Solo Sydney to Batemans Bay [52]

The Best Way to Spend New Year’s

With Tim Shillington

I needed time to myself and I had a week free from all commitments.

I decided that the ideal trip for me was to paddle my ageing, second hand Arctic Raider from Sydney to Batemans Bay on the south coast of NSW.

However when I mapped out the course I discovered it is a lot further than I first thought. I would have to average 57 km a day and then finish with a short 20 km hop if I was to complete the trip within my timeframe. It was a total of around 300 km! However, the best laid plans and all that…

Unfortunately things started rather badly when I arrived in Sydney with my gear only to discover that my dry bags were still in Canberra. But things could only improve and it amazing what you can do with Glad bags. Time was limited but I figured my goal was achievable. This proved to be ambitious considering my complete lack of preparation.

The first three days went well with favourable NE winds which were almost too strong at times. The paddling was generally very pleasant although the swell started to increase. The second day provided a couple of surprises with the sighting of two sharks. One was a hammerhead that headed straight for me and passed under my seat just below the surface as I was approaching Five Islands off Port Kembla.

I spent the first night at Garie Beach in the Royal National Park and the second night at The Farm just north of Kiama. Both these campsites were delightful and probably also illegal! On the third day the NE wind whipped up early and by lunch it was howling. Although this allowed me to make good time it meant that when I arrived at the end of Seven Mile Beach the surf was bigger than I had bargained for. After lunch at Culburra I had a memorable paddle around the point followed by a nerve-racking 12 km in rough seas to Currarong. It was with great relief and very sore shoulders that I landed on the beach where I made camp. Another illegal campsite!

The wind continued to howl throughout the night and by the morning of the fourth day it was clear that I was not going to cross Jervis Bay. Beecroft Head is a scary place when the surf is up and as it turned out the conditions would not be reasonable again until the Friday, so it meant three days off. This was a blessing in disguise as my arms needed a good rest. It seemed I would be spending New Year’s in Currarong.

The final two days of the trip were long and hard. I needed to get home but I was determined to finish the trip. On Friday I left Currarong at 6 am and I was hoping to make Narrawallee Inlet which is a couple of kilometres north of Mollymook. I experienced the Beecroft Head to Point Perpendicular in calm conditions. What a thrill! Incredible scenery and the memories of previous terrifying rock climbing trips came flooding back.

Friday’s paddling took me past Wreck Bay which has some of the most beautiful little beaches I have ever seen and great lunch sites. After a number of stops I eventually made it to Narrawalle Inlet around 5 pm. My upper body was very sore and I was not looking forward to the final day of paddling.

Saturday started slowly as I worked my way painfully towards Mollymook. It would have been good to get a latte there but at 6:30 am there did not appear to be much happening and I had a long way to go to finish.

I pulled up for an early lunch at Bawley Point. Despite the pain I was experiencing I was looking forward to the next 40 km stretch of coastline as it is some of the most beautiful on the South Coast. There are loads of little beaches and small cliffs, and development is limited. All was going well until just before I landed at Emily Miller Beach (a little south of Durras) when I rounded a point where there was an obvious reef break. I decided to cut the corner as it looked relatively safe and just when I thought I was clear of the break, up reared a large rogue wave. It broke right on top of me and it quickly dragged me towards the rocks. Thankfully the wave faded to the point where I could slide off the back. Once off, I paddled hard to escape any further waves. I was soon on the beach with my heart rate going twice as fast as normal.

I had 15 km to go until I reached Lilli Pilli Beach where my family would be waiting for me—not to mention beer, good food and a soft bed. I was soon at North Head where The Tollgates and the southern side of Batemans Bay were in sight. An hour after leaving North Head I finally landed at Lilli Pilli. It was a magnificent feeling landing on that beach.

Over a period of eight days I paddled for five days and covered 304 km and enjoyed a three-day break in the middle. In hindsight the daily paddling distances were too long to really enjoy this magnificent coastline. As a result of the distances and a complete lack of preparation I have been on anti-inflammatories and I have undergone several physiotherapy sessions to help combat carpal tunnel and shoulder pain. Despite the discomfort the trip gave me plenty of time to think and it certainly gave me loads of experience for future adventures.

Under the conditions that I experienced, the trip was reasonably straightforward provided you take a conservative approach. The areas that were of greatest concern to me were the long cliff lines of Sydney Heads and Jervis Bay as well as the shipping channels of Sydney, Botany Bay and Port Kembla. With a combination of luck and patience these were relatively straightforward in the end. There are plenty of good campsites along the coast but because of the distances I needed to cover each day, my options were more limited. The campsites I ended up at were good but I needed to wait until dark before setting up my tent. I was always on the water by 6 am and so I was never disturbed by the general public in the morning.

Tim Shillington is married with two children and is the Head of Outdoor Education at Marist College in Canberra. He spends his spare time running, paddling and climbing. He was introduced to sea kayaking while working at Canberra Grammar with John Wilde.