Whales, Quails and Wombat Tales
Winter on the Light to Light Walk - Ben Boyd National Park. Yuin Country.
By Damian McDermott
Every season for the last three years I’ve been taking my two daughters Daisy (11) and Mary (9) on overnight adventures - and for the past few trips we’ve teamed up with our friends; Crazy Chris and his kids Rory (11) and Ava (14) to form the “Crazy Danger Crew”.
For Winter 2021 the Crew are planning our biggest adventure to date. The Light to Light walk… A 32 kilometre hike on the far south coast of NSW.
This time last year we conquered the Coast Track in Royal National park - Australia’s oldest national park and arguably the most popular. It was a great way to escape the cold of the mountains, see some whales and take in some spectacular views. This winter we want to experience the coastal views again, but we also want to avoid the crowds. So we are heading to the far south coast of New South Wales for one of Australia’s most spectacular coast walks.
The Crazy Danger Crew (L-R) Daisy, Mary, Rory, Ava, Chris & Damian
I’m a big fan of Herman Melville’s book Moby Dick - and Eden is like the Nantucket of NSW… possibly Australia. While I don’t encourage whaling, I am fascinated by the history of whaling. And the history of whaling in Eden goes back to before Ahab was a twinkle in Melville’s eye. Over centuries the Yuin people of Eden formed a special relationship with the Orca - who would herd baleen whales onto the beach of Twofold Bay to be harvested for meat and oil.
In the nineteenth century, when European whalers arrived in Eden, the Yuin people shared their knowledge and the methods continued. With the local Orca pods working with humans to hunt whales well in to the 20th century.
Today Eden is a mecca for whale watchers, who chase whales for more benevolent reasons.
Eden is 570km way from our home in Northern Sydney and even further for Chris in the Blue Mountains - so we are making a road trip out of it. Overnighting in the historical town of Braidwood. After a delightful Braidwood breakfast we have a three hour drive to Eden - with an essential stop to sample the famous Pambula river oysters, 20 km north of our destination.
We lose some time in Bateman’s Bay - shopping for emergency hiking shoes for Daisy (we accidentally packed a mis-matched pair of sneakers - literally “two left feet”) but make it to Eden with plenty of time to visit the Killer Whale museum before it closes at 3pm. The museum equips us with loads of historical info about whaling, logging and shipwrecks before the adventure.
We stay at the excellent Whale Fisher Motel at the top of the town and enjoy local fish and chips for dinner, taking in the views over Twofold Bay.
The skeleton of "Old Tom" a faithful whale hunting Orca
The Whale fisher Motel, Eden
Day One - Boyds Tower to Mowarry Point - 9.2 km
Boyd's Tower - built in 1847 as a lighthouse then used to spot whales
We wake to a perfect bluebird day and leave the hotel by our planned time of 8.30. But lose our time advantage waiting for breakfast at one of the local cafes. Armed with bacon and egg rolls and scorching hot coffee, we hit the road and travel the 35 mins south into Ben Boyd National Park and the start of the hike - Boyd’s Tower. Then realise we should have driven to the end of the hike to drop off a car, so we drive 40 minutes to Green Cape, unload our food and equipment, then load into one vehicle and drive back to Boyd’s Tower. By now we are way behind and grateful that the day’s walk is only 9k's.
We hit the track and the kids are carrying large packs, with Daisy and Rory lugging full size rucksacks for the first time. Chris and I carry all the heavy equipment, food and water and leave lighter bulky gear like sleeping bags and warm clothes to the kids.
The shoreline is spectacular and diverse, with each bay seeming to be composed of different rocks to the last. Boulders, sandstone, rich rust-coloured cliffs, all fringed by the deepest blue sea. We stop early for lunch in Red Sands Bay before continuing south to Leatherjacket Bay, where there is a small grassy campsite sheltered by Casuarinas. Here we replenish some water from the creek. If you wanted to take the walk really slowly, Leatherjacket Bay would be a good little campsite.
Leatherjacket Bay campsite
After Leatherjacket Bay the walk climbs inland, through varying countryside and boggy firetrail. The catastrophic fires of 2020 hit this area hard and now, 18 months later the contrast of fresh green ground cover and blackened vine-covered branches shows the regrowth is fighting hard for real estate.
We re-join the coastline and the spectacular cliffs. Beyond a series of red-rocky bays we see a pristine sandy beach luminous in the afternoon sun - it’s our first view of Mowarry Point and we are keen to get there before it gets too late.
