The Nadgee coast is a bit like Atlantis to sea kayakers, a lost kingdom where there are no roads or motorized access, as complete a wilderness as you can find in a heavily developed country like Australia. As such, the Nadgee is on every sea kayakers bucket list. The lead up to our five day trip featured the usual twice daily weather checking of various different models, adjustments to “leave by dates” and, finally, an agreement to meet at 10 am at Boydtown at the tail end of April, 2018 packed for a five day excursion.
The standard Nadgee trip is about 100 km long and takes in the rugged and undeveloped coast between Boydtown and Mallacoota. Water is available at a few locations, but once past Bittangabee Bay in Ben Boyd National Park, all camps require surf landings. Even some of the bays north of Bittangabee Bay (and including Bittangabee Bay) close out in big swells.
Boydtown to Mowarry Bay:
Boydtown is a sleepy little location on the south side of Twofold Bay. There is a big hotel, which always seems rather quiet, a new housing development up the hill, and a couple of large grassy campgrounds. It never seems busy, but perhaps in the middle of Christmas school holidays it is a rowdy as most Australian sea side locations.
While Doug and Mike put the car shuttle in, a respectable two hour turn around (pretty good for five days of paddling), I shuttled loads down to the beach. We had lunch before we left, and then paddled east out of Twofold Bay. A moderate southwesterly wind was blowing which was beam on to our kayaks, but the sails did help lift our loaded boats out of the water a little. Once we passed Boyd Tower we were almost completely sheltered from the SW wind and it was an enjoyable paddle south past striking red rocky cliffs and Leather Jacket Bay to Mowarry Bay.
There is a small but level campsite tucked under a steep hill with the grass kept well cropped by resident kangaroos and wombats. We arrived with an hour to spare before dark, just enough time to wander around the headlands and watch the sun set over Twofold Bay.
Mowarry Bay to Bittangabee Bay:
Sunrise was beautiful, and, as we were not going far, I walked north along the track in the early morning enjoying the sun rising through misty tea trees. After a leisurely breakfast, we packed our kayaks and paddled south in glorious autumn sunshine and paddling into each small and large bay. There were dolphins, seals, and many sea eagles along the coast. The SW wind was still blowing but we were quite sheltered below the cliff line.
At Bittangabee Bay, it felt warm enough to have a swim, albeit a quick one. Doug wandered all around the headlands south of the bay until he was able to get a mobile signal to get an updated weather forecast, and I wandered along the Light to Light track to the north of Bittangabee Bay strolling along scenic rock platforms.
Bittangabee Bay to Merrica River:
It was a day of calm winds and low swell, very different to the last time we had paddled around Green Cape. We headed off from Bittangabee Bay knowing we would not land before Merrica River. Conditions were about as good as they get. We passed close by the lighthouse at Green Cape, with only a metre of swell languorously running. There were seals sleeping off the Cape, and as we paddled into Disaster Bay, the ocean flattened and smoothed until the surface was glassy.
By the time we reached Merrica River, I was feeling very cramped, and, upon seeing an easy landing, I rushed into shore negligent of any real timing. I was just extricating myself from my broached kayak when a large wave reared up behind me picking my boat up and dragging it across my back as my face was ground into the sand. When I emerged both the boat and myself was clogged with sand. It took me an hour in the lagoon behind the beach to clean out just half of the sand deposited in the cockpit, and I didn't get sand out of my ears until we returned home.
After lunch and an hour or more kneeling in the lagoon to clean out my boat, I scrambled around the rocks south of the river outlet where a catwalk runs along above the rocky shore line. I followed it south until it became too crumbly and unsafe to continue but it was a wonderful vantage point to spy sea eagles and dolphins.
Merrica River to Nadgee River:
South of Merrica River is new paddling terrain for Doug and I. Although we have walked the Nadgee Wilderness track from Wonboyn to Mallacoota, seeing the coast line from the ocean is quite different. It's a wonderfully scenic section of coast with seals, dolphins, sea eagles, caves and cliffs.
There are a couple of very small sandy beaches, even in low swell, washed with waves, and then the longer expanse of Jane Spiers and Newtons Beach where even today the waves crashed onto the steep beach. More rocky coastline and another couple of small patches of scoured sand and we arrived at the small, semi sheltered beach at the mouth of the Nadgee River. Landing at the south end was easy and I took more care than the day before not wanting another dunk and drag experience.
Behind the beach we found a sheltered and soft camp among wind beaten tea trees. Doug and I walked south through thick scratchy moorland to Nadgee Lake where the haunting sound of black swans echoed across the lake. The beach at Nadgee Lake is more exposed and looked to present tougher landing conditions. I walked north along rock platforms near Nadgee Lake and by the time I came back to camp, it was full dark.
Nadgee River to Mallacoota via Gabo Island:
Our last day and we are away early with a long way to travel. It is a beautiful, if chilly morning at Nadgee River, and the rising sun washed the beach golden. Dolphins paddled past our boats again as we headed south soon paddling around Cape Howe and into Windtoria where the ocean was eerily calm. Smoke from fuel reduction burns floated out over the water and all we could see of Gabo Island was the striking red granite lighthouse suspended in haze.
We paddled around the south end of the island, slipping between this island a wave washed rock with Australian fur seals on one side and New Zealand fur seals on the other. They were curious and jumped into the water to swim around Doug's boat. At the north end of Gabo Island there is a small sheltered beach, underwater at high tide. We landed and carried our food bags up to the helicopter pad where we cooked up a late breakfast. The lighthouse custodians came down for a chat and before we left I walked up the island to the monument remembering the ship Monumental City that ran aground on nearby Tullaberga Island in 1853.
A light northeasterly wind gave us a gentle but appreciated push along the final stretch of coast from Gabo Island to Bastion Point where regretfully our Nadgee trip was over.