“Do or do not. There is no try.”
“Holy crap….we’re supposed to cross that in our flimsy, inflatable pack-rafts? No f**king way!””
We had finally reached Wingan Inlet, part of the Croajingolong National Park in South East Australia and I was not prepared for what lay before us. We had visited this same place many years ago and had talked about trekking this part of the Victorian Wilderness Coast. In order to do so, you must somehow cross the Wingan Inlet, a bird-filled waterway that flows out to the sea. My memory convinced me this would not be an arduous task. In fact, if my memory was right we could surely just wade across. So tackling this obstacle in our inflatable pack-rafts should be a cinch.
But memories are a funny thing. They morph over time and often in the end can bear little semblance to reality. What we were confronted with was a Wingan Inlet at high tide- a wide expanse of water with rushing currents and deep channels, made all the worse by strong, gusty winds. Crossing this was going to be a formidable task. We had two choices. We could shrug our shoulders, admit defeat, and go home. Or we could face our fears, take a deep breath and forge ahead on our adventure.
American author Neale Donald Walsh once said “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. Well, we were about to find out.
Having decided to take our chances and cross the inlet we take our rafts out of our backpacks and inflate them. The beauty of these boats are their portability. They fold neatly into a size that fits into an average trekking backpack and the oars pull apart and are easily attached at its sides. Ideal for situations like this where your trek includes a waterway that needs to be traversed.
Boats inflated, we start our diagonal crossing of the inlet.
“Well this is not as bad as I thought” I shout across to Chris, who has taken the lead for me to follow.
“Just keep paddling, we’ll be fine” he shouts back.
Perhaps, as is my usual fashion, I just lack confidence in my own abilities. We are making quite good progress and it’s not as tough as I had imagined. My pants are a little damp from the splash but so far, so good. That is of course until we move out of the small bay and past the headland that has been protecting us from the gusty winds and strong currents.
Suddenly my paddle is caught by a gust of wind and I find it difficult to get it back in the water. The waves whipped up by the wind are splashing over the sides of the boat rendering it an inflatable swimming pool. My once ‘damp’ pants are now soaking, as are my trekking shoes. At least my backpack, rested on my legs, has remained dry. I have to keep reminding myself that the inflation of the raft will keep it afloat despite the amount of water onboard. When I look over the side of the raft I realise I am paddling in only 5 inches of water. This should be a huge relief but, irrationally, does not make me feel any better.
With my oar back in the water, I finally make make some progress but we are now in the part of the inlet that curves towards the sea and as such has a deep, fast moving channel. We decide to paddle across this rather than paddle down it, reach the other side of the inlet and then follow the shallow shoreline to the trail head.
The deep channel is not that wide so with effort we are able to cross it uneventfully. But once I reach the reedy shoreline the wind pushes me into a clump of reeds. I start to panic, and despite all efforts it’s almost impossible to extricate myself, the wind is so strong. Pushing my paddle into the sucky-mud that forms the bottom of the inlet I finally push myself out of the reeds and off the shore. Still fighting strong wind gusts, I spot a small sandy beach not too far away and head towards it. The adrenaline is coursing through me, and yet I feel weak. I need a break to empty the water from my raft but more urgently I need to regain my strength and my nerve. I need to calm down.
We pull up at the beach and clamber out of the rafts. It’s nice to be on solid ground. My shoes squelch as I move around trying to empty the raft of water without it being caught by the wind. We spend a few minutes here scoping the rest of the shore and decide on the best way to tackle the remainder of the journey. This respite has done me good, and when we push off again I’m in a much better state of mind. We follow the shoreline and soon turn a corner and the wind dies off. We paddle around some smooth, granite-like boulders blanketed with orange lichen and before too long Chris spies the totem that marks the start of the trail head. Almost an hour after having set off, we have crossed the Wingan Inlet.
With rafts back in our backpacks we take the trail that leads through a she-oak forest, up and over a small headland. By this time it is almost 5pm and the sun is not far from setting. We arrive at a small beach and find a protected campsite in the grassy dunes amongst gnarly banksias, she- oaks and tea-trees. We decide to stay here the night and explore more of this lonely Croajingolong coast tomorrow.
The view from the campsite is spectacular. This small curve of golden sand has no footprints bar that of a seagull and possibly a kangaroo. The waves gently lap the shore, making it shimmer in the sparkling afternoon sun. It feels like we have left civilisation behind forever and have come to exist just in nature. This feeling of wildness is so hard to find now, that when we do, it’s difficult to absorb. It’s almost impossible to capture the feeling, to take it with you as comfort in those times when life is fast, busy and overwhelming. It is fleeting. But we are here now. Just us. In nature. A smile takes over my face and I sigh, deeply in awe of all this wild beauty that surrounds us.
Sitting on a sand dune in the fading sun watching a majestic sea-eagle glide effortlessly above us, I try to push thoughts of the return journey out of my mind. Tomorrow afternoon we will need to cross the inlet again. But despite my fear – or perhaps because of it – today was exhilarating.
Maybe Neale Donald Walsh was right . Life really does begin at the end of your comfort zone.
Croajingolong National Park:
Croajingolong National Park park is located in the East Gippsland area of Victoria. Its around 480km east of Melbourne and around 500km south of Sydney so truly in the middle of nowhere and far from everywhere. The park is accessed from multiple points along the Princes Highway between Cann River and the New South Wales border.
The Wilderness Coast Walk extends 100km from the Eastern Shores of Sydenham Inlet in Croajingolong National Park, to Wonboyn in the Nadgee Nature Reserve, NSW. The walk can be accessed from a number of locations along the coastline. Two-wheel drive access is available at Bemm River, Thurra River, Wingan Inlet and Shipwreck Creek. Please check on road conditions prior to entering the park. The section we trekked is called the Sandpatch Zone and stretches from Wingan Inlet to Shipwreck Creek, 26 kilometres in all. There is no vehicular access to this section.
Parks Victoria and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service require walkers to book in order to manage numbers and minimise visitor impact on these remote areas.
For more information visit the Parks Victoria website: The Wilderness Coast