Stage 4 - Across the Shoalhaven to
          Jervis Bay

Gerroa to Shoalhaven Heads

It was with some sadness that we finally left the Kiama area. We had spent quite a few days there and had come to love it greenness, open vistas and escarpment backdrop. The landscape of the South Coast changes quite sharply at Gerroa; gone the rolling hills and headlands, welcome to the flat open plains of the Shoalhaven River basin. Nonetheless, the track before us was inviting after the steep climbs and descents of our past route – 12 km of flat smooth sand along the isolation of the Seven Mile Beach.

The sweeping curve of Seven Mile Beach viewed from the heights of Gerroa

After a complimentary cappuccino from the congenial owner of Café Amoré at Gerroa, we crossed the footbridge over Crooked River and stepped onto the beach. Footwear was quickly discarded as we strolled down the low-tide walker's super highway of firm flat sand, to our left the steady low roar of the surf, to our right the low dunes and strip of coastal forest and heathland that form the Seven Mile Beach National Park. We walked in splendid isolation, apart from the occasional surfer or fisherman at areas where a track through the Park provided access to the beach, and the unexpected sight of several horses pacing along the beach, buggies and drivers in tow, on a beach training run.

Crossing the Crooked River

On the low tide superhighway

Coastal forest in the Seven
Mile Beach National Park

Beach training run

Dune lunch stop

A little later we reached our destination, the quiet little fisherman's town of Shoalhaven Heads, cutting inland from the beach to our accommodation on the banks of the river estuary. It had been our easiest section on the walk to date.

Flowers of the forest

Crossing the Shoalhaven River

We awoke looking forward to our second encounter with the Shoalhaven; a week earlier we had canoed the narrow gorge cut out by the river as it flowed through the sandstone formations to the west of the coast. Now we were confronted with the broad marshy basin as the river made its final exit to the sea. Logistically this promised to be one of our more difficult days, as we needed to cross the river at two points.

Leaving Shoalhaven Heads on a clear cool morning, we returned briefly to the lower end of Seven Mile Beach and its solitary surf fishermen spaced out at regular intervals, then crossed the sandy bar, blocking the river mouth at this point, to Comerong Island.

Sand bar blocking the Shoalhaven's original exit to the sea

Shoalhaven Heads and Mount Coolangatta

The solitary surf fisherman

This island is part nature reserve (on the eastern coastal strip), part dairy farm (on the western inland side). A good dirt road runs down the western side, but to get to it we needed to wade across a tidal marsh and find an overgrown walking track through the swamp casuarinas. The ability of our GPS unit to do this in this habitat was confidence-inspiring.

The dirt road took us through a pseudo-Dutch island landscape of flat green pastures, dykes and broad expanses of water, with fat contented dairy cows lazily watching our passage as they chewed their cuds. The island also boasted the largest population of willy-wagtails that I have seen in one place - no doubt due to the trophic flow-on from cows - dung - flies - flycatchers. Nello regretted not bringing the aerogard with us.

Comerong Island landscape

Ferry across the Berry Canal

Eventually we reached the Comerong Island Ferry, which connects the islanders to the mainland. The ferry sat idly on the far bank. Unfortunately, we discovered the ferry operator followed his terms and conditions very strictly; no crossings during the designated morning meal break from 10.00 - 10.30 and the ferry is only to cross over and pick up pedestrians when there is also a vehicle waiting.

While we wait together for the ferry, here is an interesting story about the way small actions have large consequences. The Shoalhaven River originally flowed out to sea at Shoalhaven Heads. To the south lay the Crookhaven River, a much broader inlet and estuary, and the two were separated by a 200m wide sand spit. In 1822, Alexander Berry decided to build the first canal in Australia and in 12 days dug a narrow canal across the spit to enable entry from the river to the estuary. It is this canal that the ferry now crosses. The Shoalhaven decided that the canal would provide an infinitely better route to the sea, and soon carved a much wider channel, silted up and closed the old entrance and now flows out to sea at Crookhaven Heads. Thus, one small ditch changed the course of a mighty (relatively speaking) river.

