By OWEN WALTON
Broughton Island is part of the Myall Lakes National Park and is a major breeding location for the Wedged-tailed Shearwater (or muttonbird). It was first sighted by Captain Cook on May 11, 1770 and, thinking it was part of the mainland, he named it Black Head. It is positioned approximately 20km NE of Yacaaba Head at Port Stephens. These waters are reputed to be the birthing grounds for the Great White shark and are well-populated by juveniles.
I had been trying to get to out to Broughton Island again for many months; three times I had a trip planned and three times bad weather was forecast. Each time the forecast turned out to be accurate. Then in the latter part of 2011, NPWS suspended camping on the island whilst they upgraded the camping facilities. It was with delight I saw that Adrian Clayton was leading a mid-week, three-day, NSWSKC trip there. I quickly registered.
On the Monday I started go through my check-list and to assemble my kit. When it came to which kayak, Mirage 580 or Nordkapp LV, I chose the M580 due to its greater point-to point speed and gear carrying capacity. It is also fitted with a Flat Earth sail. However, the Nordlow would have been ideal at the island due to its fantastic manoeuvrability amongst the rocks and ability to handle bumpy conditions.
The trip was leaving from Jimmys Beach at Port Stephens. Joining Adrian (Nadgee) and I were Owen Kimberly (Mirage 530), Drago Pejic (Mirage 580) and Roger White (Wilderness Systems?). It was a good little group and it was comforting to know that we had two experienced instructors, Adrian and Owen.
The forecast update indicated clearing conditions, light SE breeze, calm seas, but with the chance of isolated thunderstorms. We had a briefing, made final checks and were ready to go by 0930. As we cleared Yacaaba Head and swung north we saw a storm up towards Broughton. We decided to push on assessing the situation as we went. I talked to Marine Rescue Port Stephens on the VHF who advised that they were watching it on the radar. Although it seemed “very wet” we could see no lightning, nor hear thunder; it also seemed to be moving further north. As we got past Cabbage Tree Island, Marine Rescue confirmed that it was indeed tracking away and lessening in intensity. We decided to push on.
It was a great but uneventful paddle to the island. Although the breeze was from a favourable direction for sailing, it was too light to be of any real assistance, so Drago (also carrying a sail) and I had to do it the hard way. Upon reaching the island, Adrian and Owen decided to see if it was safe to take the “shortcut” through Con’s Cleft at Looking Glass Island. Though quite bumpy, the all-clear was given. With the fully-laden Mirage and the difficulty of getting to my stashed-away helmet, I decided to go around, whilst the others safely negotiated the Cleft. All alone in the rebound off the SE corner, I was wishing I’d gone through the Cleft! We all met up again and continued on into Esmeralda Cove and landed at our campsite at Little Poverty Beach.
We were keen to check out the new campsites that have been recently completed, and which have to be booked and paid for in advance. They have built three raised timber platforms, based on a Tasmanian design used at Cradle Mountain, and two further grassed sites.
These platforms have some eye pads and eye bolts set into the surface to attach tents. Both Owen and Roger decided to give the platform a go. It took a bit of ingenuity and some additional scrounged cord, but they got their tents pitched and overlooked us peasants set up on the grass below. It is advisable to bring some extra cord in your kit to string between the pads and eyes, and then tie your tent corners to this.
After dinner we retired to our quarters for a restful and well-earned slumber. However the muttonbird chicks made this a bit of an issue. These birds, about 55,000 breeding pairs, return to Broughton each summer to breed in the thousands of burrows that cover the island. Each pair has a single chick and at this time of the year it is still burrow-bound. The adults go out each day to fish, returning sometime after dark to feed the chicks. As they get hungry, the chicks cry out for their parents and being camped there is like trying to sleep in a nursery full of babies crying, or inside a cemetery with a myriad of ghosts howling.
Wednesday arrived with absolutely perfect, sunny weather. We left the camp and set out to circumnavigate and explore the island. We could not safely negotiate the passage between Broughton and Little Broughton Islands as there was a bit of bump combining with a low tide, so we went the long way. As we approached Providence Beach, a seaplane flew low overhead, then landed and disgorged some day trippers. He flew off, but returned soon after with yet another load.
We decided to stop off at Providence Beach for a little break. As we lazed about on the beautiful clean sand after swimming in the crystal clear waters, one of the group commented: “Why do we go all the way up to the Whitsundays, when we’ve got paradise right here on our doorstep?” Amen.
We continued on, heading west towards the mainland and Dark Point, exploring the reefs and The Sisters on the way, picking up the occasional runner for a bit of fun. Our circumnavigation continued, exploring all the inlets and rock gardens near the stunning Coal Shaft Bay. Eventually we got back to Con’s Cleft and this time with the unladen boat and helmet firmly affixed to my head, I was ready to give it a go. Once the surge at the opening was negotiated and the passage underway, there was no turning back. Mission accomplished.
Upon return to camp, we were met by Broughton Island NPWS Ranger Suzanne and her work crew. They were there to do some maintenance, grass mowing and toilet cleaning. She was quite interested in our thoughts on the camping platforms. We had already discussed this and advised her that more pad eyes were needed and she will follow this up. She told us all about the Shearwaters and the other inhabitants of the island. She also advised that extensive eradication work had eliminated all the rats and rabbits.
On Thursday morning we were all packed and ready to go by 0900. As we cleared the island both Drago and I popped our sails ready to ride the nor’easter home. Unfortunately, again it was only blowing at about 4km/hr, so again we paddled all the way. We had a pleasant paddle to Cabbage Tree where we had a good look round, then crossed over to Yacaaba Head and had a bit of fun in the rebound and surge.
The sea had churned up a lot of foam and it was about half a metre thick and coated both our boats and ourselves as we passed through it.
Eventually we re-entered Port Stephens and were greeted by a welcoming pod of the local dolphins. Great trip, great weather, great company and the camping facility upgrade is certainly worthwhile.