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.
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