Armchair Paddling the Nadgee Wilderness [79]

by John Wilde

In continuing research for ultimate comfort on a kayaking trip (after Bar Stool Paddling in Northern Queensland in Issue 77/78 of NSW Sea Kayaker), the next foray was to join Huw Kingston’s annual ‘Coffee Cruise’ in January, this time down the wilderness coast of the Nadgee Nature Reserve. Huw, accustomed to organising a cast of thousands for his renowned bike rides and at one point the famous ‘Paddle Polaris’ events, had no problems at all in attracting a good crowd, 12 at one point, though time constraints quickly whittled this down to nine for the full six days.

Of course, fitting an armchair into the back hatch of a sea kayak was always going to be a challenge, but this difficulty was soon resolved with the discovery of a blow-up number, in red velour, the height of decadence and bad taste. What more could you want apart from a Hawaiian shirt? Of course, having resolved the difficulties of how to take the armchair, the next problem arose. A blow-up armchair requires a pump. Now the pump is actually bigger than the armchair, but some creative packing soon had armchair, pump and a couple of other minor items such as tent, stove and sleeping bag fitting snugly into various storage spaces in the kayak. (Killer said cramped, but he was still jealous about the bar stool.)

So we departed Boydtown, after a mid-morning car shuttle to Mallacoota in the ‘badlands’ of Victoria and with little to report arrived at Mowarry, a 15 kilometre paddle, to the consternation of two beautiful French-Canadian girls, who had chosen this quiet, remote beach, to meditate on for a couple of days, far from the madding crowd.

That was it. Eleven (at this stage), wet, smelly, salt-encrusted old guys with beards and false teeth, trying to impress two young, beautiful, scantily-clad women with glorious accents, in the vain hope of making an impression.

Laurie Greygun, always a man of action, was straight into the water like a seal, raping and pillaging the ocean for abalone and fish to donate to the maidens. Killer was putting on his best ‘I’m a real he-man and if you are desperate (they would have to be!) there is room in my tent tonight’ chat, but Huw won the day with his ‘bad back’ act. Legend has it that this injury was sustained whilst throwing the grandchildren into the sea on a boring Christmas day when the lifesavers looked like they needed something to do. The upshot was that as one of the beautiful maidens was a fully trained masseuse, for an undisclosed amount of money Huw was lain semi-naked on the beach under the auspices of a therapeutic medical treatment, moaning in what might have, given the circumstances, thought to be pain, but in fact sounded much too much like pleasure for most people’s liking.

The reason I noted these activities so carefully was that shortly after landing I had managed to prize armchair, pump and the occasional other useful item from my hatches and to hoots of derision and scorn from Killer, had blown up my base of operations. Now I was seated in great comfort, overseeing all the activities on the beach, all the world in its place, feeling quite the centre of the universe. Eureka, the ultimate comfortable end to a classic kayaking day!

Slowly the hoots of derision subsided. Later in the evening, whenever I got up, quiet sorties were made by other group members to investigate the ‘comfort potential’ of this unlikely accoutrement. Comparisons were made with sitting cross-legged on a grubby bit of foam, or just plain grovelling in the sand, to sitting in luxury on a red velour couch. I think even the French backpackers were impressed.

So the following day, a quick break at Bittangabee, surrounded by the early January crowds, a pleasant cruise around Green Cape and for those with the right equipment, an excellent sail across Disaster Bay to the charms of Merrica River, one of the most picturesque spots on the NSW coastline. Here Mr Greygun departed our group, as he was suffering serious withdrawal symptoms from his usual daily dose of resin fumes and the need to thrust his head deep into a mould full of curing fibreglass totally overcame him. This was not however before he managed to catch an excellent flathead, which, cooked in foil with his favourite herbs, soon had us mellowed out and giggling like school children. The pleasures of a wilderness experience and a good herb garden!

On day three, a quiet day with the opportunity to explore sea caves, landing on a sandy beach at the back of one of them, drama only occurred on the final landing at Nadgee River. Here Killer, ever the one to show off in case there were more gorgeous female backpackers on the beach, led the way in and rolled on one of the bigger sets to create an impression.

