Friday, 20 June 2014

Diamond Head - Crowdy Bay National Park

My notebook from this trip has less than one page of scribbled thoughts and observations - vague descriptions of the golden ocean arch and waves firing through its aperture with the booming of an ordinance range, cormorants diving, a pale bellied dolphin spiralling out of the surf, a sea eagle dad showing junior the ropes of wind along the cliffs. All this, blurred by the haze of drifting cloud on a rain slapped headland. Who has time to make notes when there is so much to see around you. 

I should have taken a lesson from Australian author Kylie Tennant who made Diamond Head her writing home; the place to gather words around her and rest them neatly on page after page. Tennant's book The Man on the Headland (published in 1971) was set at this very spot and tells the story of eccentric local Ernie Metcalfe who grazed his cattle and goats on Diamond Head and who built a small hut there for Tennant, as a place for her to write. The damp headland lookout, from where I spied the sea eagle and the dolphin, was the very spot where Tennant was most inspired; describing the remarkable golden cliffs found on this undeveloped stretch of coast.

Tennant wrote: "When the waves surge in under the golden arch of basalt at Diamond Head, between the ledges dripping with weed and cunjevoi, you can hear the boom from the cliff-top…the song goes up...with the quivering heat of grey driftwood, the scent of seaweed and dry grass, up where the track winds higher than the sea-hawk…where the spray gives way to flannel flowers and golden everlastings, pale violets, thick wrinkled banksias holding out honeycombs for the gill-birds."

Diamond Head lies at the heart of Crowdy Bay National Park which is 30km south of Port Macquarie on the NSW Mid North Coast. The park was reserved in 1972 and is surely one of NSW's most outstanding coastal parks. It encompasses a 15 km beach between the settlement of Crowdy Head in the south and the distinctive golden cliffs of Diamond Head where the main camping areas and walking tracks have been maintained. Above Diamond Head, and still in the National Park, there is another long stretch of beach, about 10 km of it reaching northwards to the impressive cliffs of Kattang Nature Reserve near the townships of Laurieton and Dunbogan. 

'Kylie's Hut' is also still there. While no longer in its original position it has been wonderfully restored and makes a nice camping spot and an envious office! We sat for a long time on its humble wooden veranda quietly egging each other on with daydreams of our own wilderness retreat and the life we could live in such a simple hut in the bush. 

But there is much more to Crowdy Bay National Park than literary history. There are noticeable signs of past Aboriginal occupation in the park with shell middens, the oldest of which is estimated to date from about 6,000 years ago when the present sea level was established. The park is also renowned for its wildflower displays in spring and in particular its Christmas Bells which carpet the low-lying swamps and dot the headlands. 

There are extensive campgrounds within the park but only a couple of marked walking tracks. The best of the walks is the Diamond Head Loop Walk. It offers spectacular views up and down the coast and access to the golden arch. It also passes through some lovely forest. Keep an eye out for several enormous trees of astounding girth and spreading canopies at the southern end of the loop.

As with most coastal parks, there are well used fisherman's tracks that sneak their way down to the rock platforms and secret coves along the coast. Amongst these inlets and outcrops are the park's hidden treasures - a narrow, two-tunnelled cave; the jutting teeth of strange rock outcrops; bare trees used for feeding by brahminy kites and sea eagles. The coast is also littered with wonderfully coloured rocks modelled by the ocean into strange forms, carved hollows and deep rock pools full of mermaids necklace, starfish and anemones.

It is tempting to simply wander the long stretches of open sand beaches and relax in the often calm waters of the bay. But, it is worth making the effort to clamber along the rocky coastline of Diamond Head; waiting for low tide so you can explore around the next outcrop and then the next, before struggling up through the tough banksias to where enormous goannas search the bush for food and kangaroos lounge amongst the grass in sheltered gullies. 

Now, in hindsight, I realise it doesn't matter I made so few notes during our visit to Diamond Head. For one, it is difficult to forget such a beautiful and intriguing landscape. I can also read Kylie Tennant's descriptions if my memory fails but, most importantly, as the author herself points out: "Diamond Head has its own special illusions. Anyone who comes there is seized with a wild resolution to stay forever. No man but is possessed with the urge to bend Diamond Head to his secret longings, to make it his own. Diamond Head deals with them. It outlasts."

It will always be there and I will inevitably return to its charms. 

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