By WILLIAM SMYTH
Bundeena nestles quietly on the southern fringes of Sydney. Only a stone’s throw from the largest airport in the country, and remarkably unspoilt by a century of nearby, large-scale industry (including sand-mining on a massive scale), it hugs the tip of one of the world’s oldest national parks.
Coffee shops and supermarkets echo to the sound of barefooted-and-bronzed holidaymakers as they fill campsites and splash loudly in the surprisingly clear waters. Beach bums and bushwalkers cross paths in the street, as roof-racked vehicles sherpa kayaks and dinghies towards the closest possible launch spot.
To the north homes cram the hillsides, spilling towards Sydney in a rush of ill-considered planning and unfortunate architecture. Ear-splitting jet-skis fracture the calm of summer days and become the soundtrack to ocean and sand and sun.
Turn south however and the entire picture changes drastically. A stretch of stunning, unspoilt coastline runs in a kaleidoscope of colour and shape towards the south coast. Pristine waters trace an arc of blues and greens below starkly-hewn sandstone cliffs, softened only by the tumbling bush as it fights its way to the water’s edge.
The Royal National Park is surely one of the world’s most spectacular “almost urban” wilderness areas and is a year-round favourite for bush and ocean lovers of all persuasions.
It seemed a most fitting place to attend a talk by Stuart Trueman, whose “Australia by Kayak” trip was detailed in the NSW Sea Kayaker Issue 80, and that is exactly what happened on a perfect summers evening just before Christmas.
Approximately halfway through his 16,000km adventure, Stuart arrived at the Bundeena RSL barefoot and bearded, and wearing the relaxed air of a man who has just spent several months sitting down in some of Australia’s most spectacular coastal waters.
Strong headwinds had made his last few days tough going – as he was to later explain – and Stuart seemed happy to be on dry land and was probably looking forward to the opportunity to tame his beard and urinate into something other than a plastic bottle.
A room full of kayakers had arrived, armed and ready with questions only kayakers could ask, and as the blue-skies day drew to a close we sat expectant in front of a projector and waited for Stuart to entertain. And he didn’t disappoint.
A slide show and talk kicked off the evening and Stuart explained at length his journey so far, including a number of scary moments and one or two potentially disastrous situations that had to be overcome.
Broome was chosen as the starting point because, hoping to cover at least 1000km a month, it would allow Stuart to encounter the best possible weather conditions (or perhaps avoid the worst!) all the way round, and should allow him to make the most of prevailing winds and currents where he could.
Unfortunately this long-term consideration of weather patterns required a trade-off. The wind, storm and current conditions are at their most forgiving on the southern coast in the winter months, but the downside is the freezing water temperature.
When you add the risk of hypothermia to the reality of 6-8 hours a day on the water, it is a potentially hazardous situation to be in. Throw in two major cliff crossings, which will demand 30 hours non-stop paddling each time and you are in serious “Don’t mess this up…” territory.
We learned how Stuart overcame the hypothermic conditions, as well as how he keeps motivated when things get tough. We discovered why the West Australian police told him he needed to carry an anchor or he would not be able to continue, and we also found out how it is possible for a poo to pay you a return visit.
We were given Stuart’s top tips for “avoiding dying of heatstroke at the start of a trip”, as well as the most frequently asked questions he has to deal with as he meets people on the way. We came to understand how aggressive sharks can create a lightshow, and were told whether you should be wary of being hit in the face by a fish.
And because the evening ended with a very open and honest Q and A session, and some great questions from the crowd, we learnt so much more as well. Does it help to be a bit dumb for a trip like this? How much of a problem is sleep-deprivation on the cliff-runs? Does the unruly beard mean he gets confused with Neptune the trident-wielding sea god? (If that last question wasn’t asked, it should have been).
The answers to all of these questions, and more, are going to be provided in person when Stuart delivers the “Director’s cut” of his talk, complete with bonus footage and deleted scenes, at this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll in Batemans Bay. Given that he will have covered another couple of thousand kilometres by the time he arrives it should make for a great evening. If you get along for the weekend you can ask him anything you like and maybe buy him a beer.
NSW Sea Kayak Club did a fantastic job of organising this event and a number of businesses and individuals had provided goods and services to be auctioned on the night, the proceeds of which went towards the Australia by Kayak trip. People were incredibly generous and the auction was a great success.