Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Broughton Island

Seal Rocks to Broughton Island:

Broughton Island is where sea kayakers dream of going when they die. A sprawling island with tiny sand coves, sea caves and arches, clefts and gauntlets, and a half dozen other islands scattered nearby. Although Broughton Island is only about four kilometers off-shore, access is usually longer and most sea kayakers paddle out of Port Stephens.

As usual, our plans changed a dozen times before we set off, but, in the end, forecast northerly winds convinced us to paddle to Broughton Island from Seal Rocks. As the gull flies, this is a straight line distance of about 35 km, but obviously longer in a kayak which never travels in anything even remotely resembling a straight line. All I knew was it would be a long way without a comfort stop as we would be paddling a few kilometres off-shore.

We got to the imaginatively named "Number One Beach" at Seal Rocks just as the sun was rising and unloaded the boats and gear onto the beach. This was our first trip with our new water carriers made from Ron and Jean Simpson's design and packing sufficient water for the trip was much easier than before when we had a bunch of odd-shaped plastic bottles picked up off North Queensland beaches.

Looking Glass Isle

Heading around the rocky cliffs of Sugarloaf Point I looked up at the lighthouse 30 metres above us. On our last multi-day kayak trip Ron had confessed the secret that all sea kayakers harbour that we want tourists at lighthouses to look down and watch us paddling our tiny craft through huge waves and stormy seas and think how brave and daring we are. In reality, every time I pass a lighthouse the ocean is either calm as glass - thus providing no spectacle - or rough as guts, in which case I have my eyes screwed shut from fear and can't appreciate the tourists gawping at me anyway. Mostly, however, no matter what the sea state, no-one is about, which was the case with the lighthouse at Sugarloaf Point. Our daring maneuvers around Seagull Island went unnoticed again.

Far away to the south we could just see a blob or two on the horizon in the hazy distance, one or both of which we assumed was Broughton Island. As usual, I had forgotten to bring a compass so we could not take a bearing - surely a sound case for a deck mounted compass. In any case, we headed for those bumps, alternately pointing the bow towards the most easterly and then the most westerly as we really could not decide what was island and what was mainland.

The northerly wind was completely absent, the swell under a metre and paddling slowly south was mostly just a wee bit tedious. We were a fair distance off the coast which was all long sand beach and it was hard to tell if we were even moving. In fact, after a while, Doug became convinced we were not making any southward progress, stuck either in a weird time-warp, or more likely a northerly running current. I thought Yagon Gibber Headland was gradually moving away from us but could not be entirely sure. Without a compass, there was nothing to triangulate off and the more Doug thought about it, the more convinced he became that our progress was virtually nil.

Eventually, Doug decided to check our position using our mapping application on our mobile telephone. So, he turned the 'phone on, marked our position, turned it off, paddled for 20 minutes, turned it back on and noted that we had in fact moved south. Meanwhile, I dribbled along paddling 100 strokes and waiting for him, paddling 100 strokes and waiting, etc. until he caught up.

Sunset from Coal Shaft Bay

On we went. After two hours, we decided to have a short break. I was thirsty but wouldn't drink because my next comfort stop was still hours away. I had eaten no breakfast, so choked down a hard-boiled egg, but it was mighty dry without a whisper of liquid. I sat on the ocean for a few minutes, thought "Stuff this, I may as well paddle", and started off again before even five minutes had elapsed.

Around about 11 am, pretty much right on schedule for this time of year, the northerly wind arrived, weakly at first, but quickly increasing until, with our kayak sails up, we were briskly riding down the wind waves. Our speed dramatically increased and Broughton Island rapidly came closer and closer.

The shortest way into the sheltered beach at Esmeralda Cove is via Fishermans Passage between Broughton and Little Broughton Islands but, from our angle of approach, the passage was invisible so we went around the southern end of Little Broughton Island. The wind made for bouncy conditions around Little Broughton Head, but we were now only two kilometres from landing. We pulled the sails down as the wind was swirling in the lee of the islands, sometimes blowing down in strong downdrafts, and paddled the last distance into Esmeralda Cove.

There were a dozen sea kayaks already on shore as we staggered out of the boats 5.5 hours after leaving Seal Rocks. A swim, a leak, some lunch, some tea, all the good things followed. There are five campsites at Little Poverty Bay, three large wooden platforms and two grassed sites which you book and pay for on-line. We had booked one of the wooden platforms and from our vantage point above the beach we stood about with our lunch and tea watching the dozen kayakers getting ready to launch.

Esmeralda Cove

Such an organized bunch we had never seen. Sea kayakers are like mountaineers, strong willed, independent and intractable to coercion. Any pod leaving the shore will almost instantly break apart with kayaks going in every direction regardless of conditions. This group, however, had a long briefing on the beach. Then they gathered in a circle and engaged in various calisthenics and warm-up exercises. Kayaks were carried to the water. Another briefing ensued. Finally they launched. Then there were various safety drills. Some people eskimo rolled, others performed assisted rescues, some swam, a couple even stood in their boats and paddled them SUP style. It all provided highly entertaining lunch time viewing. Eventually, however, all the paddlers were back in their boats ride side up, another on-water briefing was held, and they paddled off around the island.

