Pancake W/E [56]

Montague Return Via South Moruya Island

By David Winkworth

This base camp / paddle weekend is a great institution of the New South Wales Sea Kayak Club. Started by veteran paddler Arunas Pilka around the early nineties, it is held on the weekend closest to Shrove Tuesday, hence the pancake reference.

We camp at Mystery Bay among the spotted gums in the bush reserve and paddle out to Montague Island and back on the Saturday. More on the paddling in a moment.

Sunday breakfast is always a real treat. Arunas brings the ingredients for about 300 pancakes, paddlers produce fire-breathing stoves and proved pancake pans and we sit around in a circle beating egg whites and grating apples and knuckles. Once the pancakes start “rolling off the assembly line” it’s sometimes difficult to keep up! After gorging on pancakes, it’s usually time for some surfing at a nearby beach and a few gauntlets. The Mystery Bay shore is well endowed with boat scratchers!

Early on, Montague Island was managed by the Commonwealth and we were welcomed ashore on the island by various caretakers. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long…. The lighthouse was automated and the island handed over to NSW National Parks. Up went the “Landing Prohibited” signs, penguins were burned and the National Parks Corporation began to suck as much money as it could from boatloads of tourists. In one memorable year we were kicked off the island by an NPWS person who came roaring down on his 4 wheel motorbike to the rocky ramp where we’d landed: “You guys are a danger to the penguins. Get off the island.”

I’m always amazed at the difference between the non-welcome of Montague and the “Visitors Welcome” sign that greets paddlers at Gabo Island. I’m told Gabo, with it’s visitors and cattle is the largest Little Penguin rookery in the southern hemisphere, so it can’t be visitors that are allegedly hurting the penguins. Nope, must be the money.

Several approaches to the Narooma NPWS office for us to paddle out and land on the island have met with negative responses. We even offered to pay…..the answer was still no.

So now we still paddle out and “officially” we stay in our kayaks. It’s still a nice paddle out and around the island. The water in late summer at the island is warm and it’s just a great paddle. Some currents sweep around the island that can catch paddlers unaware. On more than one occasion we’ve paddled back to Mystery Bay in a huge J curve.

We’ve had a few dramas associated with the weekend that are now NSW sea kayaking folklore. Jacqui Shrimpton was rounded up by a school of sharks off the SW tip of the island…. We once did a long supported tow of a sick paddler from the other side of the island….and in a crash and burn spectacular some years ago, 3 kayaks were smashed up in separate incidents with not a drop of blood spilled!

So, after a hiatus of a few years, Arunas re-convened the Montague Weekend in 2004. Gary, Karen, Margot, Lippy, Peter O and Dennis K joined us from Sydney. From the south came Pete Provis and Ian Dunn. The ever-reliable Canberra pod was well represented too. Even the OSD, looking all of 45, was there.

The thing I like about the Montague paddle is the informality. Waivers are all submitted electronically….well, they must have been ‘cos I didn’t see any. In the pre-trip briefing, Arunas showed again that he is really is a man of few words: “Alright. Weather fine, forecast OK, there’s the island, sort of stay together, let’s go.” And we did.

The weather and seas were good this year so we took advantage of the conditions to do something we’ve never done before. We decided to paddle to Montague via South Moruya Island.

South Moruya Island lies in a strong current zone several kilometres SE of Montague Is. Not much more than a remote rocky knoll, it is surrounded by shallow fringing reefs which repel paddlers in all but the calmest seas and high tides. This year we all made it in and out across the reef without a problem. The relief on the faces of the paddlers in the accompanying photos is clearly evident. We sat on South Moruya, munched our muesli bars and thumbed our noses at the NPWS before circumnavigating Montague and returning to Mystery Bay.

A great weekend — thanks Arunas.