Sydney to Melbourne [49]

By Stuart Trueman

Well it was actually Jervis Bay to Melbourne.

Jervis Bay lies 90 km south of Sydney. I’d already paddled Sydney to Jervis Bay, so this with a previous trip from Sydney to Brisbane meant that I have now managed to paddle the coast from Brisbane to Melbourne.

My wife and 2 year old child left me at Honeymoon Bay on the north side of Jervis Bay, we said good bye and I set off south.

I popped into see Dave Winkworth who lives on the NSW south coast and who had lent me one of his Nadgee Expedition Kayaks for the trip. I thought it only fair that I stretch it and get a night’s accommodation as well so he could check out the kayak for scratches.

I left Dave’s place having been well looked after and had a day with 25 knot N-NE winds blowing me down to Twofold Bay.

As I was passing a headland before Twofold Bay the seas looked larger than the day’s regular swell. I took it wider than was necessary to avoid the worse of it but things were still big. I think it was due to a strong current and the 25 knot wind, but whatever it was the oceans forces were at play.

I got a stir when I looked round. I’m not sure how high things were but to see the wave coming I had to look up so high the back of my head was resting on the collar of my PFD. It was huge, a green multi story building heading towards me with its white roof falling off.

As I sat there like a stunned mullet, I was lifted up and as crest broke to port I could see through the tube of the wave. I woke up, briefly gave some thought to what the view would have been like if I was placed 25 metres to port then lit the fuse and got out of there.

I thought the coast of the south east corner especially the Nadgee wilderness was one of the most spectacular of the NSW-VIC coastline. I will return and explore at a more leisurely pace when I get the chance. I didn’t have to go far from the most populated areas of Australia to find an interesting coastline along which to set myself a challenge.

I got to Lakes Entrance on the supplies in the kayak and 6 extra Mars bars. The members of Lakes Entrance SLSC were very supportive and put me up in the club house and arranged for me to stay at the clubs of the other SLSC’s placed along 90 Mile Beach.

I find that the very good local information given by SLSC members is from a paddlers point of view which is of much more value than information given by non-paddlers who base their advise from experience using a motor.

In a kayak you get a good idea of the size of Ninety Mile beach. It took 6 days to get from one end to the other. This beach faces Bass Strait and is constantly taking the pounding created by the southerly swell. Always in your mind is the feeling of exposure as you creep down the coast with no shelter for days in either direction. If the weather should change or unseen storms develop far away a build up in swell could mean a bumpy ride to the beach. Or you could be unable to leave for days as the surf and seas build up overnight.

For most of the time the featureless coast of scrub covered sand dunes meant that navigation was done by dead reckoning. There were days when there was not even a slight variation in the view giving no clue as to your progress.

These are the problems facing a kayak tourer but the barren beauty of a coastline that has almost no evidence of man gives a glimpse of what the Victorian coast would have been like before we came along.

My last day on Ninety Mile Beach was from Seaspray to Port Albert.

The surf didn’t look too bad when looking down from the Seaspray SLSC club tower so I thought I’d pack the kayak and go and have a look. Then a man who had heard I was set to go came down to give a hand, so the pressure was on to perform.

From the tower it was obvious there were gaps in the breakers which stretched 100 metres out, all I had to do was break through the first set of shore dumpers then paddle through the gap.

I placed myself before a less vicious area of the dumping shore break and made the mistake of waiting to try and time the sets. While I was waiting the rip pulled me down the beach then out into a set, which played with me for a while before throwing me back to shore.

I felt a little more tired than I should have after that and needed to rest if I was to try again. The previous weeks had taken a toll. My helper seeing my predicament had stripped and held the kayak up to his armpits in freezing Bass Strait waters just before the dumpers. I just gave away the subtle art of timing sets and plowed into the bastards. To my surprise, which quickly turned to horror I was through.

The waves were breaking 100 metres out 4-5 metres high and rolling in, I saw a gap and paddled. The side rip was very strong and dragged me away from the gap onto the big back set of three. I got over the first one only just over the second as my arms were failing and then didn’t even try the third turning and running down the wave back towards the shore.

Just before getting to the shore dump I turned and saw I’d been dragged in line with a gap in the back set and headed out for another try, missed the first wave, clipped the second and got the kayak airborne on the third. I was out but totally done in!

