Part way back to the highway this morning, we took a little side trip to see the tiny settlement of Gipsy Point, a quiet spot on the water of Mallacoota Inlet. It was definitely peaceful, with just a few birds flying around the jetty, fish jumping in the water, and twelve lazy kangaroos grazing and lounging around on someone's front lawn.
We drove west through ongoing stands of forest, and passing in and out of several National Parka, State Forests, and Nature Reserves. Australia certainly has done a good job of setting aside lots of protected natural land! Following a tip from the guidebook, we turned onto a gravel road a Lind National Park for a scenic drive through the forest. Huge tree ferns and towering eucalypt trees dominated the forest, and we drove slowly to watch the kookaburras flying around and listen to the tree frogs making their distinctive "ping" sounds in the trees. Part way along there was a little picnic area, so we stopped and made some tea and read for a while in the sunshine - totally blissful in such a gorgeous spot (if you ignore the mosquitoes!).
From the highway, it wasn't very far to our turnoff for Cape Conran, where we thought we would spend the night. This is just about the southernmost point in Australia (Wilson's Promontory, a few hundred kilometers west, actually is), where a rugged rocky headland juts out into the wild sea. We found a campsite just steps from the beach and then headed out to explore. A group of school kids were getting a surfing lesson on the beach (the water is frigid here!), and big waves were ploughing into the beach from the Tasman Sea. A boardwalk had been built across the rough parts of the headland, which also served to protect a midden left by local Aboriginal people over 3000 years ago. When we looked back onto the coast behind us, we noticed a huge plume of red smoke rising from the forest about 20km to the east - a forest fire! The wind was carrying the smoke out to sea, and in less than 20 minutes it had stretched all the way across the sky. What was even more worrisome was the thick red smoke billowing in front of the sun directly inland from us. We couldn't see how far it was coming from, but it was 15km to the highway and we hadn't seen any sign of a fire between here and there half an hour previous. We were somewhat concerned, as it was quite windy and we were pretty vulnerable in a forested area trapped by the ocean. We couldn't help but think of the devastating forest fires that ripped through parts of Victoria not far from here just a couple months ago. But our suspicions were laid to rest when we asked a local guy hiking past, who confirmed that both were prescribed burns as part of the forest management program. Phew!
The rugged headland was impressive, with jagged metamorphic rocks spiked and folded away from the beach, bathed in an eerie orange light from the smoke, and with blue waves crashing over them. We took a bunch of photos, trying not to get soaked by the giant plumes of spray coming off the waves as they crashed onto the rocks.
Back at camp, we schemed with the map for a while to figure out how to spend our last few days of camping (a possum paid us a visit in the meantime!), deciding to head north tomorrow on a road that will take us inland a bit (via Canberra after all!) before rejoining the coast where we left off at Narooma. So that makes tonight our southernmost stop in Australia, at somewhere around 38° South - a looooong way from the 16° South we started at in Cairns!