So we called an audible. We scrapped the three-day side trip and decided instead to slow down and treat each of our camping spots as a destination to be explored rather than merely as a place to sleep en route to the trail’s end.
For starters, we took the next day completely off. Using thin strips of sappy gum bark as tinder, we managed to get a fire going in the intermittent rain and kept it going all day to dry our boots. We scouted the coastline up and down from our campsite, scaling lookout points and clambering down into hidden coves. With string and a safety pin, we tried fishing in a nearby brook; we got one nibble, but the fish seemed otherwise uninterested in the green gummy candy we were using as bait.
We returned to hiking the next day with renewed enthusiasm and found that our eyes were once again open to the beauty — and novelty — around us. Lauren discovered that the gas-filled flotation pods of giant kelp beached in the recent storms made a satisfying pop when stepped on — the sandy path in front of us was suddenly transformed into a 3-mile-long carpet of natural bubble wrap.
We now had several easy days with no more than a few hours of hiking ahead, camping each night at another private beach sealed off from the rest of the world by rocky headlands. Each one had different charms: beachside waterfalls, vertiginous cliff-top tent sites, mysterious caves with sets of animal tracks leading in but not out.
The stormy seas had turned some normally reliable freshwater sources brackish. At one campsite, short on water, we cooked our pasta with half saltwater (which tasted much better than semi-brackish muesli the next morning); at another site, we dug into the sand at the base of a cliff to collect water from a freshwater seep. With plenty of time to spare, these challenges now felt more like brainteasers to solve than stressors.
Still, the track never got easy. Even as we approached the end, we cursed the prodigious mudholes and the fickle skies. But we also marveled at the sight of a pademelon carefully grooming the tiny joey in its pouch, so unused to humans that it seemed not to even notice us.
After climbing into hilly terrain one morning, we stopped to look back at the coastal plains we’d just hiked across. In the distance, a rainbow curved down from the sky to the very place we’d camped.
“Look,” Lauren said, “it’s moving.”
Sure enough, the arc was sweeping majestically along the coast toward us, illuminating the beaches and hills and fluted cliffs along the way. We stared, transfixed — and then realized what it meant. We quickly shrugged off our packs and yanked our rain gear on, then turned back to the trail and hiked on as the drops began to fall.