Current Issue #488

When in Robe…

Underground caverns and sinkholes hide all manner of secrets on the Limestone Coast. Robe has its fair share of surprises above ground as well.

“Just over the next hill is the dump,” Kylie tells me with surprising enthusiasm. I was expecting to see a different side of Robe, but the local tip seems like a gratuitous inclusion on our tour of the town. Then we crest the hill and I quickly recant.

In a small cove of milky blue water, waves surge and subside to reveal slick offshore platforms. The restless Southern Ocean has eroded the limestone into elaborate gothic forms and a paved road leads to the precipice of a particularly craggy ledge. It’s hard to believe, but for years locals used to drive here and tip their rubbish into the ocean. Fortunately the practice has long since ceased but fragments of sandblasted broken bottles still wash up on the adjacent cove and give it the enduring name of Glass Beach.

I’m touring the sleepy (in winter) holiday town on a fat tire mountain bike with Kylie Peel. A perpetually bright-eyed woman with a mop of bouncing blonde curls, the owner of Tracx Robe Adventure Tours has the energy levels of someone who sleeps in active wear so I’m grateful there are plenty of excuses to stop and admire the view.

We’re mostly checking out Robe’s lesser known sites but there’s still time to visit the iconic red and white obelisk overlooking Guichen Bay. As waves crash into the exposed headland on which it sits they carve overhangs into the slowly crumbling rock. Kylie tells me it’s inevitable that the landmark will one day follow the carloads of broken glass into the ocean. It’s a symbol of the tenuous foothold humans have in this sometimes wild environment.

Riding past tiny patches of sand wedged precariously between pockmarked cliffs and an endless expanse of ocean, the only sounds I can hear above the waves are the chimes and whistles of small birds. We’re only a few minutes from town but with a few  hills between us it feels much further. Just offshore, Kylie points out another local landmark, an instantly recognisable mass of limestone known as Doorway Rock. “It’s the one with the big hole in it,” she says helpfully. “Eventually the arch will cave in. I don’t know what we’ll call it then… Teacup Rock, maybe.”

Things may change slowly in Robe but Kylie has done her part to speed the process up. As president of the Robe Mountain Bike Association, she’s overseen (and participated in) the construction of a network of trails on the outer edge of town. And she’s more than happy to show me some of her handiwork in the dense scrub surrounding Beacon Hill.

“I call this my little fantasy world,” she says as she gestures to a tangle of trees on Robe’s outskirts. Then, after pausing briefly to point out a small break in the vegetation, she pushes off and is immediately engulfed by the greenery.

Following her, my world immediately contracts to a few metres in front and on either side of me. A thick canopy of tangled trees covered in creepers makes the trail noticeably darker than the outside world. Tree trunks creak overhead in the wind but in the undergrowth it’s completely still apart from our bikes. “Watch your head” Kylie calls over her shoulder as I round a sharp curve to see her effortlessly ducking beneath an overhanging branch. I’m sure I look significantly less graceful as I flatten myself against the handlebars, but I make it and then pump my legs to get up some speed as the path slowly winds uphill.

Soon we turn onto another trail and the terrain flattens out. At the same time the vegetation opens up and I can steal an occasional glimpse at the shrubbery whizzing by on either side. Eventually I find myself relaxing my iron grip on the handlebars ever so slightly and leaning into the turns on the sinuous trail. When I see a large wooden obstacle in the middle of the path, I calmly trust my bike to roll over it. This is the fabled “flow” that mountain bikers search for and it follows me as I shoot through a tunnel formed by spindly trees with interlocking limbs before emerging into the outside world.

Back on the coast, the rhythmic flash of the lighthouse suggests it’s time to think about dinner. Within minutes I’m back on Robe’s main street, following a large group into the warm interior of The Project. It’s been a pleasure to visit some of Robe’s secret spots. But with an easy drinking IPA in front of me and a pizza on the way, I don’t mind being back on the beaten track.

Alexis Buxton-Collins

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