.  The peace and calm of a long Tasmanian beach is like none other.

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The last few hundred metres

This wonderful landscape allows you to be alone with your thoughts and be independent. It gives you space to think or not to think, as you wish. You can release yourself from thoughts that confine you.   I found the simplicity of the walk along this beach to be liberating. One step at a time.   20171225_114749

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20171225_115005Nothing stays the same, and you realise this fact as you walk a long beach which at first glance seemed to be the same everywhere. When you retrace your steps, what you see is different.  As Barbra Streisand sings: Everything must change.

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The rock shelf

Along the 6-7 km length of Marrawah Beach, the waves flowed onto a sandy shore with the exception of one area where an extensive very low rock shelf linked the ocean with the land.    20171225_111154.jpg

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20171225_111230.jpgPerhaps the rock was a kind of conglomerate because there were concave depressions seeming to indicate ‘balls’ of other rocks had once been in situ.   20171225_111102.jpg

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20171225_111149.jpg A lime green coloured marine plant grew off the rocks.  I started by wondering what the difference was between algae and seaweed.   According to this site and confirmed by other sites, I learnt that seaweeds belong to the family of algae and technically are not plants. While writing this post I set out to identify this seaweed but, when I discovered over 200 different native varieties grow around Tasmania, I quickly realised that success was unlikely.

Note the Pied Oystercatcher in the second photo below. 20171225_111113.jpg

20171225_111035.jpgNote the cormorant to the right of the rocks in the photo below.20171225_111545.jpg

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Water, water, as far as the eye can see

The waves were not particularly tall; perhaps one to two metres. Their rise and fall was not dramatic as I expected they would become across a stormy sea.  Nevertheless they were sufficiently active to make loud, deep, resonant sounds all day.  Jeanette was disturbed by their constant booming. As we neared the northern end of Marrawah Beach she shouted with an edge of great irritation, ‘the sea is SO noisy’.20171225_103338.jpg

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20171225_105736.jpg  When I look at these photos my memories let me re-feel the movement of the air; the push and pull of the endless windy onshore breezes. Against my skin. Against my sun-screened face.  Against my unhatted hair.  With the sun warming those mobile air currents, I walked with bare arms. It felt like one of those days with a high UV rating and I hoped not to be windburnt or sunburnt at the end of the walk.20171225_110451.jpg

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20171225_111316.jpgIn some photos above, the tiny dots of birds can be seen.  In the main, these birds were large sea birds, so their comparatively small size is an indicator of the scale of the spaces in front of me each time I pointed the camera.Dominican Gull.JPG

Apart from the occasional Dominican Gull (sometimes known as the Kelp Gull) that bobbed as thin waves washed onto the beach, the majority of birds we saw were Oystercatchers. In particular we noticed lots of pairs of Pied Oystercatchers, and sometimes small groups.  Parks and Wildlife Services provides the following information; ‘The name “oystercatcher” is a misnomer because they seldom eat oysters. Pied Oystercatchers feed mainly on bivalve molluscs, which are found by sight, or by probing their long bills in the mud. Worms, crustaceans and insects are also eaten.

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I did see one pair of Sooty Oystercatchers. Parks and Wildlife Services says; ‘The Sooty Oystercatcher is a coastal bird, preferring rocky shores in contrast to the Pied Oystercatcher, which is frequently found on beaches. The Sooty Oystercatcher will, however, occasionally be seen on sandy beaches. It is found either singularly or in pairs.’ Closer to Mt Cameron West, I noticed a single Black Faced Cormorant fishing near a rocky platform.

