Coffee Cruisers [52]

Coffee Cruisers do Murramarang

By Trevor Gardner

There seems to be a pervading undercurrent in the NSWSKC that serious Bruiser paddling, a concept borne on the South Coast, is the only valid form of kayak expedition. Suffering seems to be part of the pleasure. I was aware that Vince had just completed a solo crossing of Bass Straight and that the Survivor Protein Challenge was underway on the far south coast. Andrew McCauley had also completed a western route Bass Straight crossing, solo.

However, in the end, our trip from Ulladulla to Batemans Bay would prove to be equally, if not more demanding. Suffering a chemical dependence and paddling away from one’s support infrastructure can be very frightening. Vince only had 6 metre seas and 40 knot winds with which to contend, a situation we would gladly have swapped into to prevent falling blood levels of that precious chemical.

The 60-odd kilometre section of coast from Ulladulla to Batemans Bay has a lot to offer the sea kayaker. Not the least of which is the Murramarang National Park. Importantly though, there are opportunities to land and seek out good coffee. This should never be underestimated in planning a coastal sojourn.

As is often the case, our trip was borne out of an open email tossed onto the chatline weeks before with Rohan looking for takers for a Jervis Bay to Batemans paddle. In the end four of us started from Ulladulla on a windy and grey Saturday morning: Mark Flat-White Berry, Huw Polaris Kingston, Rohan Fresh-Fruit Last and Trevor Espresso Gardner. I initially had reservations about Rohan. However, in the end it became clear that having one person on the trip without drug dependence was an asset.

The drive down from Wollongong was made bearable by good coffee and blueberry muffins from the cake shop in Berry. Driving through teaming showers on the way to Ulladulla the concept of paddling anywhere did not look that inviting. Arriving at Ulladulla harbour Mark and I found Rohan and Huw. Weather and packing considerations were put by the wayside as we headed into town to seek out a passable café. I immediately had confidence in Huw, deftly dismissing the first two cafés we came across, settling on a third. The tone of the trip was set.

We eased into a flat white, studied the maps and watched the showers come and go. Nothing was said at the time but I think Mark was thinking the same the as I, “What’s with this Rohan bloke, can he be trusted, he’s not ordered coffee.” A man without chemical dependence has always bothered me.

Concerns aside we packed up the boats and headed out of Ulladulla. The swell and seas were running at 2–3 m with a 15/20 knot S/SE wind. The going was slow but this was a coffee cruise not a bruise and we weren’t concerned. Blood caffeine levels were high and there was little chance of coming down in the next few hours. The ocean fauna boxes were ticked for bluebottle and hammerhead. Mark caught a slimy mackerel. Not inspiring stuff.

Lake Tabourie made for an easy beach landing and entrance to the river. Coffee cruisers appreciate the benefits afforded by a picnic table and one was soon located. After lunch the exit from Lake Tabourie heading south across the bar and through the surf was slightly more exciting than the arrival. A combination of flooding tide, swell, sea and rebound from Crampton Island generated an impressive and disproportionately wild ride for the cruisers who showed that they could handle the rough stuff just like the big boys. Hairy chested paddling is a means to an end for the coffee cruisers, not an end in itself. Cruisers are an understated bunch.

After a gruelling 4.5 hour, 21 km day we found a little beach tucked into the northern corner of Nuggan Point. An elevated flat rock platform made a perfect dining area. I poured the gin and tonic while Huw fired up the MSR. Before long the aroma of fresh coffee pervaded the camp site. Life was good. Still concerned that Rohan had not partaken of any stimulants I was about to confront him when he produced a bladder of red wine. I appreciate a man that does not mix his drugs. Rohan had clearly been saving himself for this moment. Youth and enthusiasm had got him through the day without chemical support but now he produced the goods. All concerns faded away into an alcohol induced blur.

An overnight rain shower was guaranteed by Huw not putting the fly on his tent. God works like that. Even a deity has to have a giggle. We were greeted by a beautiful morning but there were some evil looking cells out to sea. The espresso machine was fired up. Life was good. The sea state had settled a little overnight but was otherwise similar to Saturday. Bawley Point was only a cruisey 20 minute paddle around the corner. A pleasant little warm up paddle and appetite stimulant. There was a plate of bacon and eggs with my name on it waiting in Bawley Point.

