Thursday, 23 March 2017

Sea kayaking - Myall Lakes National Park, NSW

A vast lake lies ahead, smooth as glass reflecting blue sky and the leaning branches of ancient paperbarks. This feels like a soft, soul restoring journey. White sand beaches slide by as we paddle steadily across the tannin-stained water. It is day two of a so-far idyllic trip - exploring isolated, shorelines where goannas hunt and young sea eagles practice flights and battles. 

Then, about mid-morning, the wind gets up, ruffles its feathers of air. White caps rush ahead of us. The roar of the southerly wind rises. We are out in the centre of Myall Lake and the water crashes regularly across the bow of our kayaks as white streaks of foam begin forming on the torn surface. 

The suddenness of the change in weather is humbling. I focus on a tiny island of trees just ahead and try to keep the boat straight. The distance looks longer and harder with each passing minute.

Boolambayte Creek

Over the past summer we have enjoyed two sea-kayaking, multi-day trips in Myall Lakes National Park. On our first trip, it was pure glass. We paddled north from Bombah Point, camped a night at Sunnyside Campground and explored the beautiful lower reaches of Boolambatye Creek before crossing the lake to visit Johnsons Beach Campground and returning to Bombah Point. 

On this, our second journey, things start equally well. We put in at Neranie Campground at the northern end of Myall Lake and paddle south to the stunning Shelley Beach. From Neranie to Shelley Beach, with a stop at the entrance to Biddy Harbour, and then cruising down the expanse of Long Point, is approximately 8km of paddling. On a weekday, out of school holidays, the lake feels nicely isolated. Occasional mooring buoys can be seen in the deeper bays. The shoreline is always dense forest.  A crested tern cruises above us. Small groups of black swans mill along the shore but always take flight as we approach – their wingtips flashing white like semaphores and their huge webbed feet slapping loudly against the surface of the lake for take-off. Our first night's camp is heavy with heat, a coal-glow sunset, tropical looking white sand beach, the racket of a hundred musk lorikeets screaming in the flowering angophoras.

Day two is to be a planned exploration of the small islands of Myall Lake - McGraths, Johnsons, Bird Island, Double Islands and Stag Island before looping back to Neranie, closer to the opposite shore. But, nature has its own routines and it is oblivious to ours.  

After rounding Johnsons Island we concentrate on paddling the most direct route possible to the tiny Double Islands. The strong southerly change forces us to hunker down and seek shelter. The larger of the two islands is probably 50m wide and only 200m long. With relief, we break into its lee, find a gap in the reeds and point the sea kayaks ashore. We enjoy lunch beneath a spreading fig tree watching a scruffy eastern yellow robin hunt amongst the fallen leaves. Then we circumnavigate, on foot, our refuge. It doesn't take long.

It's always a bonus when any journey turns into an adventure but a quick check of the weather (there is mobile phone coverage on the lake) and we discover wind gusts up to 45km/hr are being recorded. The wind is ferocious and there is nothing for it but to wait the change out. This is where we see two juvenile sea eagles, wrestling each other mid-air, talons outstretched and entwined, just metres above the tree tops on the smaller of the Double Islands enjoying the southerly wind in a way I can only envy. 

Seizing the chance to improve his paddling skills, Caz ventures out in the howling southerly for a short lap of Double Island. He reports back that it is good fun, a cauldron of white caps and wind. 

Myall Lakes National Park is on the north coast of New South Wales, not far from Newcastle and features one of the State’s largest coastal lake systems. Since 1999, this internationally recognised wetlands site, has been listed under the Ramsar Convention due to its diverse range of wetlands, within a relatively unmodified coastal lake system. The park includes an extensive network of interconnected lake and river systems as well rocky and sandy shores, and offshore islands. The Myall Lakes also have high cultural and social value as they occur within the traditional lands of the Worimi Aboriginal people, where the wetlands' abundant resources provided an ideal living environment. Evidence of this traditional occupation exists across the landscape, including the Dark Point Aboriginal Place

With all this water, the possibilities for long, peaceful paddles are endless. Numerous campsites are spread along the length of the Myall Lake system. The rivers that feed into the lakes provide further potential. From Neranie, it would be possible to kayak all the way south to Nelson Bay, approximately 5 days of paddling, depending on how many kilometres you want to do each day.

Sitting on Double Islands waiting for the wind to abate we pour over the topographical and tourist maps and dream up longer and longer challenges, journeys and adventures for future days. It is not a bad way to spend an afternoon, marooned in the middle of a lake, enough food and water on board to be Crusoe's for the night. And, as the southerly wind does not abate all afternoon we take another lap of the island with this in mind, looking for possible campsites amongst the leaf litter, rocks and low forest. 

All night the water slaps against the rocks on the shore. There is a light lull at one point but in the morning it has picked up again, this time from the north-east. Although it is not as strong as the previous day we curtail our island hopping and bypass a quick visit to Bird Island and Stag Island to save our energy for the paddle back to Neranie, another 8km and into the rising breeze.  

Shelley Beach campsite

With an early start, the lake is empty but for us. Tiny fish take fright beside our kayaks and leap across the surface. The semaphores are signalling again, black swans stretching their wings on the horizon and then settling back to feed. We stop for a rest at Burrah Burrah Point then the final leg to Neranie is mesmerizing – patches of glassy undulating water are licked with molten colour – black, silver, blue. The rhythm of the body paddling, the quiet it instills, the adventure survived and the shore approaching.  Not a soft journey in the end, some hard-work in the unpredictable weather, but soul-restoring…always. 

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