[SUBW-A] Trip report - Nadgee Nature Reserve

Roger Butler R.Butler at lake.com.au
Thu May 9 08:12:57 AEST 2002

Dates - 25/4/02 to 28/4/02
Party members - Sally Partridge, Amy Gye, Siobhan Toohill, Roger Butler.

Nadgee Nature Reserve and Croajingalong National Park encompass a magical
stretch of coastal wilderness that is as appealing as it is remote.  The
Croajingalong section extends from Mallacoota in the south to the
Victoria/NSW border.  Nadgee is the northern NSW part and our walk finished
at the Merrica River ranger station.  Walking permits are limited to 20
people per night and we were concerned that the four days we'd chosen over
Anzac Day would be popular and we'd miss out.  But with permits in hand, the
four of us left Sydney in one car on the Wednesday night.

The drive was surprisingly fast and we covered the 530km in good time.  We
pitched tents at the ranger station and settled in for a short sleep.  The
NPWS ranger had given us the details of a local guy who runs a bushwalkers'
taxi service and he picked us up at 9am on Anzac Day and drove us the 80km
or so to Mallacoota.  We came to the conclusion that he was completely nuts,
particularly when showed us the bridge that he wanted to fly his ultralight
aircraft under.  Throughout the walk, our conversation often revolved around
Lord of the Rings references.  The first one was the much-welcomed "second
breakfast" in a Mallacoota cafe.

Our next task was to get from Mallacoota to the start of the walk on the
other side of Mallacoota Inlet.  The inlet is at the mouth of a large lake
and we thought that Anzac Day would have brought many pleasure craft to the
lake.  But the place was very sleepy and there was barely a boat moving.  So
we found the Mallacoota Water Taxi and its eccentric skipper, a man who
liked to be known as Popeye and certainly looked the part.  Another group of
walkers had gotten there first so we had to wait for an hour while he
dropped them off.  While waiting, we were joined by a dog who kept us
entertained by chasing sticks.

We arrived on the northern shore and lunched on a grassy dune.  Just as we
were donning packs for the walk north along the beach, a pod of dolphins
arrived and had a surf among the waves.  There were at least seven of them
and they were obviously enjoying riding the waves in.  They came really
close to shore, into water only a metre deep.  We watched them for ages,
before starting the walk proper at 3pm.

Siobhan lead the way at a great pace and we were soon at Lake Barracoota.
Reaching the lake required us to leave the beach and walk 500m across open
dunes.  Here we collected water and speculated on identity of the animals
that left various tracks in the sand.  We were considering the lake as a
possible campsite but the mossies bated that idea.  Instead, since the
weather was pretty good, we returned to the beach and camped only 10m from
the ocean.

We had our first swim of the trip under moonlight at 7pm.  The waves were
breaking beautifully and were easy to catch.  Before the walk, we'd
organised to each cook an evening meal, with one person making the desserts.
That person was Siobhan and what a great decision that was.  The meals were
all good, but the desserts were fabulous.  The first night was a tofu red
curry followed by pears in red wine.  All washed down with port while
listening to the roar of the ocean only metres away.  We retreated to our
tents when a light rain started around 9:30pm.

Friday dawned beautifully and we stumbled out of the tents and into the
water around 8am.  After a relaxed breakfast, we marched north at a more
leisurely pace than the afternoon before.  Our first stop was to examine the
wreck of a boat that had run aground 80 years ago.  Only two pieces of
gnarled metal were visible rising above the waves.  We then passed two
islands off the coast and only briefly considered swimming to one of them.
The wind had picked up and we sheltered behind dunes for elevenses and then
lunch.  But we didn't complain too much because it was a tailwind and made
the sand walking easier!

In the mid-afternoon, the vast beach ended and we headed up into the dunes
instead.  These were immense, barren towers of sand that were very
reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia scenes.  Further on were infertile
valleys, where we collected fresh water, before pushing on to the
Victoria/NSW border.  The border is marked by a single concrete trig marker.
It's on the edge of a dune that falls rapidly to the ocean.  Behind the trig
point, we found a large, perfectly cylindrical hole in the sand and had no
idea what  
caused it.

We considered camping exactly on the border for the night, but were enticed
instead by the magical beach just to the north.  It was an amazing 500m
stretch of white sand, with perfect rolling waves, a big dune at one end,
and a rocky outcrop at the other.  Yet it didn't have a name on the map!  We
named it after Siobhan's superb dessert, Apple Crumble Beach.  Again the
lure of ocean kept us on the beach, rather than at a more sheltered site in
the bushes behind.  Sally's pesto penne kept us energised for a nighttime
walk along the beach and a cold swim.

