2020 Aus Exploring Woody Island

Tue 25 Feb 2020 05:11

Exploring the riches of Woody Island

The early dawn vistas you see on the second file of photos reinforced the saying ‘Red sky at night shepherd’s delight, Red sky in the morning shepherd’s warning’ in more ways than one.

For one thing between four hundred and five hundred sheep at a time were grazed on the island for ninety years between 1864 and 1954 until it became a Nature Reserve. They had to be fenced in so they wouldn’t eat poisonous plants but they led a stress free life largely in isolation and with no dangers from dingoes and blow flies, their ‘shepherds’ living a short boat trip away in Esperance .

Secondly, for the few days we were there a strong NE wind held sway over the area meaning that from late morning until around midnight Zoonie pitched furiously into the sizeable waves that marked the end of the fetch over the waters of Esperance Bay. Sometimes the peaking waves were so high Zoonie’s bow would completely submerge and then as it sprang up so her stern would slap the water with a big bang and she would make her shudder all over. It was partly the sun warming the land that added to the effect with daytime variations in barometric pressure causing a sea breeze early on and then changing to a land breeze in the afternoons, that added to the trending NE wind while the High System moved eastwards beneath us. Early on our first morning we looked down into the clear water to see the chain of the mooring buoy disappear into the sand; we learned from Les that the sinker was a railway carriage wheel laced with a massive ship chain. It was a different story later on after all Zoonie’s frantic tugging, when we snorkelled the area just before we left, but I’ll tell you about that later.

Thirdly, the slanting orange/pink rays of the early morning sun caught the smoothed granite face of the rocks, already pink for millions of years and intensified their colour like rouge on the cheeks of an English rose.

Rudi came to pick us up and gave us a brief tour around the corner to the skinny dippers beach. On special occasions hundreds of people come to the island to wait for sunrises and sunsets and take advantage of the usually sheltered side of the island. The bay where Zoonie was moored was a great place to swim and snorkel but for most of our stay, until the last few hours, was just too rough. The day trippers swam just off the shore and around the jetty but no farther out.

Rudi told us about the walks and we photographed the routes so we couldn’t get lost. We went first through the camp exploring the accommodation that is loved by many locals from Esperance who enjoyed the island as children and then bring their children and grandchildren back many times. We were glad we followed the advice of wearing strong walking shoes as the ants of all sizes scrambled for a taste of our blood, as did the early ‘March’ flies, like the cattle gad flies at home, and boy did they hurt. There were peaked ants’ nests two metres in diameter up near the weather station and right across the path that had me running at times to get the ants off my legs and escape the ant fields.

Rudi suggested we went this way because by taking a right turn across two planks laid across the path and along a branchy track we came to the rock surface above where Zoons was moored and so would have a great view over her and the bay. But we weren’t sorry to backtrack away from the little nippers.

Back towards the Camp we joined the loop walk that would take us to the southern shores of the island, Twiggy’s landing and then up to the summit for a fine view westwards over our next route and Esperance in the distance.

Twiggy was the Don’s family dog, a liver and white coloured Labrador mix. On an excursion in the boat she was lost overboard and her absence was not noticed straightaway. An unsuccessful search led the family to the heart-breaking conclusion she had drowned. But she swam to shore and since the boat was in the area off the photos of the water’s edge the family later assumed that was where she came ashore.

Three and a half months later a family member spotted a very thin Twiggy alive and reclusive, having supposedly survived on lizards and chicks. She was very reluctant to approach her family at first but Don encouraged her with some food and when she got close enough he grabbed her and she launched into a wild display of affection and relief at being reunited. She was not the same after the reunion and died just over a year later, but at least she had a year of enjoying her rescue.

Just above that beach, within the green shrubbery, are many shearwater tunnels where these masters of the oceans come ashore each night to look after their young at this time of year. One photo appears to be of twigs over an area of ground; that is how well camouflaged the burrows are. And you can also see there are killing fields on the shore where the birds fly high with shellfish, cuttlefish and squid in their bills and drop them from a height to break the shells. A lot of nature goes on at Twiggy Landing. Out to sea from there is the wreck of the Sanko Harvest which shed her load of oil back in 1991 and is now the second biggest dive site in the world. Nature dealt with the oil over years burying it in the sand, just as she did with the oil from the Torrey Canyon off Cornwall.

The climb to the summit was over a natural track with some shallow steps and all along the way there were small information boards with just enough information. I was reading about the Fearless Bush Minstrel and when I looked up into the branches just above, there he was, “Ok you can take a photo of me, here’s my best side, ok?”