Billy Tea


After the introspecting claustrophobic tramp we had doggedly negotiated south from Fred’s Camp Hut – through glorious but impenetrable podocarp forest right down to the water’s edge – it was a delight to escape onto the rocky beach of Paterson Inlet’s South West arm. We could relax our concentration from each and every step - avoiding bog or trip-root - to look across the water and up to the low ridgelines. It was warm but overcast as I followed the outgoing tide to the waters’ edge where numerous mussels were clinging to the rocks. I pulled off one of the largest, almost instinctively, but soon realised that we had our first truly marvellous moment of the Southern Circuit trip. Others joined in the foraging and we soon had enough for ‘morning tea’. We got out our new ‘Jetboiler’ stove – designed to boil a billy of water more efficiently and in went the mussels. In no time at all the shellfish succumbed and opened their shells to expose possibly the freshest, tenderest and most delicious morsels I have ever tasted. They fell out of the shell and melted in the mouth. Something primeval stirred in us as we tucked away a magic memory.

Two days later, I was climbing steeply off the beach at Doughboy Bay, alone behind the rest of the party and prepared for the worst. We had been warned by other trampers that the first three hours of today’s route would be tough, no doubt with more of the nearly impassable bogs and steep, rocky watercourses we had encountered in getting to Doughboy. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a nicely graded and fairly dry, but narrow, track. And the diverse coastal forest through which it meandered was sublime, the sort you might imagine exploring with Robinson Crusoe. The stream alongside the track soon became slower and deeper, highlighting its deep tannin tea colour, a rich forest brew. I replenished my water bottle. Bellbirds sang and I wanted the gradual ascent to go on forever – all the way back to the first music that created the world, that twinkle in God’s eye.