For the first time maybe ever, I left the itinerary of this bushwalk to somebody else. Child Number 2 (CN2) has a new Sony 16-35mm lens and he’s not afraid to use it, so he suggested we deploy to the Royal National Park and try the Coast Walk, which he remembers vaguely (and with dread) from his Duke of Edinburgh days. His motivation, other than to spend time with his old man, was to capture what we both longingly call a Thomas Heaton moment: “F11, two seconds, gorgeous.” I’ve yet to see what CN2 captured with his basilisk eye, but my struggles with the infernal triad (aperture, ISO and shutter speed) may have surprised me. It definitely gave me a new appreciation for how nature inspired Aboriginal art, but also renewed my love of this breathtakingly beautiful country.

But let’s start at the start. Each family has a “thing” and ours is a borderline-anal-retentive rule about punctuality. So I’m reversing into CN2’s driveway at Enmore at precisely 8:00am, not one minute earlier (or, jebus forbid, later) backpacks loaded, and then we’re off through peak-hour Sydney traffic to Bundeena, gateway to Royal National Park. He explains that Parks & Wildlife only allow camping at North Era campground, which sadistically is NOT the halfway point between Otford and Bundeena. Instead, it’s two-thirds/one-third split, depending where you start the Coast Track. That means this Grade 5’er (recommended only for “Very experienced bushwalkers with specialised skills, including navigation and emergency first aid. Tracks are likely to be very rough, very steep and unmarked.”) is a two-day, 18/8 kilometre endurance event that will cook your goose no matter which way you go.

Luckily, our trip was more about inspiring photography than perspiring bushwalking. We breakfasted at Bundeena then strolled to Wedding Cake Rock. We argued whether ‘cliche’ or ‘naff’ was the right word to use (as we both guiltily snapped away) but as we were looking for a Thomas Heaton moment I insisted on ‘naff’. Striking subject, but who hasn’t photographed it before. Every tourist to NSW can manage the easy walk to the Rock. Aside: Why do middle-aged Asian men wear business shirts to go bushwalking? It mystifies me almost as much as the leather Prada backpacks their 13 year old girlfriends are carrying, but there you go: I wanted to photograph them both for posterity, but she looked predatorily-ready for another Instagram moment so I didn’t indulge her.

Instead, we visited Wattamolla Beach (meh) then headed for Garie Beach where we dumped the car, strapped on the packs, and followed the Coast Track to North Era Campground. I’d like to pretend the 1.6km hike was tough, but it weren’t. When I booked the site I was reassuringly advised there were only two (of 36) sites left, but in total there were three parties at NEC that night, us included. Parks & Wildlife doing their bit for social distancing, I’m sure. But it gave us space for astrophotography after a delicious steak and wine dinner, having reconnoitred the next bluff beyond the next bay (South Era) and found precious little worth the planned dawn hike. Luckily, the pickings closer to home were more than enough.

After an uncomfortable night (two people in a single-person tent – try it) featuring big winds and heavy rains, a perfect dawn. We were up at 6:15 and straight onto the beach. I may just have snapped some of the better pictures of my life, I reckon (not counting the cows at Hampton) but did I capture a Heaton-esque idyll? No. Some pretty-pretty pictures, but this section of the headland wasn’t dramatically cliffy, and the sun was a few crucial degrees to the north, so the light never really hit us. Close but no cigar, as they used to say. But I’ll let you be the judge. After packing up, we were back at the car in twenty minutes. After dropping my exhausted son home (he slept in the tent’s vestibule — go hard or go home, I say) I was homeward bound myself. Twenty-four intense hours. Will definitely do it again, if CN2 will have me.

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