|Under cover of darkness, "Canoe" prepares to depart the Waterfront|
|Carrying "Canoe" up Moorabool St with a one-man police escort|
Unlike the previous event, the weather was clear and perfect for an early morning walk. We departed the Waterfront punctually, and made our way up Moorabool Street to the Barwon River and the sixth station - an interpretation of Eugene von Guerard's famous painting of the river and naturally of particular interest to me.
|Centrepiece of the sixth walking circle|
With the coffee van arriving late and a rapidly growing queue, I elected instead to walk the circle, snap some photos and depart slightly ahead of "Canoe". Somewhere during this 15 minute or so period, the sun came up and we walked the short distance along the river to Swanston St in daylight.
|Following "Canoe" along the banks of the Barwon River|
From there, it was onto the Bellarine Rail Trail for a long slog to Leopold and Station 7 at the top of the Leopold hill. As I have noted before, those of us who regularly use the trail are fortunate that steam trains did not like steep inclines.
|On the trail|
|I was hoping I'd be in better shape than this truck by the time I finished!|
Once at Christie's Rd, I finally got that coffee and a "Killer Python" (I needed those carbs for energy!). As I watched some of the walkers taping their blisters, I was very pleased I had taken the precaution of taping my feet before I started walking.
|A bird in its nest - part of the Christie's Rd installation|
|Flag bearers ready to leave for Drysdale|
And then we were off again. The section from Leopold to Drysdale was relatively short with some spectacular views along the way.
|A mere 27km away from our starting point...yet we'd walked 50km...|
In the distance I could hear the train ready to take a special service to our next stop at Swan Bay for those who preferred to give their feet a rest. Tempting! But I was walking the whole way!
|Art and music; the centrepiece of the Drysdale walking circle|
For the rest of us, it was back on the trail for the longest section of the whole walk - around 14km -between Drysdale Station and the Marine and Freshwater Discovery Centre at Queenscliff.
|Not everyone was interested in an extreme arts walk...|
|...and these guys were sitting on the fence too..|
Unfortunately for those of us not taking the train, it was also the hottest part of the day and probably the section with the least shade. The marshals on their bikes were keeping a close eye on those of us walking ahead until we finally made it to Queenscliff.
|At this point the train was beginning to look like a good option!|
|The road ahead...|
My feet were definitely beginning to feel it by now, but a quick rub and we were off to Point Lonsdale.
After the long, hot stretch to Queenscliff, the short walk around the foreshore to Point Lonsdale and the tenth station was relatively easy by comparison and I was provided with distraction in the form of a fellow pilgrim who was happy to chat as we walked.
|Basalt Banjo Ray walking circle at Queenscliff|
|A sand sculpture en route to Point Lonsdale|
The Point Lonsdale Village station is unavoidably short on for space, so rather than a walking circle there was a sand sculpture to welcome us on the boardwalk and an installation which according to the description has "continual interaction of wind, sun, clouds and sea".
At this point, "Canoe" and the walkers diverged slightly as we wove our way through the ti-tree and "Canoe" continued up the road, before we converged once again for the climb over the dunes to the beach.
Whilst the scenery on this section of the walk was spectacular and the soft sand under sore feet was initially somewhat of a relief, I knew from previous experience that this was not going to be easy. We had around 8km of sand to cross and an incoming tide to beat as well and sure enough it soon became a trudge, however eventually, I was greeted by the cheerful volunteers at station eleven: Ocean Grove.
After a short break as "Canoe" was delivered to the walking circle at a run by the Ocean Grove Harriers running group, we were off on the final 3km stretch to Barwon Heads. Just as dusk was falling, we tramped across the Barwon via the William Buckley Bridge and made our way around the final walking circle headed for the tent and that last stamp on the M to M passport which said for some of us, that was had completed the entire 80km.
All that remained then was to find a suitable vantage point and watch the final Gathering of the Elements ceremony played out on the the banks and the waters of the Barwon.
Actors and dancers took their places as shoals of "fish" with glowing eyes lit the sands and a lone boat paddled across the river. Uncle Bryon Powell, cloaked in traditional possum skin, handed over the water which had been carried from Big Rock and it was again returned to the ocean before "Canoe" once again took centre stage in a fiery finale which saw it set alight and left to drift on the waters of the Barwon towards the heads and the ocean beyond.
|Sculpture to the left as "Canoe" and the flag bearers arrive at Point Lonsdale|
|The "path" ahead|
|Ocean Grove and the end of the sand at last!|
|"Canoe" arrives at Barwon Heads|
|The ceremony begins|
|Fire on water|
|"Canoe", set adrift on the Barwon, floats out to sea|