With no further ready entertainment available, Doug and I ambled over to Providence Beach and wandered along the beach in either direction scrambling over the rocks and enjoying being out of our boats. After a couple of hours we sauntered back, put the tent up, had dinner, and strolled over to watch the sunset from Coal Shaft Bay. The ubiquitious fisherman were casting lines off the short cliffs and drinking tinnies. Here at last were some tourists who were impressed with us. Although they had all come out in power boats, they were terrified of sharks, waves, the ocean in general, and swore they would never paddle a kayak on the ocean.

Back at Little Poverty Beach the other kayakers had headed up Pinkatop Head for sunset and we watched their head torches congo line back down after dark.

Providence Beach

Around Broughton Island:

Next morning, the mystery of the strangely cohesive sea kayaker pod was solved. The entire dozen of them was up early, packing their kayaks just after sunrise went I went down to the comfort station. "We are with the military, Ma'am" one strapping young lad told me. A weak southerly was forecast mid-morning and the group were hustling to paddle back to the mainland before its arrival.

Another hours entertainment for us as we made breakfast and drank our litre jugs of coffee. This morning, the pod was all business but, there was still a long briefing followed by a round circle of calisthenics and warm-ups. Should the invasion arrive by sea kayak, Australia will be well defended.

Our plans for the day were much less ambitious. We would doddle around the island in our kayaks, exploring all the little coves and crannies. It was a perfect day for it. Sunny with a very low swell. First stop had to be Conspicuous Cleft. Just off the south end of Broughton Island is Looking Glass Isle and, slightly north of midway along the island, a tunnel leads right through the island from east to west. I expected the tunnel to be reminiscent of the Blue Cave on North Tollgate Island, a dark and menacing slot always churning with large and powerful waves. But, the cleft is much wider than that, although you could not turn a kayak around in it, and lit with green light from above. The first time through, I heeded Doug's warning to "paddle smartly" and whipped through very quickly. Way too quickly to get a good look in the tunnel. So, we went back through much more slowly. Part way through, a minor horizontal waterfall was blowing spray out into the tunnel and the bright sunlight lit up the clear green water. A magical place.

Cons Cleft

A bit further north on Looking Glass Isle there is a second cleft but you cannot paddle through this one as the ceiling has collapsed. We poked in as far as we could and then headed north and meandered around Coal Shaft Bay. The modest southerly blew in as we were paddling north from Coal Shaft Bay towards Providence Point stretching a band of cloud across the sky. This section of the island is riddled with narrow sea slots that you can back a kayak into. The water is clear and gardens of sea weed wave under the kayak with flashing silver fish. Coming out of one sea slot, I turned around to photograph Doug who was backing in and watched with horror as my day hatch cover - normally tied on with cord - dropped off the boat and slowly floated down into the depths. I frantically jabbed at it with my paddle trying to scoop it up before it disappeared but it was gone.

Doug suggested I jump into the water and swim around in case I could see the kayak cover and retrieve it. This really seemed rather extreme to me. We would have to retrieve my face mask, which was securely packed away in my back hatch, I would have to take off my spray skirt and life jacket, and jump overboard, and what about all those sharks those fishermen had been banging on about? But, replacing a day hatch would also be difficult, and no doubt, expensive, so I agreed.

Doug managed to take the spare paddles off the back of my kayak, unhook my back hatch cover, take the neoprene inner cover off, and scrabble around for my face mask while we bobbed off-shore rafted up. I took off all my usual kayaking gear and slipped over the side, while Doug struggled to keep both my boat and his from being blown on to the rocks by the southerly wind.

Doug heading into Conspicuous Cleft

The water was warm, clear and offered really good snorkeling. There were all manner of different sea weeds and sponges growing and lots of different fish. Inshore, however, where I had dropped my hatch cover, the water was foaming from surge and I was getting sorely bounced about. I swam up and down but the whole endeavour seemed hopeless. The water was fairly deep and without swim fins it is was questionable whether I would even be able to get to the bottom if I saw the hatch cover. Which was also highly questionable as the surge could have moved it a long distance and the reef was full of nooks, grannies, and tall sea-weeds all of which well hid a hatch cover.

After a bit, I swam back to the kayak and thankfully climbed in and tugged on all my kayak gear. Doug's next suggestion was to land the kayaks in one of the sea clefts and scramble along the rocks to peer into the water for the hatch cover. This seemed as dubious of success as the last endeavour but still worth a try. We pulled into the nearest narrow cleft, and tugged the boats up the rocky shore. Easy enough at this tide height, but that would change.

