A short walk at Wilsons Prom - on 2,6,8 and no legs at all.

Another return trip to Wilson’s Promontory, this time with the kids in tow. The camp sites are busy with families packing up and wondering how they ever managed to get all their stuff in the car last time. Yellow patches of sun-starved grass mark the tents’ departure, and sun browned teenagers wave goodbye to holiday romances. But as ever, the paths away from Tidal River are not crowded, and soon we only hear the crunch of feet on gravel paths. Well, the crunch of gravel and the occasional question about whether we are there yet!


A Varied Sword-grass Brown butterfly lands in the bushes, and one of the few groups of walkers we see all day pass it by without lifting their heads. They pass between lens and butterfly and I’m tempted to photograph the side of the walker’s head - but I don’t bother. I doubt they would have noticed anyway. A flighty Yellow Admiral refuses to sit still, and a Common Brown rests briefly on the sandy bank. Its tongue unzips and probes the ground, searching for minerals. After a few minutes we move on.

A cry of “snake!” rends the air and both kids chatter with a combination of excitement and surprise. Slithering across the path is a dark looking snake, with just the hint of pale stripes on the sides - I think it’s the dark form of a Tiger Snake. These snakes have a reputation for being aggressive, but this one just passes before us, tongue tasting the air. The apparent effortlessness of their limbless movement is always fascinating and somehow strange. We seem to privilege legs over other forms of movement, things that gallop or vault being better than things that crawl and certainly better that things that slither. But we don’t want too many legs, six is a push and eight far too many! Head up and alert, the snake moves around and under fallen branches and dead leaves. If it knows we are watching it does not seem to care, moving as does it with slow, deliberate care. Hunting as it moves. Within a few meters it seems to disappear, hidden under the leaf fall branch junk that lies under the scrub. I am constantly being told “don’t put your hands where you can’t see them” - and this disappearing snake explains why. Contrary to popular rumour Australia is not awash with snakes, but it pays to take care! I like the fact that the kids showed a combination of both surprise and excitement at the snake - it was their first one in the wild. No need to be scared, every need to be careful, look, but don’t touch.

Ahead the path-side vegetation opens to show a view back across Norman Bay, a view that would make any walk worthwhile. The kids prefer the jelly snakes and a drink. As we move up the hill the Tea Tree suddenly thins and we move into a form of coastal heath-land. Looking back it seems that a razor line has been slashed across the landscape, one place here and another there, a demarcation in conditions that I can’t see, but the plants detect and respond to. And so do the animals. This divide does not seem to mark the raggle taggle edge of some past fire, nor the patch by patch regrowth from windblown storm damage.

Large spider webs hang across the bushes, orbs with a hunter sitting in the middle of a sky-net of their own weaving. The webs often stretch over a number a meters and the spiders are large enough to catch even the most jaded attention. Some seem to be Garden Orb Weavers, with red legs and swollen bodies. Others have very different colours, but seem to be the same species. As you approach their webs they dash with surprising speed to the sanctuary of a leaf. I don’t think I’ve ever had to stalk spiders before, but here, in the tangled heath, one misplaced foot sends them dashing away. Seeing the spiders sat in the centre of the orb in the full light of day seems strange, contrary to the published wisdom that says they take their webs down at the end of each night. We watch a grasshopper blast into a web, the spider moves, but too late as the prey escapes, leaving behind a huge hole in the web. Spider renovations will be in order.


Robber flies and dragonflies dash around the hill top that is our aim and our lunch spot stop. People express surprise at seeing my kids at the top of the hill, as if gentle uphill walking would be beyond them. The March flies are slow and clumsy, and swatting them rather than waving them away damages my conservationist credentials. I wonder why the robbers and dragons are not feasting. Slackers.


