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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Five Nights along the Wilderness Coast

For a while the wonderful wilderness zone near the border of NSW and Victoria has been in our sights as a possible walk. This is a string of national parks and wilderness areas, perhaps most famously East Gippsland's Croajingolong National Park. Our initial plan was to walk from Mallacoota, spending two nights near Harry's Hut giving us a chance to go inland for a bit and climb Mount Nadgee, and then walk out via the Merrica River Ranger Station where we would be picked by the very helpful Steve Weixel of Mallacoota Explorer Tours. We heard, however that there was no water in the park at this time of year! We were even informed by the Parks Office responsible for this part of the coast (in Merrimbula) that there would be no fresh water in Lake Barracoota! This surprised us, as Barracoota is the largest freshwater coastal lake in Victoria! Steve spoke to some hikers coming out of the walk, and there was water in Barracoota (of course) and he passed on detailed instructions on where all available water was. There was a small problem, though. No water for what were to have been our last two days. Some of us were happy to concatenate this into one longish walk carrying all available water, but others were a bit concerned about this so we decided instead to go as far as the Hut, and then walk back, talking in the lakes and so on in reverse. We felt a bit bad about cancelling Steve's pickup after he had been so helpful: but we had a lot of dealings with him and recommend him highly.
Anyway after along drive down from Sydney, picking up one of our number who had flown in to Merrimbula on the way, we crashed at a motel (The Blue Wren, a pleasant and roomy hostelry run by a preternaturally cheerful proprietor called Joe) and got ready to meet Simon Buckley, our excellent and highly reccomended boaty, at 8am.

After about fifty minutes we got off at the jetty near a parks research station: time the traditional walk start group shot:


We then swiftly walked through rather lovely coastal forest: huge eucalypts and banksia until we hit the beach, and then marched up with the beach until reaching wonderful dunes that guard Lake Barracoota. Following the directions to cut across the dunes at an angle we began our traverse of the dunescape:

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Soon the lake hoved into view:



It was at about this time that someone pointed out that two of us were dressed in colours which, when combined with the dunescape, made the Sons of the Desert moniker especially appropriate!



When we hit the water the first thing on many people's mind was a swim: here's the path out through the reeds into the wonderfully pure water of the lake, easily the best water of the trip whether for drinking (after purification) or swimming:



The lakeshore was a magical landscape, with a combination of water, sand and reeds that has a very Japanese aesthetic:





Beautiful it was; but it was also hot and without shelter so after lunch we set off again planning to camp at Lake Wau Waka. Very soon we came to the wreck of the SS Riverina, a steam passenger ship that was wrecked in 1927 (all passagers survived this one and walked back to Mallacoota)



An hour or so further on we got to Lake Wau Waka; which is also a supply of fresh water. Interestingly it has a relatively narrow sand bar separating it from the beach, but stays fresh because it is fed fresh water from a creek, which then flows under the sand and into the sea. Seasoned Sons readers will know what happens when water flows under sand: quicksand! Keep away from the lake side of the sandbar!

When we arrived we met a party of half a dozen blokes from Melbourne who formed a running club that had morphed into a bushwalking group. They pointed us to the little wooden structure they optimistically called a 'jetty' which was the best place to gather water. I strolled over there for water and photography as dusk settled in:



These guys also told me that there had been spectacular sunrise that morning (they were having a rest day after the big walk in) so next morning I got up to have a look. After nothing much at actual dawn,  just a few minutes later the sun was visible through a band of cloud that made it look for all the world like a gas giant:




Then it was time to pack up quickly, and the party headed back around the lake to make for the beach:



It was only an hour or so to the border of NSW and Victoria, where there is a wonderful border cairn at which I imagine all parties photograph themselves:



There was also a series of trig stations going inland that look as though they go all the way to the point where the Murray starts to be the border line!

The next destination was a stop at Lake Nadgee where we were told we would find no water. Indeed we didn't. But it's very lovely: here's a view from inland where the camp site is out to the sand bar.



Then couple of us went on a water scouting expedition. No water; we did however meet a few black snakes, that scudded off into the water where they swam with great virtuosity. It gave us pause to think we had been swimming there. Here's one of us coming back from the water trip:



Since there was no water (as expected) we headed inland to Harry's Hut on the Nadgee river which we were told was the only permanent source of water in the area. We went inside to be greeted by many bold rats, well before dusk! We pitched our tents well away from the hut!



Here are Adrian and Kirsten having a nice lie down and hiding from the insects (which weren't that bad; I think it was horizontality that they craved)



An unusual feature of this camp site was the presence of a couple of what might have been birders or hunters hides, and an outdoor toilet. I was very pleased by the toilet, though some who went off to it came back puzzled that I hadn't mentioned that it was completely open:



We then headed up to Little River which was to be as far north as we went. We left Adrian for a while at a junction to reduce use of his boots. His two year old Scarpa boots were popping their rivets where the lace loops are held on. As far as we could tell the problem was rust; which means that the real problem was cheap steel. Not impressive for $300 boots!

