Cruising the South Coast [67]

By Ken Motley

After a late start we were finally on our way, pushing out through Bateman’s Bay into a slight SE head wind. My kayak felt like a completely different boat with 10 days’ worth of supplies on board. I had only got the Point 65N XP a month before so hadn’t had an opportunity to try it out fully laden.

It was mid-January and our plan was to kayak down the NSW South coast to Mallacoota, with a possible further push onto Cape Conran if conditions allowed. My companions, Mike Snoad and John Wild, had already paddled down from Jervis Bay the previous week and so were pretty well run in by the time I joined them. I was meeting up with them after a chance phone call with Mike only the previous week. Luckily the planets lined up for me in terms of getting organised and here I was. Beside five days of extra sea paddling fitness, John and Mike also had a sail each, which I didn’t have.

Also joining us for the first couple of days was Sydney to Hobart paddler Simeon Michaels. He was using his trip to raise awareness to the planned pulp mill in the Tamar Valley in Tasmania. He certainly seemed to be getting a lot of publicity as we were repeatedly asked by people we meet along the way if we were Simeon.

This was to be my longest sea kayaking trip to date so I was really looking forward to spending some time on the sea and honing a few skills. While not being a native of the coast region I have always enjoyed the coastal scenery and I liked the idea of a bit of adventure. Prior to taking up sea kayaking I had played around in whitewater boats for some time, which I have found to be a great training ground for general paddling skills. However, the ocean is a completely different zone and I have much to learn about being out there in a sea kayak. My initial foray into sea kayaking involved sea skills training, a week long trip down the Murray River and few club paddles. I hadn’t paddled any of this coast line before, so the whole trip was new to me. Mike and John had both paddled much of this coast before but never as a complete trip.

On the first day we had lunch near Burrewarra Point and then we pushed on for Bingie Bingie point for the night. Just before stopping for the day we passed through the gauntlets at Mullimburra Point. The gauntlets are wide enough to easily fit a kayak through although I was very cautious not to land on a rock and open up my kayak on the first day.

Day 2

Waking up to a smoky red sun we sat down for breakfast and listened to the weather forecast on Mike’s short-wave radio. The forecast of four days of NE winds would not help to improve the nearby bushfire situation but it was great news for us.

We were on the water by 8am, keen to take advantage of the weather forecast. After a quick morning tea stop at Potato Point we made a direct line for Montague Island. By this time the wind was starting top pick up, providing ideal conditions for the 20km crossing. The seals failed to put on a showing for us at Montague so after a bite to eat and rest we pushed onto the camp site at Mystery Bay. Mike and John flew across this stretch with their sails up, doing the 10km trip in well under an hour. Mike reported seeing his GPS speed get up around 20km/h when on a good wave.

I was probably ten minutes slower than the other guys on these types of sections. However, I was happy for them to head off in front of me at their own pace rather than pushing me harder than I was comfortable with. The group spread wasn’t proving to be a problem as we always had an agreed meeting point and I could always see their brightly coloured sails making their whereabouts obvious. Besides, if I wasn’t slowing them up a bit they wouldn’t have had time to see the scenery. The idea of sailing sounds great so long as it doesn’t compromise the strength of your boat. However, if my kayaking companions were not sailors I probably wouldn’t feel compelled get a sail.

Having a rudder on my kayak helped me keep up with the sailors on the down wind runs. I was tempted to leave the rudder at home, but was glad I took it. When empty, the boat is easy to control down wind with the aid of the skeg alone. However, when fully laden I found using rudder a more efficient and easier way of catching following wave. The skeg worked well up to about 30 degrees either side of directly down wind. Inside that arc and the rudder was best allowing me to more opportunities for forward paddling strokes and to catch waves.

Day 3

A smoky red sunrise greeted us again in the morning. The bushfires must have been causing damage somewhere given the amount of smoke. Mike’s short-wave radio gave good news again with another four day forecast of NE winds that would easily get us to Gabo Island. Not knowing where we would quite get to that night we filled out water bottles before setting off.

After pulling in behind Camel Rock for morning tea we made our way in through small surf. On the way out I happened to time my run out with a large wave that seemed to rear up out of nowhere. With little place to go I laid on the power and managed to get to it just as it broke, sending me almost vertical in the air. Luckily I had enough forward momentum to come down on the hull rather than being flipped backwards.

The choppy seas made finding a suitable lunch landing spot around Murrah Head difficult, so after dosing up on a muesli bar to see us through for another hour or so we pushed onto Hidden Valley/Bunga Head for a late lunch.

After lunch we pushed on down the coast past Mimosa Rocks and Baronda Head, and into Nelson Lagoon to a great camping spot. The wind was blowing 25kt by this stage so it was good timing to finish the day. Be warned future travellers that the sand flies at Nelson Lagoon are savage. They savaged me after I went for quick swim and before quickly changing into long pants.

