Yuraygir Coastal Walk has been featured in a number of walking magazines with emphasis on the opportunity to explore long stretches of unspoiled NSW coastline and, considering the rapid encroachment of developments in its many forms on natural environments everywhere, we are so lucky that this area has been preserved. Pam Dawes’ invitation to join her on a supported walk was too good to pass up: guides, bag transport, estuary crossings and a comfortable bed. Pam, a keen walker and environmental champion, was part of my Tour du Mont Blanc group in August 2017. TMB was a truly great walk with very like-minded people so I didn’t think too long about the offer to join Pam for the Yuraygir Coastal Walk:
Day 0, 7 September 2019
The drive to Red Rock was an easy 5 hour trip with little Saturday traffic and no road works. As we neared Red Rock, the fires to the east looked serious and aircraft were water-bombing. There was plenty of smoke.
Red Rock is a tiny coastal village with one busy shop and caravan park the only retail establishments. There are however new subdivisions to the south. The group assembled and we
were bused to Yamba, the driver a cheery 82 yo lady. The Yamba Hotel looked familiar and a call to Graham confirmed that we had attended Gerry Ryan’s wedding there in the ’80s sometime. It was in the same dilapidated state but the view could not be faulted: gorgeous.
Our accommodation was on the second floor and our room had a huge sliding window that opened at waist height with a drop to the cement many metres below. An OH&S disaster waiting to happen! The place was thumping, literally, as it was Saturday night with a band and lots of backpackers and locals enjoying the entertainment.
Pam and I searched out some food in town for the next day, and later, wished that we had bought/brought more. Even at 5.00 pm, there was not much open.
The bus trip and dinner provided an opportunity to glean some first impressions of our walking companions and they were all positive: a very nice bunch. As well as Pam Dawes from Manly, there was Sarah, Steve and Claudia from Port Macquarie, Tony from Byron Bay, Derek from Mosman, plus Marcus and his wife Marika, their daughter Monica with husband Dave and daughter little, 12 months old, Ashlin. Steve had camping gear and used it for some of the nights.
Home Comforts Hiking proved to be a well-organised and friendly crew.
SMOKE Day 1, 8 September 2019 – Angourie to Brooms Head – 17 km – 4 hours walking – 226m elevation gain – 183m elevation loss – av temp 27 deg C
Mara Creek Campsite is the starting point for the Yuraygir Coastal Walk and this site is historically-significance as it was a source of fresh water and fish for the local Goorie (Aboriginal) people. A natural fish trap on the rock platform below the Shelley Beach path is clearly visible.
So it is with an appreciation of the timelessness of this stunningly beautiful area that we set off, a family of sorts. A group photo is taken. Little Ashlin is strapped into her carrier and Monica steps out strongly with tales of her walk along the Pacific Crest Trail (4,270 km) that makes our 65 km effort over 4 days seem insignificant. But it is good to chat about ultra trail events and great walks and to hear Monica describe her new interest: trail running, her long legs perfectly built for that.
The walk to Lake Arragan via Shelley Headland is varied, with the beach and sand dune trails offering views of ochre-coloured rock platforms and coffee rock sand cliffs to the south. Whales and dolphins are spotted by some of the group but I’m not quick enough to focus. We follow the coastal emu footprint signs and although we come upon wallaby or kangaroo footprints in the sand, we see no emus. Heath and woodland vegetation is diverse and we enjoy a springtime flush of flowers – flannel flowers, orchids, boronias. Coastal banksias, pandanus palms and paperbarks (complete with a native beehive) shade the trails.
By midday, the air became quite smoky from the fires to the north-west of Lake Arragan and as we walk on, we speak with locals who have packed up their pets and driven to Plumbago Headland to be well away from the fires. Later we are told that the picnic area near the lake where some of the group enjoyed a bracing swim was burnt out the next day and National Parks closed the section of the walk from Angourie to Laka Arragan until further notice.
We end the day with views of Red Cliff and Grey Cliff Headlands and drop down to the beach via stairs – newly repaired. We walk briskly along the beautiful beach to Brooms Head with its stately Norfolk Island pines but as we a glance northward, we are reminded that the fire situation is worsening. Devastating for so many.
Our accommodation is adequate – spacious and clean, the only problem being that the bathroom door doesn’t close but we aren’t too fussed and manage. The bathroom light globe pops but is replaced promptly. The shop is run down as is the owner, the shelves barely stocked and the food is outrageously expensive eg 50g of coffee $12.95! Dinner at the Bowling Club is pleasant and we finish the day with a lively game of BOMB.
