There is no off-season on the South Coast. The sea remains as liquid, the beach as sand, and any mug attuned to the elements grinning in satisfaction year-round. The only winter blues are the royal flush of the stratosphere and the deep space of the ocean. Dolphin dorsals riffle through the bays just offshore. Whale spouts hang on the horizon as the blubber ebbs south then north. Distant whitecaps appear where schools of fish roughen the surface water, and an eagles kite themselves overhead.
A white sea eagle looks down on two specimens of evolution’s most recent experiment with the primate order: two homosapiens sapiens running the beaches, fording the inlets and stumbling through the salt-sprayed undergrowth. Outcasts, the eagle concludes, and waits on his thermal rush for us to perish. Little does that eagle know, we’re Region X and we’re here on business, scouting routes and making all the wrong turns and mistakes ahead of time. For the ‘low season’ (autumn, winter, spring) is when we further our South Coast explorations. We run-hike-bike-paddle-swim the headlands and coves, the sea-mist forests and the sandstone cliffs. We marvel at the absence of people and their paraphernalia, and ponder how best to share it without compromising its beauty and its peace. We know that here in our land and waterscapes – beyond the towns and roads and powerlines – is an ambrosia that modern humanity aches for, consciously or otherwise. But that’s just an excuse. We’re out here because we want to be. The mild unsummer chill lends ample down time from our guiding work, and some reprieve from the high solstice sun and its sea-top reflections.
Living in a year-round warm-temperate climate is something that Australian South-East Coasters take for granted. But the ease with which we carry our daily-dose activities into the heart of winter is a privilege not extended to much of the planet. I cast my mind back to whitewater rafting in Canada’s British Columbia, where the commercial river-running season was always book-ended by spring and fall. Even an early-spring frost could turn your farmer-john wetsuit into a plank of glittering neoprene, clutching your riverside clothesline in rigor mortis. You’d be half way to hypothermia just putting it on. And after the summer melted snow and ice away, after the heat that in your primitive euphoria you thought would last forever, came the fall. You’d know the day. You’d blink awake to the pale glare of dawn, not having slept a solid hour. Sit up five seconds before your alarm is due, hungover from shivering the whole night through. Your overnight breaths have condensed and turned to frost, blanketing your ineffectual cocoon and tent floor. Mouth is dry, the skin on your lips taut and ready to crack. You reach for your water bottle, frozen solid. You stagger outside, crunch around in the crystalline grass, shake the frost out of your tent with gloved hands. Chisel a kettle from a tub of frozen water. Slip on the frost-covered rafts as you retrieve breakfast from a cooler whose ice stock has re-frozen, casting milk cartons and butter sticks into single sculpture. The white noise of the river rustles through camp, waiting to greet underslept faces and with a new definition of cold. And it’s only autumn.
By comparison, what we have here on the South Coast is an endless variable summer. Even at its coolest, our climate beckons barefoot runs on secluded beaches, forest and clifftop hikes, puddle-splattered rides, salt & freshwater paddles, and unhesitating swims for the wild of heart. There is no water on the south coast that – with some conditioning – our skin cannot endure for a time. Cold enough to return us to the present and renew our vitality, but mild enough not to perish in the process. Add a layer of neoprene, some exertion, and you’re fuzzy with the warmth of your own blood. As far as my fair skin is concerned, the solstice of our ‘low season’ is actually the best time to be outside, as the ultraviolet drops to terrestrial levels (although I can still get scorched). Insects all but disappear, as do the tourists – no analogy intended. In my experience, cool air satisfies the lungs, and allows for more prolonged and intense physical and mental exertion. It requires that the furnace within (metabolism) continue to burn, and so accelerates appetite and fosters better sleep. Daylight becomes precious, and to spend those fleeting hours among the elements seems only more urgent.
Like the rest of the planet, the South Coast faces the specter of climate change. So far, this seems to be translating into to hotter, longer summers, frequency and intensity of drought, fire, and flood. The future of outdoor exploration (and life on earth) will demand rapid adaptation to extremes and unreliability of seasonal norms. I say, keep yourself primed to thrive across the broadest possible spectrum of conditions. Take the summer run and the winter plunge. But there’s more than survival at stake. I say, enjoy the cool, mild days of the South Coast low season whenever possible, endangered as such days could prove to be.