The Mystery Coast

The calm was shattered by a thunderous roar as a swell broke against the headland sending a spray of white water into the air. The calm water paddling we had enjoyed for the last couple of hours was over and we were in for some fun paddling along the “Mystery Coast”.

The swell was starting to rise

We call this area the “Mystery Coast” as the weather is always a bit of a mystery. It’s forecast SE winds and you get NE; 10 knots can be 5 or 20 knots and the swell has to be taken into consideration which is not the best situation for kayakers venturing several kilometres offshore.

The day had started early with preparations before dawn as the predicted weather window of calm winds in the morning and an early afternoon sea breeze, had arrived.  We had seen the end of Blow-vember and the promise of more stable conditions had the group heading westward from Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, with the hope of visiting some of the rugged and seldom paddled Mystery Coast.

Ready to launch

The sea was calm and the sky overcast as we launched. The sea took on an eerie feel as it was difficult to distinguish the sea from the sky and the inky swells rising and falling under the kayak added to the strange sensation.

Milky calm condition in the early morning

Eerie conditions and cloud that signals a change coming later

The calm conditions and photo opportunities made Gavin happy

The swells were gentle

We got up close and personal with a cliffs that towered 90 metres above us all the time mindful that those boulders hanging precariously above fell into the sea at regular intervals. The swells lifted us gently and then crashed against the base of the cliffs sending backwash to bounce us around.

We dodged around the breaking waves to get in close

Steve was always on the lookout for another crevice to explore

Checking out the clear water

 

We were able to sneak into small ravines that were sheltered from the wind and swell to enjoy the crystal clear waters and views of the towering granite cliffs.

Rodney heads into a calm inlet

Skirting around rocky islets

Rugged and very sharp limestone rocks sometimes very close to the surface

Calm waters in the lee of an island

The area also has some small offshore islands to explore and we paddled close into the cliffs in the lee of the islands and bounced our way past the unprotected sides.  A 10 km paddle out to a sea lion colony increases the senses, especially when you realise that Great White Sharks breed in the nearby reefy waters.

Steve and Ian approaching an offshore island

There are many caves at the waterline and above

This coast was home to many industries in earlier times and many jetties were built to accommodate the fleet of vessels that carted grain, seafood and gypsum.

Some jetties are still functional…

Stenhouse Bay jetty with the gypsum loading chute on the cliff top

…..and others are about to fall into the sea.

The middle section has collapsed and many pylons are gone

After exploring a number of inlets and caves we were able to land on a small protected beach where Steve serenaded a couple of the locals.

Gavin landed on the beach to find a friend had landed with him

Gavin’s friend

If anyone can “talk to the animals” Steve can.

After a quick lunch on the beach it was an interesting paddle into a confused sea created by the increasing SW swell colliding with the ESE wind driven sea. “Wind against Current” always makes for some interesting paddling and quite often reacquaints you with your support stroke.

It’s hard to get the lumpy conditions on film but here’s a try

The conditions dictated that we stayed close together for the last 2 hours of paddling and we all witnessed a large pod of dolphins fishing under our kayaks. They screamed past, some leaping a metre or more into the air as they zig zagged through a school of fish below us. The fish were forced to the surface by the dolphins and then a flock of seabirds dive bombed from above.

Fascinating stuff, but no one got any photos as at the time it was “both hands on paddle”. This was probably not the best time and place to demonstrate your rolling technique: in the middle of a feeding frenzy of dolphins and sea birds along a coast well known for its Great White Shark population.

After many exhilarating hours of paddling, beach combing and wildlife spotting we made our destination and after much lugging of gear and carrying of kayaks we returned to our campsite.

As is our custom, we celebrated firstly with an icy cold beer and snacks provided by Robyn and later moved on more substantial eats and sampled the red wines from several wine regions in South Australia. Tastings covered the Coonawarra and McLaren Vale regions as well as excellent Shiraz from Koltz Wines of Blewett Springs (McLaren Vale region).

Let me pre-answer some of the questions we normally get from readers and people who meet us on the beach.

  1. Yes we are all well on the wrong side of 60. Make that 70 for Rodney.
  2. Yes we are all retired from normal work.
  3. Yes we do this for fun.
  4. Yes my camera is waterproof. I hope !
  5. No we don’t have time to drop in a fishing line while paddling.
  6. No we are not afraid of sharks, stingrays or jellyfish. Well maybe just a little bit.
  7. No we aren’t sponsored by a winery, but would like to be.

