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.

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