GSWW: 3rd Movement

This is the hardest movement to write about, because for me it was my least favourite section of the walk. Don’t get me wrong, there are things I loved about this section, but there were just a lot more things I liked about the others, and this section is, IMHO, the hardest.

The Third Movement of the Great South West Walk leaves Nelson and meanders its way back toward Portland along the coast. It’s the Beaches section, which conjures up all kinds of beautiful images of isolated stretches of white sand and cerulean waters, soft lapping waves and the occasional lazy seagull. Maybe a few palm trees, the odd coconut…

All of these images your mind conjures are LIES. This is the Southern Ocean we are talking about! It’s loud and wild and while the beaches were white and isolated it is in a much more ‘beware the shipwreck coast’ kind of way. When you picture movement three, I want you to imagine you’re the lone survivor on an unfamiliar stretch of icy cold sand, with nothing but debris to keep you company. That’s roughly how you’ll feel during Beaches. Only…lonelier. And, if you’re like me, angrier.

It’s worth noting that, as with other sections, signage on Beaches is just plain wrong… Go with what’s on whatever sign when you get to it, not what’s on the map or the GSWW camp boards.

Day Eight: July 3 2015: A day off in Nelson
Aka. Will you marry me? 

As I had caught up to myself by a day, I ended up staying two nights in Nelson. When I rang to tell my boyfriend this, he asked where I was staying so he could call later, as there is only one hill in Nelson where you could get mobile reception, and it was halfway between the pub and my accommodation, several kms of walking away. This made logical sense, so I told him, and was delighted when that evening I heard the familiar rumble of a Mustang ambling up the road. He’d driven over from Melbourne where he was staying a week with his father, to spend my day off with me.

We went to the caves, as I noted in the second movement post. We also drove over to Mount Gambier for breakfast, and as it was winter and snake free, I had been convinced by some locals to go for a wander to Livingstone Island Nature Walk. So we drove down to check it out. It’s a very interesting little walk, with some beautiful views.

Here is the Mustang in the carpark:

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And a view of the outlet, where the river meets the sea:

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It was down on the boardwalk of Livingstone that Reece got down on one knee and proposed, to my complete surprise. (I said yes). The boardwalk is stunning:

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And further down there is a bird viewing platform, and while there were no birds it made for great photos:

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Both nights in Nelson I opted for dinner at the Pub. There really aren’t a lot of options…The pub is great; very simple food that’s cooked right there in front of you. The parmi’s are huuuuge. Think what you normally get at the RSL, and you can’t go wrong.

Day Nine: July 4 2015: Nelson to Lake Monibeong: 23.5km 
Aka. The day of Regret.

This is a very long day, whichever way you choose to tackle it. The old campsite at White Sands has been decommissioned, and when they say decommissioned they mean wiped off the face of the earth. I know, because the sign is the only thing left; I checked! See:

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Because of this, you have no option but to head to Lake Monibeong, which isn’t that huge of a deal, but if you walk from Simson’s keep in mind that’s about a 26km walk, give or take a km depending on what way you choose to go. And most of that is on sand, so it takes a while.

I left Nelson early, getting a lift out of town to the boardwalk to Ocean Beach (original name, that one!), as Reece was driving back to Melbourne. I got there just before the sun was coming up:

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It’s a short walk down to the beach, which was beautiful first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, this was the day the weather turned. The morning remained relatively dry, with the odd shower passing through. This first beach walk is a solid 7km of trying to select a landmark on the horizon and convincing yourself to walk toward it. The beach is relatively flat, not overly wide and broken up only by the very occasional rock formation like this:

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Going through the rocks:

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Every now and then there is an interesting bit of flotsam to look at:

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But for the most part its crashing waves and little else. I spent much of my beach walk feeling a little sorry for myself, wishing I had gone back to Melbourne with my new fiance, and then berating myself for the idiocy and girlishness of that idea, reminding myself I wanted to finish the damn walk and the beach wasn’t that bad. And it wasn’t….yet.

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The rain started rolling in not soon after the sun came up. It was fun watching the clouds roll in…until the waterworks started. The first landmark most people head for is this castle looking rock in the water:

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The storm coming:

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The path does veer off the beach for a time, as the beach is inaccessible around two large rocky crops; McEacherns and Nobles. I didn’t know you could walk back along the beach after Nobles and explore the rocks, and the photos of this look amazing! It will definitely be something I do if I ever convince myself to return to do Beaches again.