Thanks to our paddlers Gavin, Steve, Rodney and Ian who donated their photos to this story and to Robyn for the cold beer, vehicle driving and many other duties.

Anzac Day. A day to remember.

Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping …
Having paddled with a number of veterans and those currently serving in recent years, I  have a great respect for the sacrifices that have been made in the past.
However, as this next piece shows, it was not always a day that I remembered.

“I know that voice”
It was 4 am on a Sunday morning and I could hardly hear the alarm for the beating of the rain on our little cottages’ roof. The wind howled through the trees outside as I clobbered the alarm and fell back into a half sleep.

The last couple of weeks had been poor weather with weak cold fronts constantly passing through South Australia bringing drizzly cool days, and today was no exception with showers expected for most of the day.

I realised that Gavin and Michael would be here soon and contemplated just a few more minutes in bed. I thought they know that I am always late, but then Gavin is always early so I slowly dragged myself from the warm bed.

The mountain of gear stacked neatly in the hallway needed only the last minute additions of fully charged camera batteries and such like, which I dutifully attended to, crossing off each item off my list. All ready to go, just as I heard Gavin’s car pull up out the front. Gavin bowled in, looking just like someone who is always awake before five, which of course he is, followed by Michael who hasn’t seen this time of darkness since our last trip.

The gear was loaded and I found that Michael has claimed the backseat for the trip and I had the duty of riding in the front with Gavin, ensuring that he was awake during the drive. How anyone can stay awake listening to ABC Radio at that time of the morning is beyond me, but duty called.

Sombre music, then marching bands: hell what was this stuff he was listening to? We passed along the foggy highway out of Adelaide to the tunes of the 127 th District marching band or some such mob, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to take eight hours of this.

Passing through Tailem Bend I realised what was happening. It was Anzac Day.

There was a group of 200 or so people gathered at the park, with many spilling onto the roadway, forcing us to crawl past. I remembered back to my only time of being at an Anzac Day dawn service, when I must have been about 10 years old. I vividly remember the service being held in a local park in Parkside where I grew up, but can’t remember who I went with, or what happened afterwards. Just the short service and the music.

Sunday morning on ABC radio is Macca in the morning. I listened to the introductions and then vagued out while staring at the unchanging landscape of the mallee country. Macca had people ringing in to recount their views and memories of Anzac day.

As I rolled along in the front seat, listening to Michael’s snoring in the back I heard a woman’s voice saying that she had just come from a dawn service held with her husband and only one other person. It was a Tasmanian accent, quite distinctive but pleasant to listen to. Sounded in her late 40s or thereabouts, well spoken and confident. I didn’t hear where she was from, assumed Tasmania, but she was talking about their dawn service held on the top of a hill at the site where four RAAF flyers had died in a crash near the end of the war. They had been on a training run or similar and had engine problems resulting in the crash. The bodies had been buried elsewhere but there was still the scattered remains of plane where a small memorial was erected. She spoke of the isolated area that they from, describing the wallabies on the hill and sea views from her kitchen window. Sounded like a great place to me…

Then off we headed. Victoria to Tasmania by sea kayak.

Gavin, Michael and I stood at the base of the cliff, on the tiny windswept beach, looking up at the zig zag track that leads to the lighthouse keeper’s cottage. We had had a long hard day, crossing from Hogan Island to Deal Island, with lightning greeting us just before our dawn departure. The wind was OK before dawn but talking by phone to the duty forecaster in Tasmania I knew that we had only a few hours to get off the island or be there for some time.

The winds had risen later in the morning as we sailed and paddled our way to Deal Island in the Kent Group. Rising wind and rising seas had made for a rough ride, with worse on the way. We paddled strongly knowing that the sanctuary was only a couple of hours away, however the front grew closer with steadily increasing force. Rising seas and wind from the rear quarter made for interesting times. We eventually made shelter in the lee of Erith Island with a 40kn headwind screaming towards us as the main front hit.
The paddle along the Murray Passage was demanding with the wind coming head on between the Islands, as Michael powered past us determined to land first. Maybe he was just glad to be near a safe haven after having suffered two capsizes whilst sailing that morning, or maybe the lure of a cup of tea and Mars bars had scrambled his brain. He is a legend in the world of chocolate bars, carrying large packets of Mars Bars and the like when we go paddling. Still, you can’t complain when he insists on sharing them out after paddling, but I still think that anyone who calls them carrots is still a little unusual.

