NSW Sea Kayak Club – Winter Solstice Paddle [76]

by Matt Bezzina

This is how Harry Havu described one of the highlights of the NSWSKC trips calendar:

A paddle to explore the darkness of the longest night. The brave souls who choose to join this pod launch from Gunnamatta Bay and head out to the darkening sea as the sun sets. Rounding the black, forbidding cliffs of Kurnell, where swell pounds the unyielding rock with unforgiving anger, our fragile craft shall steer a heading toward Bare Island. Some say the island is haunted — don’t go there at night! — we shall see, let’s round the island. After 30 gruelling kilometres, the paddlers will return late at night, and no doubt, quietly remark amongst each other on the depth of darkness of the longest night.

Conditions were on the rough side with a white capping sea of about 1.5 metres on top of a 2 to 3 metre swell. The wind was around 12 to 16 knots from the North East. Heavy cloud and a few showers were also features of this moonless night.

There were five starters and as we headed out from Port Hacking my anxiety eased as I found the conditions to be quite manageable. The distant urban lights reflected off the clouds so it was not as dark as I had expected and there was enough visibility to see the approaching waves, which meant I could paddle the same as I would in daylight.

The 15 km trip into Botany Bay was only interrupted by a cargo ship exiting the bay. We waited for it and then, with all lights blazing crossed the shipping channel just as the accompanying pilot boat shot back in front of us, probably shaking their heads at the sight of kayakers out at sea on a rough and rainy winter’s night.

On rounding Bare Island two paddlers made the call that, due to nausea and tiredness, they had had enough and didn’t want to make the return journey.

We all paddled across to Kurnell where we made sure everyone was good. A taxi was arranged and then the three remaining paddlers turned around and gunned it. I was pretty much in top gear from that moment on — partly to keep up with club heavyweights Harry Havu and Keith Oakford and partly because the trip back had me outside my comfort zone and my pre-eminent thought was getting back into Port Hacking.

Heading back we had the wind and sea behind us which made for some hellish rides, but it took me quite a while to relax, as unlike the trip out we were looking away from the city so it was now much darker.

Like so many situations in sea kayaking, how you cope is a mind game above all else.

Because I’d had a couple of breakers hit me unexpectedly and took off a few times on waves I didn’t see coming I was a bit anxious. I told myself to just chill, stop thinking the worst and paddle the sea like I normally would.

It helped that Harry sometimes zoomed past, yahooing as he rode the steeper sets, a ghostly figure often appearing ever so briefly before disappearing in front of a cresting wave. Once I changed mind sets I too started to paddle hard for the rides rather than going into cautious mode every time I felt the stern get picked up.

It wasn’t long before we left the rougher cliff section and began our crossing of Bate Bay where many a midnight ride was had. We encountered some noisy penguins and paddled into a few gannets which were almost invisible as they took off around us. Another hour and a half and we were back in Port Hacking and soon after were in dry clothes and heading home.

The thought that I take with me from this paddle is that we don’t paddle this boat or that — we paddle the ocean and the conditions and circumstances we find ourselves in when we’re out there.

Whatever boat allows you to push your boundaries and paddle beyond your comfort zone, the boat that can get you through when you’re right on the edge, the one that gets you home no matter what. That’s the right boat.

NSW Sea Kayak Club – From the President’s Deck [76]

by Michael Steinfeld

Kayaking in remote and far away places provides many challenges. In July, Audrey and I paddled unsupported for eight days in the Queen Charlotte islands, in the north west of Canada. We were lucky the weather was perfect and paddling a real joy.

The logistics for hiring kayaks and gear plus transport is well supported in North America and relatively inexpensive (if you forget the airfare and have relatives in Canada). Our article on the trip will appear in the next magazine.

