Monday, July 25, 2016

More Coastal Wanderings: Merry Beach to Clear Point and Durras Mountain

Although we did not quite succeed to follow rock platforms all the way from Mill Beach to North Head Beach in Murramarang National Park the basic idea behind the outing seemed sound. Find a piece of coast without development and with rock platforms and traverse it from one end to another. 

Deserted beach near O'Hara Islands

Still in Murramarang National Park but a dozen or so kilometres to the north, the coast from Merry Beach to Pebbly Beach is undeveloped apart from a small campground at Pretty Beach. Merry Beach to Clear Point is about 9 km and it is about the same back along the walking track that runs over Durras Mountain. This time, if the rock platforms proved impassable, another track which runs through native forest behind the coast would be easily reached. 

Rock platforms near Snake Bay

I wanted to start from Kioloa, but Doug thought starting from Merry Beach made more sense as we would not be able to time the trip for low tide. Truth is, the start and end point for these trips is always somewhat arbitrary. You could start far to the north at Bawley Point or walk all the way to Depot Beach. Starting and ending at Merry Beach maximises the time you are away from development and minimises time spent on roads. 

Rock platforms of Snapper Point
The rock platforms at the south end of Merry Beach are alluring to coastal walkers and you'll be tempted to follow them around to Snapper Point, but you'll get stuck below the cliffs of Snapper Point so it is better to follow the track that winds around Snapper Point headland. This offers wonderful views all the way down to coast to Mount Gulaga. 

Rock platforms south of Pretty Beach
We followed the parks track down to Pretty Beach and this was the last time we used tracks until we reached Clear Point. From Pretty Beach to Dawsons Islands, two small off-shore rock reefs, it's all easy going on short beaches separated by small rock platforms. Getting around to Snake Bay requires a bit of a detour into the bush atop cliffs until you can scramble down through banksia forest to the rock strewn beach. 

Snake Bay
There is one other section where we had to circumvent cliffs through the forest. This is just north of the next deep bay south of Snake Bay (known as Courageous Slip by local sea kayakers). At lower tides or a smaller swell, you might be able to hop around on boulders. We stopped for lunch at Clear Point which juts into the ocean and catches swell from north and south. The rock platform south of Clear Point is worth a wander as this large rock platform is about 10 metres above sea level and is gradually being pulled into the sea. 

 Clear Point platforms
From Clear Point, a good track leads up onto the Murramarang Range, over Durras Mountain and back to Merry Beach. The old road is blocked to vehicle traffic and is gradually reverting to a pleasant forest track. 

 Heading into Snake Bay

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Day Well Spent: Mill Beach to Oaky Beach

The grand plan for this trip was to walk from Mill Beach at South Durras entirely on coastal rock platforms to North Head Beach in Murramarang National Park where we would have bicycles stashed for our glorious ride back to Mill Beach after vanquishing various and many difficulties. 

Spacious rock platforms near Wasp Head

The reality was somewhat different. Firstly, on the topographic map, the road ends on a ridge top about 1.6 km north of North Head Beach. For us, this was a good thing as our $10 tip shop bikes, and 53 year old bodies would not be up to a steep ride uphill but, being old mountaineers, we could walk forever. In reality, the road extends all the way down to the NP campground at North Head Beach and this is where we locked our bicycles before ruefully driving back up the steep hill and along the Old Coast Road to Mill Beach. There was little doubt in my mind that I would be pushing that 30 kg bicycle back up that hill at the end of the day, but then, wouldn't the downhill ride be all the sweeter? 

 Gulch near Emily Miller Beach

The distance from Mill Beach to North Head Beach as you follow the intricately carved coast is about 13 to 15 km, so we aimed to start two hours before low tide. Presumably, unless we crawled the entire distance, this should give us enough time to stroll along North Head Beach as the tide was gently rising. And, it all started well. The rock platform around Wasp Head to Wobbegong Bay is capacious and backed by scenic carved sandstone cliffs. Wobbegong Bay is backed by a tussle of large fallen blocks of sandstone at the south end of which is a narrow gulch carved between overhanging sandstone walls. Essentially, you walk right through the pointy headland that extends almost a kilometre to the east from Wobbegong Bay. 

Wobbegong Gulch

Sensibly, Doug went through the passage while I just had to go around the headland. Except, of course, I couldn't. I got right around the point on a rock platform that gradually delivered me up to the top of the cliff which was covered with dense bush and fallen trees where I was effectively marooned on an island. Back I went, but not before bashing through the bush in search of a shortcut, which obviously did not exist. 