Signage was something I was very concerned about, as the stretches of beach are VERY long to have no idea if you’ve maybe missed the way on or off the beach. The first sign you come across is at White Sands! Or…where white sands used to be…

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But while VERY limited, its also very clear when there IS a sign. For example, a red arrow indicates the exit for McEacherns and then wham, this:

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A little hard to misinterpret that! The section of track around the rocks is a little difficult, as it follows the Dune Buggy tracks, which are uneven, soft white sand with thick native fauna, but it’s fun and a nice break from the windy beach.

It was when I was coming down from this track to the beach again that I encountered three lovely volunteers from the GSWW!! They were fixing a small section of track, and were kind enough to say hello and allow me to talk their ear off for a few minutes. It is astounding to me that they manage to maintain such a huge track, and I cannot thank them enough for their efforts; the GSWW is stunning. I DO wish I had asked their advice on which route to take to the Lake. You have two choices; more beach walking, or inland. All the GSWW signage says the beach is 7km, and the inland 5.5. By this point I was SO tired of beaches, that a shorter inland route was definitely the way to go. Only, of course, the beach is 5.5, and the inland route is 7 hard hilly overgrown chaotic kilometres, and by this time the rain had well and truly arrived. So I trudged the seven km to the lake.

Despite it being further, I’m very glad I took the long way (at the time I was definitely not happy and would have happily murdered anyone who had tried to tell me it had been a good idea). This path is beautiful, and you get a stunning vista of the lake that you don’t get from the beach way:

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You also get to walk around the lake, though in summer this would literally be a death trap. I can’t imagine how many snakes must hide in the hip high reeds you wade through to get around the lake! Even in winter I came across my one and only snake, scared myself silly and gave myself that little extra push needed to get over to the camp area.

Lake Monibeong is one of my favourite campsites on the GSWW. It’s so spread out, and I imagine it’s packed in summer. I had it completely to myself, but still used the walkers site, which is separated from the rest. You also get, as always, to have a little giggle because they took Zombies into consideration (If you’re a Walking Dead fan), and trust me by this point you feel like a Zombie. My feet were killing me! I hadn’t bothered to stop anywhere….

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I did find Lake Monibeong a tad confusing to find my way around, at first. I dumped my things and went for a good explore to find my bearings. I think my confusion was warranted, as I came around the lake, and only found this sign at the end of my wanderings:

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As you can see, there’s a lot to do around the Lake, but all the walks are long! The most impressive thing for me was the toilet FLUSHED!!! XD My excitement knew no bounds! A lot of the nature toilets have been used as trash bins by people passing through, despite signage explaining how horrible this is. Uneducated people are truly horrible. But the flushing toilet was in all seriousness a massive novelty 🙂

There are no water tanks here either, and instead the taps are fed from a Bore…so it tastes awful. I treated my water through the rest of the GSWW, just to make it taste a little better, because the chemicals tasted better! That should tell you something right there. It’s not awful, but it’s not great. The taps are also a walk from the hikers camp, down past the toilet which was a tad annoying but I needed to stretch my legs anyway.

The Walkers camp is nicely tucked away from the Lake, and is a little higher up though it has no view of the lake. Here’s me all set up for the night:

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Despite this being one of my favourite sites, the overall feeling when you get to the Lake is devastation. What if ALL the Beaches section is like this?? (It is, in fact, worse). This is from the walkers comments; it sums things up perfectly.

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Walker 2: (if you can’t read it) Death, death around every corner. Tell my wife I love her. I’m sorry to those who did not make it.

We have never met, and yet this person and I have an understanding I will never share with anyone else! LOL

I was lucky and the rain cleared in the late afternoon, so while it was a very cold night, it was mostly dry. Several showers came through overnight, but the clouds made for an amazing sunset! One of the best I saw on the walk! Even better, the Lake has a small jetty, much like the river landings, so I grabbed my coat and beanie and a cup of hot chocolate and went and sat down there to watch the sun go down.

The jetty:

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As its getting darker:

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The sunset:

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Me messing around down there just before the colours set in:

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Very, VERY happy night at the Lake. After a very not so happy day in the rain.