Doug went overland to the next cleft south while I went along the rock cliffs. There was one deep slot between me and the cleft where I dropped the day hatch where I had to jump into the water, swim the slot, wait for the surge to retreat at the other side, then scramble out. We met up above the location where the hatch had been lost and this time Doug volunteered to jump in and look.

I waited on the rocks above, just out of the surge line, while Doug swam back and forth. Once, he even swam down and I was modestly hopeful that he had found the cover, but, it was just some interesting fish. Eventually, he also declared defeat and swam back towards the rocks. I acted as lookout and when the swell was lowest waved him in so he could scramble back on shore without getting beaten up by the waves.

Back at the kayaks, the tide had dropped considerably and launching the boats was now quite difficult. A large rock had appeared in the middle of the surge channel and the southerly blow had picked up enough wind waves to wash nastily over this big boulder. We managed to man-handle Doug's boat over, and I stood in the sloshing surge, struggling to keep my feet, while he got in and quickly paddled out of the constricted channel. Left by myself, I somehow managed to bump the boat over the obstacle - plastic boats are good for something - and in a lull in the waves, I vaulted in and paddled quickly out without fussing about putting on my spraydeck.

Evening Light on Pinkatop

North of Providence Point, Inner Rock lies about a kilometre off the northern tip of Broughton Island. Another 1.5 km east is North Rock. Of course, we had to paddle around both. Doug is convinced I suffer from FOMO, which is not a fear of missing out on what other people are posting on (anti) social media, but the conviction that something really interesting lies over the next ridge line, in the next valley, atop the next peak, or on the other side of the furthest island. FOMO has dragged us many kilometres out of our way. Doug especially did not want to go out to North Rock as it would mean paddling back into the 15 knot southerly, but, such is the power of FOMO that we did. And yes, it was worth it.

Providence Beach made a grand spot for lunch and a thermos of tea, before we continued our circumnavigation. On the way east to Fishermans Passage we found a couple of big sea arches that went right through the rock. The tide was just a wee bit too shallow to paddle right through but we paddled around into the entrance on either side. There was also another horizontal shower, more caves and clefts.

We passed by Fishermans Passage and paddled along Little Broughton Island to the spot we had arrived at the day before returning to paddle through the Fishermans Passage. There is a small island in the middle of this narrow passage and the water is shallow at low tide. There were more big caves and sea arches to explore on the west side of Little Broughton Island but with current and wind, it was getting a little bumpy.

On the south side of Broughton Island we wove around a few more rock reefs protruding in the falling tide and finally back into Esmeralda Cove. As we paddled in, I looked for the track up to Pinkatop Head. It leaves from an old National Parks sign just above the rocks a short scramble east from Little Poverty Beach.

On the tent platform next to us, a huge edifice, worthy of a United Nations refugee camp had been set up by three fishermen. They had a massive tarpaulin stretched across the half acre platform, three tents, stoves, lights, refrigeration units, and 18 fishing rods. Our small backpacking tent looked insignificant beside the ghetto city.

A relaxing afternoon cup of tea was quite difficult as we listened to some kind of nasty 1980's bad rock, and listened to "fuck this, fuck that, fuck the other." Similarly disturbing was breathing second hand cigarette smoke. Had we been smart, we would have moved right then to another platform down the other end of the beach but we did not know whether any of those were booked.
I put ear plugs in and wished I had a gas mask as well.

Before dinner, we scrambled along the north shore of Esmeralda Cove and found the rough track that goes up to Pinkatop Head. We arrived just as the light was casting a wonderful glow over the landscape.

Sunset at Broughton Island

There is mobile service from Pinkatop Head so we checked the weather forecast which was good for one more day and then decidedly nasty with a strong southerly flow bringing gale force winds and heavy rain. We managed enough mobile reception to book a spot on the daily bus from Tea Gardens to Bungwahl to retrieve the car.

Back at camp, things were still a "fucking mess," but, for some reason we persevered with our camp for another hour until we finally had enough. We picked up our tent and carried it off our platform, along the beach, and set it up on a grassed site. Instant relief from glaring lights, bad music, foul mouths and polluted air. Why didn't we do it sooner?

Broughton Island to Hawks Nest:

There are few places I would rather be than out on the ocean at sunrise in a kayak. It's not that often that we are on the water that early, but, every time we are there is that magical moment when the sun tips over the water and the ocean is painted crimson.

It's about 17 km into land at Hawks Nest and we were counting on the low swell making landing easy. We were away too early for the wind so had to paddle all the way in, and, once we'd picked out the large white building of the surf club, we aimed for that. There was a small shore dump, but nothing too bad and we landed easily, carrying the boats and gear up to some picnic tables near the surf club.
On the track to Pinkatop Head

Doug had a big breakfast as he had elected to do the bus shuttle which might involve a tedious 11 km walk along the road from Bungwahl to Seal Rocks. After he left to get the bus, I made my own breakfast, washed all the gear and the boats, hung everything out to dry, and, was just settling in to a MOBing session when Doug arrived back, having got a lift from Bungwahl out to Seal Rocks. And, just like that, another kayak trip was over.