The Club’s annual general meeting took place in August. I thank all outgoing committee members as well as our minutes taker Dee Ratcliffe and welcome the incoming team which comprises David Fisher as secretary/treasurer and Rob Richmond who gratefully accepted the position of Rock’n’Roll Coordinator. Ken Day moved to the role of Vice President and Sally Jacobs, John Piotrowski remain in trips and training respectively. Peter Kappelmann and Jacqui Stone stay on internet and magazine and Dee will again be taking minutes.

Online registration for membership has made the treasurer’s job a little easier and with continuing improvements registration for Rock’n’Roll should be made paperless and simple for all.

The Rock’n’Roll is on the weekend of 19-22 March 2010 at Batemans Bay. Our guest speakers will be Ginni Callahan, a BCU instructor based on the American west coast and Beau Miles from Victoria who will feature his film of his African adventure. Further details will be out shortly.

That’s all for now.

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Marine Rescue NSW [76]

Marine Rescue NSW is the name of the newly established volunteer marine rescue organisation in NSW.

For many years NSW had three voluntary marine rescue organisations: Australian Volunteer Coast Guard, Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol and Volunteer Rescue Association. Each had an assortment of vessels, operational bases and hundreds of volunteers.

The formation of the new body was the main recommendation of the Price Report into the volunteer marine rescue movement. Ninety-three per cent of almost 800 submissions to the inquiry supported the creation of a single marine rescue group.

Marine Rescue NSW unifies 56 former marine rescue units and will provide NSW with the largest safety net of marine search and rescue, radio communication and boating education services of any state in Australia.

Visit the website www.marinerescuensw.com.au for topics including Safety At Sea, Offshore Tracking, Training & Education and the Marine Radio Network.

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Winter Magic [76]

by Cathy Miller

Currarong/Honeymoon Bay weekend, 13-14 June 2009

The paddle around Beecroft Peninsula is legendary — if you haven’t done it yet, put it on your list! Apart from the spectacular cliff lines and sea-caves, throw in whales, seals, penguins and dolphins and you can see why this has a reputation as one of the best paddles in NSW. To cap it off there is a delightful bush campsite at Honeymoon Bay where there is a stunning semi-circular bay (you need to bring your own water; porta-loos supplied).

Saturday 13 June: Currarong to Honeymoon Bay (25 km approx)

You need a good forecast before you do this paddle, and we had it. Mother Nature really turned it on for us this day. The forecast was perfect: NW winds slight 10-15 knots, sea and swell 1-2 metres. The prevailing NW winds at this time of year make winter a good time to attempt Beecroft Peninsula.

The group comprised Owen Kimberley, Adrian Clayton, Wendy Stevenson, Kathie Webb, George Jessup and Cathy Miller with Mark Pearson joining us later. We were led by Dirk Stuber, who was being assessed for his Australian Canoeing Sea Guide qualification by Herr Assessor Stuart Trueman (or was that Hair Assessor?). Of course, all Dirk wanted for his assessment was an incident-free paddle — but this is a spectacular paddle full of sea-caves and gauntlets! Would we behave ourselves?

We met at the end of Piscator Ave, Currarong, to launch at the sheltered beach near the Currarong Creek inlet.

As we readied ourselves, Stuart was giving us all the once-over. Were we being assessed too? No. It turns out he was really just checking out who was best dressed for immersion, as he was going to be putting Dirk through his paces later in the day.

After Dirk’s briefing, we followed the cliffs around Little Beecroft and Beecroft Head. We stopped briefly at Gum Getters Inlet, which is the only sheltered pull-in point on the northern side of Point Perpendicular until you get to Boat Harbour. I’ve been told access here is tricky because of the rocks if the tide is very low or if the wind is blowing straight in.

We were soon at the spectacular Drum and Drumsticks, a rock formation off Lamond Head. This site with Aboriginal significance was used as a bombing target by the Navy until 1986 when community protests stopped the practice. Here we were treated to the sights (and downwind smells) of around two dozen seals, basking on the rocks and diving into the water. I was later told that this colony was the harem with one dominant male in charge of the females. Further around the younger males were banished onto their own separate rocks. Can’t see what’s in it for the girls — one big old bossy male to share, and no toy boys?