We set off fully equipped for the climb up the Deal Island path with extra supplies of Mars Bars and Snickers stuffed in our pockets. Half way up the path we paused briefly to admire the view and call in to our families. The surprise of the caretaker was evident when we strolled up to the cottage, certainly not expecting paddlers in this weather, but as always we were invited in for tea and scones.

It was unsafe to proceed to the campsite and hut on Erith Island so we were able to bed down in the spare cottage on Deal. We had the opportunity of a hot shower and a real bed and that was not to be knocked back. A quick shower and change of clothes and up to the caretaker’s for high tea.

We entered the cosy warm cottage and met our hosts Dallas and Shirley. They are caretakers on the island for three months at a time, with this being their second time here.

Bloody hell, I know that voice!, the soft but distinct  accent coming from the kitchen sounded familiar, but I didn’t recognise the face. Shirley plied us with scones with jam and cream and tea, while I thought about where I knew her from.

When talking to Dallas about the awful weather heading our way it came to me. Have you been on the radio lately? “Yes, twice on the ABC talking about Deal Island”. Did you have an Anzac dawn service here? “Yes just three of us, up near where the plane crash site”. It was her, the voice on the radio that cold rainy Anzac morning. Strange things seem to happen when you go paddling.

We were marooned on Deal Island for eight days waiting for the weather to moderate. The winds stayed at around 60 kn for most of that time with huge seas battering the island group. We did wallaby musters, helped other blow-ins and had many other adventures in those eight days and many more on that 19 day crossing of Bass Strait.

Deal Island looking towards Erith and Dover Islands

Deal Island looking towards Erith and Dover Islands

Now every Anzac Day not only do I remember those who fought in our wars but I think of that lonely crash site on that lonely little island.
Ian Pope

Let’s take the BIG BOAT today

It was a calm Autumn night, although a little warmer than expected as I laid in my sleeping bag on the beach. The three of us were scattered around trying to get a few hours sleep before our pre-dawn departure. I shut off the phone alarm and checked the latest weather forecast which confirmed calm conditions for today and a light tailwind for tomorrow. Perfect conditions for Steve’s first 20 km open water crossing of Investigator Strait to Kangaroo Island.

Michael, Steve and I stuffed our kayaks with gear and posed for a photo on the beach.

All ready at the Ferry Terminal – Cape Jervis

Steve was determined to get a photo with the three of us in,  which was not an easy task given the darkness but he succeeded.

That’s us… L to R    Steve, Ian and Michael

Then it was on the water to clear Cape Jervis before the sun rose. The first couple of kilometers were perfect conditions with almost glassy calm water and the sun peeking through the clouds. We had checked and double checked the forecasts as there was a strange cloud formation over the island, but all seemed perfect including our speed which was over 8km/hr.

Calm conditions as the sun came up

It wasn’t long before we felt a gentle headwind spring up and not much longer before it increased, but our speed was good given the tidal assistance and the laden kayaks easily handled the conditions.

The headwind was increasing creating a confused sea due to the wind against tide

We kept an eye out for traffic as we crossed the shipping channel and this one passed well behind us.

Missed us by a mile

After 3 hours of paddling into the headwind we rested in the wind shadow of the high cliffs of Kangaroo Island, just east of Cuttlefish Bay, with Steve very happy with his first crossing.

Great coastal scenery for the next few kilometers

It was then onto our campsite in Antechamber Bay close to the Chapman River.

Out of the wind but not the rain

The good weather didn’t last long with heavy rain setting in for most of the day and night. Still we were prepared with shelter and a good bottle of McLaren Vale red wine kindly supplied by Steve.

A good end to the day

Next morning the rain subsided to occasional light showers as we headed west, hugging the coast to keep out of the wind. The sun occasionally broke through the clouds lighting up patches of the calm waters in Antechamber Bay.

The sun was still shining….well sometimes it was

The forecast wasn’t good with a strong wind warning being issued for Investigator Strait and surrounding areas. The prospect of 20-30 knot winds was not pleasant so we hugged the coast and dropped in on the local wildlife.

