There’s nothing quite like the feeling of heading off in the dark of morning knowing the sun will greet you as you head towards a place you’ve been many times before – a familiar place – a special place – one that welcomes you with open arms and its beckoning serenity, purity and natural beauty. No matter which route you choose, travelling to Jervis Bay on the NSW South Coast (about a 2.5 hours' drive from Sydney) is a scenic treat.
I adore this trip, which takes me to Bowral, then through gorgeous Kangaroo Valley and over Cambewarra Range to Nowra. From there it’s an easy drive to Woollamia (near Huskisson) where I stay with long-time kayaking friends in their stunning home that nestles Currambene Creek. There are plenty of places to stop en route – to eat, rest, take photos or simply breathe in the fresh air. I pull into my usual café in Bowral at the exact moment a “ding” on the display of my new Golf Alltrack alerts me that it’s time to take a break. What timing! I feel looked after. A quick organic bite, then I get on the road again towards the ocean in my flash red wagon that matches my slick ocean kayak on top – both snazzy and noticed!
Jervis Bay Marine Park covers an expanse of approximately 22,000 hectares. This includes the semi-enclosed waters of Jervis Bay, and a coastline and adjacent ocean stretching over 100 kilometres – from Kinghorn Point in the north to Sussex Inlet in the south. You might know of Hyams Beach on the southern shores of Jervis Bay – it’s famously claimed to have the whitest sand in the world. The park’s environment is diverse – from deep-water cliffs, sandy beaches, rock platforms and reefs, kelp forests and seagrass meadows. A sanctuary zone (highest level of protection) safeguards 20% of the park and a habitat protection zone encompasses a further 72%. All marine mammals, reptiles and birds are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, and this includes minimum approach distances to marine mammals – such as dolphins and whales. But sometimes the animals approach us – such unforgettable privilege to be “invited” into their space!
Booderee National Park is part of the natural beauty of this region and includes many walking tracks – Murrays Beach, Green Patch, Steamers Beach or around Cave Beach – and also offers bush camping sites for longer stays. There are also a number of pretty little villages nearby – Huskisson is my pick.
What is it about the ocean that draws us? Is it the rolling waves, crashing surf or an open endless watery expanse leading to the far horizon? For me it’s all these things plus, most importantly, a quest to promote and awaken our consciousness for the wildlife and wilderness of the ocean that is under constant pressure and threat from humanity. Kayaking provides serenity, awareness and an appreciation of nature that is unsurpassed – you can get up close and see things you can’t otherwise. And it has also given me experiences and life-long friendships with fellow adventurers who cherish nature and this special place too.
I’ve belonged to a kayaking group, based in Huskisson, for many years and the expert leaders ensure our ocean trips are safe, interesting and exciting. We paddle several times a year – often alongside dolphins, seals, penguins and turtles. But there are two annual paddling times that are simply unmissable – whale migration time. Humpback and the rarer southern right can be seen both offshore and inside the bay from June through to November. The whales begin their northerly migration in early April – heading to their breeding grounds in the warmer waters off Queensland. They make their return journey from September to November. This is my favourite time to see the whales as the mums and their new calves move slowly south and often seek shelter in the calmer waters of the bay. November is the perfect month to witness this majestic movement.
Booderee National Park is one of the best places on the South Coast to view this spectacular migration – and you don’t have to be on the water to see. Each year, on the last Sunday in June, a whale census takes place – primarily along the east coast. Members of ORCCA -Marine Mammal Rescue and Research - along with national park staff and the public, count humpback and southern right whales as they pass on their annual northern migration. It’s a meaningful opportunity for the public to help gather information to build a snapshot of the whales’ migration and behaviour. The historic Cape St George Lighthouse is the perfect vantage point and provides an uninterrupted platform from which to count. This year 134 humpback whales were sighted off Booderee – and a sensational total of 2,323 (predominately along the east coast) were counted – just on this one day in June. The next census is on Sunday, June 24, 2018 (see orrca.org.au).
Our kayaking group has a number of favourite launching spots – Callala Bay, Hyams Boat Ramp, Plantation Point, Iluka, Green Patch, Murrays Boat Ramp and Summercloud Bay – depending on weather conditions and our destination. We’ve paddled out to Point Perpendicular and around Bowen Island, but I must stress, this is not for a solo paddler or beginner – booking with an organised expedition, with qualified guides (visit seakayakjervisbay.com.au) or paddling with an experienced group is essential. Conditions during the day can change so safety in numbers rings true.
We can paddle 25 or more kilometres on a full-day expedition. One of the most scenic is heading out from Callalla Bay and a long paddle across to Honeymoon Bay. If conditions are favourable, we paddle on to Point Perpendicular and outside – around the cliffs and open ocean. Sometimes it feels as though you’re the only person in the world to see this – to do this. Amazing!
Circumnavigating Bowen Island is another favourite. We’ve kayaked in over two metre swells on the ocean side (not for the inexperienced or faint-hearted!) to then head back into calmer waters of the bay from the northern point. We always pull in near the sanctuary zone on the bay side. This is where we can sit quietly in our kayaks – taking a breather – and often witness dolphins at play. It’s here we’ve seen young calves practice their skills together, circled by their watchful mums, in a “dolphin crèche” – undisturbed or hindered by our silent presence.
Jervis Bay is a special and accessible place and one that offers a treasure trove of experiences – swimming, surfing, snorkelling, kayaking, sailing and more. The bountiful nature here not only replenishes our senses but acutely makes us realise what’s truly important.
As I vacuum the remnants of fine white sand from the car, my mind is already on my next trip – early summer when I can dip into the warm waters off Murrays Beach and hopefully photograph some of the weedy sea dragons that live there. Can’t wait!
Diane Norris has contributed to a number of publications including Australian Geographic and Burke’s Backyard. She was editor of Sustainable & Water-Wise Gardens, Good Gardening Guide, Good Organic Gardening and Organic Life magazines. She is dedicated to promoting sustainable and organic living solutions while advocating awareness of nature and wild regions through her photography and writing.