Over dinner Mike tried to kill us with an overdose of wasabi paste on sashimi style salmon that John had caught near the end of the day on his Mac’s straw lure. The wind was well and truly rattling the surrounding trees as we went to bed that night. We could have made more progress that day, but at a distance of 45km it was a comfortable effort.

Day 4

We rose early with plans of a 55km run down to Mowarry Point. The wind had died off over night and the day turned out to be the least windy of our trip. However, with a slight tail wind and flat sea conditions we made good time, stopping behind Bournda Island before having lunch at the small beachside take away cafe near Merimbula wharf. Loading up on a hamburger, coffee and muffin I felt quite rejuvenated. Storm clouds built up as we pushed down the coast, making the views back into Twofold Bay quite spectacular.

We arrived at the camp spot at Mowarry Point at 5pm, soon to be joined by Dee Ratcliff and Harry Havu who had hiked in from their car on their road trip back from Tassie. This was a great camp spot and as we lay back swapping sea kayaking stories with our new guests while several local seals entertained us by playing it up in the dumpy surf.

Day 5

A foggy overcast morning helped to create the feeling that we were finally heading into wilderness country. Waving goodbye to Harry and Dee we rounded Mowarry Point and headed between the rocky island and headland. The image of John and Mike paddling through the narrow rebounding sea set amongst the morning mist was a great sight. If only I had a camera to catch those moments.

Bittangabee Bay provided a nice sheltered rest on our way down the coast. John said he had never seen this bay “close out” before, making it a safe landing spot to file away in the future.

We were greeted by a pod of sleeping seals as we rounded Green Cape. The misty overcast weather meant we could hardly see Merrica River at first. However, knowing its general direction we headed across Disaster Bay. Merrica River and lunch came as a welcome relief as the small choppy swell across Disaster Bay seemed to rock my boat in an uncomfortable and tiring position.

After breaking out through the dumpy surf at Merrica River time seemed to evaporate as we cruised down the Nadgee coast. We were in no rush with a slight tail wind pushing us along the cliff line. This section of coast is certainly exposed with few sheltered landing spots, and I can appreciate how difficult it could be in bad weather. However, in good weather it makes for superb paddling and in no time we seemed to be at Nadgee River and setting up camp.

Day 6

Mike’s radio was still predicting NE winds, making me wonder if it was set on a pre-recorded message. This was to be our shortest day, with an 18km run around to Gabo Island. A 20-25kn NE wind made short work of it, with the entire run around to the Gabo wharf taking a bit over two hours.

We were treated to some great hospitality at Gabo by the lighthouse keeper Peter Provis that included a trip up the light house and accommodation in the lighthouse keeper’s house. We also caught up with around Australia kayaker Sandy Roberts here.

Day 7

The weather forecasts were predicting a further two days of NE winds before a possible change. So after a bit of discussion it was decided that we would have a go at Cape Conran despite our late start for the day.

I was really enjoying the trip so far and the section of coast south of Mallacoota was completely foreign to me so I was looking forward to the trip being extended by a few days.

Landing at Shipwreck Creek for lunch I got tossed sideways in a dumpy little surf and dropped onto the beach. I hoped the cracking noise as the side of kayak hit the sand wasn’t the sound of splintering fibreglass. However, after hopping out of my kayak I could see that my rear bulkhead had come away from the hull slightly. The hull wasn’t affected, but it meant that water could easily leak from the cockpit into the day hatch and I now had a small repair job to do when I got back home.

Rounding Sand Patch Point we started to head west into the afternoon setting sun. The seal colony at the Skerries off Wingan Inlet was a real highlight of the trip. There must have been hundreds of seal on the rocks off shore, and who knows how many resident white pointers.

By the time we got into Petrel Point we were looking forward to calling it a day. The sun was low on the horizon and shining directly in our faces and it had been good day clocking up 55km. We landed at about 7:30pm and made camp on the western side of Petrel Point.

Day 8

The weather forecast on Mike’s radio told us we had better get on with it if we were going to get to Cape Conran before the weather front arrived. So we hastily packed up camp and headed out onto a calm sea.

Just as we approached Point Hicks we were hit by strong SW winds that made the final paddle into the sheltered waters of the headland a real struggle. We were not sure if this was the change coming through early or a passing squall. We still had a good 50km to get to Cape Conran and with the possibility of further head winds during the days we decided to end the trip early at nearby Thurra River. In any case we had to hitch back to Mallacoota to get our cars, so it didn’t really matter where we finished.

So our trip had finished. I was still enjoying the trip and felt I could easily keep going, which was probably a good time to finish. It was great to get out on the ocean for an extend period of time and was just what I needed. I was really happy with the way my new boat handled and I think it will fit my requirements well.

The opportunity for a novice like me to spend a week on the ocean with Mike and John was fantastic. Besides being good company they provided a good balance between sharing useful tips and not being overbearing with instructions. Listening to their stories of past kayak trips has opened up my eyes to the big wide world of sea kayaking and all its possibilities.

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