I negotiated the usual shore dump, jumped out, dragged the boat up the beach and went to help the others as they landed. After interrogating a local we grabbed our empty water bags and headed for town. A kilometre or so later we hadn’t found water but the café came into view. The initial elated expectation began to wane. CLOSED. ‘Reluctant entrepreneur’ is how the local on the beach had described the café owner. [Remark by the NSWSKC Editor, May 2005: Many NSWSKC members have been recently enjoying the great meals and coffee provided by the Bawley Point Cafe. The service is excellent and opening hours very accommodative.] With 90 minutes until opening the situation started to look desperate. Huw was starting to come down after having had only one coffee before we left. I was in big trouble. Believing that a good brew was only a 20 minute paddle away I had declined the offer of the morning constitutional. A coffee cruiser’s worst nightmare.

We pushed on with a sense of urgency. A bruiser would probably make a big deal of the conditions between Brush Island and Bawley Point. Waves coming from two directions, serious rebound, confused and demanding. To a cruiser with chemical dependence on the way to a fix this was just an inconvenience.

At Kioloa Mark looked nearly death white. I thought I was bad. The consequences of chemical dependence now took on a real world meaning. With his brain not functioning properly Mark had left his wallet on the table outside the coffee shop in Bawley Point. He had just transferred his life savings into the account and the plastic fantastic lay on the table. No amount of coffee would fix this one.

We walked into Kioloa central with a new urgency. Not a happening place. While Mark called the café in Bawley, Huw and I sorted out a couple of bacon and egg burgers, milkshakes and coffee. Not espresso but caffeine nevertheless. With our brains back up to speed we realised that Rohan had remained behind at the beach to eat his fruit and mung beans. Something still not quite right there.

All was in order as we pushed off the beach in Kioloa. The Murramarang coastline to Depot Beach starts to get interesting. We passed Merry Beach, Pretty Beach and Pebbly Beach before sliding up on Depot. The natives were friendly and seemed poor. They did not have much clothing on. Life was good. None of the natives asked us back to their huts and the official camping spot was up the hill. Coffee cruisers do not walk to camp sites. We paddled a few hundred metres around the corner to an interesting little cove, Tranquillity Bay. With an understated flair only a coffee cruiser can exhibit we landed on a steep and narrow beach missing the rocks by inches. No doubt a bruiser would have taken the opportunity to trash a kayak and impress his friends.

A perfectly flat, raised platform greeted us. The local marsupials had mown the grass to a perfect length. The view was magnificent. I poured the gin while Huw fired up the espresso maker. Before long the aroma of fresh coffee pervaded the camp site. Life was good.

Coffee cruisers are comfortable with their manhood and don’t feel the need to remain hairy and unwashed. Rohan and Mark wandered into Depot central, all 56 rate paying dwellings according to Domain that Saturday, and made use of the caravan park facilities. Two bob in the slot gets you a hot shower.

Huw ran into a well known Canberra political press identity on our little beach. “You know you shouldn’t camp there,” the big man said. “You know you shouldn’t have your dog on the National Park beach,” volleyed Huw. “I won’t tell if you don’t,” the big man came back. A politically correct resolution.

Day three and paradise on earth had arrived. Windless, warm with slight sea and clear sky. Not to make the same mistake again I partook of a Kingston espresso even though it was only five kilometres to Durras. Near perfect paddling with that oily smooth water. Life was good. We passed some humans in a tinnie trying to catch fish and confirmed that coffee could be found in South Durras. The fauna box was ticked for penguin.

There were few natives to greet us. The ones we saw seemed more affluent as they had clothes on. We found ourselves in Murramarang Resort. Using raw survival instinct we found the poolside café and became involved with a steaming mug of God’s finest. Again, Rohan cut up bits of apple. Very odd. Total disdain for neuro-pharmacologic ritual.

The ten kilometres or so to the entrance of Batemans Bay was superb. We were able to get personal with the crinkly edges and bommies. After a bit of lunch at North Head Beach we worked the gauntlets around the inner crinkly edge of Batemans Bay. There was enough swell to make it interesting and Mark passed on the opportunity to total his kayak on an oyster covered boulder, probably with significant personal injury. The unspoken coffee cruiser code forbids such gaudy displays. Kayak destroying antics appear to be some sort of rite-of-passage for the less emotionally secure bruisers. Mark climbed back into his kayak and nothing more was said.

We hit the famous Batemans Bay sand bar in mid flood and it was going off. Despite loaded kayaks the lads turned it on for the local natives aligning the shore. After several long rides and an inadvertent roll each we headed to shore. Huw’s wife Wendy was there to greet us and make easy the car shuffle. As the lads headed off a Mr Whippy van arrived. All that was left for me to do was drink my milkshake and sit in the sun. Life is good.

We paddled about 65 km in about 12 hours over three days and would not have changed a thing. Coffee Cruisers: understated overachievers