You can view the video here.

Living The Jetty Lifestyle: Split Solitary Island By Kayak

Take the lift to your cosmopolitan Jetty lifestyle!  Real Estate Advertisement

Jetty Beach was surprisingly busy at 8.30 am on this cloudy May Saturday. A group of wetsuit clad swimmers were exiting the water, people were riding bicycles, two guys were unaccountably sitting in folding deck chairs in the middle of the parking lot reading the Saturday papers while drinking take-out coffee, a homeless guy was wandering about looking for change, and, overlaying all the clamour of normal human discourse - parents shouting at kids, cars roaring in and out of the parking lot, the thump of a sub-woofer - was the roar of heavy industrial equipment. We were unloading our kayaks and packing them up preparatory to paddling north to Split Solitary Island and thinking that this was undoubtedly the "jetty lifestyle" we had seen extolled in a realtors office window the day before.

Doug approaches Split Solitary Island

It was a relief to leave the "jetty lifestyle" behind and paddle out of the harbour, and around the eastern side of Muttonbird Island. Split Solitary Island is about 7 or 8 km north of Coffs Harbour and about 3 kilometres off shore. There was a heavy bank of cloud over the eastern horizon and a 1.5 to 2 metre easterly swell, overlaid with a smaller southerly swell running. I'd forgotten how bumpy sea kayaking can be in these conditions and it took me a while to get used to the kayak rolling around in the swell. Particularly annoying were the two round waterbottles - one in the stern hatch and one in the bow - that clanged from one side of the kayak to the other as I crested each wave.

The west side of Split Solitary Island

After about 1.5 hours, we reached the western side of Split Solitary Island and paddled around the northern side to view the split that gives the island its name. There is a big cave on the south side of the island but it was pretty bumpy on that side with haystacks of clapotis exploding everywhere. The dark clouds on the horizon had spread across the sky and by the time we pointed the kayaks in toward land, a brisk southerly had blown up.

It seemed as if it would be a long slog back to Coffs Harbour into a headwind but as we paddled into shore, the wind abated somewhat and even the swell eased up. We plugged south along the coast keeping well out of reach of rogue waves until we passed a couple of bombies north of Diggers Head.

I was hungry, thirsty and cramped, and, although I had water, banging from one side of the boat to the other, it was unreachable sealed up in the stern bulkhead. It looked as if we could land without too much trouble at the south end of Diggers Beach. Doug was not overly keen, but agreed to head inshore to look. Somehow, I always end up going in first at these places, driven more by desperation to get out of the boat than bravery or skill.

"Rudder, rudder, rudder!"

Tucked into the very south end of the beach behind a small rock reef is a fishing club shack and I was able to land easily enough and dragged my boat up onto the ramp out of reach of the waves. Doug was coming in behind me with his rudder down which spurred me to shout "rudder, rudder, rudder" repeatedly. All he heard was "squawk, squawk, squawk." Was a giant wave looming behind him ready to trash him on the rocks? Or perhaps a great white shark was lining up to take the stern off his boat? He catapulted out of the boat screaming "what, what, what?" and was singularly unimpressed with my rudder warnings.

Unfortunately, we had not brought lunch with us as we thought there would be nowhere to land so there was nothing to eat, but we could at least drink water and I shifted the bottle out of its rolling position into a more secure location. We launched from the beach and plugged our way down to Little Muttonbird Island on and to the northern end of Muttonbird Island where foolhardy fisherman were fishing off the slippery rocks right in the wash zone. Just one big wave and they would be washed off-shore as so often happens.

Heading north to Split Solitary Island

We thought about paddling the extra few kilometres down to and around Korffs Islet but all of a sudden I was tired, hungry and ready to land, so we called it a day and paddled back into the harbour where the jetty lifestyle was still in full swing.

Usually, we are completely invisible to passers-by but on this day, many people came by to ask us about our paddle day. They all seemed frightfully impressed when we told them where we had paddled, but, it was hard to gloat in the glow of accolades when we had paddled only about 25 kilometres in fairly benign conditions. We just are not cut out to be "grammers."

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Coast Track Via Kayak: Cronulla to Stanwell Park

In 2012, Doug and I walked the Coast Track from Bundeena to Otford through the Royal National Park. We never gave a thought to kayaking this spectacular section of coast, but, as we spent more and more time in our kayaks, the idea of kayaking the Coast track became more and more appealing.

Near Burning Palms on the Coast Track

Jump forward four years and we found ourselves in Loftus after being rained out from a Blue Mountains climbing trip. What better way to spend a day between storms than paddling the east coast of the Royal National Park.

