COVID-19 is reshaping the world as we know it, stopping many of our social interactions around physical exercise, so walking is the one therapy to keep us all sane. I love walking and am happy to do it alone, the rhythm of the footsteps providing a great space to think. In fact, I prefer to do my daily march up the beach alone. A walking pace makes room for observations of nature and the changing face of our landscape. I can even practice my singing now I can’t go to my choir. But it’s also great to have a walking companion especially as it’s easy to keep the social distancing required at 1.5 metres.
About 18 months ago, I was lucky enough to meet two newbies to our area who loved to walk. ‘Why don’t you join us?’ one said. ‘We walk every Friday, somewhere along the beach and its trails’. Our beach stretches from Brunswick Heads to Pottsville, a distance of about 20km along the northern coast of New South Wales. All along this stretch are old service trails which were put in by sand miners in the 1970’s. When we walk we discuss all manner of things, from books, movies and series on SBS to identification of plants and birds.
The topography of the land shows myriads of little waterways wending their way down from Wollumbin (Mt Warning) to the sea. Some have been blocked off – such as Billinudgel Creek, which used to flow onto the sand near South Golden Beach but which is now dammed up to form a waterway at North Ocean Shores. When it rains a lot, this damming causes lots of flooding, but for the purposes of walking it makes for a wonderful variety of scenery.
One of our favourite walks is the Central/Optus Trail loop, which starts and ends at South Golden Beach. After walking up the beach for about 2km, the track appears in the dunes. Walking behind the dunes, first through tall grasses, the track becomes more obvious as the first stands of melaleucas appear. These graceful paperbarks clump together filtering light through to the water.
Recently we have had nearly one metre of rainfall so on Friday it was very wet and previously dry creek beds were flowing enough to require shoes off to wade through. Standing to put on socks and shoes afterwards meant fending off swarms of mosquitoes. The trail wends along through increasingly taller trees, with Hoop Pine, Casuarinas and Bangalow Palms appearing, festooned with Stag and Elkhorns, until reaching the Billinudgel Creek crossing. The first time I did this walk, it was just a trickle and we could easily hop over stones to cross but on Friday it was flowing fast, cleaning out all the debris. More mozzies as the shoes came off again.
There is a junction where the Central Trail meets the Optus and Quarry Trails. Walking straight ahead directly west on the Quarry Trail you would end up at Jones Rd, but we always take the left hand bend which climbs steeply up onto the ridge behind North Ocean Shores. This forest has increasingly huge trees such as Brush Box and Flooded Gums, the beautiful Eucalyptus Grandis, sheltering tree ferns underneath.
There is abundant birdlife; whip birds, whistlers and thrushes whistle, trill and crack. Eventually the backyards of homes come into view and the track becomes a sealed road. Then it’s just a downhill stroll to return to the beach. The round trip is about 7.5km and takes between 1.5 and 2 hours depending how often you stop for photos.
Another favourite walk is north along the beach to Pottsville. Sometimes we only get as far as the Wooyung Caravan Park which marks the boundaries between Tweed and Byron Shire Councils and we return via the beach or the track behind the dunes, depending on the tides. This takes about 2 hours at 8km. One morning in February, I did this at daylight and watched the sun rise.
Sometimes we do the 12km to Pottsville and get a lift home with one of the stay at home partners.
The walk along the beach always features shore birds – the rare Pied Oystercatchers with their distinct red legs and mincing walk, Ospreys and Brahminy Kites, who wait for unaware fishermen to turn their backs on the catch.
The Pied Oystercatchers are so rare we have named them Henry and Henrietta. They breed on the Brunswick seawall but feed on the Billinudgel Nature Reserve shores. When the tide is high we can see Rainbow Bee-eaters, trilling and flitting over the dunes and below them blue and red fairy wrens. Rarely now, we see a rock wallaby.
Last Friday week, we walked to Pottsville as a farewell to S, the newby who is moving away. It was a perfect autumn day in paradise. We will miss our valued walking mate but when this health crisis abates it will give us a good excuse to expand our walking routes to visit her.