Day 10: Lake Monibeong to Swan Lake: 16.5km
Aka. The beach of despair

The night at the Lake had me waking up in a MUCH better mood than when I arrived there. That mood disappeared quickly. The signage around the Lake is a tad confusing, and in all honesty there’s a bit too much of it. Because I had arrived the back way, I didn’t know there were two other ways in; the beach to Nobles rocks, or a dune buggy track over Sutton’s Rocks to the other side of the beach. The signage was so confusing I ended up pulling my map out and realising I needed to go to ‘swan lake’ not ‘the beach’. Even though, you know, I wanted to go to the beach to swan lake…In the end, these are the only signage you should follow:

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This is the dune buggy track. It was a bit of a wake up call first thing in the morning:

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At least, I THOUGHT that was going to be the hardest part of the day. Oh, Hindsight. You are a cruel mistress. The BEACH…oh wow, this beach. How do I begin to talk about this beach.

This is a long beach. Like…a good 14km of just beach. Which seems fine, until you realise there’s nothing else. Just beach. Add to this the fact that the tide was out when I started and then coming in as the day progressed and this sucked. Mostly because the waves ‘came in’ to cover the whole beach at some points, and if not the whole beach then to the point where only a very small section of soft white sand remained. And there was no ‘hard’ sand…the hard sand was more of a quagmire I sank into up to the knee a lot of times, so you had the lovely choice of wading through soft white sand to mid calf, wading through the water to your knees, or an odd mix of the two as the waves rolled in (about every tenth wave came in, so you were running the width of the beach about every five minutes. And remember…this goes on for 14km. There are no signs to tell you how far you’ve come, or how far there is to go, and there are NO landmarks. I focussed on a sand dune I could barely see in the morning, and it turned out to be the end point, but I had no idea of that at the time.

Worse. It rained. ALL DAY. It was freezing, windy, silent but for the crashing waves and rain, I was soaking wet, had no way of knowing how far I’d come…the beach is filthy, too. There was SO much rubbish washed on shore, it was heartbreaking. There were the occasional whale bones that left you wondering if maybe this was where you too would die, because there was no way you could take another step. Until you took another one…Whale bones, and one random tyre, that I confess I stood on for much longer than necessary and contemplated screaming at absolutely nothing for no better reason than I could. I saw one seagull, and chased a plover as we both tried to escape the waves. I succeeded, the plover was not so lucky. I watched it wallow in misery as it weakly flapped its way back to its nest and collapsed and I resented that it could go to sleep, while it wasn’t even lunch time yet.

I took no photos this morning. That should tell you something.

The moment you get to leave the beach is the happiest moment in history. For about five seconds. For some reason, I thought the camp wasn’t far away, and it wasn’t but I thought I would walk over the sand dune and there my paradise of a hut would be. Instead, I thought I had arrived on Tatooine. Behold:

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Endless, rolling dunes. Looks like a storm trooper fell off his bike and had to walk.

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The sand is soft and takes a while to trudge through, but I entertained myself with random Star Wars jokes and eventually found the dune buggy club campgrounds, which the hikers site is attached to at the end. Here is me, set up as usual:

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You could be forgiven, I think, if like me you thought there might be some kind of lake at Swan Lake camp. And, I suppose there is, only it’s half another km away, and looks like this:

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I know. Huge, right? Yeah, right. It’s more like a giant puddle, though there are some interesting rock formations around it that almost make it worth walking down to…

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You know, if you like rocks. I will confess, after walking to Swan Lake along the beach the devil himself could not have dreamed of if he’d thought of the best way to torture me for eternity, I couldn’t give a damn about rocks.

Like Lake Monibeong, Swan Lake has bore water instead of tanks… I almost missed the tap the first time I went past it, its tucked away in the grass on the way to the toilet:

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In fact, considering its in the sand dunes, Swan Lake had more wildlife than I had expected, including the first flowers I had seen on my walk!

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These purple flowers were everywhere, but also these white ones… you can tell I’m really into flowers. I know all their names and what not…NOT.

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Supposedly the hikers site is separate from the Dune Buggy Club but its about twenty metres away and not really sheltered at all. This site felt unsafe, mostly because of a biased view that the type of person likely to frequent a dune buggy club is not likely to be the kind of drunken male who thinks ‘no’ is an appropriate answer to one’s advances. So when someone rocked up in their 4WD in the afternoon and hooned around on their dirt bike for a few hours I made sure I stayed out of sight. My experiences in Movement Four would suggest this was a good idea.

I had no trouble at Swan Lake, but I wouldn’t want to be there alone when there were others camping there. Signs don’t tend to keep people out. Just saying.