Rock platforms near Dark Beach

Doug was waiting for me on an upper rock platform overlooking Emily Miller Beach. This early in the trip we were still feeling purist so we tried to gain Emily Miller Beach by walking along the cliff edge until we could descend but a huge sea cave bars progress so we had to backtrack (second time for me, but who's counting) to the track and then take the normal route down to the beach. 

Slippery cliffs near Dark Beach

The next headland south has another great rock platform which lured us all the way around until we were almost on the grey shingle sands of Dark Beach, but, we got stuck again above another cavernous sea cave. This time, we were able to bash along the cliff top above the cave in native bush. We tried to climb down the cliff on the west (beach side of the cave) but got stuck at a tricky and slippery step and, you guessed it, backtracked again. Continuing further west you can either descend down a steep loose dirt rib to rock platform or go a little farther in the bush and follow a minor drainage down. Doug did the latter while I took the former route and had to wander around a bit looking for a route to downclimb off the rock platform to the beach. The rock step I climbed down would be underwater at higher tides. 

Flat Rock Island

The next headland south is Flat Rock Point and I was optimistic about getting right around this point on the rock platform. We got within 40 or 50 metres of the final point before getting shut down by a deep watery gulch. Back again to Dark Beach where we scrambled up a dry creek-bed and found a faint track. Purism was gradually being replaced by reality and instead of walking out to Flat Rock Point and scrambling down onto the rock platform simply to walk around to Myrtle Beach we decided to cut the point off and took the track down to Myrtle Beach. 

One of the smaller sea caves

Halfway along Myrtle Beach there is a small outcrop of rocks that is passable at pretty much any tide, and then a narrower rock platform heads south towards Richmond Point. I had grave doubts that we would pass this point on rock platforms as Doug and I have landed the kayaks on Richmond Beach and the cliffs run right into the sea on the south side of Richmond Point. The cliffs themselves are steep, often undercut, rotten and covered with dense coastal scrub. If that sounds impassable, it is. 

Hidden Beach south of Richmond Beach

This time I would guess we got to within 500 metres of the point before we had to turn back to Myrtle Beach. There seemed little point in bashing through the bush when a good track was available so we walked out to the Old Coast Road along the walking track, then followed the gravel road south to the Richmond Beach track. 

Tilted Strata between Richmond and Little Oaky Beaches

All this backwards and forwards had by now consumed all of the low tide, some of the rising tide and was threatening to also consume the rest of the daylight. Doug was ready to pack it in, but I thought that we might get to Little Oaky Beach or, if we were really lucky, Oaky Beach so we continued south from Richmond Beach. A tiny little pocket beach of sand, inaccessible at high tide, lies under rotten white cliffs, and then tilted up strata leads all the way around to Little Oaky Beach - almost. There is actually a little hook of land and a rock island at the entrance to Little Oaky Beach and deep surge washed channel. It was no go again, so back to Richmond Beach. 

Stepping into the light

We now had two options, one was to walk the gravel Old Coast Road (which we had already driven along) out to North Head Beach to retrieve the bicycles where, instead of a victorious downhill run we would have an wearying uphill grind. The other option was a relatively swift and painless walk out to Cookies Beach on old forest tracks. I had done this a few days previously and knew that it took less than an hour. It was the walk of shame, minus the hangover and dirty underwear. 

Pretty cute

Actually, it was a pretty pleasant walk. The spotted gum trees are beautiful, the old forest tracks are spongy underfoot, the day was still warm, and a profusion of kangaroos were grazing on open grass as we ambled into South Durras and strolled around the last rock platform to Mill Beach. It was a day well spent.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sailing South: Ulladulla to Bawley Point By Sea Kayak

Another Sunday, another paddle day, although paddler numbers have dropped severely since the summer and there is now only three of us. We meet at the small boat ramp at Bawley Point and strap the Dart on top of the two tugs, only minor tussling with straps is involved. The boat ramp near the Fishermans Coop at Ulladulla is the only place we have landed before so we go there and unload the boats. I am curious about conditions off Warden Head as last time we paddled past we'd endured what felt like a kilometre of continuous spin cycle even though the day had been remarkably calm. 

Doug heading out of Ulladulla Harbour

At the entrance to Ulladulla Harbour we came across two female sea kayakers coming back in. Seeing other sea kayakers is unusual enough, two women together qualifies as incredibly rare. We had a bit of a chat and then continued on inadvertently paddling right over Sullivan Reef where the water shallows abruptly. One minute it was calm, next a big wave was rising up and curling at the top. Mark, then Doug, paddled over the top but I was 30 metres back and wondering if a solid side lean and brace would get me through safely when the wave inevitably broke. Somehow only the crest curled into white-water and although I got soaked I emerged otherwise undamaged and upright. 