Mount Boyce waterfall after rain

Logistics for a car shuttle are relatively easy if time consuming. The South Coast rail line has hourly trains that stop at all the little stations south of - and including - Stanwell Park. So, if you launch from Cronulla it is convenient, if not quick, to walk to the train station from where ever you are able to land and take the train (two changes) back to Cronulla to retrieve your vehicle.

Sea cliff paddling south of Wattamolla

The first sheltered landing once you pass beyond the National Park boundary at Otford is Austinmer, although even this could be tricky with a northerly swell. We hoped to land at Stanwell Park, but were prepared to continue on to Austinmer.

Kilometres of sandstone cliffs

Sydney is so busy that even at 6.15 am the traffic was heavy on the suburban streets and it took 30 minutes to drive the short distance from Loftus to Cronulla. The boat ramp at Tonkin Park, just behind Cronulla train station, has about a dozen day long parking spaces so we launched from there.

It's hard to beat early mornings in a kayak

Paddling out to Jibbon Head, the sun was low in the sky and a gentle rolling swell was coming from the east. It was a fine day to spend on the water.
The first beaches and landing spots are at Marley which seems to come quickly as you enjoy the fantastic cliffs lining this section of the coast. It would have been easy to land at Marley, but we wanted to paddle in to the fresh waterfalls at Wattamolla Lagoon so carried on. Wattamolla is a deep bay sheltered in all weather and with the recent rainy weather, there were two waterfalls running over the sandstone cliffs into Wattamolla Lagoon. We had breakfast and a swim before continuing south.

Waterfalls at Wattamolla

Past Wattamolla, the cliffs get taller and the sandstone formations wilder. The little rocky bay at Curracurang is beautiful but it is the cliff top waterfalls at Curracurrong that are really spectacular. Curracurrong Creek was falling in a sheer twin drop over the 40 metre cliffs into clear green water below. Curra Brook was also running forming a third waterfall in this small rocky enclave. Past Curra Brook we started seeing huge schools of fish shoaling in the clear water. There are seaweed forests and rocky underwater reefs all easily visible from the kayak.

Curracurrong Falls

Garie North Head signals the end of the continuous cliff line. Beyond this point there are small wave washed beaches separated by shorter sections of cliff and the small enclaves of cabins tucked in semi-sheltered corner beaches. We landed at North Era for lunch noting that there was a lot more water in the creek than when we camped there 4 years before when we walked the Coast Track.

Curra Brook

Paddling south, there are more cliffs and small beaches, more schools of flashing fish until finally a couple of big landmarks appear - the elevated Sea Cliff Bridge south of Coalcliff and the paragliders launch site above Stanwell Park.

Near Curracurrang

Stanwell Park beach is steep, faces southeast and has no real shelter from the ocean swells. A nasty shore dump was running the length of the beach and it was hard to say any one place was better than another to land. We landed near the Surf Club because there were shelters and a big storm was obviously brewing. After carrying the boats up the beach, I trotted up a bush track, along suburban streets, past the shops, and across a pedestrian bridge to the railway station.

Doug landing at Stanwell Park in friendly conditions

Two changes of trains (Waterfall and Sutherland) later, as the rain was lashing down in sheets, I jogged along the streets to get the car. Doug, meanwhile, was sheltering in the stairwell of the Surf Club - at least until they locked the doors. In torrential rain, I drove from Cronulla to Stanwell Park chafing at the heavy traffic that is now a constant throughout Sydney. Amazingly, we got a break in the rain at Stanwell Park to load the boats on the roof before it began anew.   

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Kayak Surfing at Maianbar in Port Hacking

With the right conditions, Maianbar in Port Hacking has great little waves for kayak surfing.  Watch the video here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hat Hill Canyon

If you live anywhere on the east coast of Australia you know it's been raining. Raining for hours, days, actually what is now stretching into weeks. Our rock climbing plans screeched to an abrupt halt when the second week long spell of rain began. Before that, we had got in five good days at a few different crags around the Blue Mountains. It was all grand fun, even as our fingertips were getting tender and our forearms swollen.

Pagoda country

On a rest day from climbing, we went canyoning. Doug's first time descending a canyon while for me it was a flashback to my youth when I used to canyon with a ragtag group of friends with more gusto than experience. As usual, I jumped into canyoning feet first and the first canyons I did were Kanangra, Thurat Rift and Claustral.

Hat Hill Creek

Back in those days, the late 1980's, no-one had dry bags, helmets, GPS units, head cams, harnesses, or expensive water shoes. We were old tennis shoes - Volleys were singularly popular - layered our gear in multiple plastic garbage bags, purloined second hand wet-suits from the "op-shop", rigged harnesses from webbing and used a map and compass to navigate through deep bush.

