Steel City Views [44]

A short jaunt to the Five Islands

By Richard Birdsey

A number of us had been contemplating a trip to the Five Islands off Port Kembla (near Wollongong in the Illawarra) and, after a quick ring around, a flotilla of six kayaks made their way to the Outer Harbour on a grey Sunday morning.

Our craft made an interesting group, ranging from Nick Gill’s flashing Gonad (though tragically scarred in the nether regions from the previous weekend – ’nuff said) through to Matt Turner’s well used Greenlander II. After the usual farting around with gear we lugged our boats down to the ramp, pushing off at about 8:45.

The stark, industrial skyline of the steel works contrasted against the dramatic sweep of the Escarpment was captivating. After taking a few snaps we paddled beyond the tangle of huge concrete blocks of the Outer Harbour breakwater and headed south towards the three southern-most islands of the group. The moderate swell supplemented by waves reflecting off the breakwater made the paddle more interesting.

We soon fell into a steady rhythm, with paddlers pairing off and enjoying the scenery slipping past. Birds ‘working’ large shoals of fish near the islands encouraged Kirin and Matt to tow lures, but with no luck. Curious at how you fight a fish from a kayak I asked Kirin what you do when you get a strike. ‘Pull it in’ was the obvious reply.

It reminded me of a Mirage paddler who once told me how he hooked a 2 metre shark off Cardwell (North Queensland) and ended up capsizing after hauling it right up to his kayak. When I pointed out how he could have been entangled with dire consequences, he said he didn’t want to lose his new $15 lure!

The acrid smell of guano announced our arrival at the three southernmost islands of the group. The islands are uninhabited and quite small (about 4 square km in total), and are an important marine bird sanctuary.

Large colonies of petrels, shearwaters and pelicans squawking, wheeling and fighting amongst themselves were a treat to watch. The NPWS prohibits landing to prevent damage to nesting sites and the possible introduction of vermin. In any case, a landing would be tricky due to the rocky fringe and exposed location.

Marine life was also abundant with forests of Sargassum and Ecklonia weed swirling in the water and large Grapsis crabs scuttling amongst the rocks.

We picked our way along the northern side of the first two islands, enjoying the birds overhead and the roar of the waves pounding against the islands.

After a quick circumnavigation of the easternmost island we headed back towards the mainland. Unfortunately home or work commitments ruled out any further exploration of the coast for most of us. Next time. Nick tried to catch some waves on the way back but was unsuccessful due to the confused sea.

We arrived back about midday, with a procession of fishing boats still being dumped into the harbour by wheezing utes. The variety of scenery makes this a great little paddle; from industrial landscapes to spectacular nature reserves. Highly recommended.

Author’s postscript: I took quite a few spectacular photos during this paddle, the most memorable being the Port Kembla Copper stack towering phallus-like from the deck of Nick Gill’s Gonad which happened to be in the foreground. Tragically this camera perished during re-entry training at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend – probably a blessing in disguise.