Passing Stokes Island

Warden Head was bumpy, but not nearly as bad as last time. Once we turned to the south and started running with wind and current the waves seemed much smaller. We had a good following wind and small sea all the way to Crampton Island and the sailing was going so well that we were a fair distance off-shore. A lone dolphin swam with us all the way south swimming back and forth under our bows and surfacing only a metre off our kayaks which was really cool. 

Kayak sailing

Landing on the north side of Crampton Island was easier than last time and it was nice to stretch the legs. With all the rain lately, Tabourie Creek was flowing out brown and we were able to ride out between Crampton Island and the shore on an out-flowing current. It seemed to take hardly any more time to reach Bawley Point with a 15 knot tail wind and as the southerly swell had been falling it was remarkably easy to land at Bawley Point boat ramp. 

 Bawley Point

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

It's All Fun: Narooma to Mystery Bay by Sea Kayak

Last time I paddled this section of coast Doug was in Vancouver and I was pursuing my straight line policy to try to keep up with the bigger boys in home-made boats and saw very little of the hidden beaches and rocky coves between Narooma and Mystery Bay. A local bus runs past the Mystery Bay Road twice a day, once in the morning and once in the late afternoon and simplifies the whole shuttle affair. Doug dropped me and the kayaks at the Jetty Park in Narooma while he drove down to the Mystery Bay turn-off to catch - or miss - the bus. After setting up the kayaks, I spent the time climbing laps around the excellent kids playground to stay warm. This caused the adults some consternation but, as usual, the kids loved it. 

Glasshouse Rocks, 
pc, DB 

Meanwhile, Doug was standing at the turn-off to Mystery Bay waiting for the bus which came by just a minute or two late at a steady 120 km/hour leaving Doug at the curb. Luckily, a local "tradie" gave him a ride into town and I barely noticed he was late. Turns out, the bus stop is actually 250 metres north of Mystery Bay Road for the northbound bus, and south for the southbound bus. 

Exploring around Glasshouse Rocks
pc, DB. 

Wagonga Inlet is famous for clear water and big rays and both were in evidence as we paddled out past the breakwater. Usually there are seals hauled out on the rocks but it must have been too cold as we did not see any. The rocky headland directly underneath the golf course has amazing big sea caves which we paddled into. You might not know these are there unless you go right into all the little bays. After having a play around these rocks we continued down the coast to Glasshouse Rocks. These little islets off shore don't really look like Glasshouses but they do offer some interesting paddling. 

A cool arch near Corunna Point
pc, DB 

Another longer section of beach follows as you paddle south past Handkerchief Beach to Barunga Point. There are a couple of semi-sheltered landings, depending on conditions along the way but a big easterly or southerly swell would make landing challenging. There are more rocks and cliffs at Barunga Point and then a short section of beach to more scattered rocks at Bogota Head. We had dolphins with us the entire distance along this coast. 

Paddling past Glasshouse Rocks
pc, DB 

The best part of this paddle is from Corunna Point to Mystery Bay where there are rocks, gulches, gauntlets, and sea caves. We took our time exploring this section before pulling into Mystery Bay where there is a handy tap for washing gear. Doug walked the 2.5 km out to where we had left the car and arrived back before I had even finished my thermos of tea.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Gannets and Penguins, Caves and Whales: Into The Blue Cave

We were back at Wimbie Beach for another shot at the Blue Cave on north Tollgate Island. Mike had brought his work boat so he was obviously serious about paddling through the narrows and into the cave. I was ready first and set off alone. For once I could paddle with the boyz but not be rushing to keep up. There was very long low swell running and just a slight north wind. I passed a half a dozen Fairy Penguins and got the closest I have ever been, but still not close enough for a photo. There were also a few Gannets floating on the calm sea. Gannets are beautiful birds with a blush of orange around their necks. At this time of year they seem relatively common and we often see them plunging into the water fishing. We once paddled out to Lawrence Rocks off Portland in Victoria where there is a huge Gannet colony. 

In the Blue Cave

When I got to the Tollgate Islands I was surprised to see two sea kayaks coming up from the south and reaching the south end of the islands about the same time as me. I've visited these islands at least half a dozen times and never seen another kayaker. There were also people on the beach and a National Parks boat anchored off the island. The National Parks were doing their annual clean-up of the islands which are a sanctuary for rare sea birds including Fairy Penguins. 