Doug in one of the creek sections

Trips were not without adventures, most notable for me was in Thurat Rift canyon when I fell down a 10 metre cliff while trying to downclimb a section of canyon where no abseil anchor was available. My friends stood over me while I lay bleeding among a jumble of rocks at the bottom and said "she'll either have to get up and walk out or we'll have to go get a helicopter." I got up and walked out. The next day, when I went to a medical clinic to get various X-rays taken and lacerations sutured closed, the nursing staff thought I had been in a car accident. A week off work, 10 days off canyoning, and I was back in Claustral Canyon, such is the resilience of youth.

Green, green canyon

But, on this day, we were simply out for an easy day in a spectacular location and chose the popular Hat Hill Canyon near Blackheath. I was tickled to see that the two old school canyoners we met at the car park were still wearing Volley tennis shoes and wetsuits from the op-shop.

It's another world in these canyons

A good track leads down to the Hat Hill Creek and within minutes of switching clothes for wetsuits and wading down the creek we entered the canyon. These wet oasis of greenery always have an otherworldly feel to them, and Hat Hill Canyon is no different. Giant tree ferns grow along the creek bank, moss clings to the walls and rocks, greenery literally drips from every surface. The light is dim and filtered green, except where shafts of sunlight pierce the gloom leaving steaming tendrils of humidity.

Gorgeous section of slot canyon

There are three discrete sections of slot canyon along Hat Hill Creek separated by long stretches of sandy or rocky creek bed. The first canyon requires a tricky little downclimb into a big pool. If you knew the pool was deep - which it is - you could simply jump in. Not knowing that, we eased into it and swam to the end of a narrow slot canyon before crawling out onto the further bank.

Doug looking into the entrance to the second section of canyon

The second canyon is the most spectacular requiring another downclimb or jump into a deep pool and then a long swim between the narrow walls of a green slot canyon. The light hardly penetrates here and it is easy to feel like an explorer only hours from the cafes of Blackheath.


The third canyon features a big sweeping section of cliff above your head as you walk along rocks, wade the stream, swim through deep pools and scramble over logs. Near the end of the canyon sections a side creek leads up to a narrow waterfall tumbling through a hole in an arch.

Sliding into a pool

There are two exits, neither of which we found although I think we started up each. Both are before the third canyon so a short section of backtracking is required. We went roughly up the first exit (on your way down the canyon) which heads up a southeast facing tributary creek. Within minutes, however, we lost the rough track up the creek and ended up sidling around short bluffs until we could scramble up to a spur ridge from Bald Head Ridge. The bush was open and the going easy and soon enough we had joined the track that Bald Head Ridge.

Log jam

The walk back is very enjoyable as views of the surrounding mountains and valleys open up along the way. It had been a 30 year hiatus from canyoning but it was still as much fun as I remembered.  You can watch the video here.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Merrica River To Tathra By Sea Kayak


Sea kayakers speak longingly of Merrica River and the Nadgee Wilderness and one of the premier sea kayak trips along this southern section of NSW coast includes rounding Green Cape, camping in the melaleuca forest under Wonboyn Hill and paddling up the Merrica River gorge until you reach fresh water. So, when we set out to paddle from Wonboyn to Tathra, I wanted to land the kayaks on the tiny beach at the mouth of the Merrica River and camp for one night in the tea tree forest.

Ron and Jean packing the kayaks on Wonboyn Beach

Day One: Greenglade To Merrica River:

Doug and I drove south from Moruya, while Ron and Jean came down from Canberra and we met at Tathra surf club where a strong northerly was blowing. After looking at the swell at Tathra Beach, we decided launching from Greenglade and landing at Merrica River should be possible so we loaded all the gear and boats onto Ron's kayak trailer and, leaving one car at Tathra, drove south to Greenglade.

By the time the boats and gear were carried down to the water and every thing was loaded up, the wind was blowing a stout 20 to 25 knots. Jean launched first and seemed to paddle out forever as she bounced up and down over tightly packed waves. Shortly, we were all paddling out, heading into the wind to start so that we did not get blown onto the short cliffs and rocks at the south end of Wonboyn Beach. It was the strongest wind I have paddled into on the ocean and I had a hard time keeping the bow pointed into the wind. As my speed relative to the water was so low, the rudder did virtually nothing and I had to paddle constantly on the right to keep the bow pointed into the wind.

The single kilometre we had to paddle into the wind was hard work so once we were clear of hitting rocks we were glad to turn downwind and ride the wind and waves the short distance to the tiny sand beach at Merrica River mouth. Landing on the southern end of the beach was easy enough although the river channel was slightly to the north of where it usually is. After landing, we walked the boats into the outflowing Merrica River up to a small campsite in the shelter of a melaleuca forest. 

It was already late afternoon, so we unpacked the boats, put the tents up, had a quick snack and then paddled up the Merrica River until we reached the end of the navigable passage and fresh water running down rocky pools. A lovely fresh water swim and then back to camp to listen to the unceasing wind and waves during an otherwise peaceful night.

