Saturday, April 25, 2009

Exploring the Shoalhaven Coast / Part 1

I have lived in the Shoalhaven region for twenty years, the co driver for about eight. We came across a book called Beaches of Jervis Bay and the Shoalhaven (Hymans Publishing, 2006) some years ago and realised how little we had actually seen of our coast line. So we decided last year that we would put one day a week aside during our Autumn/Winter to do some exploring. Sad to say this plan has only just now come to fruition. Well we are pretty busy, you know.

The Shoalhaven begins just south of Gerroa and extends almost to Batemans Bay in the south a distance of some 100 km (62 miles) as the crow flies. Road distances are a lot more due to terrain which on the coast consists of long beaches, lakes, bays and inlets . The regional name was given to the area by explorer George Bass in 1797 when he described the sandy shoals at the mouth of the river of the same name. White settlement of the area began in 1822 when Alexander Berry was granted land on the river.

Our first trip was into the Jervis Bay National Park about an hour and a half drive north of us, more specifically to the small holiday township of Currarong which lies on the ocean side of the north head (Beecroft Peninsula) of Jervis Bay.
National Parks have developed a number of well signed and maintained walking tracks within the peninsula called Abrahams Bosom Reserve. We left the carpark and headed into what became typical sandstone coastal heath country similar to that around the southern Sydney area within Royal National Park. There is almost impenetrable head high bush consisting of Banksia, Hakea and may other native plants and trees bordering the track until it comes out onto the coast, Wilsons Beach, a small stretch of sand protected by Whale Point to the west and Honeysuckle Point to the east.
In 1928, the coastal steamer "SS Merimbula" ran aground on Whale Point.
Here is a report on the incident from the NSW Government Heritage Office.
"At 1 a.m. on the morning of 27 March, the 13 passengers on board were awoken by the grinding impact of the vessel driving onto Beecroft Peninsula.
In heavy rain, the engines were stopped and everybody arrived on deck. The crew battled to free the lifeboats which had become stuck. Rescue rockets were fired but failed to attract attention. The Captain believed the vessel was in no immediate danger and sent the passengers back to the lounge, still with their lifejackets on. There they spent the remainder of the night drinking coffee and eating sandwiches.
Rain continued the following morning as the lifeboats were lowered. The passengers were rowed across to the mouth of Currarong Creek where they found shelter in a fisherman's hut.
Captain O'Connor walked across Beecroft Peninsula to the lighthouse at Point Perpendicular. He then telephoned the Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company in Sydney to advise them of the grounding. Marine assessors arrived at the wreck site on 28 March and concluded that there was a remote chance of refloating the Merimbula. A salvage vessel was chartered for the operation, however, the Merimbula began to sink on the following day and the attempt was cancelled. The remains eventually slid completely into the sea, only the bow section remaining up on the rocks."
We explored what was left of this bow section and then continued west.

Along the track, the first of the autumn wild flowers were beginning to bloom particularly Banksias with three or four main varieties present.
Among them was Banksia ericafolia
and Banksia serrata (Old Man Banksia). To many Australians, Old Man Banksia is best known as the bad Banksia Man in May Gibbs' stories of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie which were standard reading for us as children.
Even when we grow up, we still look at Old Man Banksia cones a little warily.

There were also a few Mountain Devils, Lambertia formosa, named after the woody fruit they bear (see foreground of picture below) in flower

Next stop was Lobster Bay, a spectacular inlet with a pretty beach and quite a big surf running.
I noticed one lone surfer out on the point. Not what you would consider the safest situation to be in due to the spot's remoteness but some people will do anything to get a wave to themselves.
The track continued on a big loop around the headland or we had the option of returning to the carpark via another track from here. We could both hear the water bottle calling so made the obvious decision, keeping in mind to be better prepared (take food and water!) when we set off on the next leg of our adventure.

On our way back we came across a stand of grass trees (Xanthorrhoea sp.), some of which were in flower and showing off their spectacular spikes.
These remarkable plants have a lifespan of 600 years and are very slow-growing. The trunk takes a decade to form initially and then it's a further 20 years or more before the mass of thin, linear leaves rises above it. From then on, it grows only about 1-2cm (0.4-0.8in) in height per year.
The plant grows to a height of over 4 metres and often has branches. However, the flowering stalk grows at a rate of 2 – 3 cm per day reaching to a height of over 3 metres. Mature plants will result in flowering every 2 – 3 years.

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