Getting There

It had rained all night at South West Rocks and looked like it planned to rain all day. Even though it was not much over 100 km to our next stop, driving down a major highway in the pouring rain is never an enjoyable experience. It was good to finally stop and check-in to our "tiny house" at the tourist park at Moonee Beach, a couple of beaches north of the tourist hub of Coffs Harbour. Moonee Beach is also adjacent to the Solitary Islands Coastal Track, which runs for 63 km down this coastline from Red Rock to Sawtell.

Rainbow over Moonee Beach

Several years ago we were here to walk the Yuraygir Track, a lovely coastal track to the north which passes through the Yuraygir National Park. On reaching the end of this walk at Red Rock, our aim had been continue on with the Solitary Islands Walk. However, the coast was more urbanised than Yuraygir and we would have started with 10km of beach walking on soft sand and into the face of a strong southerly wind .... we opted instead to spend a few leisurely days enjoying the superb surrounds of Red Rock. Suspecting that perhaps we had not given it a fair go, we have returned to at least walk a section of the track .... from Moonee Creek to Digger Head.

Calm waters at Moonee Creek

Big seas at Green Bluff

View over Mooneee Creek entrance

By mid-afternoon on the day we arrived, the rain finally eased and patches of sun even appeared. We headed out for a short walk, crossing a footbridge over Sugar Mill Creek to pass through a narrow band of littoral rainforest and reach Green Bluff. This grass-covered promontory jutted out into the sea at the mouth of Moonee Creek. With the big surf rolling in to the sandy bar, a faint rainbow hovering above the distant lighthouse on South Solitary Island and long line of beach heading southwards, the impression was good. The coast at Moonee Creek was every bit as good as what we had seen on the Yuraygir Track.

Looking south from Green Bluff

South Solitary Island

Tomorrow, we will see whether other parts of the coastline match this. For now, it was time to head back to our tiny house and enjoy a beer on the deck, as the sun sparkled on the waters of Moonee Creek and the birds in te gum trees around us sang their joy at the passing of the rain.

Solitary Islands Walk - Moonee Beach to Diggers Head (21.5 km - 180m ascent - 180m descent)

How nice it was to wake up with the sun streaming in through the window ... a real incentive to get ready and head off on our walk along this middle section of the Solitary Islands Coastal Track.

We headed across the lawns of the holiday park, down to Sugar Mill Creek, a tributary of Moonee Creek, and across the pedestrian bridge to retrace our steps of yesterday through the small patch of littoral rain forest to Green Bluff. However, this time we didn't walk out on to the bluff. Instead we dropped down though the dunes to step on to the northern end of Sapphire Beach and head south along its 2 km length.

Boardwalk through the coastal forest

Sugar Mill Creek

Approaching Sapphire Beach

Sapphire Beach

With the sun and wind at our backs, the steady roar of the surf and the invigorating dose of negative ions, this was my idea of beach-walking. Out to sea, the green knobs of the well-separated Solitary Islands marked the only land between us and South America, while a flock of gannets wheeling beyond the breaking surf treated us to an exhibition of power-diving, crashing head-first into the ocean to dive beneath and catch a fishy morsel. The only downside was the clear damage that had been inflicted on this beach by the recent storms and big seas, with dunes heavily cut into and long braids of marron grass runners left exposed ..... a lot of sand has been dragged back into the ocean from Sapphire Beach.

Split Solitary Island

Grassy verge on White Bluff

The view north from White Bluff

At the southern end of the beach, we climbed back up onto terra firma and headed up a grassy verge alongside a line of coast houses to reach White Bluff. Here we took a detour to wander along the mown-grass tracks that dissected the thick banksia bush of the bluff, out to its end for the superb views up and down the coast-line.

Returning to the suburban fringe, we headed down a steep street to reach the access point for Riecks Point Beach. Leap-frogging a couple of small streams flowing out into the sea, we found ourselves wandering along a very different beach - with much coarser sand and the pungent smell of rotting kelp (perhaps this is Reeks Point not Riecks Point). Ahead, the high tide surf was rolling in to the rocks of the point an we were not too unhappy to have to leave the beach and take the high tide route through the coastal suburbia.

Riecks Point Beach

Dolphins at play

Opal Cove

This detour brought us back to Campbells Beach, only to have to repeat the exercise to get around the next two rocky promontories that split the beach. The track led us out of suburbia and through a small patch of forest on the second headland. At its end a long wooden staircase descended to the edge of Pine Brush Lagoon to return us to the next beach.