Jean enjoying Merrica River

Day Two: Merrica River to Bittangabee Bay:

The northerly winds were forecast to abate by evening with a southerly flow coming in before dawn with the strongest southerly winds due around midday. Our plan was to launch early, paddle ten kilometres across Disaster Bay to Green Cape, round Green Cape while the winds were still light and continue on, with the help of a tail wind to Mowarry Bay. But plans change with the weather when you are sea kayaking.

There was a gorgeous sun rise at Merrica River with just a sliver of new moon hanging to the south. Paddling out through the now incoming tide at Merrica River was easy, and we were soon heading northeast to Green Cape. Disturbingly, a northerly wind began to rise almost as soon as we left and by the time we had paddled half the distance to Green Cape, another stout 15 to 20 knot northerly was blowing.

We could not hang out in Disaster Bay waiting for the southerly wind change - which we had now begin to doubt was even coming - as we would simply get blown right back to Merrica River, so we punched into the wind until we got into the shelter of the cliffs that line Green Cape and paddled west to land on Wonboyn Beach.

There was just enough mobile telephone reception to call my brother in Sydney and get the updated forecast which now indicated northerly winds ahead of a southerly change forecast to arrive around 2.00 pm. We had six kilometres to paddle to Green Cape and decided to launch the kayaks again and paddle out to Green Cape, hopefully timing our arrival to catch the lull between northerly and southerly winds.

It was possible to sail a bit of the coastline heading east to Green Cape on drafts of wind blown down the cliffs but it was a gusty and insecure endeavour and Doug opted to simply paddle. The smaller Flat Earth sails on the more stable Mirage kayaks that Jean and Ron were paddling seemed to handle the conditions better than my Pacific Action sail on my Prijon and I had to brace a few times to avoid going over.

This is a delightful section of coast to paddle with clear green water, blocky cliffs and hidden rocky bays. We passed a small shark and a couple of resting seals. As we approached Green Cape, the northerly gradually abated and we paddled around the Cape with no wind to speak off. The swell, however was a healthy two to three meters with occaisionally much larger waves. Combined with the overlying wind waves from the northerly and a lot of rebound, rounding the Cape was a bumpy experience.

I think we all expected the lumpy seas to die down as we headed north from Green Cape but they did not and we continued in large messy seas heading north along this wild rocky stretch of coast. The southerly blew in around 2.00 pm reaching about 15 knots and further adding to the confused seas. No-one even thought about putting a sail up and without any discussion we all decided to head into Bittangabee Bay instead of continuing on to Mowarry Bay. Given the large northerly swell, I am not even sure we would have been able to land at Mowarry Bay. The next option for a sheltered landing would be in Twofold Bay many kilometres distant.

It is hard to see the small beach at the head of Bittangabee Bay from sea but I was pretty sure I recognised both the north and south headlands from the whale watching weekend in October, and Doug and I ventured closer into shore while Jean and Ron watched somewhat anxiously from further out. Apart from a few big rollers, the seas gradually calmed as we pulled into the shelter of the bay and once we were sure we had reached Bittangabee Bay we waved for Jean and Ron to follow us in.

Landing for the night when paddling conditions are challenging is always welcome and we were happy enough to stop at Bittangabee Bay given the prospect of stronger southerly winds. It was only around 2.30 pm so plenty of time to walk out to the southern headland and watch the waves crashing onto the rocks before setting up camp.

New Moon Over Merrica River

Day Three: Bittangabee Bay to Pinnacles Beach:

Each day is different sea kayaking and on our third morning both the sea and the wind had subsided. Paddling out of Bittangabee Bay was strikingly different to paddling in the previous day and we rounded the headland and headed north.
I have walked this section of coast on the Light to Light track and was looking forward to paddling it. It was as beautiful as I imagined and you could spend days paddling along this section of coast exploring caves and gauntlets and pulling in to the tiny bays. We paddled inside a small island at Mowarry Point and landed at Mowarry Bay for a break. This is probably the best campsite for kayakers along the 30 kilometre section of coast between Green Cape and Red Point as it is only accessible by foot or kayak.

Near Boyd's Tower, a massive cruise ship moved slowly up the coast and we thought at first it was going to pull into Twofold Bay but, once past Boyds Tower - far enough off-shore that nothing of the coast would be visible - the ship speeded up and headed rapidly north. We imagined the passengers saying to each other "Eden, check."

By the time we reached Red Point, a light southerly had blown up and we had quick kayak sailing across Twofold Bay to Worang Point. From Worang Point to Pambula this section of coast lies within Ben Boyd National Park and is accessible only by a few dirt roads. More red rock cliffs and rock platforms lead to Pinnacle Beach which is all but gone at high tide. It was mid afternoon when we landed at Pinnacle Beach and found a wonderful campsite, again in the shelter of melaleuca and with a view to Haycock Point. In the late afternoon, I walked along the rapidly disappearing Pinnacle Beach before we settled into a quiet night at our splendid campsite.

