the 20-year old toyota landcruiser roars happily as it bounces along a mountain goat trail through australian bush country. it’s exhilarating riding shotgun with reuben gregor, son of our hosts on kangaroo island, as he powers up a jagged rock face, downshifts into a gravel-strewn gulley, then grinds upward again to a promontory overlooking a craggy beach.
they don’t make SUVs like that anymore. the odometer shows 286,000km
the last hundred meters’ descent to the water would be suicide by car, so we all clamber out and do a slip-and-slide down a rocky slope to a sliver of white sandy apron separating the cliff face from the swirling surf where we hope to snorkel for abalone and crayfish.
welcome to kangaroo island’s south coast. next landfall, antarctica.
it’s not a day for snorkeling, at least not here. we had brought wetsuits to brave the 16 degree celsius, (60F) water, but crashing waves are stirring up the rock pools. visibility is near zero.
ruben is apologetic. he says there’s another cove just a few kilometers away that’s better protected. we’ll have to walk, though, because even the land cruiser can’t negotiate those cliffs. and there’s no trail. not even a kangaroo track.
reuben knows the territory. he has worked these cliffs trapping feral cats that are a menace to the island’s indigenous species. he’s wearing solid walking shoes and socks.
reuben’s cousin, michael, is psyched for the hike, too. but he’s wearing flimsy flip-flops. big mistake.
my sandals offer some protection against the gravel and thorns. by the time we reach the third crest, however, i’m agonizingly aware of a strategic blunder. i’m listing badly to starboard under the weight of a gym bag stuffed with gear i had packed in preparation for any eventuality… except this one. my one “good” shoulder is on fire.
with every step i’m thinking, if it’s bad now, what kind of hell awaits on the way back. michael, it turns out, is wondering the same thing. his feet are being shredded by razor-sharp stones turning his thongs to mincemeat. the prudent course of action is obviously to swallow our pride and turn around. so after an hour and a half of bush-bashing, we’re back to where we started. no joy.
after two hours of cooling our heels, made bearable by the picnic michael’s wife caroline and reuben’s wife tracy had packed, we see three tiny dots rise up over the horizon. as the sun sinks low in the afternoon sky, reuben, along with michael’s 14-year old daughter sarah (who borrowed her mom’s boots) and sade, another young woman in the party with good shoes, straggle back to base, triumphant.
reuben hoists the booty tub up to michael, who swings it around for us to examine the prize: five massive abalone and one crayfish. the ladies proudly show ’em off. michael reckons each one of these beauties would fetch $100 at market.
ultimately, it’s been a grandly successful day. reuben has put food on the family table, thin-sliced and pan-fried. a feast for the land lubbers back home.
it wasn’t an easy task, he admits, because he’d forgotten the sharp knife he uses to liberate the abalone from the rocks. his only blade was a tiny shard strapped to his belt. fortunately, it worked.
for me, the day was a mixed blessing. to add insult to the injury of my miscalculation, i found that a large bottle of sun screen that was in my bag had burst open during the trudge. everything was slathered in white goo. spf 50+, too. it’s now thoroughly protected.
on the other hand, i could not imagine a better way to experience real australia. how many total strangers are privileged to be invited into a fun-loving, seafaring, welcoming family like the gregors and hobbses, who accept me as one of their own for a wild seacoast diving expedition and picnic? you can’t buy that.
there’s a moral to the story. when in the bush, be prepared, and travel light. yes, it’s a contradiction; australia’s full of ’em. it’s up to you to choose. don’t ask me. i’m a bush moron.
Covet and Envy Pete..I hate being this old and not doing what your doing..I enjoy your Blog!
thanks, bob. gotta say i must be the luckiest SOB in the world to have fallen into this life. i really appreciate you taking the time to read these zany snapshots of oz-life. it’s fun doing them, so it’s great to know someone bothers to look. stay well and have a happy new year.
Dear Peter, I just read your new blog and I did enjoy the humor. The fish are fabulous .. the trip sounds wonderful. Candy just sent me an artic
Pete, your adventure was like an epic novel, expectation, dissapoinment, struggle, pain, wonder, joy. What an adventure, thanks for sharing. ENJOY!
very kind words, indeed, dan. thanks very much. i’m having lots of fun writing. it is concerning that we’re having such great adventures while much of the rest of the planet is suffering through such a difficult time. the only consolation is from the old asleep at the wheel song, that goes, “ain’t too many things that i’ve never done. but i never ever had too much fun”. we just ride the tiger and see where it leads.
may you and your family have a loving holiday season and a happy new year, and when the gates open again, may we hoist a glass together.