A Late Summer Meander through the Myall Lakes [57]

An adventure by some older blokes.

by the Water Rat

Friday

Well at last, after days of accumulating piles and piles of gear, sweating through stifling heat and humidity, we were on the move. The day was slightly overcast and a light southerly change was forecast. Meeting up with Noel and Jim at Raleigh would be the first test of organization. Already I had misplaced Noel’s mobile phone number. If 9am came and went without seeing them I would know I was in the wrong place.

I don’t know what possessed Noel to choose this weekend to start the adventure as the next day was Valentines Day. I had always had an image of Noel as a romantic/lady’s man.

Well they arrived on time and we were back on the highway by 9:20am. It was easy going. There was plenty of traffic and an hour and a half later we were stopped at Wilsons River for morning `smoko’. After that it was onwards to Bungwahl and Neranie. Arriving at Neranie at 2pm we were greeted with hot steamy weather and a 20 knot southerly. A civilized lunch was taken then the mammoth task of loading a car load of gear into a kayak was commenced. Thanks to a Bob Fellows contact, `Morrie’, we were able to leave the vehicles behind at his house just 500 metres from our launch site. Our gratitude was expressed in the form of a carton of Tooheys Draught.

The boats did float when they were eventually put in the water at 3:50pm. Waiting for this moment had been an anxious time for me, but the others were pretty blasé about the possibility that they might have negative buoyancy when fully laden.

Neranie is a nice sheltered bay with some intriguing timber work on the eastern point. A relic of a bygone industry I guess. Once clear of the Neranie Bay point it was a solid bash into short steep seas. Spray and solid water was coming over the bow and I was extremely grateful to my new `CHEEKI’ made spraydeck. It was close to 7km into the shelter of Kattaway Bay and all the way into a head sea. Any pause in paddling would lose us ground rapidly. So it was a matter of push on and push on.

Kattaway was to be the overnight camp site. There were two uninhabited house boats moored in the most sheltered corner. The fringes of the bay are very shallow but access to the banks is limited because of the profuse growth of reeds and rushes. As a consequence some time was spent scouting the shoreline for the best location. Jim seized upon a site which looked okay but upon closer inspection found it had a NO CAMPING appellation. The NPWS were concerned that a tree might fall on us. Noel found an even better sight and by the time Jim arrived on the scene there was no evidence of a NO CAMPING sign. He accused Noel of all manner of devious vandalizing behaviour without one shred of evidence. So we made camp for the night. Noel pitched his tent, I pitched mine. Jim however stopped short with just the mesh net inner part of his tent pitched. Oops!!! He had forgotten the waterproof fly. I felt his conviction to religion might have been sorely tested at this moment. He seriously considered praying; for NO RAIN, that is. His wishes were answered as it did not rain that night. There wasn’t even dew.

A whole new process of discovery is set in motion when a landfall is made. The site check out is easy. The other discovery is `WHERE DID I PACK THE TENT. WHERE DID I PACK …… etc. With 3 hatches it becomes confusing. The logical order would be to have complementary gear together. However fore and aft boat trim often dictates abandonment of this rule. My tent and tent gear are in the very stern while sleeping bag mattress and pillow are in the very bow. Water is in front of the first bulkhead and behind the third. Etc.

Then the solitary ritual of evening meal preparation commences. Each person sits quietly surrounded by gear and perched over a miniature stove. It is a solemn moment requiring careful decision making. The meal is followed by a glass of wine, radio weather check and polite conversation till dark or afterwards, before turning in.

The noises of isolation become apparent. Leaves falling sound like branches, birds and animals sound as if locked in mortal combat. Sleep comes slowly in these strange surroundings. It must be at least 15 years since I last did some bush camping. At 3:30am I am wide awake and spend 15 minutes sitting in the tent doorway watching the beautiful moonlit `lakescape’. All is well.

Saturday …Valentines Day

I am awake at 5:30am but I don’t think any cards will be delivered here. It is a beautiful morning. Things progress slowly, although Noel dropped his tent immediately and I took this as a cue for hasty action. While my muesli was set to soak in apple juice I dropped tent, packed sleeping gear and stowed same. That filled up the boat ends. The rest went in after breakfast. We were launched and on our way by 9:15am.