Just another empty south coast beach

Day Four: Pinnacle Beach to Bournda National Park:

Light to moderate southerlies were forecast and we were anticipating a pleasant day of kayak sailing with no pressure to get anywhere as Tathra was now less than 40 kilometres away. Launching off the beach was easier than anticipated and we paddled up the long stretch of beach to Haycock Point. Paddling through a shallow channel between Haystack Rock and Haycock Point, Jean managed to hit a rock with her Mirage while our plastic boats cruised through unscathed. Doug and I wanted to have a look at the camping situation in the Pambula River and also to drop off garbage and top up fresh water at Pambula so we paddled in the river against an outgoing to tide to a small park at the mouth of the Pambula River. The Pambula River is wonderfully clear and the shoreline is fringed by more national park so it is another lovely spot.

Ron was keen to visit a cafe, despite the fact that he does not drink coffee, and Doug wanted to pick up a cable to charge our camera, so we decided to also call into Merimbula as well. Ron and Jean pulled into a small beach and cafe at the Merimbula Bar while Doug and I fought the tide and paddled into Merimbula.
North of Merimbula the coast is an interesting mix of small beaches and rocky headlands. By the time we reached Merimbula Point, a moderate southerly wind had blown up and we kayak sailed past tiny Middle Beach and around Short Point. At Short Point we came upon a pod of dolphins who were swimming in small swells off Short Point. We pulled down the sails and floated with them for a time as they swam around our boats riding little waves and even right under our bows!

Short Point Beach passed quickly by and we rode wind and waves around Tura Head with the kayaks surfing rapidly down the waves. A large shark swam by our boats near Tura Beach and with the wind increasing and grey skies beginning to gather we continued north to Bournda National Park and a camp for the night.

Kayaks under a stormy sky

Day Five: Bournda National Park to Tathra:

This is another section of coast we had walked (the Kangarutha Track runs from Kianniny Bay to Wallagoot Beach and you can continue on to Tura Beach) but never paddled, and we were keen to see the coast from the water as the shoreline is riddled with sea caves, slots, and rocky islets. The sea state, however, had changed again from the constant southerly flow and the two metre swell was not conducive to paddling into narrow surge channels.

Getting off the beach was a little more exciting than previous days, but easy enough if you got the timing right and a push from Doug who was acting as beach master. I wanted to launch by myself but, at the last minute, opted for a push out once I saw how brief the breaks in big swells were. Jean got hit by a big wave and Doug got pushed sideways then turned 180 degrees and had to land and relaunch but we all got out intact.

From Turingal Head north, the sea was a lumpy, bumpy mess and it was a rough, if spectacular paddle north to Kianniny Bay. Jean and Doug went further off-shore in search of smoother water, but Ron and I paddled as close in as we dared marvelling at the narrow slots, caves, and occasionally dashing inside of rocky islets between sets.

Kianinny Bay is marked for boaters using the ramp and we paddled in for a short stop. I think everyone but me would have been happy enough to pull out at Kianinny Bay, but I knew that not paddling the last three kilometres of coast to Tathra would eat away at me. If we paddled round one more headland - Tathra Head - Doug and I would have paddled the entire coastline from Conjola to Merrica River. Jean and Ron were good sports and agreed to paddle on to Tathra Beach where we landed in a sheltered corner of the beach.

This is definitely one of the best stretches of southern NSW to paddle with ample wilderness campsites and continuously interesting coastline. I would paddle it again tomorrow if I got the chance. Jean and Ron were fabulous trip companions and I have now flagrantly copied their ingenious design for homemade collapsible water carriers.

Want more?  View the video here.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Gym List

Another year of training is over, and, in just over a week we will back traveling in our caravan watching our hard earned muscle mass wasting off. Closing out my last few gym sessions, I thought about all the weird and, mostly useless, things you see at the average gym and decided to make a list that should be posted in every gym. 

Ormiston Pound

  • Understand the difference between training and exercise. Sadly for all you BodyAttack devotees, anything from Les Mills is definitely exercise. 
  • Training is not done sitting or lying down because you must "be able to fall down when you do a barbell exercise so that you have to make sure you don't."1 Exceptions can be made if you are 92 and almost blind (see #6), otherwise, stand up.
  • Full range of motion, all the time, always.
  • Never, ever use the ab roller machine. 'Nuff said. 
  • Use a training log. It's impossible to know if you are getting stronger if you don't keep track of your sessions.
  • No one is too old to lift. No one.  
  • The likelihood of you actually needing a "recovery shake" after your work-out approaches the likelihood that Donald Trump will start telling the truth. 
  • You can't out train SAD (standard Australian diet), so put your big girl panties on and stop eating all the crap.
  • What you take out of your diet (sugar, grains, industrial seed oils) is far more important than what you add in.
  • It does not matter how much weight you have on the bar if your form sucks
  • Training is hard and requires grit. Toughen up, you're an adult now. 

1Mark Rippetoe