Stage 11 - The Sapphire Coast (Tathra to Pambula)

Tathra to Merimbula

It was time to farewell Tathra and head on. We strolled through the streets to the boat ramp at Kianniny Bay, where we joined the Kangarutha Track. This is a well-constructed track linking Tathra to Wallagoot Lake, 9km to the south. It follows the rocky coastline, but much of it is under the dense paperbark canopy lining this part of the coast. The coastal relief here is broken by a series of creeks running into the ocean through gaps in the rocky cliff line. The track undulated over ridge and creek, giving occasional glimpses of the cliffs and sometimes emerging at inlets such as Boulder Bay, with its beach of rounded stones, or the narrow inlet at Games Bay with its sandy beach. At times the paperbarks were so dense that the track literally tunnelled through them, while at other times the forest opened up, or changed to lower, sparser heath.

Paperbark lined coastline south of Tathra

Two inlets along the Kangarutha Track

Track tunnelling through a corridor of
paperbark trunks

Boulder Bay

Walking up a coastal creek
Eventually, after Games Bay, the terrain flattened out and the vegetation became more open, before the track crossed a high, densely vegetated old dune system and then descended through yet more paperbarks to a point overlooking the Wallagoot Gap, an impressive opening in the cliff-line, just before Turingal Head. This also marked the point at which we left the Kangarutha Track and the end of the long rocky stretch of coast south of Tathra.

Some more open lower heath

Wallagoot Gap

Wallagoot Lake

Time for another footprints in the sand image
- this time at Bournda Beach
We descended down toward the broad sand bar of Wallagoot Lake, to our right an impressive vista over the lake itself and surrounding forest. Reaching the sand, we ambled down Bournda Beach for a couple of kilometres, before climbing over the high fore dunes into the quiet forest behind. This area is the heartland of Bournda National Park and we followed a track south through the dense paperbarks to Bondi Lake, a picturesque body of water lying just behind the high sand dunes. Kangaroos and wallabies grazed in grassy clearings on the western shore of the lake and a flotillion brown wanderer butterflies flitted across the track in the filtered light. Shortly after the track emerged at Bournda Lagoon, even more picturesque than Bondi Lake, as it disappeared into a steep-sided densely timbered valley.

A Bournda wallaby


Bondi Lake

Bournda Lagoon

From the lagoon, we briefly rejoined the southern end of Bournda Beach before climbing back inland to parallel the coastline through (yet again) some dense paperbark forest. The paperbarks were taller and creaked and squeaked as their trunks and branches rubbed against each in the wind. The jumble of fallen trunks and branches alongside the path convinced us that this would not be a good place to be in a storm. From the exterior, the dense bright green canopy of a paperbark forest gives a cheery ambience to the coastline, but from beneath, these forests are dark, grey and verging on the claustrophobic. I was becoming tired of the greyness of much of the path to date and was relieved when we finally emerged on North Tura Beach again.


The greyness beneath a paperbark

Tall paperbark forest at the end of the lagoon

Entering a thicket of low wind-sheared paperbarks

From here it was a straightforward walk down the beach, up through the streets of Tura Beach village to avoid the rocks of Tura Head, and finally a 3 km walk along Short Point Beach in the late afternoon sun. We amused ourselves by trying to predict the length and speed of what we called "wave rockets" along this stretch of the beach (note: a wave rocket occurs when an incoming wave meets a ridge of water running back from the shore into the sea at a slightly different angle. As they cross, a narrow plume of foam is produced at the crossing point of the two waves - their speed is dependent on the angle of intersection of the waves and can be very fast).

Tura Head

A wave rocket zooms along the water

Well trampled sands of Short Point Beach in the late afternoon

Climbing up and over Short Point, we descended into Merimbula and followed the northern shoreline of the lake around, crossing the bridge over to our accommodation on the Fishpen Peninsula just as the sun was setting. At 26 km, it had been our longest stage of the trip and it was good to have it behind us.

Merimbula skyline

Merimbula to Pambula Beach

Our arrival in Merimbula saw an end to the fine weather of the past week; for the next three days we had a succession of heavy thunderstorms, followed by a day of drizzle and then strong winds. We laid low and took advantage of the fact that Merimbula has become a highly developed tourist centre by doing some shopping and going to the cinema.

Nonetheless, we both felt a bit down, partly due the weather, but partly because we were remembering Merimbula as it was 20 years ago when we used to come here for family holidays. With its beautiful lake setting and great beaches, Merimbula is rightly the capital of the Sapphire Coast. We still appreciate it a lot, but rapid development has made it a bustling modern town, the benefits of which come at the cost of some of its old charm.

New subdivision in Merimbula

The boardwalk around the top lake at Merimbula

Late afternoon on Merimbula Lake

Finally the forecast was better and it was time to move on. This stage was a very short one - a 5 km stroll down the broad sweeping curve of Merimbula Beach. In fact it was a tactical shift, as we needed to be in a position to cross the Pambula River at low tide early the next morning and we also needed to find the best place to swim our packs cross. We shared the beach with many of Merimbula's residents and their dogs, out for their morning constitutionals. The only difference between us was that they were coming and going - we were just going.

Looking back up Merimbula Beach

Like Tathra to the north, Pambula Beach has a superb setting on a north-facing headland overlooking a long stretch of golden beach. A walk through the Jiguma Nature Area on the headland offered a number of great lookout points back up Merimbula Beach and across the Pambula River mouth to Ben Boyd National Park. Here you can really appreciate why this part of the south coast is called The Sapphire Coast.

View from the Jiguma Nature Area Track

Chatting with a couple of local fishermen, we were recommended a good crossing point and returned to our cabin to enjoy the return of fine weather and the autumn sun with the resident mob of kangaroos and flock of wood ducks lazing in the park. Pambula Beach is more in the style of the coast that we love, and the clear sapphire water. golden sands and iron-rich maroon sandstone rocks helped snap us out of our melancholy.

..... from this sand spit

Pambula River mouth - the far beach on the right was our target .....

Another view from the Jiguma Nature Area at Pambula Beach

Part of the Pambula wetlands


Wetland eucalypt

Local tourist park 'roo

Strange birdfellows - can you pick the fake duck?