It didn’t take long to work out yesterday’s tiredness from the muscles. We cruised around Kattaway Head and examined Bibby Harbour with a light Nor’easterly coming over our right shoulder. A westerly course was set for the long haul to clear Long Point. The sun was shining. Once around the point it was due south to Blossoms Point and then Shelly Point. By now both Jim and Noel had their sails up and were enjoying a leisurely cruise. These inverted triangular rigs of one square metre are extremely forgiving and good on all points of off wind sailing. Their set up allows the hands to be free to paddle at the same time.

Beyond Shelly Point is Shelly Beach. This is a beautiful wind blown sandy stretch with numerous paperbark trees crowding the shoreline. It was time for `smoko’. There was one power boat moored nearby with the same idea. It was 2 elderly couples [50-60 or so] revisiting places camped years ago. After three separate inspections of the campsite and much shirking of the responsibility to make a decision, a decision evolved. We would camp there tonight. The tent pitching ritual followed and some gear unloaded. Lunch would be on Johnson Island, a tree covered rocky outcrop in the middle of Myall Lake. It was approx 4km from Shelly Beach but once the point was cleared we werehit with the full force of the Nor’easterly, now up round 20knots. Again the lake was a mess of short steep seas, but this time they were on the beam and make for very tricky and uncomfortable progress. In the lee of Johnson’s Island S/SW aspect is the semblance of a little rock festooned beach. It was the best we could find. Lunch was had [sandwiches of Vegemite and cheese for others, mine was Ryvitas, tomatoes and peanut butter, all washed down with a cup of tea].

After lunch we bashed upwind for about 2km to pass around Double Island and had a quartering sea to ride home. It wasn’t far enough and the seas were still on the beam. Jim and I made for Long Point before squaring off to run back down to Shelly Beach. Noel tried a shy reach but it was too uncomfortable, so climbed to windward as well. Once squared away they roared away under full sail. Closer to `home’ and closer to Blossom Point I put up the `RAM’ golf umbrella. It worked a treat and on the square run could hold the more sophisticated rigs. Beached at 4pm it was time for R&R [afternoon smoko, washing, drying, reading and diary writing].

There had not been much other activity on the lake. Apart from the 2 houseboats at Kattaway and the morning tea company, we saw two large cruisers moored near Blossom Point, and an `ordinary 16ft runabout 100mtres north [they were enjoying cocktails sitting in the water], and there was one Super sports cruiser moored just off the beach 100 metres south. The only sign of life other than this was the hourly 7ft tender journey to the shore based toilet.

The rest of the evening followed the usual format.

I had expected mosquitoes, sand flies and flies. None of these were a bother, but MARCH FLIES were a nuisance at most sites even though they rarely bit.

Sunday

It was overcast at 5:30am. The morning routine went to plan. Once launched a course was set for Tinkerabit. This had been a popular camp site, but now it is dominated by NPWS signs saying `AREA CLOSED’. We didn’t want to stop there anyway. The run was lumpy with the left over slop from yesterday’s Nor’easter. Rounding Tinkerabit Point we entered the Narrows. The breeze was freshening from the north and the sails went up. The course was due south for about 2km before making due west for another km to Violet Hill camp site. Smoko-time – the camp was occupied by water-skiers. It had road access. They were friendly enough and respectful too! By coincidence one of the ski boat drivers was a neighbour of Paul Hewitson [designer and manufacture of the Mirage sea kayak. Aka. God]. He was impressed by our `little adventure’.

Taking the starboard route past Goat and Sheep Islands, we commenced the 4km cruise across Boolambayte Lake. Even though it was Sunday, other boating activity was negligible. Boolambayte is a long North-South aligned lake, but the northern corner is very shallow and the exit point into more narrows is on the western shore, heading west and then swinging south. Once there was a south component in our heading, the `sailors’ [Jim and Noel] were at it again. They enjoyed the peace and tranquility of an armchair ride while I paddled. Past Korsman’s Landing the waterway opened out into Two Mile Bay. This is a beautiful easterly sweep of shallow sandy shore, the skiers love it, but today they hadn’t loved it to death. There were just a few boats buzzing around. It is such a nice shoreline that the NPWS have seen fit to adorn it with NO CAMPING signs, although they have designated 3 camp sights. We choose one, Freshwater, for lunch. The resident goanna was waiting to greet us ashore. He was on the scavenge, but more curious than `pushy’ aggressive.

