To the peripheries! That’s what Pope Francis keeps telling us. Well, far East Gippsland is a bit of a periphery. Then again, in Australia, it is the peripheries that have the greatest appeal, and I would certainly like to live out here if I could. We walked past one valley, where the green grass was tinged with gold in the sunlight, and a brilliant blue stripe of a creek running down the middle, and I thought I would be happy to call that valley my home. As remote as it is, East Gippsland is a beautiful place. Whether it is the forests or the farmland, it is all breathtakingly beautiful. We travelled through both today on the short walk between Nowa Nowa and Tostaree and right now we are sitting in the Stockmans Cottage at Tostaree Cottages overlooking rolling green hills with cattle in the paddocks, full dams and flowing creeks, and behind that the edge of the forest. The rain has just eased off, the sky is still overcast, the fire is going (drying my hand-washed clothes), and the resident kitten is sleeping in front of the fire (actually since I wrote that last phrase and made myself another cup of tea, the kitten has relocated to my lap and is patting at my keyboard).
I had a restless night. I woke up about 2:30am and spent the next hour or so trying to get back to sleep. I became engaged with the problem of the next leg of the journey from Orbost over the mountain. Josh is particularly concerned about this section – when we leave the periphery and head in-land into even greater remoteness (that’s the odd thing about our land – the edges are where we live, and the heartland is the most remote). On our current plans, the first three days will be at least 35kms each, although the fourth day, from Bendoc to Delegate, will be just 16kms. We won’t be carrying full packs (that’s what our driver will be for) but even so, 35km in a day climbing up hill will be hard. We can’t change our timing, because we have Easter on the one side and the need to go to Mass on the other. Yet as pointless as my worrying was, one small solution came to me: on the day that we travel to Orbost, we must do at least 10kms walking along the trail towards Goongerah – that way the next two days will be reduced to a more realistic 30kms a day.
I finally fell back to sleep and woke again with the sun streaming in through the window. No sign yet of the promised rain. We were ready to leave quite quickly. Sean had his muesli and a cup of plunger coffee for breakfast, but Josh and I were heading around to the Mingling Waters Cafe for a burger. As we went past the Caravan Park office and chook house, we thanked Neil for his hospitality. In the meantime, Sean had gone off with his camera to explore the rest of the park. He later reported on the vintage onsite caravans that are for overnight hire, and showed us his photos of the quirky interior decoration of these vans. I think it is the kind of place my daughter would like. Nowa Nowa Caravan Park is certainly a place for a unique and comfortable stay (the well stocked park kitchen actually has a pizza oven in it!).
At the Cafe, Josh had ordered the Brekky Burger and was looking at the vast collection of memorabilia on display. I put in an order for the same, and also added an order for takeaway ham salad sandwiches for our lunch. There was a big sign outside the Cafe proclaiming “The Big Root”, which sounded slightly off, but I noticed that inside they were selling fridge magnets for some squiggly wooden kind of arrangement which I took to be none other than this said “Root”. So where is it? I asked. Out in the pyramid, was the reply and we were directed to a side gallery and through the doors and, sure enough, inside a big wooden pyramid was a (only slightly less big) root. The story on the placard declared that the strange growth was the result of a tree which could not put down its tap root due to a layer of limestone, and instead the root grew sideways over hundred of years before a storm blew the unstable ancient tree over. The things you see on pilgrimage…
The Brekky Burger turned out to be a bit of a monster. Very nice (and the nicest hash browns that I have eaten in a long time) but something that Josh thought should feature on a US TV show called “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” (of which I know nothing, but can imagine much). See the photos in the link below. Sean came in and ordered a cup of coffee and a muffin. While we were there, Helen, the other half of the ownership of the Nowa Nowa Caravan Park came in and introduced herself. Also, it started raining. Now we are in for it, I thought. Sean was still working on his muffin as Josh and I put on our wet weather gear and headed off.
Almost as a rule, when you put your WWG on, the rain will stop and sure enough that is what happened this time too. Before long the sun was shining brightly once again, and kept shining for the rest of the way to Tostaree. The problem with most WWG is that it makes walking a hot and sweaty business. It might keep the rain off, but you end up equally wet from perspiration. However, I did find that the gortex pants that I invested in before leaving home did not have this property, so perhaps I should think of spending a bit more money than usual and buy a matching gortex jacket before next Easter.
Whatever, we were blessed to walk the whole way to Tostaree in sunshine. Just as we were arriving, the wind was picking up, heralding a change in the weather was on its way. We had left Nowa Nowa at 9:15 and arrived at Tostaree Cottages in Johnson Road at 11:40, having covered a distance of almost 12kms. This was less than half of what we would normally walk in a day, and for Josh, who had walked solidly from Moe last Monday at about 25 to 35kms a day it seemed like a holiday. Vicky came up from one of the other Cottages (which she was preparing for a group of six cyclists who are coming in this afternoon and will be with us for dinner) to show us into the Stockmans Cottage, a very pleasant two room accomodation with kitchen/lounge room (with a double bunk and trundle bed) and a separate bedroom with Queen Bed and single. There is a bath and two showers and two toilets also, and a wood fire. Very comfortable.
Sean turned up about half an hour later, and we had our showers and lunches and before settling down to a quiet afternoon by the fire. The driving rain came through with the wind not long after we arrived and continued for about three hours (it has now abated a little). The kitten came in and spent most of the afternoon with us (it has now gone back outside). Josh is reading Bo Giertz’s “Hammer of God” (a classic novel of Scandinavian Lutheran spirituality recommended by me), and I am reading “Death comes to the Archbishop” a 1927 novel set in New Mexico (recommended by Josh). Sean is having a bit of a siesta.
So the day has turned out very well indeed. When we first looked at this leg of the pilgrimage, we wondered how it would be possible to walk from Nowa to Orbost (over 40kms) in one day. It would not be possible, of course, so we would have to find somewhere to stay. If we could stay at a place marked on the map called “Tostaree” we might be able to shave off 12kms and leave the last day at a manageable 28kms. But there is nothing at Tostaree, is there? There were some buildings visible on Google Maps – what could they be? A bit more googling showed that there WAS something at Tostaree and what was there was nothing other than a number of cabins for hire with home made meals laid on in a communal dining room! That in itself was a miracle, but that in the actual execution of the walk it should turn out that the two and a half hours we spent walking were in sunshine, and that the rain should only come once we were safe and sound by the fire with a beer in our hands seems quite amazing.
So we are very thankful pilgrims. Here at the periphery we are warm and comfortable. Tonight we will dine with our hosts and the other guests in true pilgrim auberge style.