Entry to Pine Brush Lagoon

Koroa Beach

The only problem was that the bottom of the staircase was fenced off (some OHS reason, I suspect). However, not wishing to climb back up and having verified that this was indeed the marked route, we clambered over the fence, edged around the rocks at the base of the ladder and, when the surf was on its ebb, took a running leap to cross the mini-bar separating lagoon and ocean.

From here, the walking became more sedate, as we followed Hills Beach to round some rocks to reach Koroa Beach, before climbing up another wooden ladder and picking up a new boardwalk. The boardwalk led us around the rocky cliff line beneath the shade of tall trees and past some coastal mansions with lovely ocean views (which we shared).

Boardwalk from Koroa to Charlesworth Bay

Secluded cove near Diggers Head

Path out to Diggers Head

Finally, we dropped down to a nice grassy park at the rear of Charlesworth Bay. It looked a great spot for lunch, but first we had to visit the target of our walk, Diggers Head, a narrow promontory jutting well out into the ocean. From its grassy tip, we could see right back up the coast, 10 km to Green Bluff where we hard started.

View back north from the head

View south over Diggers Beach

It had been a long morning's walk, so we took a recuperative lunch break back at Charlesworth Bay, enjoying the company of a pair of brush turkeys, before starting the long walk home.

Upper Pine Brush Creek

On the way back, we tried to find a few variants to avoid retracing our steps completely. One was to find a low route from Hills Beach that avoided the blocked ladder and headland climb by following a nice nature trail along Pine Brush Creek before crossing it on a small footbridge to rejoin our outward path through suburbia. This was one part of the walk we didn't like, as it took us far to close to the 4-lane Pacific Motorway (not the sounds one likes to hear on a walk).

A second variant was to stay inland a bit longer after White Bluff before dropping back to Sapphire Beach when blocked by a gated estate. Undeterred, we left the soft sand slog of the beach a bit later to find a nice firm path in the forest behind the dunes, which brought us back to Moonee Creek and home.

I was quite surprised to see that we had walked 21.5 km in total, but that explained why our legs were a bit weary. All in all, it had been an enjoyable walk and there are some lovely bits of coastal scenery here. Perhaps some parts are more urban fringe than coastal, but they go quickly, and overall, we were pleased to finally sample the Solitary Island Coastal Walk.

Now, where is that ice cold beer to enjoy in the late afternoon sun on the deck of our tiny house.

Unexpected Short Walks at Kingscliff

Travel in the times of a pandemic can be interesting - state borders that once passed by in the blink of an eye were now heavily policed and permits required to cross them. After finishing the rainforest walk in Nightcap National Park in northern New South Wales (see next section), our plan was to head into Queensland and catch up with family. Armed with our Covid-19 border permit, we presented ourselves to the police at the Border Ranges checkpoint (shades of when we crossed into East Germany in 1989), only to be turned back (at least they didn't put the car into a barbed wired fenced area and chock the back wheels like the East German police). Our crime was to have passed through Sydney on a motorway adjacent to a declared Covid-19 hotspot, some 11 days earlier. We hadn't stopped or even wound down the windows, but that was enough - EINREISE VERBOTEN!

In another 3 days we could come back and be let in, said the officer .... 14 days after passing through a hotspot would be sufficient. Thus, we found ourselves in a small apartment in Kingscliff, back on the Far North Coast of New South Wales for an enforced 3-day break. Truth be told, it was a pleasant few days, with a bit of shopping for supplies and a few short walks to check out the region. The first was out to Fingal Head on a spit between the ocean and the Tweed River, to check out its lighthouse and the interesting tesselated volcanic rock formations of the small headland.

Fingal Head lighthouse

They call it Dreamtime Beach

Basalt columns at Fingal Head

Booninybah Islet

The next day, we wandered along the fine white sandy beaches of Wommin Bay, pounded by a heavy surf, and around the calmer waters of Cudgen Creek with its rich bird life. Particularly fascinating was a family of Ospreys, who have nested at the Creek entrance for many years in their massive stick edifice.

The birds of Kingscliff

Kingscliff sunset

Rainbow over Kingscliff Beach (perhaps a good omen for entering Queensland)

It was a pleasant time and, true to their word, on day 14 the Queensland border police let a couple of southerners drive in to the Sunshine State (which by now had more Covid-19 cases than where we came from).