After morning tea it was just a short paddle [or sail] to Leggs Camp [which the NPWS insist on calling Boombah Point]. It is the narrow entry point into the Broadwater [which is now called Boombah Broadwater]. The waterway narrows to just 30 metres at the point and is spanned by a vehicular ferry. This is run by the NPWS and costs $4 for each vehicle, trailer, or motor bike crossing. The road on the eastern shore is sealed and heads to Tea Gardens. The only other way to reach the `camp’ is over rough unsealed roads from Buladelah. While I replenished my water supplies Noel and Jim enjoyed OAK malted milks.

Into the Broadwater the eastern shore route was followed, all the time looking for a suitable camp site. After about 20 minutes paddling through black swan infested waters [well a flock of 30-60 or so], the Northern Broadwater picnic area was reached. Noel found this a God send and made a dash for the Eco-Loo. It appeared that the richness of Oak milk was too much for his system. Expressing `deep heart felt sympathy’, Jim and I paddled on regardless, taking our time across the shallows and studying the shoreline. It was a sunny afternoon with just a gentle Nor’easter [in the lee of the shore]. By 4:15pm we had arrived at `The Wells’ campsite. Noel had made up the lost ground by taking a broader course with stronger wind and sail/paddled to this point. Another goanna greeting, this site had road access and already had two other tents set up. They were there for the sail boarding.

The usual camp routines followed.

Monday

The overnight stay was not without its drama. At some stage it started to rain. I could hear and see the drops on my tent. Hastily space was made for an expected visit from Jim. He arrived `poste haste’ as the drops had past straight through his mesh cover and got him in the face. Silly ol’ bugger will remember his tent fly next time! The rain only lasted a few minutes. The remainder of the night was uneventful. I have since wondered whether or not the drops might have been some practical joke somehow played by Noel.

Apart from a bit of damp gear, damp from dew more than rain, the morning routine went as normal. Just before departure, the sailboarders offered to replenish our water supplies if we needed any. They were moving on this day.

The water was “all the way from the Shire!” Knowing only one Shire well, I enquired “the Sutherland Shire?”-Yeah! Having lived in the Shire for 18 years and having started my paddling life with the Lilli Pilli Kayak Club, a few more enquires were in order. One bloke was from Lilli Pilli. I asked did he know of the Chinese family who once owned the `corner’ store on Pt Hacking Road. “Yes they still do”. The Goon Pans have three sons, all good paddlers. The older son, David was an extremely capable shipwright.

The second bloke was from Grays Point. Swallow Rock is the home waters of the LPKC and his wife paddles a TK1 with the LPKC. He knew David and had used his services. It is a small world.

So much for gossip, the course was set for Mungo Brush by Dees Corner. Cruising around the shores of Dees Corner we were entertained by the soaring ability of two giant sea eagles. Mungo Brush is the big deal on the lake. It is an enormous camping area and being closest to Tea Gardens it is the most popular. There were half a dozen vehicular campers around, relaxing in the shade or sun as took their fancy. We, on the other hand, trudged the 300 metres across the road and sand dunes to check out the coastline. There was a firm southerly breeze building. Back at lakeside smoko was enjoyed on the grassy shores. The more permanent campers [some stay 2-4 weeks] thought it more appropriate to commence `happy hour’. That seemed to be the purpose of their existence.

From Mungo the course was west across the Broadwater. For a while we were in the lee of the southern shore, but by the time we reached Sandy Point and the leads down to Tamboy, the southerly was starting to make its presence felt on the port beam. Past Sandy Point and the full force was felt. Noel sail/paddled a lower course towards the Rocky Point lead marker. Jim and I paddled a higher course trying to quarter the short steep sloppy swells for a more comfortable `ride’. By now the sun had well and truly gone and there was a type of misty rain coming on the gusts. It was so overcast, and the misty rain so dense that the sunglasses had to be dispensed with. This was necessary to be able to pick out landmarks and channel markers. Noel handled the sail crossing well and by the time Jim and I squared away to paddle down the shoreline to Rocky Point, Noel had arrived. Even from here the Myall River is not distinguishable so we had to rely on the channel markers to get us there. We were looking for the `Rivermouth’ campsite. It should have been on the shore to starboard, but nothing appeared. About half a kilometre up stream, and around a 90 degree bend we discovered the site. It was sheltered, grassed and just right. Yes, there was a goanna to meet us. That was it for the day. The next camp sites took us back over some old ground. Lunch and an afternoon of R&R went well. Jim produced his 3 litre shower pack and its use added a touch of civilization. One cruiser and 2 house boats were all the activity we witnessed. House boats poked out into the windswept Broadwater only to retreat to the quiet of the backwater.