From Crocodile Head around to Point Perpendicular it is nothing short of spectacular. The sea cliffs here are the highest in NSW, up to 90 metres high at Pont Perpendicular. Dirk’s hair turned greyer as we just couldn’t resist backing into the sea caves, running small (safe!) gauntlets and going through an arch near Crocodile Head.

As part of his assessment, Dirk had to do a wet exit, re-enter roll and an assisted rescue on his ‘volunteer’ George — who had foolishly dressed for full immersion. Stuart had the clock running — the pressure was on. This of course provided great amusement to the rest of us sitting high and dry in our kayaks, while we offered useful words of advice, such as ‘Get him out of the water’ or ‘Hurry up’.

We headed for a surf landing at Target Beach as required by Herr Assessor. I saw a break after a set and headed in fast on the back of the waves, disappointing the onlookers with an anti-climactic beach landing — zero entertainment score, apparently. To the delight of the paddlers on the beach, Stuart copped the biggest set of them all, which he handled in true style. It is just possible that he waited until he saw it coming…

After a surf launch from Target Beach it was an easy run back to Honeymoon Bay where we did the reverse car shuffle (thanks Vicki!). Dirk’s duties included making sure we were all set up with tents, food, warm clothing etc for the night. Several of us tried to convince him this duty extended to putting up our tents and cooking dinner, but Dirk was too wise for that.

Camping that night at Honeymoon Bay we were joined by another group of NSWSKC paddlers (John Piotrowski, David Fisher, Andrew Eddy, Katrina Nicholls, Rae Duffy, Shaan Gresser and Stuart Morgan) who had done the full 37 km circumnavigation. This involved putting in at Honeymoon Bay then paddling beyond Currarong half way along the beach towards Kinghorne and then portaging the boats a short distance to a tidal inlet that leads to Green Point. Due to the tides and mangroves, this leg needs a reasonably high tide.

The evening was spent with the two combined groups enjoying banter and swapping tales. David Fisher took the cake, wowing us all with freshly baked chocolate muffins on his camp oven.

Sunday 14 July: Honeymoon Bay to Stoney Creek return

The next day started with perfect pancakes by David Fisher (he’s in danger of getting a reputation). George tried to recruit David for his next trip as cook, saying he’d unload his boat, carry his gear, set up his tent and pack it all up for him so long as he cooked, but even George started to admit that started to sound like a lot of effort for a few pancakes.

After Dirk’s briefing a combined group of 13 paddlers set off from Honeymoon Bay for Bowen Island, giving plenty of scope to upset Dirk’s assessment. With a NW tailwind (10 knots) we took off, surfing the windwaves, but to his credit Dirk gathered the flock to control group spread. To this day, George is still wondering how he got in trouble for causing group spread when he was the designated leader. It wasn’t his fault no-one else followed him, was it?

The passage between Bowen Island and Governor Head (after Murrays Beach) can be tricky depending on the tide and waves because of a low reef. On a low tide, you may need to paddle around the island, but we had an easy run through on a high tide.

While not as high as the sea-cliffs around Crocodile Head, this area towards Green Rocks is still very beautiful with sea caves all along the cliff lines. The low half to one metre swell allowed us to get right up close to the cliffs, a real treat. We split into two groups, one led by John Piotrowski which headed to Stoney Creek and the other led by Dirk back to Honeymoon Bay where a glorious weekend was topped off by the sight of a pod of dolphins.

As for Dirk, despite our best efforts to throw ourselves onto the rocks or into the surf, he passed his Sea Guide assessment. Congratulations Dirk (thanks Stuart), and thanks again to Dirk for a great trip.

