January is probably not the best time to camp on Broughton Island but as I was spending Christmas on Lake Macquarie and I live in Canberra, it was the only time suitable. As it was the weather was kind to us and there were not too many people. I have heard stories of people being trapped on the island for days due to bad weather and we all had about 4 days food for a two day trip.
I was a bit reluctant to do the trip by myself so I contacted Andrew Eddy who brought along a few friends. One of them – Stuart – commented it was one of the best trips he’s been on.
We were originally going to go up on Friday night to get an early start from Shoal Bay but just about every camping site in Nelson’s Bay was booked. I invited them to stay at my Parents place on Lake Macquarie giving us an hour and a half drive the next day. I gave Andrew instructions on how to get there and he passed it on to the others if they got lost they could give me a call. About 8:30 Andrew and Dennis came down the driveway and Stuart was meant to be about half an hour behind. A couple of hours later with still no sign of Stuart we called him on his mobile – well he must have had the “Pedal to the Metal” because he had just passed the turn off for Myall Lakes (140 k further north). We gave him instructions on how to get to Nelson’s Bay and told him to sleep by the car and we would meet him there the next morning.
When we drove up the next day we wondered whether we would meet him but he was there ready to go complaining about lack of sleep from bivying next to a chook farm. We were on the water at Shoal Bay by 8 am.
The day was overcast with a moderate easterly wind (< 10 knots). The tide was running out so it wasn’t long before we were heading out the heads and swung around to the north to head for Cabbage Tree island which blocks the view of Broughton. Stuart was ahead of us by this stage veering south and heading for New Zealand. A quick blast on the whistle and we indicated “This way Stuart”.
Cabbage Tree was only about 4 k from the start but we sheltered in the lee for a while and had a bite to eat before the next leg about 14k across open water, or to be exact, 13.5 according to Andrews GPS. As we came around the corner of Cabbage tree Broughton appeared in the distance and my first impression was – that’s a hell of a long way away. Although I had paddle long distances this was the longest open sea stretch I had done and my first sea trip with a fully loaded canoe.
Overcast conditions – Broughton Island on the horizon
I was expecting the wind to pick up but fortunately it stayed around the 10 knot mark and the overcast day kept the temperature around 25C. The only incident was when a fin came out of the water about 20 feet in front of us. Some one said it’s a sleeping dolphin but we didn’t need to watch it for long before we realised it definitely wasn’t a dolphin. Judging by the amount of fin out of the water I guessed the size of the shark to be around 8 to 9 feet. It didn’t come too close and disappeared into the blue yonder. The only other wild life were several flocks of fairy penguins (now here’s an interesting question – is a flock of penguins in the water a flock or a school).
The wind had picked up a bit by the time we reached the east side of Broughton Island and there was a lot of back chop from the rocky shore line. We were heading for Esmeralda Cove but guarding the entrance was a huge bombora which needed a bit of careful paddling to sneak in around the side of it. Once inside the cove it was quite sheltered with no waves at all breaking on the shore. There are two small bays one has huts belonging to fisherman and their families the other was deserted except for a compost toilet on the top of the hill. It had a few grassy campsites and some fresh running water. We pulled in around lunch time with the whole journey taking around 3.5 hours.
Esmeralda Cove, the beach
After lunch and the setting up of tents we set off to explore the Island and I thought, what a lovely island. The sun had come out now and it was getting a bit hot but this didn’t slow Dennis down who must of covered nearly all the island in the afternoon. The rest of us went back to find some shade. Stuart found the best spot to read was in the compost toilet on top of the hill. To cool down we did some rolling practice and some snorkeling but the water in the cove was fairly cloudy. There were very good snorkeling bays around the point.
I spotted one rat near dusk and we all packed our stuff away but that was the only one I saw or heard. The biggest sleep disturber were the shearwaters who flew into the burrows near the campsites after dusk. They made this errie kooning noise all night and one crashed straight into my tent during its sunrise takeoff.
Esmeralda Cove, looking seawards
We were on the water just after 0700 and headed down the south part of the island to explore the coves. The water was clear and sheltered with a small flotilla of yachts anchored. A women from one of the yachts came over for a chat. She used to be a keen white water canoeist and was interested in our trip. Once past the western end of the island we made a line for dark point, a small rocky outcrop on the long sandy expanse of beach running to Hawks nest. We pulled in for a rest before following the coast around. “There’s a pod of dolphins working along this shore” said one of the fisherman and it wasn’t long before a pod of around 30 dolphins were swimming under our canoes. We followed the shore for a while before cutting over to the entrance to Port Stephens. The weather was glorious with the sun shining, clear water and a gentle breeze. In fact the wind didn’t pick up until we reached the headlands when it started to reach about 20 knots. This in itself wouldn’t of been a problem except the tide was going out creating a huge uneven chop. It took us nearly a hour to get through the heads and at some stages we didn’t appear to be going anywhere. Tired and weary we pulled into the shore at shoal bay to the amazed onlook on the tourists sunning on the beach. Hamburgers and milkshakes were called for before heading back home
Broughton Island is a great sea kayak trip and I could easy spend a few days there, and all of us were of the opinion we should come back again but as a 3 or 4 day trip. The island also has one huge advantage for sea kayakers for there are 3 good landing beaches – one faces east (Esmeralda Cove) with good shelter from the north easterly, the other faces north and the other faces south making landing in nearly any sort of wind possible. It would not be too difficult to carry your canoes from the north facing beach over Esmeralda cove.