Friday, 22 February 2013

Smoky Cape Lighthouse - Hat Head National Park

I initially wanted to write this blog like a "track notes" with detailed directions for a day walk around the forest and coast near Smoky Cape Lighthouse, but the notes I had were years old. So, back we went, two weekends ago; spending a day roaming around the tracks and coastline north of the lighthouse. Just as well. My old track notes were nearly useless. It's amazing how nature keeps on being nature: growing, changing, moving, evolving.

Smoky Cape Lighthouse is 37km north east of Kempsey on the NSW Mid North Coast and is located in Hat Head National Park.  It's biggest attraction is the beautiful coastline dotted with empty beaches that back onto steep wooded hills and rainforest gullies thick with brush box, scribbly gum, cabbage tree palms and ferns. While walking in this park keep an eye out for sea eagles, osprey, whales and green turtles. 

Our walk, on both visits, started by the lighthouse picnic area on a track marked as Smoky Cape Track. Nothing much had changed here and we followed this well-maintained trail for 2.2 km around the steep flank of Big Smokey (309m) through beautiful cabbage tree palms and past forest oaks where three glossy black cockatoos dropped half eaten seed pods while squawking quietly amongst themselves. Eventually the track emerges on the 4WD access road to South Gap Beach so take the road down to South Gap Beach: a nice spot to spend some time relaxing and exploring. 

View looking north along Gap Beach

In addition to these marked National Park walking tracks, there are a number of old fishermen's tracks around the coastline. I'm a bit loathe to promote them on the blog because coastal environments can be quite fragile. Are we aiding and abetting future erosion or the spread of weeds and management problems? However, the tracks do make for a nice loop walk back to the lighthouse. Just don't take my old track notes as a guide, this is where I had to throw them to the wind. 

The fisherman’s track from South Gap Beach back to the lighthouse is much more indistinct than on our previous visit five years ago. Around the first headland, the track runs down to a small cove. My old track notes describe this as an idyllic, sandy cove. Last weekend it was all boulders and driftwood and pounding huge southerly swells churning up the green water. Still, the beach is backed by a lovely extended grass area and as we approached the cove a lone osprey circled overhead. 

The fisherman’s track continues on the other side of the grass gully and the next stretch is rough in places. Again, my old track notes let me down. They describe the fisherman's track eventually emerging "onto the wide grass National Parks path known as Green Island Fire Trail". This path is not so wide anymore, there is no grass and it looks like the plan is to let it re-grow entirely. The Green Island Fire Trail is marked on National Parks maps as a walking track and promoted as a nice spot for views across to Green Island and back to the lighthouse but it has become somewhat overgrown although still distinct. Fortunately the views back to the lighthouse are still as lovely as ever. 

There is another fishermen’s track, hidden amongst the banksia trees, heading south off Green Island Point and down to the small beaches beneath the lighthouse. These beaches were the highlight of the trip for me - untrodden except by us, secluded and quiet, although popular for the nudists and perfect for some quiet reflection before taking the wooden stairs at the southern end and following Jack Perkins Track back up to the car park at the lighthouse. 

As this was only a day walk, about 5km in all and taking about 4-5 hours, I decided that precise track notes from us are really not needed. The adventurous will always find their way, regardless. And, if I had written up a set of track notes nature would just go and change things on me and lead everyone astray - the grass grows, the sun and wind forces banksias to move out over the track, trees fall and obscure old routes, sand shifts and rocks move in the pounding surf. We take what we get each time, we see the same place differently. At the end of the day I was quite glad the old track notes were so old. Not only was it a good excuse to get back to this beautiful coastline but it also reminded me why we visit and revisit nature: there is something thrilling about nothing staying the same. 

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