Saturday was a day for strange weather patterns.  It dawned beautifully, but
then a big, dark cloud rolled in and it rained lightly.  As soon as it had
come, the cloud retreated, leaving a crisp, blue sky.  Two swims had us
ready to face the only scrub of the trip.  There was a scrubby track leading
from the beach, around a billabong, and up onto the heath of the moors.  Amy
set a relentless pace through the hakea, banksia, and other nasty, prickly
things, and the fact that we were carrying gaiters completely slipped our
minds.  We arrived at Nadgee Lake, a large body of brackish water, quite the
worse for wear.

Here we stopped for food and a swim, before heading up onto the tops again.
The trip navigation had been quite easy until now.  It was just a matter of
following the coast.  So we applied the same method, but this time it
failed.  Had we looked at the map, we would have seen that the track is
actually an overgrown fire trail 500m inland from the coast.  Instead, we
discovered clifftop views, a wonderful rocky canyon, and horrible, prickly
scrub.  By this time we had our gaiters on and corrected our mistake by
making a beeline through the heath for the real track.

We arrived at Nadgee Beach and lunched on the other side of the Nadgee Creek
outlet.  Amy and Sally swam in the strong downstream current of the creek
towards the ocean.  It was now time for another LoTR experience.  We found a
track leading to the tops and found a lookout from the clifftop.  We then
followed track that became less and less defined until we were scrub-bashing
through bushes that were about twice our height.  We felt like hobbits as we
crouched to push our way through the undergrowth.  Sally led valiantly on
and we soon arrived at a defined track.  We followed this the wrong way to a
wonderful lookout over the ocean below.  Then we followed it the right way
to the main track.

This we followed for a couple of kilometres and were idly chatting as we
blasted past our desired turnoff.  Our direction felt wrong and I raised the
alarm.  We continued on until Siobhan figured out how we'd erred.  We used
an alternate track and added 1.5km or so to our journey.  When we saw the
other end of our desired track, it was easy to see how we'd missed it.  It
was quite overgrown and probably quite slow anyway.  

The day was getting on and continued to the next beach, where we saw people!
It was the group we'd seen on the first day in Mallacoota.  They were
enjoying a late-afternoon skinny dip as we arrived on their remote beach.
We chatted to the group leader, who told us of a good place to collect
water.  He then headed off with a fishing rod to catch dinner.  We debated
sharing their beach but decided that there were plenty of remote beaches to
go around!  So we crossed another creek outlet, almost losing Sally to the
rising tide, and headed on towards Nelson's beach.  

It was almost dark when we collected water and the moon illuminated the
track through the forest canopy.  At 7pm, we found the swamp behind the
beach and the hordes of resident mossies.  The was no track on the map that
indicated the way to the beach, but Sally found a good path through the
bushes and we arrived to a magical sight.  The moon illuminated a 1km
stretch of sand and lapping waves.  We erected tents, collected wood, and
sat around a fire on the beach.  Amy whipped up a tasty lentil curry with
dried mango as the magic ingredient, followed by Siobhan's fruit salad.
Light rain again sent us to bed at a reasonable hour.

We started the final day by successfully avoiding huge bull ants as we ate
breakfast.  The first kilometre took us along a beach that was totally
devoid of human footprints.  According to the map, there was no way off the
beach, but I took a punt that we'd find one.  Sure enough, Amy found a pad
heading up towards the fire trail above.  We followed this trail steeply
uphill, and were having elevenses when the other party showed up, having
already walked a good 6km that morning.  We didn't envy the complex car
shuffle they still had to do after the 5km fire trail bash to Merrica River.
The fire trail was mostly downhill and quite pleasant.

We swam in the river to freshen up, and began the long journey back to
Sydney.  Narooma was a welcome diversion, where we had ourselves an entree
of prawns and oysters in the park.  Our main meal was pizza in Kiama.

Nadgee Nature Reserve is a truly special place.  The feeling of sand between
your toes and even in your sleeping bags is a lot more pleasant than it
sounds.  Coastal wilderness is rare but the difficulty of travelling to find
it is far outweighed by the reward of spending four days in paradise. 

I've put some photos from the trip here:
Use the password Nadgee to get in.


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