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The most delightful sight of the day was a tiny sand scampering bird that led us along sections of the beach, by running parallel to the sea but between us and the dunes. At first we only saw movement and then our eyes became accustomed to their sandy coloured feathers which provided perfect camouflage when they stood still.  We believed this was the Hooded Plover which apparently has a black head. The birds we saw were very tiny, moved fast and everything about them seemed dusty. But it is conceivable their heads were dark and the combination of intense sun and movement blurred the darkness into something softer.  Despite seeing them in pairs and assuming one was male and the other female, perhaps most pairs that we concentrated on were two females – the colouring of females is softer. I realise there are a number of native plovers and migratory plovers that frequent the Tasmanian shorelines.  I cannot be sure that the birds we saw are the Hooded Plovers, but since the information panel at the southern end of Marrawah Beach listed these birds I am inclined to think that is what they are – albeit immature rather than adult. Perhaps just out of their nests.20171223_174021.jpgMy travel buddy and I had childhoods next to water and so we try to take any chance to be near it again. In anticipation of the big ocean, we brought our wet suits with us on this trip. Unfortunately, we never got to use them. All we did was to paddle a little at the water’s edge and consider, if good health had been ours, that we would have splashed our way out into the briny with abandon – although we may not have ventured out as far as a couple of young men did one afternoon.  They didn’t get into trouble so I assume they were locals and knew and understood the conditions of the ocean on Marrawah Beach.

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It is a long beach

When it looked to me that we were half way along the beach, I suggested to Jeanette we had maybe 4 km still to go because we had been walking, albeit slowly with our investigations and photography, for over an hour. ‘No’, she said, ‘it is only about another kilometre’. It was further. Much further.  A great deal further. Later a local told us the beach was nearly 4 miles not 4 km long. So in total, counting the distance of the curves we walked and our explorations up and down the beach to dune and water edges, the total distance we covered for the day was probably 13-14 kilometres.

And on we walked and on and on.  Mt Cameron West grew in size but oh so slowly.  I think Jeanette would have been happy to turn around, but I was determined to reach the mountain on its southern side, and I am grateful that she continued with me. 20171225_102644.jpg

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20171225_125507.jpgThe closer we came to Mt Cameron West, the more our cottage and Green Point to the south, disappeared from view.     20171225_101327.jpg

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20171225_115819.jpgDespite my headache, my sore throat and my asthmatic cough, I was elated with my persistence and I remained in perpetual awe of the spectacular environment. Luminous.  Shimmering.  Raw. Wild. Pure.  Perpetually filling me with wonder.

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The unusual and unexplained

1: I looked closely at the textured sand shown in the photos below.20171225_104310.jpg

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20171225_105500.jpgThe holes were either home to a beach critter, or their entrance into a food pantry.  I am not sure what the tiny insect was that I noted going in and out. Was it a biting midge, or a sand fly? I doubt that because the insect did not seem to have wings; it looked like a solid tiny dusty dark grey/brown body moving around. Was it some sort of beetle; one without a distinctive head and with legs hidden beneath its carapace? I know when I took the photos, some were visible (they were moving)  but I cannot see them now (in a still image).  Great camouflage.  Whatever they were, I suspect the reason for their presence was to enjoy the food being supplied by the decaying seaweed that was partially buried in the sand.

The Insects of Tasmania site provides information about Water Beetles and shows a photo of one found at Sisters Creek beach (located on the north west coast of Tasmania not so far from where we were).  Perhaps what I saw was a type of Water Beetle.

2:  What caused the circles smoothed around grasses at the dune edge?20171225_115306.jpg

20171225_115309.jpgWe only saw this phenomenon in one location close to the northern end of the beach. In the first photo above there are, what seem to be from the distance, animal tracks crossing near the smoothed grass.  However, there were no marks of any animal or bird leading up to or away from the smoothed circles.  The grass wasn’t sufficiently long to have been dragged by the wind across the sand in any sort of sweeping motion to explain the smoothed areas.  Within aboriginal groups around Darwin there is a traditional burial practice which requires the surrounding area to be smoothed so that the arrival of evil spirits can be detected. Even though Tasmanian aborigines would have walked this beach and the dunes for thousands of years, this smoothing I saw had to be temporary. With rain or strong winds, the sand would eventually return to its rippled format.20171225_105512.jpg

20171225_102243.jpgI continue to be puzzled. I cannot come up with a rational explanation.  Why the smoothing? Why in that particular spot and not elsewhere along the beach?  How was the sand smoothed, and by what process?  Which insect, bird or animal was responsible?  When was it done?  What was the benefit arising from the process?

Elsewhere, the grass and the sandy dune usually looked something like the following:20171225_102251.jpg

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