Sunday, May 17, 2009

Exploring the Shoalhaven Coast / Part 2

It was a perfect late autumn morning with a high blue sky and a light offshore breeze as we set off on the 40 minutes drive north to the southern end of Conjola National Park and the Bendelong Point area. I have to admit that although I have lived in the area for 20 years this was the first time I had been to this part of the coast since visiting on a surfing safari from Brisbane on the way to Bells Beach, Victoria with some mates back in 1968!

The park contains a variety of plant habitats including woodlands, heath, tall forest and freshwater swamps. Bendelong is a sleepy little village on the coast and, as holiday homes predominate, is mostly deserted this time of year. We headed for Monument Beach and walked from the car park along a well defined track through predominantly Bangalay sand forest to the beach
A distinguishing feature here were the scribbly gums. The larvae of a very small moth is the culprit producing the markings on the bark of the gumtrees (Eucalyptus sp.) and it is known that there are at least six types of scribble, at least 20 species of eucalypts with scribbles and that there are several species of moths producing scribbles. There are probably many more to be discovered.
Compared to the profusion of wild flowers in bloom in the Jervis Bay coastal heath country we visited a few weeks before (see Part 1), this area was virtually devoid of any color apart from a few Banksia species and the occasional Acacia. Spring is the season for wild flowers in this particular eco system.
However we did come across a most unusual tree which appeared to be in full bloom just outside the local caravan park on the way into town.
Once on the beach we trudged our way north along the undulating and soft sand hills due to a particularly high tide which had taken over most of the walkable sand. In the distance we could see the south head of Jervis Bay and the town of Sussex Inlet glistening in that special autumn sunlight that only seems to occur this time of year. These places are also on our agenda for future exploration.
Our destination this day however was the monument commemorating the wreck of the wooden clipper ship Walter Hood constructed many moons ago out in the middle of nowhere. As with our last trip, it appears that a good shipwreck is an essential part of our adventure. So again we leave it to the NSW Heritage Office to tell the story.
"The Walter Hood left London on 22 January 1870 carrying beer, iron bars, railway irons, cork, cement, wine, salt and theatrical costumes and a large quantity of tiles. It has been suggested that these were replacement tiles for Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral, burnt down in 1865 though there has been no confirmation of this connection to date.
The vessel encountered a heavy storm when turning up the eastern coast of Australia. The gale stripped the vessel of sails and carried away Wilkie, a seaman who was to be the first of many casualties. On Tuesday 26 April, land was sighted amidst mountainous seas. The Walter Hood, in a crippled state, did not have enough canvas left to beat out to sea.
The Walter Hood struck a reef in Wreck Bay and immediately began to break up. Captain Latto was hit by a large wave which swept him to the side of the ship breaking some of his ribs. The Captain was taken to his cabin with the rest of the crew to weather the first of four terrible nights.

Early next morning, the cabin began to fill with incoming seas and the crew were compelled to leave the Captain below and cling to the raised poop deck. The masts soon went over the side as cargo began flooding out of the shattered hull. Fearing certain death on the collapsing deck, members of the crew attempted to swim to the shore. Those remaining on the wreck, many of whom could not swim, watched helplessly as their companions drowned. While some eventually made it to the shore, others died from exposure on the hull. Captain Latto was washed out of his cabin and drowned amidst the wreckage of his ship.
On Friday morning, with the seas abating, some others managed to reach the shore in an exhausted state. The thirteen remaining on the exposed stern had now been without food for three days and nights. In desperation they killed a small dog belonging to their dead Captain, ate its flesh raw and drank the blood.
The passing steamer Illalong was directed to the scene and arrived alongside on Saturday. The 13 survivors were recovered in a desperate state. The bodies of those drowned washed ashore and were buried in a suitably marked spot in the bush. Spectators arrived and fought over the most costly articles of wreckage. It was alleged that the bodies of the drowned were robbed. Casks and bottles of alcohol were stoved in and consumed, adding to the mayhem. Of the 35 hands on board the Walter Hood there were 23 survivors."
Despite this rather sad history, the beach itself was quite beautiful with a wide stretch of sand and a small coastal lake nestled in behind the dunes. But it was obvious from watching the ocean that it was quite a treacherous part of the coastline with submerged reefs creating all sort of currents and sudden wave upsurges even on a day when the swell was not that big.
Back to the car and we stopped off to explore Dee and Washerwoman Beaches as well as the main beach at Bendelong Point, Boat Harbour. All very beautiful, with their own unique features, especially Flat Rock Beach with its tassellated rock shelf formation. And all were deserted.
A few kilometres to the south lies the town of Manyana. Originally called Red Head (a much nicer name), this holiday and residential township sits on two magnificent beaches, Inyadda and Manyana, the latter stretching into the distance to Cunjurong Point and Green Island.

At Cunjurong Point we walked through a very small remnant of littoral rain forest thicket to the lookout with its wonderful view over Green Island, one of Australia's great surfing locations where a long peeling lefthander that can hold considerable size works best in big NE and SE swells. But not today.

On the western side of the headland lies Lake Conjola and its shifting bar where it empties out into the sea. Here we found a very pleasant picnic spot with all the facilities needed to finish a very rewarding and relaxing day of exploration.

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