Here's one of us consulting a map at little river:



And another just admiring it:



It's a very lovely campsite here too; when there is water it'd be a great place to spend some time. Here's the edge of the river:



And here is a wonderful camp table made from an old door that graces the campsite:



We now headed south towards the soak at Nadgee beach; this would give us a different route back to Lake Nadgee where we planned to camp, lugging our water from the soak to the camp. The walk began with one of these remarkable tunnels through leptospermum forest:



We then started to power on. We had planned to take in Osprey Lookout, but managed to forget about it. Very fortunately one of us saw the side path, and we started to wonder what it was for (it was a narrow tunnel through ti-tree) when we realised of course it was the lookout track.

Here's Adrian capering on the cliff edge:



And here's the view itself, giving a view to Eden and beyond:



On our way back we were rewarded with a particularly fantasy novel like tree tunnel!



We then moved on to the soak. At the turnoff we found a black snake that didn't move for ages and we had to keep an eye on it.



We then went to the soak: at this point our (borrowed!) pump broke. I imagine the water was too tannin, so it clogged, and then the extra pressure required snapped it. Not impressive. We then had to scoop into a muddy hole to get water.

After loading up with the water and treating it, we headed off back to Lake Nadgee and set up camp. At dusk I wandered off in search of a sunset. Nothing kitsch to be found, but did get a nice view of the lake just after the sun went down:



And near the camp I ran into a tired camper who clearly needed to be in her sleeping bag!



Next morning it was back onto the beach!



Here we are wondering exactly where the quicksand is:



And here is an uninspiring record shot of the whole lake from the north east to say farewell to it:



One of the delights of the rest of the walk back to Lake Wau Waka is the heathland. At the right time of year it would be a blaze of flowers. But even now in late summer it was not disappointing. There was a Banksia I saw that I was puzzled by, not exactly like any I knew. On return I looked up the area and indeed it might be Banksia croajingolensis, a newly described (2000) species found only in these heaths!



We very soon came to Bunyip Hole, which is a water source for many. But at this time of year there was less even than at the beach soak, barely a centimetre:



After some more heath walking it was back to the beach. Here are Adrian and Kirsten with some big ships in the background:



Some of the dunes you pass on the beach are amazing:



It didn't seem long before we were at Lake Wau Waka where we had the luxury of spending the whole afternoon lazing (actually one of us took off on a GPS training expedition). Before leaving she found this lovely terrapin. Here's a photo on her hand for scale:



And then here it is extending its head and heading off:



With a minimum of handling we put it back near the water.

As I lazed away the afternoon I got to examine some of the wash that people had gathered in the campsite to act as furniture and art. I think this bike must have been the latter:



The trainee doing unnecessary ks was soon back and headed to the water:



Here's a sign at this campsite that sums up what's important on this walk!



And here we celebrate her extra kilometres!



Next morning it was time to head off again, and make for Lake Barracoota. Our plan was to fill up with water there, and cart it to the jetty so we could camp there ready for our pickup from Simon early in the morning. Getting to Barracoota meant more dunes to cross!



We freshened up and had a huge lunch at Barracoota, and then headed back to the Jetty. We were really motoring along! More by chance than design we had pretty good tides for most of our beach walking, and so found good firm sand. It might be worth some design next time, though.

When we got the site near the jetty it looked as if it would rain so we quickly got the tents up. Only then did we discover that there were many Inchman ants under our tent! One of them gave me a nasty bite. These are really big ants! There was no flat space to move the tent to, so we created an exclusion barrier with DEET.

This might be a good point to say that no-one found a tick while on the walk. Very lucky, and unusual, though I suppose Spring is peak season. Mossies weren't bad either. The worst flying things were the tiny midges at this last camp. There were however tons of snakes. In addition to the many black snakes, we saw something that was either a copperhead or a brown (looked like the former, but more unlikely this low). At one point crossing a bridge just before this last camp site I almost put my foot down on a blacksnake, before it scuttled away just in time!

We were up before dawn to get ready for pick up. Here are Adrian and Kirsten admiring the view:



And here's Kristie scanning the area while a fishing boat goes past:


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And to revert to cheese, here's the traditional parting shot:

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And here's Simon the boatman arriving to pick us up!



A lovely walk, thanks to all! I think it could become regular: best way to do it would be up at dawn for a good 20 ks every day, and then get to camp by midday where you can all laze around with a good book on a light kindle! Also you get the best sites that way!














7 comments:

  1. I think these are some of your best trip photos ever - amazing

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  2. Wow, great pics!! I especially love the snake.

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  3. Beautiful shots and lovely report.

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  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Sara; hope to see you in the North sometime!

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. A really great walk and great pics. One of the best weeks I ever spent was a base camp at Lake Barracoota. We did Howe Hill as a side trip.

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