It’s true, I’ve been worrying a lot lately about the catastrophe that is Donald Trump. But you might be relieved to learn that this isn’t a ‘Survivalist’ Trumpocalypse rant or a rewrite of “On the Beach”. This is a story about time and how travelling makes me more conscious of how little of it we have, regardless of the ticking hands of the Doomsday Clock and the unnecessary and escalating crises that are blighting the world.
Here’s one of the reasons time is on my mind a lot at the moment: when we’re on the road and we’re debating what to do and see next on our year-long Australian adventure, the phrase “we should go there because we’ll probably never get another chance” comes up a lot. It sounds perfectly innocent until you really think about it.
The other day I realised this phrase has been having a huge impact on my subconscious. Every time I hear it, I go into overdrive, trying to see and photograph everything in my path. It’s as if someone is counting down the hours, and I’m in a race to the finish. A psychologist would probably have a field day analysing this, but I think the underlying cause is simple: the world is vast and beautiful; there’s no way in our short lives we can see it all; and travelling crystallises this in a way that nothing else (except serious illness) can.
This definitely helps explain the crazy schedules we sometimes set for ourselves, and one in particular that we managed to survive last week in Northwest Tasmania. We’d just arrived in Wynyard, a small coastal town that borders some of this island state’s most spectacular scenery. The more we heard about what the region has to offer, the more places we added to our itinerary, until we’d come up with an action plan that still makes me feel dizzy when I think about it. I still can’t believe we managed to squeeze so much into twenty four hours!
For me, it started with a sunset photography session above the poppy fields and on the beaches of Wynyard. I was so spellbound by the changing light that I lost track of time, and it was well past dark by the time I got back to our little cottage. I think we ate dinner at 11pm that night, after which I set my alarm for 4.30 am so that I could photograph the sunrise. I was so glad I managed to drag myself out of bed, because the sky lit up in a stunning orange blaze.
There was no time for breakfast. Back at the cottage, we packed the car with everything we’d need for the day ahead, and set off. First stop, the quaint fishing port of Stanley, with its distinctive landmark known as ‘The Nut’ – a volcanic plug that towers over the landscape.
We spent a couple of hours walking around the town and surrounding countryside, including a picturesque area of wild flower meadows and huge tidal flats, known as Green Hills. I could have parked myself with my camera and tripod and spent all day there, but time was ticking on, and we had a huge itinerary ahead of us. We wanted to be back in Stanley before dusk, in time to watch the Fairy Penguins waddle in from the sea and settle down for the night in their beachside nests.
From there, we headed off the beaten track, along to the end of a peninsula called Cape Grim, where few tourists venture. We’d seen the place on the map and decided we had to explore it. The satellite photographs of the area were amazing: huge cliffs, towering white sand dunes and aqua-coloured water. Looks anything but grim, we thought, and this might be our only chance to see it – let’s go! So we traipsed 100km up an unmade road, filled with anticipation, only to discover the top of the peninsula is privately owned by Woolnorth Windfarm and is inaccessible except by prior arrangement.
Oh well, no time to waste, we thought. Onward, into the Tarkine wilderness, a huge wind-blasted moorland with a rugged coastline and a tiny fishing settlement called Arthur River, famously labelled The Edge of the World. Beyond it lies the longest uninterrupted stretch of ocean on the planet: where the rocky land ends, there is nothing but sea for more than 20,000 kilometres until you reach the Argentinian coast. The place really does live up to its name, with a desolate landscape and an eerie feeling of isolation; beautiful but lonely and constantly at the mercy of the elements.
On the way, we stopped to explore Cape Bluff Lighthouse and Marrawah Beach, both equally wild and deserted. The only people we saw on the entire journey were a group of adrenalin junkies, windsurfing in the enormous waves at West Point State Reserve. It’s probably just as well they couldn’t see Bailey watching them from the beach as they battled the gigantic swell. I’m not a windsurfer, but I’m guessing spotting a dog in a cork hat could be quite off-putting.
The challenge was then on to make it back to Stanley from The Edge of the World before sunset – a long drive down gravel tracks and rough tarmac roads. En route, we remembered hearing that there’s a seal colony just off the coast from Green Hills. Could we possibly see that too, before we lost the light? Why not? Yes, we should definitely try, because we might never have another chance. Yes, yes, we will fit that in after our picnic dinner, and before we head down to see the penguins. No time to lose.
Luckily, we arrived back in Stanley at about 7pm for the golden hour, and so I had a chance to photograph the town itself in ideal light conditions. I love the little village, with its colourful buildings, all of which have incredible views. In fact, as I walked the quiet streets, I tried to imagine living in such a remote and beautiful place – so much more inviting than The Edge of the World, and yet only a few hours drive away. It’s tempting, I must admit.
Did someone mention dinner? Seriously, who needs dinner when there’s a seal colony to see, and then penguins to watch waddling through the sand dunes at dusk? We quickly fed Bailey and Saffy ‘al fresco’, gobbled a few things ourselves, and then headed off on foot to see if we could find a good viewing spot for the seals.
We decided our best chance was to walk across the meadows behind a ruined convict barracks, which gave us access to the clifftops and views over some rocky outcrops (these are more easily viewed from the water, and in fact there’s a tour operator in Stanley offering boat trips). And bingo, there they were: a colony of seals, lying out among nesting seabirds, soaking up the last of the rays! Unfortunately, they were too distant to photograph successfully, and in any case, we had to dash back to the beach at Stanley and get in position to see the penguins.
We made it back to watch the Fairy Penguins swimming in from the sea. Phew – we were afraid we’d missed them! They were exquisite. But our day didn’t stop there. After the penguins had settled down with their chicks for the night, we watched the stars appear in the sky, and noticed that the milky way was particularly bright. So we decided to head back up to the ruined convict barracks to do some night photography before setting off on our long drive back to Wynyard.
It was very spooky up at the barracks after dark, even though Al and I were there together. It probably didn’t help that we were deliberately trying to create ghostly images, some of which looked quite convincing! I really needed to spend more time working to get the focus right, and ideally, I needed to dress Al up in Victorian convict garb for the full effect, but we didn’t have time. Maybe next time.
Oh, that’s right, there might not be a next time. Life is short. Still, it might be an idea not to try to see and do and photograph absolutely everything! Now that we’ve been to the Edge of the World and back, maybe we’ll slow down a bit.
The Edge of the World, by Brian Inder
I cast my pebble onto the shore of eternity
To be washed by the Ocean of Time
It has shape, form and substance
It is me
One day I will be no more
But my pebble will remain here
On the shore of eternity
Mute witness for the aeons
That today I came and stood
At the edge of the world.