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Sandy tracks winding back
THE tracks on the beach have a story to tell.
To my untrained eye, they are quoll prints.
One creature seems to be running at a canter, with three prints close together at the front and the fourth paw trailing but another smaller version is at full gallop with all four paws clustered.
Their tracks intersect those of a biped, a wallaby or pademelon, and it looks as though we have come across a hunt, with an older quoll, devil or feral cat teaching a whippersnapper the ropes.
They crisscross several times before disappearing off the beach.
It feels a bit like we've stumbled into a David Attenborough documentary, trying to piece together the sequence of events.
For all I know, the three creatures could have passed that way at different hours of the night but it certainly looks like a chase.
It's 7.20am and we've packed up from our magical campsite in one of the bays near South-West Cape. We need to be back at Melaleuca by 3.30pm for the flight out.
Winding east we reach the first of our targets, Hidden Bay, by 8.35am and push on to reach New Harbour just before 10.
Here's a tranquil bay begging for a swim.
It's the sort of scene that I'd been hoping the south coast would present us with so we budget our only spare hour for snorkelling around the rocks at the western side of the bay.
The water visibility is tainted by what seems to be an organic orange bloom but as we go a little deeper, it clears and we find kelp beds rich with life.
In one cave, I'm watching seven or eight juvenile crayfish inverted on the roof when a big, fat trumpeter swims in the middle of it to complete the ideal underwater scene.
A day or two earlier and he might have been in the pot.
We spend too long at New Harbour but the best snorkelling of the trip has made it worthwhile.
We boot up and head away from the coast. The track is about to give us our hardest walking, through sticky bogs, and what was difficult on the way in is diabolical on the way out.
I'm struggling with the boggy walking; it's impossible to slip into a walking rhythm when every footfall has a different outcome.
We finally reach the fork in the South Coast track at 1.40pm and spot Rod, the walker we had bumped into further west.
He has been to Melaleuca for supplies and is setting out east along the well-patronised South Coast Track, which must seem like a highway after his solo effort in the wild.
We find a shady spot for a drink before setting out for the final leg of our walk.
My cheap boots are soaking wet from the bog and my feet are blistered. I kept telling my walking companion, Dane Flynn, that my walking fitness would kick in on day three but it's day four, we've been walking or swimming for seven hours, and I'm exhausted.
I'd rather walk two kilometres on the flat than tackle 100 metres of bog.
The final stretch is generously boarded. It should be a doddle.
The sun is beating down mercilessly, toasting any exposed skin. It's February, probably no more than 30 degrees, but it feels stinking hot.
We trundle on and every step is painful. I mumble like Homer Simpson: stupid plane deadline.
We get in about 3.15pm to the airstrip and two planes are waiting on the bright, white gravel. The strip looks like a patch of salt plain, carved out of South-West greenery.
A couple shares our ride back to Cambridge and I feel sorry for them. Sightseeing from a Cessna is perhaps best done without the aroma of ripe bushwalkers.
Shortly after 4pm we have crossed the rugged peaks of the South-West, slipped alongside the now familiar Federation Peak and are at Cambridge Airport.
We find a shower at a caravan park and start planning our next stop, for a meal at Ross. It's scotch lamb and it's delicious. Sometimes the joy of bushwalking is to be found in contrast. Like a meal cooked by someone else. Like stopping.