Calm water as we paddled out from the shelter of Antechamber Bay

The end of shelter in the bay was near

This is a stunning coastline with large tracts of natural vegetation

Sea Lions came out to play around the kayaks. Maybe they were the smart ones being ashore for the day

After a 3 hour stretch” on the paddle” we rounded into Hog Bay ……

We arrived just before the storm hit Hog Bay

….and waited to board the “BIG BOAT” that would take us home.

The Sea Link ferry

We quickly organised fares and climbed aboard, sandwiched between cars.

Safe and sound on the car ferry

I have been paddling this stretch of water since the early 1980’s and it’s different every time. Not only was it Steve’s first crossing of the Strait but the first time Michael and  I had come back with our kayaks on the ferry. Another great adventure paddling the coast of South Australia.

Michael

Ian

Steve

Gone with the wind

Our cunning plan was to paddle to Kangaroo Island for the weekend and explore the camping and photo options on the Chapman River. This would mean a crossing of the notorious Backstairs Passage which I had done countless times, but for Steve it would be his first trip. However, it seems that Euros the god of the South East wind was looking over our shoulder again and our plan would be “gone with the wind”.

After our windy experiences on a recent trip we activated Plan B. Instead of an 18km crossing each way we decided on a 77km down wind paddle from Cape Jervis to Steves’ home beach of Christies Beach, Adelaide.

Steve all packed and ready to go

Steve all packed and ready to go

With the wind around 20-25kn in Backstairs Passage we could hardly make out features on the island.

It was calm in the marina but we knew that the winds were around 20kn and increasing on Backstairs Passage

It was calm in the marina but we knew that the winds were around 20kn and increasing on Backstairs Passage

We were able to sneak out around the marina into Gulf St Vincent hugging the coast where the effects of the wind were greatly reduced, but still enough to give us a wet ride. We planned to keep in close to the cliffs as the SE wind would sheer over the top of the cliffs giving us calm water at the cliff base.

It's this way along the coast

It’s this way along the coast

All set for a wet ride home

All set for a wet ride home

We negotiated the first couple of kilometers past Morgans beach and Starfish Hill until we reached the base of the cliff line. We were then able to hug in close out of the wind and enjoy the scenery towering over us as well as the seabed in crystal clear water.

Nice easy paddling

Nice easy paddling

I was able to get in a little kayak sailing practice with a fully laden boat, something I haven’t done for a while. I’m not sure Steve really appreciated me zig zagging around him, giving him a quick history and geography lesson as I passed, but it did allow for a couple of photos.

img_1714-2

A very relaxed sail as we kept inshore out of the wind

I never tire of this stunning coastline with its cliff plunging straight into the clear water or the small caves and fissures that abound as well as the wildlife that plays here.

Investigating a small cove

Investigating a small cove

Steve the photographer

Steve the photographer

Steve was always among the rocks

Steve was always among the rocks

Do not disturb

Do not disturb

Sea lions played around us

Sea lions played around us

It was hard to get them to stay still for a photo

It was hard to get them to stay still for a photo

Not interested in our passing

Not interested in our passing

Our destination was Normanville where we camped at the local Caravan Park. A nice place to spend the night and there is even a small cafe operating by the jetty.

Next morning the forecast was again winds 20kn SE strengthening to 25-30kn during the day. We launched in the calmer Normanville bay with Steve telling me that having a kayak sail was definitely not “playing fair”.

Not playing fair

Not playing fair

Perfect sailing weather

Perfect sailing weather

We took advantage of the slightly calmer conditions inshore until we reached the cliffs at Carrickalinga where we again hugged the cliff base.

Lolling around in a protected inlet

Lolling around in a protected inlet

Again we were treated to clear water and high cliffs as we slowed to investigate many rocky inlets.

Second Valley ahead

 

Lots of small caves and fissures along the way

Lots of small caves and fissures along the way

Strange rock formations

Jumbled rock formations

Calm water in the cove

Calm water in the cove

As we reached the bluff before Myponga Beach we swung to seaward plotting a course across several kilometers of open water that would see us land at Christies Beach, where we had arranged a pick up. I’m afraid I didn’t have the opportunity to take photos as I was too busy controlling the kayak under sail. I was able to catch waves and often saw the GPS clock 16km/ hr, before being buried into the wave in front.

