It’s hard to believe this breathtaking bushwalk is simply known locally as “the Water Tower Walk”. That sounds so plain Jane and understated. I’m not even sure there’s a sign, although it’s probably on the map. That said, you either have to be local and in the know…or lost…to find it!
Here I am snuggled into the bushes with my Nikon photographing the view.
Yet, this walk is literally awesome, packed with knockout views, especially for the contemplative soul. Moreover, you never know what you’re going to stumble across on the wildlife front. Much to our surprise,we’ve actually seen an echidna, which we didn’t even know were living in our local area. We’ve also seen a flock of stunning black cockatoos, although I only heard them this time.
Since we’re in varying stages of being cooped up in lock down like a flock of old chooks, I thought I’d invite you on a virtual bush walk. This way, you can ease into my shoes and hopefully get a sense of the magic.
However, before we get started, I’d better give you some directions. As it turns out, a quick Google search for a map actually told me its official name is : The Mt Ettalong Lookout Walk and its official address is 135 Patonga Dr, Pearl Beach NSW 2256. Well, that’s all well and good if you want to write it a letter. However, if you’re in the car and looking out the window, you just need to look out on your left for the water tower. Take it from me, you can miss it and if you reach the Pearl Beach turn off, you’ve gone too far. The water tower is camouflaged in the scrub.
BTW, to help you get your bearings, I thought I’d better remind you our seasons are upside down for most of you. That means, we’re heading into Winter here in Australia. Now, I’m constantly running out of frigging daylight, because I stay up too late and miss half the day. So, this will tell you that we’re arriving about half an hour before sunset when the light is at its magic best, although there were definitely spots where the light was gone, and needed the morning sun.
From the road, this half hour walk appears pretty understated. There’s just the water tower and a bit of bush. Definitely no multi-story car park, luxury hotel or other travesties you expect anywhere worth visiting. Just nature. However, walk further down the track, and you’ll soon see stunning water glimpses through the gum trees on your right.
Further along, you’ll see a little track across to a series of natural rock lookouts. By the way, there are no safety railings to spoil the view, until you reach the lookout at the end. So, you need to watch your step and be careful. Otherwise, it will be you being rescued and appearing on the 6.00 pm news…or worse!
“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the
ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on
underwater,you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the
ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and
staring at the outside of the tent.”
The View from the first lookout over Pearl beach and across to Lion Island and Broken Bay.
“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a
drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be
Pearl Beach viewed from the Mt Ettalong Walk. During these times of social distancing, I’feeling particularly struck by images of the lone individual., as captured in this photograph, which would improve in the morning light.
Alongside the view, you’ll also spot a few wildflowers. If I came here more regularly, I’d have a better idea of what to expect. However, since I only come here randomly once a year or so, it’s always a bit of a lucky dip. This time I spotted a star-shaped purple flower which I couldn’t identify, as well as the stunning Fushia Heath (Epacris longiflora). There was also a touch of wattle, and some Banksia seed pods still clinging tenaciously to the branches with others being trodden under foot.
“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”
You could come here just for the ocean views, and be in heaven. However, the trees were almost equally magnificent. Please don’t mistake me for a tree hugger. I’m more of a tree gazer, photographer and philosopher. I’m currently reading Julie Baird’s sensational book: Phosphoressence. She’s introduced me to the Japanese concept of “forest bathing”, or shinrin yoku. Unconsciously, that’s what I was doing on this walk, although I’ll take the liberty of translating it into the Aussie vernacular and call it “Bush Bathing”. Mind you, that’s something you need to approach with extreme caution in a more literal sense in the Australian bush. There are not only the legendary snakes and spiders you’ve no doubt heard about. The leaves on many of these plants have adapted to rough conditions and are tough, scratchy and even vicious. So, they’re clearly not something to embrace in a literal, physical sense and most definitely not naked. Indeed, this could well explain Australians’ bizarre toilet paper hoarding fetish during the coronacrisis. There was no way we were turning to our native flora as an alternative.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”
― William Shakespeare
Anyway, back to the trees. They were absolutely breathtaking, and I often struggle to understand how a simple tree could be so majestic and awe-inspiring. Meanwhile, I almost felt the size of an ant, dwarfed by this kaleidoscope of twisting, turning branches back-lit by the setting sun. Their arms are reaching up into the omnipresent sky like a classroom full of kindergarten kids, where each of them has the answer to the question and desperately want to be picked. Moreover, being on top of a headland, these trees have wrestled with the wind and their branches have warped and twisted into an array of chaotic, misshapen forms, and I can almost hear the music playing, enchanting the branches to dance. Of course, the effects of the late afternoon sun known as “the magic hour” by we photographers, further illuminates their magnificent splendour. Gazing through my lens, I zoom in and absorb it all. It’s food for my soul.
A jumble of branches.
Or, perhaps I’ve just been in lock down for far too long, and I’ve almost forgotten that the sky is blue. Or, that the sky exists outside at all, and hasn’t become a ceiling. That carpet hasn’t suddenly replaced the grass, and the world isn’t a square box after all.
I wish I could actually take you on this mesmerising journey in person with me. However, I’ve done my best to try to record it for you and, as I said, to ease you into my shoes. So, when I wasn’t standing stationary sticking my camera up a gum tree or gazing like stout Cortez across the sea, you would hear my footsteps rhythmically crunching over a carpet of crushed rocks and decaying detritus left, right, left, right. The track was uncharacteristically damp, because we’ve actually been getting some rain lately, and there’s a slighty musty smell of decaying leaves infused with eucalyptus, that scent we know as “Australia”.After all, this is our scent, our fragrance, even our deodorant. (Actually, we don’t go that far with the eucalyptus. Or, at least I don’t. Cough lollies are my limit.)
As you can see, this spot is almost pure nature. Nothing’s been planted in neat little rows like peas in a pod. Rather, there’s raw, chaotic diversity and a freedom of spirit without pretence. I felt a million miles away from home, and any thought of covid 19 which has been stalking all of humanity around the entire globe. After all, there was no need for social distance. It was just me, myself and I, the birds, the trees, the awesome profound views across this vast stretch of water, the enormity of huge timeless boulders all around me as well as the dramatic drop over the edge. This doesn’t quite count as a cliff, but if you fell down there, you might never get up, especially if no one knows you’re there.
However, regardless of how deeply I was “bathing” in these scenes and senses, reality was always going to stick it’s ugly head in. With the setting sun, came responsibilities. Dinner wasn’t about to cook itself and fly magically onto the table. Moreover, I also had a zoom meeting to attend. Indeed, it was going to be rush, rush, hustle bustle when I got home.
However, at least I’d got out. Spread my wings. Broadened my horizons. Finally, done some exercise. Moreover, once the Palm Beach Lighthouse was lit and the street lights were coming on, it was time for me to go home. After all, even a child knows they need to be home before sunset.
Well, I hope you enjoyed our virtual walk. Have you been out on any special walks recently? Or, do you have a favourite walk which you would like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Meanwhile, I hope that you are well, and keeping safe both from the virus but also all of its associated stress and the effects of isolation, job loss and just sense of things being turned upside down and inside out.