A Journey Of Discovery
Rob Thompson and I left Green Patch, Jervis Bay at about 11 am. I was in a relaxed mood:5 days to cover approx. 120 kms of coastline. My only concern was that I’d be on my own for the last 3 days as Rob had to pull out on Tuesday because of work commitments. I was psyched up to complete the journey no matter what. The trip was important, once I’d completed this section of the coast I’d have achieved my long term goal: to paddle the southern coast of NSW- Cronulla to Mallacoota.
We left in fine weather making good time and rounded Governor Head about midday. Paddling on the inside of Bowen Island we sighted some fairy penguins. A strong NE pushed us down the coast and we enjoyed the scenery of low sand stone cliffs. I thought to myself that although this was exciting paddling it was certainly not as intimidating as the northern headland of Point Perpendicular. Rob was working hard maintaining a good line with the Nautilus as his rudder was broken,(this proved to be a real challenge as the afternoon wore on).
We decided to have a lunch of freshly cooked fish at Steamers Beach. To his joy, Rob (The Fisherman) had caught three fish while trolling. We rounded the head and found ourselves in a sheltered bay. As we paddled towards the beach we became aware of a strong odour and the sound of barking. Our curiosity aroused we headed for a large sea cave and to our great delight we found it full of seals! There were at least forty of different sizes, camped on rock ledges or leaping about in the water.
We paddled closer, they hurriedly slid from their ledges, and as the cave was narrow, we became concerned that some might land on our kayaks. We stayed for a while as they swam around and under our boats but it was obvious that our presence distressed them. We paddled from the cave and Rob was surrounded by a large group, leaping about energetically escorting him out to sea. He was thrilled with this close encounter. I took a number of pictures which unfortunately did not turn out as the cave was too dark.
Steamers Beach was a beautiful place to stop for lunch. While we were there three Aborigines from Wreck Bay stopped to talk. They told us that the seals had be living in Devils Hole for some time but they’d eventually move on to look for mates or food. They said a few days before a large shark was seen feeding on the seals. We talked for a while and they told us that they were looking for a feed of abalones and crays. They were a bit nervous as rangers had been “harassing” local Aborigines for taking bush tucker illegally. They were annoyed by this and said the rights of Aborigines to collect traditional food was to be tested in court. This was further complicated by the fact that the Wreck Bay community was making a claim for the land.
As we left the beach I responded to Rob’s encouragement and started to troll a lure. I was hugging the coast as I’d been told this is the best place to troll. Unfortunately its also the best place to become snagged – lost one $20 lure. Rob was keen to continue though I noticed that the new lure he gave me was not such an expensive one! Heading towards St Georges Head I had a huge strike which ripped the handline from the deck. Simultaneously the fish leapt into the air, Rob claims it was the mother of all fish, but as in all good fish stories, it got away. We were agog with excitement, Ernest Hemingway’s old man of the sea stand aside. Hurriedly we changed the broken lure and continue trolling. Alas not another strike. The gods had decided we’d had enough excitement.
We rounded St Georges Head with only 5 km to our camp at the northern end of Bhewerre Beach. We were now paddling towards the west and our helpful NE had become a nasty off shore wind. The sea was littered with 1 metre wind waves, the wind was gusting to 20- 25 knots and we were buffeted by the waves and drenched by the spray. It was turning out to be a hard “character building” slog. We eventually made it to our camping spot and I was full of admiration for Rob. He’d slogged it out across wreck Bay forced to paddle 75% of the time with left sweep strokes. Not one complaint We’d covered about 22 km on day one.
We set off early in the morning after another delicious meal provided for mainly by Rob. He was turning out to be the perfect partner,carrying an excellent variety of food in his dry bag! Day two we covered about 33 km in ideal conditions. We reached Ulladulla at 2.30 pm. Sadly Rob had to bail out. He caught a cab back to his car at Green Patch and then returned to pick up his kayak. Now that’s what I call self-sufficiency.
So a big chunk of the trip was left and I was on my own. I’d done a couple of short paddles on my own but never an overnighter. I’d been inspired by the feats of Ron Mudie (solo from Wallagoot to Melbourne) and Paul Caffyn (everywhere) so it was time to have ago. I headed for a camping ground behind Race Course Beach, 4 km away. I thought I’d stay close to Ulladulla as I fancied an evening at the Marlin Hotel, an old stomping ground from my teenage years. Memories of beautiful, blond, bouncy, beach babes reduced me to a somnolent stupor as I paddled towards Warden Head. Suddenly the wash of lively water snapped me to attention. Not far away was the first serious gauntlet since Stoney Creek, it dissected the tip of the headland. Should I be so bold on my own? Hell why not, anyway it was too far to paddle around the point. So I lined it up, in I went, slap, push, shove, brace, hold and then accelerate. I was through and I felt confident. Cruising down the beach I was certain that a gaggle of gals was casting admiring glances. As I drew closer my gaggle turned out to be a group of surfers. It is well known that an adrenalin rush can cause one to hallucinate.