NSW Sea Kayak Club – Paddling with Burke and Wills [76]

by Terence Uren

On 20 August 1860, the Victorian Exploring Expedition’s 19 men, 26 camels, 23 horses and 6 wagons left Melbourne, headed for the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The expedition’s leader, Robert O’Hara Burke, was an Irish police officer with no experience of exploration and no navigation skills.

Within a few months, Burke had abandoned all of his wagons and most of his men, camels and horses, leaving some in Menindee and some at a supply depot set up on Cooper Creek.

In December 1860, those remaining (Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Grey) reached Coongie Lakes, which Wills described as a “lagoon of great extent and containing a large quantity of water, which swarms with wildfowl of every description. It is shallow, but is surrounded by the most pleasing woodland scenery and everything in the vicinity looks fresh and green”.

In a good year, monsoonal rain falling in central Queensland makes its way along the Barcoo, Thomson and Wilson Rivers into Cooper Creek and then down the creek’s north west arm into Coongie Lakes. Buoyed by reports that 2009 was just such a year, a group of Canberra paddlers forsook its annual FNQ winter pilgrimage and headed instead, via Broken Hill, Tibooburra and Innamincka, to Coongie. From an attractive and secluded base camp, we explored Lakes Coongie, Marroocoolcannie and Maroocutchanie as well as parts of the north west arm of Cooper Creek. To our north, Lake Toontoowaranie was tantalisingly out of reach, with water levels not quite high enough to allow passage through the Browns Creek channel. To our south, Kudriemitchie Waterhole and the navigational challenges of the maze of lignum and cane grass islets that are Tirrawarra Swamp were left for the next trip.

It is a stunningly beautiful area with red sand dunes bounding a vast expanse of lakes, channels, waterholes, internal deltas, shallow floodout plains and swamps. Bird life is prolific with large numbers of pelicans, herons, egrets, cormorants, ducks, grebes, swans, spoonbills, coots, moorhens, kites, harriers and terns spotted on most days.

Evidence of earlier occupation of the area by the Yawarrawarrka people takes the form of numerous large middens and, in the less frequently visited areas, scatters of stone artefacts.

Watching a near-full moon rise over the lakes moved even the most unsentimental members of our group.

On leaving Coongie Lakes, Burke and Wills travelled through stony desert and channel country to reach the Gulf plains. Here, the monsoon was late and the humidity was unbearable. At night, they wrapped themselves in woollen blankets in a vain attempt to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

In February 1861, they turned back some twenty kilometres from the Gulf of Carpentaria, defeated by an impassable tangle of mangrove swamps.

On reduced rations, they retraced their steps through the wet season, their bodies wasting and their clothes rotting. As they moved southwards, the monsoon waned and they re-entered the stone country. Charley Grey died.

On 21 April, the remaining three explorers reached their Cooper Creek supply depot to find that the depot party had abandoned the camp only a few hours earlier. Carved on the side of a coolibah tree was the inscription DIG UNDER 3 FT NW. Burke, Wills and King retrieved supplies buried adjacent to the tree and set off for the police post at Mount Hopeless, some 250 kilometres away.

On 8 May, they realised they had no prospect of reaching Mount Hopeless and returned to the supply depot. By the end of June, both Burke and Wills were dead.

The supply depot coolibah tree (the Dig Tree) still stands, although only a small part of its inscription remains visible. Nappa Merrie station employs a ranger to welcome visitors to the site. Whilst most drive there, the Dig Tree can also be reached by kayak — it’s just a few kilometres downstream from Bulla Bulla Crossing on the Innamincka — Tibooburra Road.

From the Dig Tree it is a leisurely three or four day paddle down Cooper Creek to Innamincka Weir, mostly along a fairly wide channel. Sandy beaches alternate with rocky outcrops and vegetated banks.

Portages are needed at Innamincka Choke (a set of large black boulders) and one set of rapids. The ubiquitous coolibah trees provide welcome shade and the morning squawks of massed corellas will wake even the heaviest sleeper.

