Harmony On The South Eastern Corner [47]

By Nick Gill and Dirk Stuber

The thirst for the new was on again.

After our itching, scratching and bitching on the north coast extravaganza in 2000, the combined Canberra/Wollongong pod was on the hunt for another new experience, preferably within a convenient distance from home.

Via copious stuffing around and miscommunication in cyberspace, we eventually agreed to do a Nadgee Plus trip. We would take in much of the Croajingalong coast in eastern Victoria, new to us, and head up along the Nadgee coast, well known to the group, to Eden. This was to take place at Easter and we were to take about nine days to do it: a veritable cruise along one of the longest, mostly uninhabited bits of coast in south east Australia – magnificent!

The final group was ourselves and Matt Turner from Wollongong, and Mark Pearson and Arunas Pilka from Canberra. Mike Snoad and John Wilde, also from Canberra, were to join us for various bits; Mike until Mallacoota, and John along the Nadgee coast. Apart from John Caldwell and John Wilde, this was an almost identical group to the north coast extravaganza in September 2000.

In Wollongong we loaded up the trusty and cavernous Volvo with gear and the three boats. As per September, Dirk managed to make complicated arrangements for the beginning of the trip, and Matt and Nick had to load boats and collect Dirk at Albion Park before becoming part of the Easter Friday traffic crawl through Kiama. We headed south, stopping for dinner at the salubrious Batemans Bay RSL for the usual sumptuous NSWSKC fare. The aim was to get to the Winkworths’ place at Tathra that night. We nearly didn’t make it after we happened upon Arunas turning onto the highway near Bega and almost cleaning us up. We finally got there quite late in the evening and were put up by Dave and Sue, whose lounge room floor gets quite a workout from slumbering kayakers.

The next day saw David and Sue facilitate the car shuffle so that we could leave both of our cars at Boydtown and avoid a shuffle at the end of the trip. This was a truly great arrangement as we ended up arriving at Boydtown in miserable, if exhilarating, conditions. At Cann River we chatted to a local café owner, a Pittarak owner. We also ran into the indefatigable Mike Snoad, engaged in hitchhiking to Bemm River on dairy trucks, having left his car at Mallacoota.

Eventually we reached the water’s edge at Bemm River and began the big pack. We finally got on the water at about 2 pm. David, unable to join us, seemed to be experiencing deep grief as he watched us pack. We paddled across the lake for 6 km towards the entrance (closed), pulled the boats up, and hopped out to check out the conditions. An active discussion was had regarding the conditions. The surf was biggish and it was late in the day. As it was new territory for the group, we were concerned about arriving at Point Hicks in the dark. The trip’s group harmony kicked in early, and we reached consensus without too much in the way of temper tantrums. We found a lovely spot at the entrance, watched the sun set and enjoyed each others’ company. A rare moment of disharmony was introduced by Matt complaining about not having enough food.

On the next day, April 14, we set out in calm conditions through smaller surf. Arunas managed to catch a larger set, and he joined the group bobbing around beyond the break somewhat damper than the rest of us. There was virtually no wind as we headed north to Point Hicks. This was to be a feature of the week, perhaps contributing to the group’s general good humour. It was a 26 km day but as we paddled north we were frustrated by slow progress even in the balmy conditions. Point Hicks remained resolutely in the distance. Eventually we twigged to the presence of a westerly current (the coast runs east-west here), and headed closer to shore where we found less resistance.

We ventured on to Point Hicks, where Captain Cook first saw land and named it after the lieutenant on watch. Just north of the point, at Thurra River, huge sand dunes extend two kilometres inland. The granite point itself is the setting for a lighthouse and well-preserved old keeper’s cottages. These can be rented and are in a spectacular location. Here we also saw our first seals for the trip. They congregate at headlands and bob around in rafted pods with their flippers in the air. We made a good campsite to the east of the lighthouse.

The next destination was the superlative Wingan Inlet, 25 km on. It was another outrageously calm day. The coast became more interesting as we headed east when the beaches became smaller and the coast somewhat rockier. The highlight of this section was the Skerries, populated by hundreds of seals of all ages and sizes. As we approached, we disturbed them, and they fled into the sea by the dozen, only to pop up all around us. Arunas and Nick even had seals land on their front decks as they zoomed around us.