Shoalhaven wetland habitat


Our island vehicle arrived and we crossed the canal, heading south to follow it along a narrow farm track built on the dykes and crossing flood canals that have transformed this marshland into fine dairy country. It was pleasing to see that quite a lot of mangrove swamp and wetland areas have remained, to the benefit of the many species of water bird (including cranes, herons, ibis, egrets, plovers, ducks, pelicans and a sea-eagle) that we saw on this stage.

Two ibis watching

Swamp cows

Portrait of a local

Old man mangroves

Eventually we emerged from the mangroves at Greenwell Point, a fisherman's village on the Crookhaven River (memo to self: next time take the longer route on the main road into town, rather than the short cut through the rubbish dump in the mangroves). We wandered through the quiet streets to the Angler's Rest Caravan Park, where we had lined up our second river crossing by hire boat. The kindly owner took us over to Orient Point and refused any payment for his services!

The sandpiper, who visits our shores every year from Siberia

Our lift across the Crookhaven estuary

Pelican formation flying team

From Orient Point it was a 2 km walk south to our overnight accommodation at Culburra. We had telephoned for directions, and the owner of the motel, worried that the two weirdos walking in with heavy packs would get lost, came out to search for us. We refused her offer of a lift, having become a little puritanical in our determination to walk every dry land step of our journey, but again appreciated the good-hearted nature of the locals.

Orient Point, Crookhaven and Culburra blend into each other in a long sprawl of beach-houses. It was difficult to work out which had permanent residences and which were weekenders. From our evening meal at the local Bowling Club, a lot of retirees have chosen to live here.

Two more spent the night, but then moved on.

Culburra to Jervis Bay

If the previous day was logistically challenging, this stage was to prove our biggest technical challenge to date. Our departure from Culburra Beach was almost identical to that from Shoalhaven Heads; a walk through suburbia, a brief step out on to the beach (Warrain Beach) to cross the narrow sand bar that separates the waters of Lake Wollumboola from the sea and on, along the white sand and feather-lined shores of the lake. Feather-lined because this lake is home to a colony of several thousand swans, whose black silhouettes dotted the water as we passed by.

Early morning glare over Penguin Head

Part of the enormous black swan colony on Lake Woolumboola

Many other water bird species also call Lake Wollumboola home.

The little tern is an endangered species - its breeding sites are protected at the lake



Feather lined shores of the lake

Track along the shores of Lake Wollumboola

We were following what the map described as a 4-wheel drive track; maybe ten years ago, but as soon as it left the lake shore we found ourselves in a dense tea-tree thicket with no obvious route. Thankfully, our confidence in the GPS was high from its previous day's track-finding skills. This time it led us along a mythical black map line through dense tea-trees and thick low heath until eventually evidence of a track became more obvious and gradually developed into a good bush road.

Yes! the map does say that this a 4-wheel drive track

One of the problems with bush-bashing is that spiders love
to spin their webs between bushes at face level

Two black cockatoos wondering why a pair of humans are walking
through trackless scrub with eyes fixed on a piece of high
tech equipment while swearing at a map

Old farmhouse on the southern shore of Lake Wollumboola

Crossing the sealed Currarong Road, we entered taller eucalypt forests, the first time that we had encountered the dry sclerophyll forests of the South Coast. Here, we again followed tracks that were still indicated on the map, but which barely existed, having been ripped and had tree branches dropped across them by the National Park authorities to prevent vehicle access and help restore the native bush. We appreciated the sentiment and our GPS unit's ability to guide us through (the moral is to trust your technology, but not your maps).

Finally a good track through the dry sclerophyll forest

Reward comes to those who put in the effort, and our reward came when we burst out of the forest on to the pristine white sands of Hare Bay on the northern shores of Jervis Bay. A swim in the calm azure waters of the Bay was irresistible.

