Walk on the Wild Side

A new Australian trail offers a vast array of hikes, astounding views, and even koala encounters—as well as an intimate look at how climate change may already be affecting the country.

By Christy Harrison

Neal conveys an infectious enthusiasm about the wildlife and the region as he eagerly points out the various life forms along the way and describes the work that he and his wife, Lizzie Corke, did to restore the native vegetation to the once-denuded land. They built the spacious mud-brick lodge themselves and helped design the solar array that powers it, and Corke, a well-known zoologist, runs the wildlife-rehabilitation program at the Centre—one of a handful of such programs in the state.

That evening, as freezing rain begins to pummel the building and the wind tears at the trees out front, our hosts crank up the solar-powered heating system in the guest rooms and stoke the massive old wood-burning stove in the living room area. Those, plus a couple of sweaters, help me thaw out after the walk. Still, neither a hearty, three-course dinner of local seasonal fare nor a heap of homemade muesli with yogurt at breakfast insulate me from the chill to come on the trail the next morning. Two short jaunts in the 40-degree rain and wind, which normally would take 45 minutes or so, last double that, since Chadwick and I are weighed down by all our waterproof gear. But the slow going gives us extra time to contemplate the incredible landscape, and I’m mesmerized in spite of the meteorological challenges. As we make our way along the shore, we traverse tidepools and tiny rock beaches. Waves surge erratically and threaten to submerge these narrow chunks of land. The remarkable jaggedness of some of the rock formations hanging over the shoreline seems a little less incomprehensible after this display of oceanic force.

For my entire stay in Victoria, it seems like everyone I meet—from store clerks, to fellow hikers, to the wind-chapped old lighthouse caretaker who looks like he’s seen nearly a century’s worth of storms—comments on the freakish weather. And they almost always mention climate change in the next sentence. Water-starved southern Australia needs rain, but the freezing temperatures and snow flurries along stretches of the Great Ocean Road are completely anomalous this time of year, and they have people worried. Newspapers are packed with coverage of the drought each day: According to one article I find in The Age, some environmentalists and politicians (including South Australian Premier Mike Rann) are blaming rice farming for the water woes; other articles quote scientists who link climate change and the hole in the ozone layer to the strange rainfall patterns throughout the country. Tight restrictions on residential water use are being enforced throughout the state, devastating many gardens and green spaces. Far worse, nothing can grow in the parched soil without irrigation, which is now costly thanks to increased water-use charges. Thus, many farms are being forced out of business—with food prices spiking as a result. In an effort to give priority to municipal water works, the federal government has already imposed irrigation water restrictions on many farmers in Victoria and the neighboring state of New South Wales. There is some worry that the government will shut off the irrigation water entirely; if that happens, farmers say, nationwide prices for fresh produce could triple within weeks.

 1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5 

Issue 25

Sign up for Plenty's Weekly Newsletter