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It is unsurprising to note that despite having the option of walking straight down to the beach to the Springs, saving a day and shaving a good 13km from your walk, NO ONE DOES THIS. ALL WALKERS in the log went to Tarragal, and EVERY entry comments on the devil beach. It’s SO isolating, SO long, Such harsh conditions in winter that every single walker went up Mount Richmond. Seriously…who chooses a MOUNTAIN over a BEACH? This sums up Beaches perfectly.

Day Eleven: Swan Lake to Tarragal: 20km
Aka. BLISTER SO HUGE 0.0 D:

I was so happy, because I was leaving the beach. I did not care that I would be walking a day longer, I had originally planned to walk to Tarragal but had fleeting moments of madness where I had contemplated walking down the beach the 21km straight to the Springs. Those illusions were gone. I would avoid the beach at all costs. I would have walked three extra days to avoid a repeat of the day before… You get the idea. I was happy because I was going up the mountain, which implied to me that there would be less sand. Ha.

Unfortunately, it continued to rain on and off all morning. Still, the walk is pretty. It started like this:

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Goodbye sandy dunes! Hello beautiful green hills!

A long haul uphill, out of the sand dunes following a road track alongside, of all things, plantations. You weave through the plantations on and off all day as they surround the Mount Richmond National Park. You can tell when you’re in the National Parks; you’re walking on sand, either in Mount Richmond National Park or the Discovery Bay Coastal Park. Sand…sand for days. But the plantations you get the dirt, yay!

This is also the day you have to question the driving skills of Victorians. Observe:

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And then in the middle of the plantation:

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Even weirder? This wasn’t the only one! It was just the newest :/

Mount Richmond is a beautiful area, and I can only imagine what it’s like in full bloom. Even in winter it’s colourful with the wattle in full flower:

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It’s a steady 10km straight that you’re walking uphill, but there’s plenty of amazing vistas if you just turn around and look back where you came from. There’s plenty of sheep and cows too, as you pass several farms. The sheep had me laughing, as they were huge, with full coats drenched in the rain. I took to naming them woolly mammoth sheep. Weirdly, despite enjoying the sheep more, I somehow got photos of cows instead…

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The best stop for lunch is the Mount Richmond picnic area, which doesn’t look to be on the GSWW on the map, but is in fact smack bang in the middle of the path. It’s very pretty with toilets, road access, signage and several shorter walks you have plenty of time to explore, if you want to. I didn’t mostly because nothing was in season, so a wildflower walk with no wildflowers seemed somewhat pointless.

The picnic area:

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Me, it’s only inhabitant:

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Once you leave the picnic area, its MOSTLY downhill. There area  few climbs but they’re nothing compared to the upward climb to the picnic area, and they’re in much greener areas so you’re in a better mood anyway 😛

The road walk as you leave the picnic area is gorgeous:

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A lot of the walk from here to Tarragal follows dirt roads, but they’re quite lovely and if you’re handy with a map there are several off track waterholes in the area. I checked out Morton Springs but was too tired to look at much else in the area.

Tarragal is my favourite campsite in the Beaches section, though Lake Monibeong was close! Tarragal is greener, and positioned so the sun is lovely in the afternoon. It also has several large logs around it’s fire to sit at, so if you were in a group you would enjoy a lovely dinner. The toilet is separate in the trees but by no means a long walk, and there are koalas everywhere!

The entry:

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The shelter:

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Tarragal Picnic table, late afternoon:

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Sun setting through the entry to Tarragal camp:

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This was the only blister I got on the GSWW, and I suspect it was from sand in my socks. Unfortunately, it was a ripper! I had felt a blister forming early in the morning, and had taped my heel to prevent it, but it happened anyway! Under tape! Ugh!

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And on that note…on to the Fourth Movement?

As much as there were things I didn’t like about Beaches (like…the beaches) there are some beautiful things to see here. My dislike of this section has a lot to do with my own stupidity. I like to know how far Ive gone and how far I have to go. I like progress. Because there are no landmarks on the beaches I can’t look at the map and go ‘oh, I’m at the intersection with Alec’s walk’ and pat myself on the back. As a result, my next purchase is going to be some kind of GPS tracker so I know where I am. If I’d had this I don’t think I would have found these sections anywhere near as bad. Perhaps a few extra GSWW signs by the beach would help break things up a bit; give people a spot to aim for for lunch or something. As it was, I didn’t stop on the beaches, at all. I got to each camp by midday/1pm and was tired, hungry and frustrated each time. I needed to sit down and take a break, but it just never seemed a good spot/time. Distance monitoring would help with that, and that is something I can help myself fix 🙂