Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Magic of Munmorah State Conservation Area, NSW

A week-day morning in Munmorah State Conservation Area and fisherman are strung along the rock shelf beneath Wybung Head casting baited lines into the turquoise water. Swell surges and foams against the coast and the sound of the ocean carries up to us as we search along the headland cliff-line for a track down to the long platform of rock below. The view south, from high on the bluff, takes in 8km long Birdie Beach with Budgewoi and Norah Head lighthouse in the distance and Bird Island Nature Reserve sitting offshore.

But, to the north, we can see a more varied, rugged coastline; a series of bluffs and sandy beaches, wide rock shelves and boulder strewn bays snaking around to Snapper Point. This is the direction we intend exploring, picking our way along the littoral to our finish point at Catherine Hill Bay. We are searching for some of the spectacular coastal features that are the secret behind this section of coast's protected status. We just have to get down off this cliff.

Earlier in the morning, we parked the car beside Campbell Drive and began our walk by taking the Geebung Trail which winds through coastal heathland for about 2km. Hakea trees, flowering and fragrant, were loaded with bees: their spidery white flowers densely packed and brilliant against the blue enamel sky. Yellow tailed black cockatoos flew overhead on slow, lazy wing beats. It goes to show, not every journey in the outdoors needs to be a challenge, battling wild weather and difficult terrain. It is a pleasure just to be out and about; living in the weather, walking in the world.

The Geebung Trail eventually climbed onto Wybung Head Road where we turned right and followed it down to a car park before continuing onto Wybung Head - a great whale watching point in the right season. And while this Munmorah meandering walk may be no wild adventure, every trip into nature should be about exploration. Coastal walks are a great opportunity to test the strength of your curiosity. Just keep the ocean on one side and you can't get lost. 

To get off Wybung Head, we follow a few false leads. Finally we strike upon a steep, but well used, path that drops off the northern neck and takes us to sea level.  For the rest of the morning we are entranced by the things we discover – amazing conglomerate boulders, turquoise water lapping against the coves and beaches, rock pools, high cliffs and finally the stunning cove and cave around the next headland. 

By lunch time, a steady stream of surfers are checking out the waves on Frazer Beach, sneaking in a quick paddle during a lunch break from somewhere. During the Depression a small squatters camp grew up around Frazer Beach. What a place to sit out that difficult and challenging time. 

From Frazer Beach we continue north along the coast to Snapper Point. There is a blowhole here but it is not blowing today. Further around the point we check out the amazing sea cave hidden deep at the end of a deep, narrow cove. From the point, we follow Snapper Point Road up to a small car park where an old foot track heads back down to the coast. The next section is a surprising challenge.  The track grows fainter north of Timber Beach and soon we are pushing through dense wattle regrowth following an old foot track that is getting narrower and fainter. We reach a high point where some large banksias are growing and the path just ends. 

We are several hundred metres back from the coast but there is an old fire trail ahead and once we reconnect with that, it leads us back down to Flat Island, a grassy protrusion that juts out between Ghosties Beach and Moonee Beach. From its name I am guessing that at times in the past this low, flat point was an island but it is now connected to the mainland by a wide sand spit. Peaceful for now - surrounded by weatherd into a fascination of shapes and designs. One day it may be a busier place as behind the dunes a new housing estate is being built. 

The bush bash was hot and dusty work and so we head down Ghosties Beach to the southern headland to sit in the shade of the cliff and have a swim. Exploration is a wonderful thing. New discoveries astound, partially for their newness. At the end of Ghosties Beach is a narrow cleft in the cliff line. It leads through to a domed cave. It is a unique and fascinating feature and as the tide goes out we are able to explore it from all angles. 

From the beach, the final leg of this walk is a coastline of hidden zawns of rock that are an astonishing shade of pink where the ocean has polished them smooth with its steady, ceaseless ebb and flow. We explore up and down, under ledges, around points as we make our way around to Catherine Hill Bay where we call for a pick up. Even the towns here are protected. Catherine Hill Bay is a heritage village and its bush and heathland location beside a 2km long beach were protected by Lake Macquarie City Council in 2004 as a Heritage Conservation Area (HCA). The village comprises the oldest group of buildings in Lake Macquarie City and in August 2008, Catherine Hill Bay received the State’s highest protection on the State Heritage Register. The listing is only the second time – following he listing of Braidwood in southern NSW in 2004 – that an entire town has been placed on the State Heritage Register.

At this end of our walk, on a weekday at heritage listed Catherine Hill Bay, walkers are strung out along the beach taking their daily constitutional, a few dogs in tow, a couple of surfers test the waves. We join the string of activity, stitch another piece of Australia's isolated coastline into the fabric of our days. Our pick-up crew are waiting up by the surf club and all we now have to do is find a way to drag ourselves off this beach and return to civilisation.

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  1. I lived until a few years ago around 20-30 minutes drive from there and it was one of my favourite spots just to wander for a few hours. There are a few spots that you missed. Timber Beach has a fantastic sea cave at the southern end but only accessible through a tunnel at very low tide. There is a nice spot looking out over Birdie Beach. If you walk from where there was an old picnic area it will take you through some nice ground orchids at the right time of the year. The alternative to dropping off Wybung Head is to head back along the road and then there is a track down to Frazer Beach. The 20 year old plan of management has the possibility of walking tracks but things happen slowly for the NPWS.

    North of Catherine Hill Bay are also some lovely spots, it just requires walking inland at some points to avoid the inlets.

    1. Thanks for the great tips Ken. Looks like it is worth another visit this summer. We did know about the track to Frazer Beach but always like to opt for the more challenging route!