What did you learn today, that you didn’t know yesterday?
By now, my two children, aged 14 and 12, are well aware that I’ll ask them this question each time I pick them up from school.
Not that I often collect them. You know how it is these days. Shift work, long commutes and too many hours at work are some of the reasons why we spend less time with our children than we’d like.
Just lately, there’s another reason why I seem to talk with them less and it involves them sitting in front of a TV screen. Not to watch the television, but to play video games.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided it was finally time to get them outdoors for a spot of real exploration, instead of the virtual kind. With winter storms now a distant memory and sunshine forecast for the days ahead, it seemed like the perfect time to formulate a plan.
It was my wife that made the suggestion. “You’ve always enjoyed walking and we live close to one of the most iconic long-distance tracks in Australia. Why don’t you take Noah walking this weekend? He can bring a friend along, plus their dad. The four of you can camp overnight and get away from technology for a while.”
A few days later, the four of us set off. Two teenage boys (Noah and Nathan) and their middle-aged dads (me and Chris). We’d packed tents, water, food, snacks, spare clothes and torches. Surprisingly, throughout the 13km journey the boys never once asked, “Are we there yet?” or said, “I’m bored.”
Instead, they set off from the lighthouse at Cape Naturaliste, just outside Dunsborough with a spring in their step and map in hand. Each carried a secret stash of lollies, but as long as they didn’t discard any litter, the dads were happy for them to munch and march.
Our route followed the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge, but we weren’t going to complete all 135km of the iconic Cape to Cape track. It runs from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin, close to Augusta. All the way, wild ocean buffets the coast, adding to the rugged scenery.
For us, it would be a leisurely four-hour stroll along the beach and coastal path, towards a bush camp known as Mt Duckworth. Along the way we met one man, heading our way, laden down with a pack and happy to chat. He’d left Augusta a week earlier and had many tales to tell about his time on the track.
Later, we stopped for a drink and while gazing at the sparking waters of the Indian Ocean caught sight of a humpback whale, far in the distance, leaping from the water.
Further along the track, we spotted an eagle soaring and as we approached camp, were warned a metre-long dugite had recently been spotted.
While we cooked dinner together, the boys learnt how important it was to conserve gas and water. Once gone, there was no more. All of the food was devoured and everyone helped with the washing up.
After sunset, we all played cards by torchlight and enjoyed hot chocolate before bedtime. I spoke more to my eldest boy in that day than I had in weeks, and that night slept soundly until dawn.
The following morning we broke camp, continued the walk towards Yallingup and watched the first surfers of the day head out to sea. We passed a dog, sitting patiently on the sand, waiting for his master to return.
It felt good to be walking with a fully laden pack. Something I hadn’t done in years. I had a purpose and each footstep on the moist sand felt significant.
A short while later, I dropped the pack to the floor, stripped to basics and swam in the lagoon. The coffee that morning, never tasted better.
Two weeks later, I set off on the Cape to Cape again. This time I was with my youngest boy, Sebastian. Alongside, was my friend Wayne, and his daughter. We chose a different section, slightly shorter, but dare I say it, a little more impressive. We started at Redgate Beach and were waved off by the mums. After traversing the wide beach, we headed inland and were soon rewarded with the sightings of whales, this time splashing, rather than breaching.
Later, we spotted a hawk, hovering above a blaze of wildflowers, in search of prey. On three occasions we came across monitor lizards, blocking our path. We stopped to watch, they stood perfectly still and the sun beat down in all of its spring glory. Along the way we passed caves, then made our way to a clifftop path. As we stopped to admire the secret coves, lapped by turquoise waters, I couldn’t help but think we were on a Greek isle, rather that the coast of Western Australia.
That evening, while at Conto’s campsite we enjoyed the luxury of drop toilets and the chance to light a fire. Once again, the children learnt about the need to conserve fresh water and our dwindling gas supply. They helped cook dinner, then went alone by torchlight into the forest in search of possums.
Around the fireside, we played card games, then told stories. Just before bedtime we were joined by kangaroos, yards away, chewing on the sweet grass. Neither child mentioned video games and with no phone signal, there was little need to check my phone.
So, what did the children learn, that they didn’t know the day before? Hopefully they learnt that time away with adults can be fun. Maybe they learnt about the importance of conserving resources. They certainly discovered the best places to spot possums and worked out that whales don’t breach all of the time.
As for me, what did I learn?
I learnt that children and adults sometimes get caught in a rut. Luckily, we live in an area once described as one of the must-see locations in the world. All we need to do is get off the couch, turn off the TV and take the first step.
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