As the wind increased I had to drop the sail partly because it was getting a little hairy, but mostly because I was  unable to stay in contact with Steve. From there on it was a large wind driven following sea that gave us lots of fun as it sped us towards home.

We had paddled and sailed some amazing coastline covering 77km in 2 days with an average speed of 7km/hr which included lots of time playing along the way. Steves’ first crossing to Kangaroo Island will have to wait until another day.

Happy paddling (and sailing)

Ian                                                     Steve

ian smurf crop (2)

king

 

 

 

Starfish Point

Travelling the west coast of South Australia we sometimes heard local legends about the landscape or the sea. One local legend tells of a point where starfish seem to come together in the last months of summer, much like the aggregation of Cuttlefish at Point Lowly in winter. The idea of having starfish in large numbers seemed odd at first but we decided to check out the area for a likely point of land.

With a rough idea of the area we started our search on foot plodding along the deserted beaches that are covered in shells in all stages of disintegration.

It was a nice day for a walk along the long stretches of deserted beaches and allowed us time to do a little beachcombing

It was a nice day for a walk along the long stretches of deserted beaches and allowed us time to do a little beach combing

The beaches were seperated by limestone headlands that afforded a great view of the coastline

The beaches were separated by limestone headlands that afforded a great view of the coastline

As we had no luck in the general vicinity of our campsite we took to the water to check a number of points and bays along the coast. You can see our campsite on the cliffs in the centre of the photo, which made a perfect spot to admire the view at the end of a long day, whilst enjoying a cold beer.

Our campsite on the cliffs with our own beach

Our campsite on the cliffs with our own beach

Another cove to check out

Another cove to check out

We even tried asking a couple of locals along the way but they seemed more interested in playing in the waves than helping in our quest.

NZ fur seals playing around the kayaks

NZ fur seals playing around the kayaks

Looks like a lot of fun

Looks like the dolphins were having a lot of fun

Everyone on the wave

Everyone on the wave

img_1391

We spent hours paddling along the coastline and although it was an incredibly enjoyable pastime, we had no luck in our search. We were buzzed by the local dolphin pods out fishing and had young dolphins play around under our kayaks, but they were too quick for my camera.

Back at camp, Robyn had stern words with 3 “banditos” who she caught stealing carrots, but they too remained silent on the location. They stayed around our camp for days and we would often find them sitting on our doorstep in the morning.

The 3 Banditos often dropped into the camp

The 3 Banditos often dropped into the camp

Our next task was to extend the search a little wider by using our Fatbikes to cover more distance along the beaches. This meant a trek up some sandy tracks and dunes before going cross country to the beach. With the tyre pressure at 6psi it was possible to ride most of the track but sometimes we sank in the fine sand and had to push the bike.

Sometimes the sand was too soft and we had to push

Sometimes the sand was too soft and we had to push

It was cross country from the tracks until we came to the beach

It was cross country from the tracks until we came to the beach

The rewards were some stunning views across the ocean

The rewards were some stunning views across the ocean

Ready to ride another sweeping bay

Ready to ride another sweeping bay

Time for a rest

Time for a rest

Unfortunately our search was unsuccessful, so we decided on one last effort to locate Starfish Point. We visited a few spots  that we had thought less likely to harbor a carpet of starfish.

The points were very rugged and the swell was making them very dangerous even from the shore.

The rocks gave us a great vantage point

The rocks gave us a great vantage point

We realised it was not a safe place to be when a wave crashed over rocks

We realised it was not a safe place to be when a wave crashed over rocks

The bays and surrounding country are stunningly beautiful and certainly worth the effort of visiting.

Sweeping bays bordered by sand dunes

Sweeping bays bordered by sand dunes

Stunning sand dunes with varying shades of colour

Stunning sand dunes with varying shades of colour

San dunes with the contrasting afternoon sky

Sand dunes with the contrasting afternoon sky

We were exploring along a protected rocky point when Robyn spotted flashes of red in the water. We climbed down as far as was safe and found starfish dotted every meter around the point. Unfortunately the conditions were not the best for photography but I will bring my snorkeling gear next time.

Starfish dotted the sea floor

Starfish dotted the sea floor

Maybe it wasn’t just a local legend talked about in the country pub but a real Starfish Point whose location will continue to remain a secret.