This set the scene. Paul Loker managed a beautiful forward loop, followed by a snappy roll, Huw took a lovely ride towards the beach, but missed it, [it is only two kilometres long!] and rammed the rocks at the head of the river mouth at great speed, sustaining a hole in the bow which required a full fibreglass repair, and there were two swimmers, names withheld (but for a beer or two I’ll pass this on to anyone who is interested).

So to a rest day. A strong southerly was blowing and Nadgee River is a great place to explore. Some of us took the opportunity to follow the walking track to Nadgee Lake, just in case there were more female backpackers in the vicinity. Here Huw was overcome by emotion at the sight of a natural foam bath and promptly immersed himself, also ‘au naturale’ in it for another therapeutic experience. This awful sight promptly cleared the beach and we regrouped at the campsite to drink copious amounts of alcohol and seek counselling after the dreadful sight we had just seen. Thank goodness there were no female backpackers; they would have been scarred for life.

So to the real challenge of the day — the first solo crossing of Nadgee River by armchair.

Resplendent in all the necessary gear, Hawaiian shirt, sun-hat and glasses and with the assembled crowd hushed by the historic moment, I set off for the southern shore. Several seconds later I knew I was in trouble. Perhaps I should have brought the PLB. There is an obvious reason why people tend to put the seats in their kayaks close to the hull, not on top of the kayak, even though the latter gives a better view. Unfortunately armchairs do not take this simple scientific fact into consideration. Support strokes quickly became more important than forward motion and in several short moments I realised the inevitable: I was about to get my Hawaiian shirt very wet. A swift dunking ensued, much to the delight of assembled onlookers as I stumbled back to the bank, deflated ego under one arm, bedraggled armchair under the other.

Day five saw us stopping off at Howe Beach, exploring more sea caves in the now mild conditions and rounding Cape Howe to the magic sight of Gabo Island with its lighthouse. Truly spectacular in locally quarried pink granite, it has no doubt been the saviour of many sea-going folk, though not before some major shipwrecks in the mid-1800s, which accounted for many deaths, some buried in the small graveyard on the island.

At the southern end of the island, right under the majestic lighthouse, is a seal colony and an often heart-stirring gauntlet, but in the relatively calm conditions, the gap was negotiated with ease. This really is sea kayaking at its best.

Gabo is a major fairy penguin colony and due to this and its other wilderness attributes, no camping or pets are allowed on the island, so we kept Killer suitably guarded as we explored this lovely spot.

After several hours and with advice from the National Parks caretaker, we headed west again, to find a camp near Lake Barracoota, on the mainland. The area reminds me of Fraser Island — long sand dunes, big surf beaches, and the lake itself seems much like the perched lakes on Fraser.

Unfortunately it was on this last leg, heading towards Tullaberga Island, that events overwhelmed me and I became violently ill. It was probably something at lunch that disagreed with me, but violent explosions in the nether regions, a distinct urge to vomit and total weakness overcame me and soon I was tailing the group, despite my sail and a fair breeze.

In a state of some distress I landed on Tullaberga, where Mike Snoad did a sterling job of helping me clean out my boat. Huw reckoned we should have put out an environmental health warning on the area. For a short while it looked like a Sydney sewage outfall. In the meantime the others had found an excellent campsite off the beach on the mainland and I was just capable of the short sail across to join them. In all my sea kayaking career I cannot remember being so incapacitated — absolutely weak and capable of no real effort. In a more exposed situation this would have been a difficult scenario and would certainly have involved a major team effort to resolve successfully.

But here we were on a good beach with another classic campsite and willing hands soon had my tent up and of course, the beloved armchair inflated for my convenience. Oh, the luxury of a soft couch when you are really feeling down!

The final day saw a pleasant one-and-a-half hour cruise to Mallacoota, landing at the boat ramp after victory rolls and firm handshakes. A great cruise, good weather, wonderful scenery, excellent company, strong friend-ships and a comfortable, though not seaworthy, armchair. What more could a sea kayak trip offer?

PS: Killer, ever the ardent reporter, would like to point out some inaccuracies in the above account. He does not in fact have false teeth.