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Whale Watching in June

by Paul Ellis

On Wednesday 22nd June 2005 I led 26 (yes 26) Shoalhaven Bushwalkers for a walk in Booderee National Park. We hoped to do a bit of Whale Watching as whales were on the move north as they migrate up the NSW coast. The morning started overcast after overnight rain, but by the time I had driven to information centre car park at Jervis Bay National Park the sky was clear. However, it was windy and very chilly.

By 9.15am there were already 12 members who had gathered. I was wondering how many were going to turn up from the meeting place in Nowra. By 9.35am everyone had arrived. 27 walkers, this looked like it was going to be a tough lead. I was thankful I had two very capable cattle dogs in Peter Farrell and Jock Finlayson. Apart from knowing the area very well, they have a tendency to make sure the group stays together. My job was going to be very easy indeed. I hadn't walked this area in nearly ten years and since then a bushfire had gone through the area. Things were going to look different. I left my car at the information centre and travelled with Jock to the car park at Summercloud Bay, not far from the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Village. We arrived there at approximately 10.00am and wasted little time in moving off. We noticed there were road graders present and later discovered they were working on the main fire trail that runs to St Georges Head (our eventual destination).

Peter and Jock though suggested rather than taking the dirt road we should take the more scenic bush track around the coast. You never knew, we might just see a whale or two, but the main reason for taking the track was that Peter and Jock knew it was becoming very overgrown and hard to follow and thus, needed a bit of traffic to help open it up a bit. 27 walkers? We'd certainly give it a go.

The track was in a bad state, overgrown in places, and in others it had completely disappeared, but we managed to find our way through and the views of the coastline were very picturesque. Clear blue water and rugged rock platforms with the occasional little bay of aqua coloured water. Across the bay we were treated to views of Pigeon House Mountain and the coastline to the south. Eventually the track joined up with the dirt road, now being resurfaced, just east of Blacks Waterhole. I did a quick head count to make sure no one had gone missing before we moved on down the road. About 50 metres further on we almost missed the side track to Whiting Beach. Obviously the fires had destroyed the signpost and if you didn't know the area, you would have walked right past it.

We descended a narrow badly eroded track to Whiting Beach which was a small sandy beach at the end of a long aqua blue inlet. We moved along the rock platform and found a suitable spot for morning tea. A small Rugby Football was found amongst the flotsam and I put this in my pack (something for the dog to play with when I got home). We sat and enjoyed our morning tea, our eyes scanning the water for signs of whales, but we saw none. I took a quick recce of the rock platform further along, hopeful that we could do some rock hopping to the next bay rather than taking the road. Sadly the conditions didn't look favourable and with the large numbers in attendance it might become a long slow progress so I decided to stick with the road. Just before moving off we discovered a very large Diamond Python sunning itself in the grass just two feet from where I had been sitting. Everyone came to have a look, a rare sight at this time of year before we moved off back to the main track.

We now followed the dirt road for a short distance and just after passing the side track to Blacks Harbour (we would take this detour on the return journey) the road turned a sharp left, but there was a well defined track that would cut out around 3km of road walking to Kitty's Point. Again the track was very picturesque and not far from the intersection to Kitty's Beach we were treated to the sight of a large Sea Eagle soaring above the rocks below us. The track then ascended a small hill before meeting up with the main road again.

Not far away was the side track to Kitty's Point. Last year, this had been the place where a group from the club had seen a large pod of whales, so we were hopeful of getting a good sighting. Kitty's Point has a long grassy bank that slopes down to the rocks on the waters edge. Beyond that is a small semi-connected island. Several of us, notably Jock, Peter, Alan Thomas, John and Gillian Souter and myself went to explore while everyone else lay back in the warm winter sunshine. From the rocky isthmus we had great views across the water, but no whales. The water was quite choppy and the breeze still very chilly. Every whitecap on the water was a possible whale sighting, with only disappointment to follow. There were some grunts of discontentment - "Where are all these whales you promised?" I was starting to get worried.

We headed back to the main track and continued eastwards. We didn't have far to go. The country was opening up a little, thanks to the recent bushfires, the scrub had not grown back fully. We found the side track to Corangamite, just 200 metres from St Georges Head and went to explore. This short track took us to a cliff edge overlooking a long flat rock platform at the waters edge where many years ago the steamer Corangamite had been wrecked. Nothing much left of the boat now, and certainly no sign of any whales. I informed the rest of my group we were only about 300 metres away from lunch, so we wasted little time in making our way to St Georges Head. The wide dirt road soon became a narrow track and soon came out onto a large jumbled rock platform that is the headland and easternmost point of mainland Jervis Bay National Park. We all found ourselves a suitable spot out of the wind to sit and enjoy our lunch while still providing some views of the water. Surely some whales would make their presence known soon, but lunchtime passed with not a whale to be seen. Several of the group jokingly asked for their money back and some referred to this group as the 'No Frills Whale Watching Tour'.

With dark clouds approaching from the west we decided to head back to the cars. You could see the disappointment on the faces of many of the group. We all had our hopes high of sighting at least one whale, especially after seven were seen in the Jervis Bay area yesterday. What could I say? I told them that maybe we would get a lucky sighting from the track on the return journey. Despondent we made our way back, following the route we had taken in. We were not rewarded with any sightings of whales, or the lone Sea Eagle, but the rain stayed away. That was something as the clouds had looked dark and threatening.

At the intersection to the track to Blacks Harbour I gathered the troops and told them this small detour would be worth the effort if only for the excellent coastal views and rock formations. There was also a sizeable aboriginal midden on the shoreline. However, when we reached the waters edge Jill Souter called out that she had seen something, and sure enough, back to the east, just off the rocks of Kitty's Point we had the magnificent sight of two humpback whales who gladly put on a bit of a show for us. The aboriginal midden was quickly forgotten as we watched a magnificent spectacle of two whales breaching and spouting and at one stage, one of the whales lifted it's tail vertically out of the water, coming down with a huge splash. We watched transfixed as they made their way around Kitty's Point and further up the coast. The day wasn't lost after all. "Oh Ye Of Little Faith" I thought, the Borstal delivers again.

We now headed back to the car park, taking the main road all the way. We were almost at Blacks Waterhole when one of the vehicles servicing the road works stopped our group. It turns out that some cars at the parking area have been vandalised, the workmen trying to contact the police. We wasted little time in getting back to the car park and arrived there at 3.10pm just as a police cruiser turned up. Two cars had their driver's side windows smashed in, another car had a sizeable dent in the driver's door just below the door handle. Nothing of value was missing from any of the damaged vehicles, but the police officer took down all the owners details. It was a most unsatisfactory end to what had turned out to be a very enjoyable day of bushwalking.

One of the vandalized cars

Editors Note: One fact about the damaged cars was noted. The vandalized cars had blue day passes, where the untouched cars had yearly stickers. Tourists go home - locals okay?


(June 2005)

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