Mike paddling into the Blue Cave

Mike and Doug were right behind me and after a chat with the Ranger we headed north around the islands to the Blue Cave. This was a business trip after all, it was pretty much Blue Cave or bust. Now that I knew to enter the cave, turn left not right it was pretty straightforward but still a bit thrilling. The initial entrance is reasonably narrow so any surge is pushed up higher in the cleft. I paddled right to the back this time without turning round and found the entrance to the cave to my left. I was not prepared for how dark it was in the cave or how loud the sound of the waves and surge were but I turned around and backed in. Washing back and forth with the swell and looking towards the entrance the light filters down into blue water below - hence the name. I paddled out, Doug went in, then Mike. 

 Rocky Cove on North Tollgate Island

On the east side of the islands Mike saw a humpback whale not too far away and we paddled out to sea. But, this time of the year the whales are traveling fairly steadily north so we only saw it for a few minutes before it disappeared. On the south side of the islands we found the horizontal shower which was performing quite well even though the swell was not that big. We had a look in the big arch, but you can only paddle in not through and then turned west and returned to Wimbie Beach.

Mike and the horizontal shower

Monday, July 4, 2016

Take A Turn To The Right: Durras to Surfside Past Tollgate And Snapper Islands

This is a popular stretch of coast with local sea kayakers as it passes Murramarang National Park and only requires a short car shuffle. Doug and I met Mike at Surfside Beach and strapped his beautiful hand made kayak on top of our two clunkers for the drive to Cookies Beach, where we drove right past Mark who was inexplicably calling our mobile from the parking lot behind the boat ramp. Obviously watching too much Federal election coverage is, just like other reality TV show, bad for your cognition. 

Doug along the Murramarang coast

We paddled out between Wasp Head and Wasp Island where the usual grommets were working a small wave. Heading south with a slight tail wind, Doug and I put up our sails which is the only way I can keep pace with the others, and, for that fleeting time that the wind was blowing, I caught up to the others. Mike continued paddling south far off-shore but the rest of us headed closer in and started weaving through some rock gardens as we paddled past small beaches and headlands. 

Milling about near the entrance to the Blue Cave

There is a tiny rock strewn bay, inaccessible unless you are in a kayak, just north of the trig station on North Head which I have always wanted to paddle into. Once you get inside the rock reefs, the little black stone beach at the back is quite sheltered. It is a pretty spot but the sun does not reach far in during the winter. We ran through some easy rock gardens here and then somehow ended up split into three groups well off Three Islet Point. I wanted to paddle through a narrow cleft of rock right on the spit of Three Islet Point as I had wimped out last time and easily convinced the others that we should do that while we were close by. This time around the gap looked capacious and we all paddled easily through. 

Looking out from the opening to the Blue Cave

Mark wanted to visit the Tollgate Islands before lunch so we paddled over to the north island next. The conditions were really looking very good for a visit into the Blue Cave with only a low southerly swell running. Still pictures do not do the Blue Cave justice, better to watch one of these videos instead. Since seeing this ominous looking cleft on our second visit to the Tollgate Islands Doug and I had become somewhat obsessed with getting inside. No visit to the Tollgates was complete any more without taking a look at the access slot. But, despite much looking, we had not yet ventured inside.

Doug looking over his shoulder at the entrance to the Blue Cave

We were soon at the opening of the Blue Cave and milling about outside. Personally, I often find waiting and watching much harder than actually getting stuck in and doing as your mind can imagine all kinds of nasty scenarios while hanging around at the start of something so I volunteered to go in first. I happened to strike a nice long lull in the waves and easily got through the first narrow bit to a wider pool where it was easy to turn around. This is where I went wrong. I knew that there was a cave running off at 90 degrees to the first slot but thought the cave ran out to the right (west). No amount of straining my eyes revealed any such cave and some how I didn't think to turn around and see if the cave actually went off to the left (east). I took a couple of photos and paddled back out. The others were, of course, a bit surprised that I had not found it, but no-one else wanted to go in and I was not sure I had enough adrenaline left for a second visit so soon after the first. We continued on paddling into the little bay behind the Blue Cave before paddling through the gap between the islands and then heading north to a little sandy beach at Chain Bay for lunch. 

Mike sailing by Snapper Island

Mark wanted to visit Snapper Island before we landed at Surfside Beach so we paddled the four kilometres across the bay to the island and had a tour around there. Apparently, the big cave on the island was used for smuggling back when Batemans Bay was a timber port not a tourist destination. Now the island is a sanctuary for breeding sea birds including Fairy Penguins. Finally, the last three kilometre paddle across the bay to Surfside Beach and Mike's car.