I spied the camping ground through a break in the sand dunes and lugged my gear, then kayak, up the beach. With my tent on grass and out of the wind I could settle back with a cuppa. Starting to doze I awoke at the sound of giggles. I was surrounded by a gaggle of young teenage girls from a Sydney Christian High School. Last week of school and they were on a camp. The teachers had organised them into 3 groups for personal development exercises and, fair dinkum, I was stuck in the middle.
I set off on the half hour walk to the Marlin. What did I find? Just a bunch of balled, blubbery, boozy blokes. Oh well so much for old memories. I enjoyed myself having a couple of beers, some chips and watching the cricket. At least when I got back to tent the teenagers were asleep.
Wednesday I awoke at dawn to find the southerly had arrived. I looked at the beach- a 2 metre swell, then I looked around and I saw the bus and the tents. I decided the ocean was the preferred option. I timed it well and got past the shore dump without to much trouble. Then I to waited for the set to pass, and as the walls of white water hit I could feel the shaft of my paddle bend as I held my ground. Concentrating hard, I knew this was not the time to practice my roll. A lull arrived, sluggish acceleration as the loaded Raider responded to the demands of the paddle. I headed south through the dark rolling sea aware that the wind was getting stronger. I worked hard to cover the 9.5 km to Crampton Island and landed on the sheltered side at 9 am.
After breakfast I walked to weather side and found a howling wind and a big swell strewn with white caps. I used my mobile to call coastal patrol for the latest weather report: Southerly to ease by evening. It was obvious I wasn’t going anywhere for awhile. I was stuck for 22 hours,a long time on a rocky, sandy island. At low tide I walked over the spit to the mostly empty camping ground, the shop served no hot food until the next week, bought a can of drink and the paper, went back to the Raider, had a few words to a couple of fisherman, a stroll around island, read the paper, evening arrived the wind had not eased. Erected the tent, had dinner and went to bed. I had a restless sleep. Will the wind have died by morning? I couldn’t bear another day on the rock.
Day 4, I woke at 6 am to find the wind had died and the swell had dropped. I was ecstatic, quickly loaded the boat and was pleased the high tide allowed me to surf across the spit. The conditions where excellent and I covered the 13 km to O’Hara Head in just under 2 hours.
The scenery did not encourage me to dawdle as many of the headlands were cleared and dotted with bits of suburbia. Not even the presence of Brush Island lifted me. I felt despondent, this was not the wild coast I’d come to see. After a hearty breakfast I continued towards my goal Murramarang National Park. I rounded Snapper Point, northern border of the park, weather and sea were perfect and the forecast was good, so I slowed Time to relax and play. The scenery improved significantly: beach, forest, headlands, islands and mountains was all I could see. I hugged the shoreline, skirted behind O’Hara and Dawsons Island, took all the safe gauntlets and even managed to catch a few waves. As I got close to Pebbly Beach I found a group of boogy boarders surfing a short, steep wave onto a rock shelf. As I approached, one shouted out that I wasn’t welcome. All I could do was smile. He must be joking to think I’d risk my $2000 kayak and $1000 worth of camping gear on his suicidal wave.
I was glad to reach South Durras early afternoon, my back was aching and I needed a rest. A young family must have felt sorry for me as they invited me to their cabin for coffee and cake. They quizzed me about the trip, amazed that a family man would do the trip on his own. In an attempt to give them some perspective I told them about the adventures of the great Paul Caffyn. They also asked me about sharks, but they must have been disappointed as I couldn’t titillate them with even one experience. I said farewell and hurried to my camp site at Myrtle Beach. It was the best camp site of the journey, grassy area, beautiful view and not a soul in sight. I must have covered 35 km that day. I was tired and happy.
On day 5 I woke before dawn. I had plenty of time as it was only 15 km to the bridge at Batemans Bay where I was to meet Gary Edmond at Midday.
I had a leisurely breakfast and watched a most beautiful sunrise. I was on the water by 8 am and slowly headed for Batemans Bay, again enjoying the beautiful undeveloped coast, hugging the shore line and playing in gauntlets. I even had the company of a dolphin for a short time. I spent some time exploring a long narrow sea cave near Oakly Beach. Rounding North Head I had the assistance of a friendly NE for the last few kilometres.
Gary and I arrived at the boat ramp almost at the same time. On the drive home we agreed that Jervis Bay and Murramarang were the highlights, certainly worth another visit. I was glad I’d spent the time paddling and camping on my own. I feel more confident as a result of the experience.