SAND and FLIES Day 2, 9 September 2019 – Brooms Head to Minnie Waters – 20 km – 6 hours walking – 228m elevation gain, 208m elevation loss
A day of two extremes: a delightful 8 km walk along the hard sand of the beach in the morning to Sandon and a horrible 10 km walk on a 4 wheel drive soft-sand track in the afternoon, fighting the flies all the way. But the sun shone, the crossing with Lance in “the BOBSTA” at Sandon was efficient and the wildflowers were gorgeous. Interpretive signs alerted us to the possibility of seeing white-bellied sea eagles (yes) and humpback whales (no), but we did see lots of pelicans at Sandon and yellow-tailed black cockatoos in the coastal cypress thickets in the afternoon. They were magnificent.
Sandon is a pretty place with an estuary separating the camping ground and the renovated beach shacks; some are pretty flash. Life is in the slow lane here as access is limited. There is a clear message in the lack of garbage bins – take care of this special place. There was time to have a swim but the wind was cold so a sit in the sun, lunch and a wander around the camping area and along the inlet filled in the time nicely. The break provided an opportunity to read the information signs and appreciate that this stretch of coast is protected by Sanctuary Zones and Commonwealth Marine Reserves. The environmental campaigns of the ’80s and ’90s are to be applauded.
There could not have been a greater contrast to the Brooms Head shop in the Minnie Waters shop: pleasant people run it, well-stocked shelves, pricey…yes but good quality. I eyed off the cheeses… not this time. The sign on the window said it all: Kitchen and Coffee close by 4 (or earlier if there are waves or we just wanna) and the local facilities indicate a community at work here.
And what a peaceful end to the day’s walk through the Angophoras for the last kilometre to the comfortable cabins at the caravan park. The late afternoon light was magical.
We were all feeling a little worn out after the soft-sand slog in the afternoon but showers and pre-dinner drinks followed by a hearty barbeque dinner prepared by Marcus and the family is just what we needed. I need to add that when we left Brooms Head in the morning, there was a possibility that the road would be closed due to the fires and Dave and the trailer would not make it to Minnie Waters. All was well however and Dave was able to bring the gear through as well as the BBQ makings.
WIND Day 3 – 10 September 2019 – Minnie Waters to Wooli – 16 km – 3.5 hours – 335m elevation gain, 364m elevation loss – av temp 24 deg C
This was to be an easier day of just 16 km and it started well with walking conditions in the morning perfect. There were some rock platforms to pick our way across but overall just more gorgeous beaches. We had morning tea at Diggers Camp Back Beach then walked onto Boorkoom Camping Area and Wilsons Headland for lunch before setting off along Wooli Beach.
Unfortunately. a cool southerly wind had sprung up and battered us for 6.5 km.
We were pleased to arrive at Wooli River Lodges mid-afternoon. What a nice place. Shady, well-maintained gardens; lodges with good linen; an outdoor fully equipped kitchen; and just 5 minutes to the local store and hotel. We enjoyed dinner at the hotel and this was followed by a gathering in the outdoor kitchen to wish Dave a happy birthday with party hats and cake. It seemed like a long day and I headed back to our lodge while most stayed to play 31. I was surprised to find it was only 7.30 pm but the opportunity for an early night was too good to pass up.
ROCKS Day 4, 11 September 2019 – Wooli to Red Rock – 15.1 km – 3.5 hours walking time – 335 m elevation gain, 364 m elevation loss – av temp 25 deg C
As he had each morning, Marcus delivered a delicious freshly-brewed coffee and it was a greatly appreciated start to the day.
A Wooli Wooli River crossing had been organised for 8.30 am and we were transported to the boat by the proprietor of Wooli River Lodges. Low tide was essential for this section of the walk as off and on for the first 6.5 km there was some rock scrambling.
After lunch, we crossed Station Creek estuary easily as it was only wading depth. Then there was another beautiful beach walk to Red Rock River and our final boat crossing to Red Rock.
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Pam and I had intended to spend the night at Nambucca Heads but as it was only 2.00 pm when we arrived at Red Rock, we canceled our motel booking, thanked and fare welled our walking family and drove home to Caves Beach.
What a wonderful walk along a beautiful, pristine coastline in good company, thanks to Home Comforts Hiking – we couldn’t ask for a better few days!