The bushwalkers/kayakers’ campsite here is a beautiful, partly grassed site, affording views of the entrance, around the clock seal noise, and the occasional whiff of seals from the Skerries. The spring was dry at the main campsite, so Dirk, Matt, Nick and Mike went upriver to the first rapids. This turned into something of a race as we paddled flat out up the mirror calm river, speeding past surprised fishkillers in their canoe.

Immaculate, mirror-like conditions greeted us the next morning. This was getting monotonous. Where was the wind? We cruised off towards Mallacoota, 37 km away. ; As we headed off we were accompanied for some time by dozens of seals. This day afforded some of the first excitement of the trip. As per usual, Matt wanted to land and check things out. Dirk, Mark and Nick obliged Matt at a small lagoon after Sandpatch Point. Mark got trashed near the shore and lost his fishing rod. Foolishly, and despite repeated warnings, he still had it stuck down his life jacket. The rod was not to be found. As it turned out, Nick cracked his paddle here, only discovering it a few kilometres on as the blade increasingly flexed. He swapped to his spare, a bit of a clunker but adequate.

We regrouped and met for lunch west of Shipwreck Creek. As we headed off, we met Victorian sea kayaker Peter Provis, about 8 km out of Mallacoota. Peter was expecting us and accompanied us to Mallacoota. We soon encountered a chop, odd in the near windless conditions. For some reason it had arrived ahead of the wind that soon hit us. Wind! Outrageous! It was maybe fifteen knots and slowed us up. We slogged into it for about 5 km before regrouping and heading in through the river mouth at Mallacoota. Here, amongst the Easter hordes, we had a good night at the pub and celebrated Mike’s birthday. Mark bought a new rod.

The next day, Tuesday, Mike left us, and we headed off for the much anticipated Nadgee Lake and a rest day. Matt exhibited characteristic contrariness, and despite his persistent lobbying for sleep-ins, once again rose early, and banged about, waking those still slumbering. Today would take us into well known territory and once again we headed off in calm conditions. This changed at Tullaberga Island when a southerly arrived, bringing short waves and whitecaps. Concerned about the possibility of deteriorating conditions in this potentially rough area, we abandoned going to Gabo Island and kept on, turning north at Cape Howe into NSW. We raced up the coast; the sailors had a cruise. To this point, the harmonious group had been functioning well. The arrival of the wind however, brought out latent tendencies as the sailors scattered. Mark Pearson, in particular, distinguished himself by sailing on the horizon, a mere dot in the distance. The true sea kayakers demonstrated their commitment to the sport by paddling on unaided.

After 29 km we pulled up for a late lunch at Nadgee Lake. Group cohesion restored itself and good back care was evident as we jointly carried the heavy boats over the wide (and seemingly endless) beach. We then cruised over to the campsite. John Wilde arrived at about 4 pm, bearing a big Taylor. This fish, in conjunction with others caught en route, ensured a good feed that night, including Matt’s superlative Nori rolls with raw fish.

Wednesday was a rest day. It was spent variously; reading, fishing, abalone collecting and walking over to Nadgee Beach. Being energetic, John and Dirk zoomed down to Cape Howe. While most of the group were active, Matt and Nick spent much of the day lazing around, reading. Nick, having kindly lent Matt a book, was forced to fend off attempts by Matt to commandeer his remaining book once Matt had finished the first one. The day was rounded off with another seafood feast of abalone, fish curry and baked fish. This is a great camp, the only problem being the mozzies once in the shelter of the trees.

A howling southerly greeted us on Thursday morning. We had to paddle into it across to the beach, and then were sandblasted as we repeated the group carry across the beach. Once we hit the water, however, the wind was a tailwind, and we sped north. The sailors took off and Mark disappeared east over the horizon. We stopped at Newtons Beach for a snack. The wind disappeared behind the cliffs as we got further north and it became an enjoyable calm water paddle at the base of the cliffs. A bonus of this calm was that we were able to get into the sea cave near Merrica River. This narrow cave opens out somewhat and has a beach at the open rear. We landed after Matt, ahead of the group, went in, climbed out the back, and beckoned us in from the top of the cliffs.