The night was great, apart from a rain squall that sent Jim packing [literally.. he pulled his tent down and moved into more waterproof shelter]. There was even a modest campfire to encourage some yarn spinning and world problem solving.

Tuesday [I think…]

If yesterday had been a short haul, Tuesday made up for it.

Morning went to routine. We were on the water by 8:30am. The organization was improving. Yesterday’s Sou’easterly had died by the time our bows were poked into the Broadwater. The black swans were cruising the shallow westerly shoreline [our course]. There were so many that you counted them in ten’s rather than singularly. Each time a group was approached there would be a mad flurry of wings and feet as they stretched their necks and ran across the water attempting to become airborne. Some had great difficulty so I guess they were still members of the `flying school’. The sun was out once again. Jim and Noel sail/paddled on a wispy westerly land breeze while I paddled to Leggs Camp.

It was 10am, too early for `smoko’ but not for an ice cream.

No sooner were we beyond the ferry at Leggs Camp than Noel was hailed from the eastern shore. It turned out to be `Alister’, a bloke he had never met. But a NSW Sea Kayaking bloke he had communicated with by e-mail. He was delivering Mirages to the Resort. Onwards we paddled into Two Mile Lake. Unlike Sunday there was not another boat in sight. Now it was time for smoko on a nice grassy clearing with a sandy beachfront.

On the journey north other potential camp sites were checked out. Mackaways got a very good nod of acceptance, but Sunnyside, on the other hand was not much good. Although it was boat based camping, it would be almost impossible to safely bring a boat in. There was no beach and the water was littered with great logs and sawn timber just below the surface. It was obviously an industry site prior to the NPWS and the extensive wharf system had been destroyed but not removed. Further on, the mouth of Boolambayte Creek was discovered. It is just where Noel said it was a couple of days earlier when we were southward bound. A most unlikely spot at the end of a point. It was a delight to see some kingfishers sunning and bathing in a sheltered corner of the creek mouth. Although narrow, the creek is very deep at the mouth, but has a Waterways, NO NAVIGATION sign due to salvinia weed infestation. Along Boolambayte Lake, we left Sheep and Goat Islands on the port hand this time and made for Johnson’s Beach. The last stretch of this leg became choppy as the Nor’easter was beginning to strengthen and we were out of the lee of the islands. But the beach provided a nice sandy beach and a sheltered haven for lunch.

The NO CAMPING signs were once again prominent. They are fearful a tree might fall over.

From here there were only two options: Violet Hill or back into the Myall to Shelly Beach. Shelly Beach was decided upon and as expected it became a hard slog to windward into a freshening [20kt] nor’easter and rising seas. Several times we `wore’ a wave in the chest and strong spray in the face. Steady persistence rather than bruising macho paddling got us to the camp site by 3:30pm, an ideal time to make camp and enjoy some R&R. About 33km had been put behind us. With more nor’easters predicted for tomorrow, it would be an early start to beat the hard slog.

Wednesday

A nice bright morning, and by 7am there was a hint of a Sou’westerly breeze. This could be good news. A routine departure was made and 8:40am saw us on the lake. The southerly was freshening, so once again Noel and Jim hoisted sail. By the time we reached Long Point there was a firm to strong breeze and the lake was starting to really chop up. From Long Point to Neranie was a clear run of 9km on a NE bearing straight down the middle of the lake. Under these more favourable running conditions Neranie was reached after just under 2 hours on the water. I found the running conditions trickier than the wind in my face because you always need to be on guard for the rogue wave lifting the stern creating a broaching opportunity.

The obligatory smoko was had before the craft are unpacked and the vehicles retrieved. With all gear stowed in the car it was still a wonder how it all fitted in the kayak. There was still time left to drive into Seal Rocks [very nice- my first visit], and then travel via Smiths Lake to Forster where we enjoyed a fast food lunch.

All that remained was to cruise the highway home.

Thanks to my fellow paddlers, Noel and Jim, for their company on a very enjoyable adventure.