The evening grew closer and darker and from inside my tent I heard the wind raging, louder and louder, while the rain plummeted agressively onto the tent’s fabric, which was flapping obtrusively. I could make out a van driving into Gladstone’s town park, where I had set up my tent next to the public toilet’s wall, mostly out of the wind, at the time. I was the only one there. But not anymore.
Footsteps hurried along, then a voice.
“Are you okay? We have a van, you can come inside if you want to?”
Without opening the tent I yelled back over the turbulent weather.
“I’m okay, thank you.”
“Come inside if you change your mind,”
and off the footsteps went.
I had arrived in Gladstone just a few hours before, and had staked my tent right next to the public toilet building. The weather was grey and it was getting colder, so I had gone to the general store and picked up a paper bag with chips, spring rolls and hashbrowns, hot treats so I could warm and enjoy a hot evening treat, for once. But the wind and rain had picked up quickly, until it stormed so hard that wrecking gusts came from all directions. The howling gale threw the tent sideways and I held on to the poles from the inside, afraid they would break. I hadn’t encountered real bad weather before, and certainly not a storm like this.
I began to regret my decision to stay in the park, instead of checking into the town’s hotel. But I was here. And despite the kind offer to hide in the van, I felt it was easier to stay where I was, protecting my belongings. Maybe the weather would calm down. Surely it would.
But it didn’t.
Once it got dark I decided it got too dangerous. I would never be able to sleep. I put on my wet clothes and hurried outside. The grass was turning to a soggy mud from the incessant rain. Everything was saturated. The hippie van was parked on the lawn, just in front of an open, brightly lit shelter, which housed a picnic table. It was closed on three sides and had a concrete floor. Luckily my tent was free standing. I could drag it there. I took my backpack from the vestibule and ran it over to the shelter. The wind, howling around me, seemed less agressive next to the shelter’s walls. I ran back to the tent and in seconds, pulled out the stakes. Leaving the rest intact and all my belongings inside, I grabbed the bottom of the tent along with the footprint, and dragged it over the grass inside the hut. I was surprised when I got it there unscathed.
I positioned it along the back wall but the wind blew too strong. For a moment I worried it would’ve been better left staked in the grass. With some effort, I managed to move it around the table to one of the side walls and my increasing worry eased when the impact of the wind proved to be a lot weaker. If anything, it was the best I could do and at least it was dry.
I looked at the tent. The outside was drenched and muddy, just like my clothes and shoes. On the inside, everything was damp. It was horrible. That night was wet and short. The light in the shelter was bright and it kept me alert. It was my first night on the North Coast.
The following day the sky was clear and I set off early, as usual. The hippy van next to me remained quiet. The rain had stopped. Before I left town, I picked up a small solar light I had spotted at the general store, and I was excited about being able to read in the tent at night.
That day was quiet. I walked along gravel roads with curious steers following me to the point of frightening me with their intense pursuit. That night I had planned to stay at another free camp site, the only one around, far removed from civilisation, and located a few kilometers off the main road. With all the rain that had fallen, I was worried about its state. Grasslands around me were flooded and rivers overflowing. There was a chance it was too wet to pitch the tent at all.
It wasn’t until the afternoon that the weather turned. From sunny and windy back to grey and wet. The landscape, at once, dreary and monotonous. There were no buses running along this road and hardly any cars. The nearest town was another day’s walk away. The rain quickly intensified. I felt miserable and alone.
With no other option, I continued to walk, hoping for a decent state of the campsite I was aiming to reach. The rain began to resemble last night’s weather. I pulled on my rain jacket and kept my head down. A few cars passed me, speeding along to warmer and dryer grounds.
I thought to myself that, just once, as an exception, I would accept a lift if someone were to offer it. But time passed and no one did.
A few kilometers before the campsite, a car headed in the opposite direction, pulled over. A lady offered to take me to Tomahawk, a town I passed about seven kilometers earlier. I quickly considered the offer, but I dreaded having to walk the seven kilometers again the next day, so I sadly declined, waving her goodbye in the rain, assuring her I would be all right. I turned back to walking but before I knew it, she was back.
“Just get in. You can stay at mine. I can drive you to town tomorrow.”
It didn’t take long to convince me. I hopped in and soon enjoyed the warmth of a home, cooked food and kind conversation. Another trail angel. I had a shower for the first time in four days and another, unexpectedly kind Australian looking after me, asking nothing in return. Despite the poor weather, it was a most welcome start to the North Coast section.
The North Coast was varied. It wasn’t the most comfortable for walking. I crossed large sections of highway, and I was forced to walk right alongside heavy traffic at times, and many log trucks. Many days I hated it, but it always made me feel better when one of the truck drivers would speak to me during a rest stop, and asked where I was headed. They had been passing me back and forth for days.
Along the way I took a few days rest in Launceston, healing blood blisters that had swollen my foot after walking in wet shoes for too long. Just before I left, I prepared half a kilo of ravioli with sauce and cheese in a large ziplock bag, and headed to Beauty Point to continue the walk to Bakers Beach.
I was looking forward to that day. I had been anticipating walking leisurely along several beaches. A bit of a dream come true after so much road walking. But I was wrong. It took 22 kilometers before I even got to the first beach. Almost a day in itself, but it wasn’t even 2 pm. Too early to stop. But I knew the next campsite was at least the equal distance away. I called the national park to ask if I could check into the site late, and they said I could, so I decided to head off. I had a long day ahead of me.
It didn’t take long before I realised my leisurely walk was in fact somewhat of an expedition. The first beach was kilometers long, and what I didn’t know was that it wasn’t one you could actually walk along. I climbed a section of rocks to get to the main stretch, before I realised I was alone on the beach. There was no sand. The pebbles were too large to comfortably walk on, but loose enough to continuously move recklessly under my feet, causing me to lose my grip and slip constantly. The sloped beach was tight between myself and the high dunes, and the cold waves, covered in yellow foam, crashed into me when I didn’t manage to move along fast enough. It took hours to pass. When I finally reached the end, a river blocked my way. I was forced to take off my shoes and wade through. It was cold and deeper than I thought, but luckily not very far.
When I was through, I checked the map. I still had a long way to go. An extensive walk through a nature trail, following the cliffs above the sea, and another section of beach. I knew the trail would progress much slower than walking on the road and the time worried me. If anything, I had to set up camp before dark. I wanted to rest, but couldn’t. I set my pace high and continued along the desolate and dramatic sights. When I reached the beach it was soft and sandy and I was relieved and exhausted. I rested for a few moments before I picked myself up and forced my legs along, at last towards the campsite.
When I finally got to the spot, I managed to set up my tent among the many wallabees, just before dark. I sat in my tent and read a little, using my solar light. It was a beautiful spot, with plenty bushes, and toilets with cold water. The ravioli lasted me for days.