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A year after the disappearance of her sister and two other kayakers, botanist Sara Wilton joins investigative journalist Bernard McKenzie on a trip to the remote and beautiful Dirk Hartog Island. The trip is both an opportunity to say goodbye to her sister and a chance to understand what may have happened.
They are accompanied by four others who are each in their own way seeking something. Bernie’s long time mate, the writer Richard Mawson, is trying to rebuild his life following the death of his wife Julie. There is Nathan, whose recent service in Afghanistan seems to explain his wandering off alone as a search for solace; and Cathy and Ian who appear a close couple merely seeking the outdoors experience.
They paddle along the island shores and camp under the stars, relaxing, discussing, telling stories and philosophising. Although there is no connection between them other than the love of kayaking there is a repetition of thoughts and themes in each of their lives and they share more than they know. One night, while discussing déjà vu, we realise that there is a similarity between this trip and the previous ill-fated trip. An attraction develops between Sara and Richard but each time they get close it falters as the past intrudes.
It becomes increasingly obvious that “death by misadventure” is impossible in this idyllic place. Then, when Bernie reveals his suspicion of drug smuggling having something to do with the disappearance a year earlier, the mood on the trip changes subtly, and when they see men landing in the dead of night they realise they may not be as alone as they had assumed. Is there a connection between the disappearances a year ago and the mysterious movement on the beach at night? Has someone been sneaking into their camp at night? Why?
As they paddle closer to their destination the past expands to engulf them. It also begins to include more than just the two kayak trips. At Cape Inscription Richard realizes one important parallel, that of Dirk Hartog and the plate he left as a signal to fellow explorers in the 17th century. Eventually they discover a coded message from the year before, describing the drug smuggling operation and a desperate plan to escape across the island.
When they discover the missing kayaks and a huge quantity of drugs hidden nearby, Nathan is revealed as an undercover police officer who has been sent on the trip in the belief that that one of them is about to recover the drugs. Ian is also undercover, but as an informer for the smugglers, who have all along believed that the disappearances had been faked and will do anything to recover their missing shipment. A fight ensures and Nathan is shot and the smugglers boat arrives.