Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Nine Weeks of Wonder

Exactly nine weeks ago we left the Cave to spend the summer in southern NSW and eastern Victoria. We took two single sea kayaks (Prijon Marlins), some hiking gear and a few clothes. Out of 63 days, we spent only two nights sleeping indoors, swam, at least once each day, on 60 of those days and tallied up about 30 days in the kayaks. A full chronicle of our adventures would take too long too write, too long to read, and would reduce glowing sunsets, clear aquamarine waters, a profusion of wildlife, and too many magical moments to count to a tedious list, and yet, I feel compelled to describe some of the highlights of those nine weeks.

Near Kangaroo Valley in NSW's southern highlands we paddled up the Kangaroo River to Lake Yarrunga and the Shoalhaven River which pierces the wild Morton National Park along calm waters dwarfed by giant sandstone cliffs rising 500 metres above us. We swam in the Shoalhaven River, fought off habituated wallabies and watched the moon rise over the surrounding cliffs. A day later, we descended Bungonia Gorge, scrambling among the house sized blocks between the narrow gorge walls of limestone to pass aquamarine pools along the river to reach the confluence with the Shoalhaven River, where we camped on a sandy river shore and swam in the warm water. 

Morning Mist Kangaroo River

In western NSW, we visited the iconic Dog on the Tucker Box, before launching our kayaks into the fast flowing waters of the Murrimbidgee River and followed it downstream on its twisting, turning journey to Wagga Wagga. We camped each night by the river banks, dipped into the cold waters and listened to the screech of Sulfur Crested Cockatoos morning and night.

From Thredbo in Australia's Snowy Mountains we hiked from the valley floor to the top of Mount Koscuiszko through open alp-lands with wide open views over the surrounding mountains and enjoyed peaceful camps by the clear waters of the Snowy River. The Main Range track took us past small alpine tarns, over numerous peaks and by clear running streams. In hot weather, we kayaked the fresh waters of Jindabyne Lake, camping on a sandy beach, swimming in the warm clear water and watching a spectacular sunset. 

Murrumbidgee Sunset

On the beautiful Sapphire Coast of southern NSW, we walked the Light to Light Walk through Ben Boyd National Park from Boyds Tower to Green Cape along the stunning red rock coast-line where we slept by the beach and listened to the deafening cry of cicadas in the night.

The tiny town of Wonboyne, 200 residents, lies at the edge of the Nadgee Nature Reserve and, after a Wonboyne Whopper at the only store in town, we walked to the Merrica Ranger Station, camped for the night, then spent three days on the spectacular Nadgee-Howe Wilderness Walk. We hiked through tunnels of melaleuca forest, across coastal heathland, and along deserted white sand beaches with the surf crashing on to the shoreline. A truly wild and wondrous coastline. Emerging three days later at Mallacoota in Croajingalong National Park with azure waters, prolific marine and bird-life, and the calm waters of the inlet offset by the Tasman Sea pounding onto the endless sand beaches, we spent two more days paddling our kayaks around Mallacoota through calm mornings with boundless fish splashing and on into windy and wild afternoons.

Dramatic Sky on the Nadgee-Howe

Victoria's coastline abounds with inlets, estuaries and bays, and from Mallacoota, we travelled west and paddled in Tamboon Inlet, camping by a small saltwater lagoon separated from the pounding surf on 90 Mile Beach by a narrow strip of land. Pelicans floated in the lagoon as sun set.

In Victoria's Alpine National Park we spent two days walking along the high country among snow gums. From Mount Feathertop we hiked through the alpine along The Razorback, then descended a steep trail to the Owens River and a welcome swimming hole. At nearby Mount Buffalo National Park we wandered through giant granite boulders and past deep granite gorges, before detouring back up to Alpine National Park to hike to the top of Mount Bogong, Victoria's highest mountain. 

 Burnt Snow Gums Near Feathertop

Back on the coast, we wandered long beaches near Cape Liptrap with the morning fog hanging over the sea, kayaked through twisting mangrove channels on Anderson Inlet among hundreds of swans, pelicans, ibis, oyster-catchers, herons and other birds. In nearby Western Port, we paddled to French Island and breakfasted on a sand spit surrounded by sea birds, camped by the ocean and wandered old ruins by the sea-shore. On Phillip Island we hiked around Cape Woolamai past scavenging echidnas and explored the rugged and rocky coastline of The Nobbies where seals bask on the offshore islands.

Using Victoria's excellent public transit system we took the V-line bus into cavernous and bustling Flinders Street Station in downtown Melbourne. For a couple of country bumpkins, Flinders Street Station was nothing short of amazing with 80 or so bus bays below ground and literally a dozen rail-lines above ground with trains travelling all over Melbourne, out to the suburbs, into the country and interstate. Melbourne also has a fabulous tram system which is free around the downtown core and worth riding just to see all the gorgeous old granite buildings around the city. 

Morning on the southern tip of the mainland

At the southern tip of Victoria, we hiked for three days through Wilson's Promontory National Park visiting the most southerly point of the Australian mainland, camping by white sand beaches with azure waters and riding our boogie boards in the gentle surf.

The massive and wild Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park is an amazing protected waterway containing over 40 sand islands and separated from the pounding surf of the Tasman Sea by narrow strips of sand. We camped for five nights on different islands and spent the days paddling through the clear waters as rays glided under our kayaks, hundreds of sea birds took flight with a thundering of wings, and soldier crabs seemed to number more than grains of sand on the beach. 

Soldier Crabs

At Gippsland Lakes, we caught tail winds east through the islands and battled head winds up Bunga Arm to camp with 90 Mile Beach and the surf of the Tasman Sea on one side, and the sheltered waters of Lake Victoria on the other. North of Bairnsdale, we followed the twisting Mitchell River from Angusvale south to the Den of Nargun, ending a long days hike by swimming in deep pools of fresh water.

In Cape Conran National Park, we walked deserted 90 Mile Beach from East Cape to Point Pearl and swam in the cold clear waters of the Tasman before launching the kayaks at Bemm River and paddling across Sydenham Inlet to follow a narrow twisting channel through drowned melaleuca harbouring plentiful sea birds to Swan Lake.

From the fishing village of Eden, we paddled rolling swells on Twofold Bay and explored narrow nooks and crannies among rock reefs watching fish swimming through the kelp forests in the clear green water. In Bournda National Park, we camped by Wallagoot Lake and went paddling at dawn, accompanied only by dozens of black swans, then walked the Kangarutha Track from tiny Kianninny Bay to Hobart Beach where we swam in the ocean after our days hike.

Morning Mist on the Sapphire Coast

North of Tathra, we paddled up the Bega River as the water changed from clear green to river brown and into Blackfellow Lagoon where fish jumped constantly from the water, and then returned swimming off a sandy beach in the clear salt water.

In the Eurobodalla we walked the coast-line from Tuross Beach to Congo, along the Bingie Dreaming Track, an aboriginal dreaming track, past sea weed strewn beaches with a three metre swell crashing onto the beach and sea mist hanging in the air. Rock platforms at Wasp Head revealed starfish, anemones and small fish in the rock pools and strange geologic formations – ironstone box and gorgeous sandstone cliffs arrayed with colours and sculpted by wind and wave into gracious curves.

At Batemans Bay, we rode a tidal rip into the river and surfed our kayaks in a small swell. And, finally, on a morning kayak in Jervis Bay off a deserted white sand beach we paddled among pods of dolphins listening to their whooshing breath and watching their graceful sleek curves as they cut the clear green waters. A captivating end to 63 days of wonder. 

Dolphin in Jervis Bay