Blue + white = Jervis Bay

The beach at Hare's Bay

Feeling greatly refreshed, we headed west along the white sand beach, a great relief following the earlier bush-bashing exercises. Passing through the resort village of Callala Bay, with its small marina, we strolled barefoot in the sand along the 6 km stretch of Callala Beach.

A pod of the Bay's resident dolphins passed by close inshore as we approached our last obstacle, Currambene Creek and the boat harbour at Huskisson. Again modern technology proved its value; a quick call on the mobile 'phone and Husky Hire-a-Boat was waiting for us when we rounded the last sandy stretch. A step off the sand into the boat, a step onto the wooden dock from it and we were in Huskisson, 23 km from our starting point for the day.

Boats moored at Callala Bay

Our transport across the mouth of Huskisson Harbour
Just a short walk from the dock, the iconic Husky pub beckoned. The cold beers on the deck overlooking the bay and the thought that we were to spend a few relaxing days in the beauty and calm of Jervis Bay were a sweet way to end a long hard day.

R & R in Jervis Bay

Our first two days in Jervis Bay were ones of enforced rest and relaxation as a change arrived bringing rain and showers. Huskisson is a good place to be if it is rainy and you have only your feet for transport. For a small town, it has a vibrant centre with an interesting mix of old and new architecture. Coffee shops with outdoor tables give the main street a cosmopolitan air, while the Husky Pub and the quaint little weatherboard cinema are a reminder of times past. We spent one rainy afternoon watching a movie in the red velvet interior of the cinema. Rain also gave us the chance to bring websites up to date, check on emails and finish off a good book.

When the sun returned, we decided to go on a dolphin watching cruise. It was interesting in that it gave us a good feel for the size of Jervis Bay with its 60 plus km of shoreline and we were able to get close to the spectacular cliffs of Point Perpendicular at the northern entrance to the bay. Unfortunately, the Jervis bay dolphin pod did not feel like cooperating with the tour operators and remained elusive. It also reminded me of the angst I feel in mass tourism situations - it seemed very alien to the overall concept of our trip. That afternoon we went down to one of the pleasant white sand beaches to laze on the beach, swim and snorkel around a nearby reef at Tallapa Point - simpler pleasures are always the best.

The 100m vertical cliff of Point Perpendicular and its lighthouse

Late afternoon on Huskisson Beach

One difficulty of a walking trip is a restriction in mobility. Booderee National Park has been one of our favourite places for a long time, but the Bherwerre peninsula on the southern shores of Jervis Bay extends out too far for a simple day walk. However, it was Sea Week and Pro Dive in Huskisson was offering guided snorkelling trips as part of this.

We took a trip with them out to Murray's Beach, a beautiful isolated spot at the eastern end of Booderee. The minibus passed through areas of the Park that had been burnt in the devastating bushfires of last summer - it was sad to see the burnt out camp ground at Greenpatch - a place with special memories of camping with family and friends when we were younger. Fortunately, the area immediately around Murray's Beach had not been affected and the serenity of the place was still present.

Murray's Beach - Booderee National Park

Jervis Bay is also a Marine National Park and, despite the relatively large swell, the snorkelling was great; we were guided over reefs, kelp and sea grass beds, harbouring fish species of varying shapes and sizes, rays, a wobbegong shark and, best of all, the elusive dolphin pod paid us a personal visit. Nello, being a much better swimmer than I, powered ahead and could hear the dolphins communicating underwater as they passed within 10 m of her. Slower and deafer, I could but share her pleasure.

We actually saw the dolphins on every day except the one for which we paid to have that privilege. Were they trying to teach us a lesson?

Snorkelling on the reef

Wobbegong hiding in kelp bed

Sea anemones

Nudibranch grazing on seaweed

Jervis Bay sunset