Mowarry Point's white sands in the distance
We arrive at Mowarry point around 4pm. Where green wooded meadows meet white sand and perfect azure water. We are welcomed by a scruffy Wombat, munching on the grass - it’s the first time Mary has seen a Wombat in the wild and she is really excited. We find a perfect camping spot on a small grassy ledge, right on the beach. It is beyond words how delightful this place is - and it’s all ours.
Chris and I drop our packs - and our dacks - and run to the beach, diving into the crystal water. It’s freezing but invigorating and after losing all feeling to the extremities we head back in to dry off and set up camp. The kids gather driftwood as we prepare for a fire-lit night under the stars, with a million dollar view.
Day Two - Mowarry Point to Bittangabee Bay - 15.2km
Setting off for day two
We wake after a chilly night - lulled by the changing sounds of the ocean - to the wildlife who put on a sunrise show. Sea birds plunge like missiles into the surface of the sea, white-bellied sea eagles patrol high above and playful fur-seals frolic just off shore. The kids explore the rocky shelf while Chris and I make breakfast. Apart from a minor first aid procedure (Daisy slicing a deep gash in her finger with her pocket knife) it is an ideal morning.
Mowarry point would be a wonderful place to spend the whole day, but we have an epic walk ahead - involving over 15km and two deep creek crossings - so we pack up camp and hit the track.
The walk follows the beach to the southern end, then tracks up onto the headland to reveal a magnificent view. With more red rocks and huge formations just off shore. We see our first whales and continue along the high ground, through more bushfire damage to high savannah-like grasslands and boulder covered bays.
After a few km we find ourselves at our first high water crossing - Saltwater Creek. The water is cool but clear and reaches up to thigh height. The sand is also very soft in parts and Chris and I sink deep with our extra weight.
We have a lunch stop at Saltwater Creek Campground, one of the two official campgrounds - with vehicle access, toilets and water tanks. We re-fill our water supplies and guard our food from the advances of the cheeky Currawongs.
After lunch we encounter another deep creek crossing - with water up to our hips. It’s already 1.20pm and with over 8km left to cover we are determined to protect our feet from the sand and saltwater. As we try to put our shoes back on clean dry feet, Daisy alerts us to her finger - her blood soaked dressing is dripping red dots onto the sand and doesn’t look like stopping.
I clean it up with tissues, then Chris closes the wound with some steri-strips and fashions a splint out of an old cinema rewards card from my wallet. The bleeding stops and we are finally on our way - 30 minutes later.
We make amazing time, as the kids power through despite their heavy packs. We march through the savannahs - startling flocks of quails as we go - and watch whales breaching from boulder strewn bays. Around 3pm we arrive at Hegarty’s Bay campground - this would be our stop for the night, but the campsite is closed due to fire damage.
Shortly after Hegarty’s bay we enter a clear wooded valley with tall gums and ferns. Somehow the devastation of the fires spared this place and we get a sense of the real natural beauty of the bush here.
At least we are now balanced... right?
We’re about 13km in and Daisy and Ava have had enough of their big packs - so Chris and I carry them for the final 2km. While Rory perseveres with the big pack he’s been battling with all day. Everyone is tired, sore, hungry, thirsty and running on very low energy.
By the time we arrive at Bittangabee Bay it’s 4.30pm. We’ve made it to our home for the night and we are beyond stoked. The campsite has toilets, fire circles, water tanks and enormous piles of firewood - chopped and ready to burn.
After a relaxing evening by the campfire, we fall into a glorious exhausted sleep, lulled by the sounds of the sea.
Daisy shows off her splinted finger at bedtime
Day Three - Bittangabee Bay to Green Cape Lighthouse 8.3 km
Bittangabee Bay Campground
It’s a beautiful, clear, cool morning and our bright orange tent is full of light - so I’m up first to light the fire and put the coffee on. We have a much shorter walk today - about half the distance of yesterday. So we take our time, enjoying the serenity.
Lyrebirds, Wallabies and Black Cockatoos are our breakfast guests and we pack up camp and depart at 10.45, bound for Green Cape Lighthouse - our final destination.
Hitting the track on day three!
The walk begins with a descent into a rainforest gully, and a couple of creek crossings. It’s gentle terrain and we make steady progress. We startle a couple of lyrebirds - chasing them up the track for a while, before they peel off into the scrub.