Our favourite destination of Merrica River was unfortunately marred by cold weather and threat of rain. Nonetheless, a relaxing afternoon was had. Nick and Arunas did a water run up the river and had a cold bath in the plunge pool. We were frozen but salt free.

We were out of alcohol, but fortunately other substances were available. Mark was concerned that this would result in a decline in repartee due to resultant torpor. His fears were realised as one skilled raconteur faded rapidly, leading to Mark abusing the supplier. Despite Mark’s complaints, the entire group, including those who did not indulge, was soon all abed.

The next day John left us to paddle over to Greenglades and to head home. For the rest of us, the penultimate stretch lay ahead: 25 km to Mowarry Point. It was another calm day. At Bittangabee we had a snack and Mark and Matt swapped boats. Matt jumped in Mark’s Inuit Explorer and Mark had Matt’s Greenlander. The usual parochialism followed as mutual abuse ensued. The Inuit ‘wallowed’, was ‘tippy’, ‘meandered’ and behaved ‘like a river boat’. The Greenlander was ‘like a dugout canoe full of water’ and was ‘unresponsive to subtle paddle strokes’. We stopped at Saltwater Creek to check out the campsite and considered staying but elected to keep going. The conditions allowed paddling close to shore and running a few gauntlets, including paddling close in at Green Cape, a notorious place for nasty stuff. Further on, Dirk was almost caught out by a set when in a gauntlet and had to shelter behind a large rock as sea spray went everywhere. Eventually he emerged unscathed, congratulating himself for holding his nerve.

We pulled into Mowwarry for a late lunch. The usual sitting around and eating went on. The evening was distinguished by the Mowwarry ‘fire dance’. This involved Dirk, Mark and Matt setting alight available dead bushes, grabbing hold of them, and then dancing around the beach while twirling the burning vegetation.

Earlier in the day, a vote was held as to whether we should go on to Boyd Town for a night at the pub. The vote was 3-2 for staying (Dirk, Mark and Nick versus Matt and Arunas). This was a fateful decision.

We woke the next day to wind and rain. We packed up – there was unspoken agreement not to sit in the rain. The wind was strong, and looking out of the shelter of Mowwarry, the sea appeared rough. We headed out and found conditions rougher than we anticipated. We found ourselves in huge seas, with white crests and the occasional breaker. We estimate the swell was 4-5 metres, with a large sea on top. The winds were very strong. At the time we estimated 30 knots with gusts of 35 knots.

Bureau of Meteorology records for Green Cape that morning show winds of 33 knots, gusting to 40 knots. The rain pelted down. Occasionally gusts would drive the rain into us, almost eliminating visibility and strangely flattening the sea surface, giving a momentary visual illusion of calm – an illusion broken by the grip required to hang onto paddles and the skidding of the kayaks over the water as the gust caught them. This was literally storm paddling. We had 12 km to cover to Boyd Town. The wind was easterly and the lee shore was rocks and cliffs with offshore reefs. We had to stay well away in this swell. We took a northerly course with the wind and waves perpendicular to us. Occasionally we would lose sight of land as mist and rain closed in. Group cohesion was a marvel to behold. In difficult conditions we stayed as close as was reasonable, no one took off. We tried not to imagine the consequences of a capsize and failed roll. As on our rough afternoon on the north coast, Matt displayed responsibility, making sure all group members were accounted for and watched. Our course angled us away from the land until we judged that we were in a position to safely run west into Twofold Bay towards Boyd Town.

Even inside Twofold Bay we had to be careful. Being easterly, the wind remained strong in the bay and the swell large. Arunas put up his sail but was almost dashed upon a headland by a large wave, having to literally backpaddle off the crest as it steepened to break. In the rain and poor visibility we crossed the bay, only getting out of the conditions once we rounded the last point off Boyd Town.

We landed, retrieved our cars and packed in the rain. We had hot showers at the caravan park and headed into Eden for a fast food feed. We sped off, stopping in at the Winkworths’ and Norm Sander’s place on the way home. The adventurous end capping off a great trip characterised by getting on well, excellent camps, largely good weather, generally cruisy days, and time to sit around and enjoy the Croajingalong and Nadgee coast.