Clinging to the side of a coastal rock face, I’m trying to remember the last time I climbed anything that wasn’t a step-ladder. My arms are shaking, my fingertips clutching like a vice to whatever handholds I can make out in the wave-smoothed rocks. In my head, I am eight years old again climbing the runs of a WWII gun turret at East Point in Darwin. The other kids are ahead of me, and my bare dusty feet are slipping on the crumbling concrete. I look up, and I’m back on a coastal cliff-face in Queenscliff. Dean is above me, reaching out from a jagged hole in the wall of a bunker. He’s pulling me up into the darkness.
Since our August trip down the Great Ocean Road, Dean and I haven’t been back down to the Victorian coast. Of course, there’s a good reason for that. For six weeks (half of September and almost all of October), I was thousands of kilometres away doing a primary school education practical up in Darwin. When I finally did get back to Melbourne, I wanted a weekend to settle back into by down-south life and by then I was ready to see the ocean again.
Living in Darwin may not have been the easiest thing in a lot of ways for Dean, but both of us do love being close to the ocean. That was a sacrifice that we made when we chose to come to Melbourne, and while we don’t regret it, there’s no doubt that we’ll always jump at the chance to have a trip to the seaside. Initially, we had planned to check out Geelong, and do some geocaching, only to find that Geelong wasn’t really calling out to us. So we kept on heading down the coast, and eventually found our way to Queenscliff.
Queenscliff is a pretty small town located on the Bellarine Peninsula, 30kms or so south-east of Geelong. As soon as we pulled into the title down, and parked up the car, we knew it was going to be a lovely day. We picked up a geocache or two in the town, had a (delicious) Australian breakfast of freshly baked pies, and then hit the coast. After failing to find a multi near the pier, Dean spotted a nearby geocache with more than a hundred favourite points. In the world of Geocaching, favourite points are basically a way to say oh yeah, this one was cool. So, we decide to check it out.
We skirt the local fort, but after reading the geocache description realise that it’s actually down on the beach. Shoes in hands, we walk across the sand together for the first time in what feels like forever, trying to figure out where we are supposed to be. The sun is up, and my skin prickles in the warmth. We come across two old bunkers, set into the cliff face about 100 metres apart. They’re 2-3 metres from the ground, so we discount them as possible geocache locations. There’s no way to get up there that we can see, so that can’t be it. After 10 minutes walking back and forth on that same stretch of cliff-face, we both come to the same conclusion. This conclusion is then immediately confirmed by a gaggle of pre-teen girls walking past along the beach. Those bunkers are what we are looking for.
Sizing up the climb ahead, I’m not feeling confident. In another life, specifically one where I was a 16-year-old outdoors nut, I was a rock climbing instructor. I set up natural rock faces for school camps, and timed myself climbing up indoor rock walls. Now it’s nearly a decade later and I’m not nearly as prepared as I want to be for making this, comparatively, small climb. Nausea is bubbling in my stomach, and I’m wishing I had a few rock hooks, a hardness, and a carabiner.
Instead, I’ve got Dean Wilson, confident explorer extraordinaire.
He’s scaled the wall with barely a second thought, eyes firmly fixed on the hole in the cement bunker above us. Once he’s up there, he realises that the hole is much smaller than it appears, and requires him to origami fold himself in order to get inside. I pass up my backpack, shoes, and (hopefully) my fear of a very long fall into the rocks below, and start my ascent. With few handholds and not as much upper body strength as I would like, it’s more scramble than grace, and it’s only through the grace of gravity and Dean’s steady hand that I get up to the top at all. Clinging onto the side of the bunker, on the outside of the hole, I somehow manage to also origami fold myself into the space without (miraculously) overbalancing backwards off the cliff. In fact it’s only once I’m inside, hands shaking and heart hammering, that I really look around.
The entrance to the tunnel is dark and damp, but the inside smells like salt-encrusted adventure. Overlapping graffiti covers the walls, and inside I can see the remains of a campfire. The bunker is tiny really, and we can barely stand, but the tunnel is clear ahead of us. Shoes on and torches at the ready, we walk off into the unknown.
In order to reach the geocache, we have to walk down a tunnel cut right through the cliffs themselves. It’s so cold inside, it’s hard to believe that just a few moments ago the sun was soaking our skin on the seaside. When we reach the other chamber, we see that at some point in the past it has been bricked up, probably to stop people from walking the route. Someone has knocked a number of the bricks out to allow for access, but it requires a climb and a squeeze, and Dean isn’t going to fit. With some straining, and a few scratches I make it through, and I’m in the second bunker. This one is much taller, with lots of nooks and crannies where our little geocache could be hiding. The geocaching app doesn’t work that well inside the tunnel, but we know we’re in the right place so it’s just a matter of feeling around, and using the clue. It takes a few minutes, but the geocache is soon in hand. My little celebration echoes inside the bunker, and I wonder if beach-goers can hear me outside. For now, the moment belongs just to us.
Retracing our steps down the tunnel and back towards the sunlight, I can’t help thinking of all the adventures we’ve had in Australia geocaching. We’ve climbed hills and cliffs, we’ve hiked into valleys, crossed rivers and seen places we’d never have come across otherwise. That’s the magic of geocaching to me. The hunt is what it’s all about, and there are always more to find.