Friday 5 April 2013

"Road" testing Australia's newest coastal walk

Australia has more than its fair share of multi-day walks – not all of them in Tasmania. Sure there’s the Overland Track, the Bay of Fires walk and the Maria Island Walk (all in Tassie). But there’s also the Jatbula Trail in the Northern Territory, the Arkaba Walk in South Australia, the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria and the Royal National Park Coast Track just south of Sydney. (Links go to my stories about these walks.)

Follow that emu
Now there's a new one to add to the list: Yuraygir Coastal Walk, a 65-kilometre odyssey along the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in New South Wales. 

Follow the emu-print track markers south from Angourie Surfing Reserve, near Yamba in northern NSW, and four days later you'll reach Red Rock, just north of Coffs Harbour - without ever leaving Yuraygir National Park.

It opened in 2010 and it’s not a new track as such, joining up previously unconnected walking and 4WD tracks, but it's just now finding its stride. A couple of weeks ago I got to road-test it, so to speak.*

Life really is a beach
What was it like? Except for a sprinkling of rain on our first night (and a double rainbow!) we walked under cobalt-blue skies. Mostly on long beaches where we swapped boots and walking shoes for sandals, then took those off to go barefoot. Day 2, the longest day, consists almost entirely of beach-walking, on just two beaches, both about 10km long. 

Headland-bashing at high tide
There were grassy headlands where eastern grey kangaroos stopped grazing to watch us and hopped, like Qantas logos in motion, along the cliff edge. 

We clambered around rocky sea cliffs, careful to stay out of reach of the sea's wildness. We leaped over tea-stained creeks that ran across the beach to the surf. Sometimes, a local (invariably named Bob) with a tinnie was on hand to ferry us across a deep river. On day 4, we stripped down to our togs (swimmers) and waded across a stream, carrying our packs on our heads.

National park with a view
Recent flooding rains had left their marks on the beaches, which only made them more interesting. Washed-up bottles (with no messages). Logs and sticks swept downriver into natural obstacle courses. Bluebottles tangled up like last year’s Christmas lights. Even tiny pumice stones – where had they blown in from? 

It's an odd national park in that the coastline it's protecting, beautiful as it is, isn't entirely unspoiled. There was sand mining here until the 1970s, then non-native plants such as bitou bush were introduced to stabilise the dunes (they're now being controlled as a feral species). And we walked through fishing villages with rustic names like Brooms Head and Diggers Camp. 

Kayaking Wooli's waters
We saw a goanna. And birds galore - particularly when we kicked off our walking shoes to go kayaking on Wooli (that's wool-eye) River one afternoon. There were eastern ospreys diving for their dinner, three kinds of cormorant (pied, great and little black, spotted by our Patagonia-based bird expert, Marcus Loane). Royal spoonbills! A jabiru! A whimbrel! (A new one for me.)

It wasn’t all walking. We swam in the surf every day. Did our bit for feral species control by cane-toading late one night (filling a hessian sack with more than 100 toads, which humanely met their ends in a freezer later); this is the southernmost limit of cane toads on the east coast, for now. 

We went beach-fishing with two locals, Bruce and another Bob. And “surf rafting” at Minnie Waters (which involves paddling an inflatable raft headlong into waves before turning around and surfing to shore like shipwreck survivors). And camped in grassy NPWS campgrounds along the way.

Another magnificent NSW beach
The verdict: the scenery might not be as dazzling as it is in coastal Tasmania, and it doesn't vary much in four days, but I loved exploring a little known part of New South Wales, my home state. And isn't it amazing that we have so much undisturbed coastline at places like Yuraygir, in Australia's most populous state? 

Most of all I loved walking beside the sea for four whole days, seeing it wild and wind-tossed, breathing in the salt air and blowing away the cobwebs of city-living. Those are my three cheers for Yuraygir.

*This was another carbon neutral trip. Not only did my companions and I travel 65km on foot, I offset my flights to Ballina and back from Coffs Harbour with Climate Friendly.

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