An easterly swell, a south west swell and waves from the east caused very big and confused seas, which, when the combination of swell and waves hit I was in the air taking strokes without touching the water with my paddle. I had to keep away from the shore as waves were breaking well out. I realised my lack of strength meant that I had absolutely no room for error, I couldn’t be sure I would be able to roll and I stood no chance of swimming the 3-4 km to shore.

As I reached the Woodside surf club I realised the surf was too big, even the lure of a shower and bed couldn’t tempt me in.

I carried on to Shoal Inlet which I was sure would be navigable. Once there I couldn’t believe that the entrance was so dangerous, I got as close as I dare and couldn’t see a way in. I had no doubt that I was amongst waves that could kill.

I resigned myself to another 20 nautical miles to find a landing and set off. After paddling 10 minutes the waves died down to an acceptable 2-3 metres, so without any further thought I turned and made for the entrance. The sand bar had moved dramatically placing the entrance further along than was marked on my chart.

I could not help it and I shouted with relief at reaching the safe waters of Shoal Inlet after a trying day, then after a celibratory feed carried on to Port Albert.

From Port Albert I went to the idyllic Refuge Cove for the night.

I left Refuge Cove to round Wilsons Prom, the most southerly point of the Australian mainland. I got as far as the lighthouse and decided to wait for a while as the tide was not going my way yet and there was an ugly looking cloud forming out to sea.

It looked as though things could be changing for the worse so I headed back for the shelter of Waterloo Bay.

That was probably the smartest thing I’ve done in 3 weeks. Ten minutes later a 40 knot SE change hit and I was soon bracing into 4 foot waves.

I hid on a sheltered beach on southern Waterloo Bay but couldn’t stay when I realized that the weather was not going to improve as there was no water and the beach was covered at high tide. So I headed for the main beach where I’d seen bush walkers file into the bush. As soon as I left the shelter the 35-40 knot wind hit me. I landed on the beach with the grace and poise of a piece of kelp rolling up and down the beach, still, everything was in one piece and luckily nobody saw my crash landing. Then I realised I was not at the camp ground and had to walk my stuff 1.5 km round to Little Waterloo Bay.

After sitting out 3 days of strong SE winds I was up at 5 am with not much wind or swell evident from Waterloo Bay.

Swell picked up outside the bay and with the rebound off the cliffs things got rough. Steadily the wind picked up and the swell grew.

Just past the lighthouse I was paddling down a very steep swell of 4-5 metres. Due to the early hour the sun was low, so when a large swell was building up behind a shadow would be cast over me, which added to the serious mood of the morning’s paddle.

With almost no warning the stern would be picked up plunging the bow dangerously into the seas. To stop me being ‘endoed’ I zigzagged my way along.

I found out I had miscalculated the tide which must have still been running West to East and with 25 knots blowing from the East over the top I had a dramatic example of wind over tide.

Tidal River was as far as I got, I made the most of the facilities, washing everything, showering for the first time in 7 days and got some food as I was down to a handful of pasta. It was still a rip-off at $18 per night but as that represented my total accommodation costs of the trip I’m not complaining too much.

I didn’t get far after Tidal River and spent 3 days on the other side of Waratha Bay waiting for the weather to give in again. During my stay I met Geoff Sellman from VSKC who just happened to be passing and noticed the Nadgee Expedition Kayak on the beach. He was over the moon to find someone kayaking a Nadgee to Melbourne as he had one on order. The trip and my assurance that it was an excellent all round deepwater kayak confirmed that his kayak would be worth waiting, waiting, waiting… for.

After 11 days of less than average weather I was given almost perfect conditions on the last three days to get to Melbourne. Even the rip getting into Port Philip Bay behaved itself and I found myself at Sorrento having a pizza and coffee, wondering how I was going to get the kayak and myself back to Sydney. It didn’t turn out to be as difficult as the 31 days getting to Melbourne. I gave Geoff a ring who picked me up and arranged everything from his car phone. His family then looked after me as if I was a long lost relation until my flight home.

Kayakers who have plans for trips often ask me to paddle at my cruising pace. They soon see that someone with an average stroke and pace can keep up with me.

It would be unrealistic to estimate your paddling ability for a long trip in an empty kayak, while fresh, in familiar waters.

If you are thinking of a two week trip or longer try a week long trip with the others in your team to find what the group is comfortable paddling each day.

The daily averages for this trip are that on the 24 paddling days I covered 45 km and paddled about 6.5 hours. I don’t consider myself a particularly strong paddler.