Down from the hill top the path is a light strip of sand, where bull ants, with ferocious intent, and glinting blue wasps, seek food. The plants change again and again. Grass trees, scrubby looking gums, line the path. Smooth in one direction and sharply rough in the other, grass tree leaves conceal many things. Glossy brown beetles pass the day, hidden and feeding, thornbills flash past and on the high, dead, flower stalks New Holland Honeyeaters call. In the shelter of a tree a Hyacinth orchid stands tall with a naked stem and purple flowers. It’s a single streak of colour in the pale greys and greens of the woodland floor. In an instance the cicadas start to call - loud and shrill. How do they all start at once? Is this another signal that things respond to that I can’t sense? How much time would you have to spend here before you could tune into the calls and signals that dominate the lives of birds and insects? Would it ever be possible? Seasonal change still takes me by surprise, so what chance is there to feel the changes that happen second by second, hour by hour?

We stop again - on such days there is no need to hurry, it’s about having a good time, it’s not about making good time. Today there is no need to be haunted by the clock, bothered by the tick tock of modern time. Stop when you feel like it, drink when you need it. Under a rock face that is like a frozen wave of stone we watch the dragonflies and enjoy the shade. A group of walkers, moving up the hill, heads and eyes down seem not to notice us and are surprised when we say hello. As we pass around the back of the hill the sea comes back into view, and the distant specks of surfers and swimmers punctuate the waves.

The unwelcome roar of motorbikes drifts up from the road and we know we are on the final stage of our circular walk, but more spiders cause us to move with a studied slowness. The huge webs give the place a feel of autumn, but that can’t be right, it’s still summer. And the next day any illusion of autumn melts in the 40o heat. Seat belt buckles, baked in the car, are too hot to touch and you drive with finger tip control for fear of burning your hands; it feels like your cameras are melting. A jewelled green beetle walks on unsteady feet across the path and sits on excited hands for its photo call.
But this day has one more surprise left. As we walk along the edge fringing the swamp that follows Tidal River I start to see spots before my eyes, well spots under a bush if the truth be told. These require closer attention. On a network of silken threads, starting from a single point and spreading down like an inverted parachute, hang dozens, maybe hundreds of spiders and their parcelled victims. Closer inspection shows the spiders to be Jewel Spiders, brightly coloured, triangular shapes that stay still even when you poke them with a finger. The woven colony spreads for 10 - 15 meters under the bushes. It’s a good way to end the walk, and I know I would have missed them if our eyes had been down, walking fast and not paying attention.

10 comments:

Adam Pinnell said...

Gorgeous photos and great article!

Kim Hosey said...

I agree; fabulous writeup and the images were just perfect. I especially loved the spider images, but I think that's just my personal preference. They're all beautiful!

Arija said...

If ever it needed proof that it is the going there not the getting there that is important, this is it.
I love the Prom, 53 years ago we treated ourselves to two nights there on our honeymoon. We could not really afford it, but did it anyway. It has changed a great deal since then but nature has not.

That pink hyacinth orchid is parasitic on stringybark roots and usually only flowers a few years after a fire. It was one of the joys I had after losing our historic house and garden in the '83 Ash Wednesday fire,

EG Wow said...

I enjoyed reading this post. It's so wise of you to pay attention as you go from here to there. Wonderful post!

Garry said...

Hi Stewart,
Your words and pictures take me back to my own Prom walks. You've captured the essence of the region around Norman Bay perfectly. I love the spider photos especially.
Cheers

Mike B said...

Great photos- how big were those spiders?

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Stewart, WOW! I really enjoy your blog. I haven't seen a layout like this before. You really put a lot of information into your posts. I'm going to follow you.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment yesterday.

Take care,
Kathy

ladyfi said...

What wonderful sunny pictures! Love the spider pics but would steer well away in any case...

Mike B. said...

Stewart-

That snake looks a lot scarier than my garter snake! Not sure I would have shoved my camera in its face...

Fjällripan said...

Hi again :) Beautiful photos! Yes I think so too, that you have more and also more dangerous snakes than here. And spiders!! I guess you have quite large ones...I am a little (much) scared of them :)
Have a nice day!