The site of Burke’s grave can be found a few kilometres before the end of the trip.

A day’s paddle downstream of Innamincka Weir is the site of Wills’ grave. Our kayaking on this stretch of the Cooper included a never-to-be-forgotten encounter with a mob of swimming feral pigs!

Back in Melbourne, the public and the press were becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of news of the Expedition’s progress. The Royal Society eventually succumbed to their pressure and sent a relief party to find Burke and his fellow explorers. The party, headed by Alfred Howitt, left Melbourne on 26 June1861 and arrived at Cooper Creek on 8 September. A relief camp was set up at Cullymurra Waterhole.

Cullymurra Waterhole is the only truly permanent water on the Cooper. It is a popular area but large enough to find a spot to pitch your tent away from other campers. The waterhole is a great place to relax and take those rest days you’ve earned. A short day paddle was sufficient for a full circumnavigation of the waterhole plus a side creek detour and an exploration of some fine Aboriginal petroglyphs at the waterhole’s eastern end.

On 15 September, a member of the relief party came across a gaunt figure wearing the remains of a cabbage-tree hat. The figure identified himself as King ‘the last man of the Exploring Expedition’. Within a few days, the remains of his companions had been recovered and the relief party left Cullymurra to make its way back to Melbourne, where Burke and Wills became heroes.

The continent had been crossed but at great cost and debate about whether or not the expedition had been a success continues to this day. In her recent account of the expedition, Sarah Murgatroyd writes that the venture “was a product of a wealthy and complacent colony. It belonged to a peculiarly British tradition — one that valued breeding and the courage to have a go above ability and experience … Armed with only a commanding gaze and an inflated sense of their own importance, they blundered around and died miserable deaths …”

Trip Planning

This is harsh and remote country where external help in dealing with any problems may not be readily available.

It can be difficult to get accurate current information about conditions in the area. The SA National Parks and Wildlife ranger in Innamincka is a good place to start but most helpful to us were locals and other paddlers we met after we arrived.

Given the enormous annual variations in conditions in the areas we visited, the extent of water bodies shown on published maps should be regarded as a statistical average of what you might find on the ground. The scale of most available maps is too small to be useful for kayak navigation. We used Westprint’s Desert Parks South Australia Eastern map for general orientation and downloads from Google Earth for navigation.

Before leaving home, we used these downloads to set up GPS waypoints for the entrance/exit of each of the channels separating the lakes at Coongie. Without these waypoints, it would have been difficult and time consuming to find some of these channels.

All of the roads giving access to the areas we paddled are unsealed but, for the most part, are in reasonable condition. The last few kilometres of the track to Coongie Lakes are over sand dunes that are best handled with a high clearance 4WD. If you don’t have such a vehicle, it would be best to start/finish any trip in this area at Kudriemitchie Waterhole.

Vehicle entry and camping fees apply in Coongie Lakes National Park and Innamincka Regional Reserve. A South Australian Desert Parks Pass is the most convenient and cost-effective way of paying these fees. Two maps and a 70-page guidebook come with the pass.

The Innamincka General Store has limited supplies of basic food staples.

Our paddles took place in June/July when the weather was comparatively mild. Summer temperatures often exceed 45°C and travel at this time of year is not recommended.

Sand and dust storms can occur at all times of the year and you need to be prepared for these. Based on our experience, a tent with a mesh inner provides little protection from wind blown dust and will guarantee you some quality misery!

Suggested Reading

  • Rex Ellis (2006), Boats in the Desert, Central Queensland University Press
  • Chris McLaughlin and Yvonne McLaughlin (1988), Canoeing the Rivers and Lakes of Queensland and the Northern Territory, Macstyle
  • Sarah Murgatroyd (2002), The Dig Tree — The Story of Burke and Wills, Text Publishing
  • South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage (2009), Desert Parks Pass Handbook, Government of South Australia