We climb slowly and the country opens up to a banksia forest - and eventually to more of the grassy savannah we have encountered previously. We hit a sandy fire trail leading into coastal heath. Rory and Chris are taking their time, so the girls and I stop at a crossroad for a break. There is a big sign showing the distance we have covered - 26km from Boyd’s Tower. When Chris and Rory join us we polish off some beef jerky and sweets, proud of our progress, but happy to be close to the end.
We follow the open country and catch the first glimpse of the lighthouse, glowing white 2.5kms away. We are on the home stretch and morale is high. We encounter more walkers around this area, day trippers visiting the lighthouse. A sure sign that we are getting close.
Our first glimpse of Green Cape Lighthouse
The Ly-ee-Moon Cemetery
We enter a low casuarina forest, the windswept trees lean over to form cathedral like chambers over the track. As we wind our way through, the forest opens up again and we follow a side track to the Ly-ee-Moon Cemetery.
SS Ly-ee-Moon was a steamer ship that struck rocks at the Southern end of Green Cape in 1886, The ship broke in two and the local lighthouse keeper helped rescue 14 passengers, but tragically 71 people perished. Only 25 bodies were recovered and all but one were buried right here on Green Cape. It’s a sobering reminder of the perils of sea travel and the unpredictability of the South Coast.
The Ly-ee-Moon cemetery - where 24 shipwrecked souls lie
500 short metres later, we arrive at the Green Cape car park. But the walk isn’t over yet - we dump our backpacks in the car and continue along the track to the Lighthouse, 500 metres along the cape. Taking in views of Victoria to the South and Eden to the North. We’ve made it to 32km - further than we’ve ever walked before - and further away from home than the kids have ever hiked. But we are so happy to be here and proud of our kids who walked every step of the way.
Our next mission is to pack the vehicles and head back to Eden with our sites set on a good pub feed.
Green Cape Lighthouse
Tomorrow, when the pandemic began
We arrive back in Eden to the news that Sydney has gone into a new round of COVID restrictions. A limo driver in Bondi caught the virus and went to a party… so things are about to come unstuck. The lovely folks at the Whale Fisher Motel are wearing face masks and there’s mounting pressure on Sydney to go into lockdown.
Now as I write this - two months later - we are Eight weeks into lockdown with no determined end.
Being stuck at home reminds me of how important adventures like this are, I think the kids recognise this too. At home, with all the toys, screens, devices, streaming services and TV channels… they get bored. On these walks they don’t get bored. They sleep better, they eat all their dinner and most surprisingly - they rarely complain. When they spend days and nights in the bush or by the sea they thrive, they discover. Instead of a computer they have a fire. Instead of an iPad they have a pocket knife. And instead of TV and Netflix they have the sunset, the stars, the frolicking seals, the diving birds, the quails in the savannah, the indigenous history, the shipwrecks… all forming a priceless experience you can’t get at home.
The Wrap Up
The Light to Light walk is a classic adventure and although it’s a fair distance, the elevation gains aren’t high, so the walk isn’t too difficult. We were really lucky with the weather, but it gets extremely cold here in winter so be prepared for arctic blasts. And if you come in summer - prepare for very hot dry conditions.
There is currently a plan in place to develop the walk to include cabins and luxury guided tours. While this will provide new infrastructure and tourists to the park, it’s likely to change the character of the walk. For example our wonderful campsite on the beach at Mowarry point would no longer be accessible to self guided walkers. So anyone looking for a wilder experience should get in before the development begins.
Saltwater Creek and Bittangabee Bay campgrounds are fully equipped with toilets, fire-pits and water tanks, but the water should be treated or boiled before drinking. Both campgrounds can be booked on the National Parks website and have a half-price deal for mid-week bookings (that we took advantage of for our night at Bittangabee Bay). Both campgrounds also have vehicle access if you want to camp with a bit more luxury.
Apart from the campgrounds water is limited to the brackish creeks. When I was planning this trip the Ranger recommended stashing a few litres half way along the track. We didn’t do this because of recent rains, but in summer it would be a good idea.
If you don’t have two vehicles there are various agencies from Eden who can drop you off and pick you up for a fee. Just google “Light to Light transfers”. We even met some older walkers who were doing the walk in sections over three days without camping. They were driven to and from their accommodation each day. A good option if you want to experience the walk without roughing it.
And if you want to really immerse yourself in the maritime history, you can sleep in the lighthouse cottages at Green Cape.
For info on the cottages and more about the Light to Light Walk check out the
National Parks website.
To learn about the local Yuin people of the area check out the Koori Coast page
For info on a coast walk closer to Sydney check out our report from last winter