Kempsey, perched on the Macleay River, is the approximate halfway point between Sydney and Brisbane. But that’s not why I stopped. Kempsey is also a kind of a gateway to a fair number of splendid parks and scenic coastal areas, and there is a tourist information office and historical museum in South Kempsey Park. I picked up information and a few maps of the area, and then turned east and headed for Hat Head National Park.
The drive to the coast was fascinating, through an ever-changing landscape that included forest, scrub–and fire. It has been a dry winter, and I’ve seen them burning off undergrowth at a number of spots along my drive. This controlled burning helps prevent major fires. However, this time I was in the middle of it. I passed through clouds of smoke and past occasionally leaping flames. I was surprised to note that I could actually feel the heat through the car door. (I suspect that if I’d mentioned to anyone I was coming this way, they would have suggested an alternative route, if one exists–but it hadn’t occurred to me to mention it.) Having spent a number of years in Southern California, where I experienced a few major forest fires, I didn’t find the widespread but fairly low-key brush fire disconcerting. So, through the fire I went, continuing on to the coast.
Hat Head National Park is known for its sprawling, live dune system, wetlands, wildflowers, hiking trails, long beaches, pockets of rainforest, great bird watching, and seaside cliffs. I was determined to fit as much of that as I could into the few hours I had. So out of the car, and off on foot.
Hat Head is gorgeous. Green water crashed against craggy cliffs that reminded me a bit of Cornwall in England, except for the vegetation. There was no one else anywhere, as far as I could tell, so the only sounds were birds, breeze, and waves. Wonderful. I hiked for an hour and a half down a rugged, rocky trail, out along the coast to Hat Head Point. Down to the shore and then up another trail that took me to the tops of the cliffs. I photographed wildflowers–banksias, everlastings, pimelias–as well as nearly every great rock or excellent coastal view.
At one point, as I made my way up a narrow trail that dropped off quickly to my right, something flashed across my path. Probably a lizard, but my first thought was snake. This made me jump back, and, on the loose, rocky path, I slipped and crashed down on one knee. It was not a serious injury — a bit of blood, and the bruising will be unattractive — but it offered a serious jolt of reality. I’m inches away from a cliff. There is no one else here. No one knows I’m here. It’s unlikely anyone else would blithely drive through a brush fire to get here. I need to be a little less casual about this. And a little less hurried in my effort to see everything.
I descended the cliff-side trail a little more cautiously than I had ascended it, then strolled over to an inlet bordered by sand, which led in turn to a delightfully weird forest of pale, short, twisted gum trees. Smoke rising in the distance reminded me that I would have to pass again through the brush fire, to get out of here — plus I still had another stop before day’s end. So I finally returned to the car and headed back out of the park and toward the highway.