Natural Thrills in Jervis Bay

Trip Start Feb 05, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Huskisson Tourist Park

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Monday, May 28, 2012

After nearly three months of living on the same side of the world and not seeing each other, Sophie and I arranged a reunion mini break in Jervis Bay - 3 hours south of Sydney and home to some of the East Coast's finest beaches and wildlife habitats.

I travelled down to Canberra to meet Soaph after work on Friday night. It seemed quite appropriate that we were meeting here after all this time. Canberra has a history as a 'compromise city' - it was purpose built as the capital because Sydney and Melbourne were quibbling over which one of them should take the crown. Canberra was built halfway between the two, providing the fairest, if not the most practical resolution. 

Such a compromise city required a compromise name and so Canberra was christened with an aboriginal word meaning 'meeting place'. It was wholly fitting that it was mine and Soaph's meeting place after a long period of leave.

It wasn't the wisest idea to go out drinking when I arrived, but we did it anyway. Consequently, the 7am start the next morning was welcomed with disgust. The drive from Canberra is about three hours and the rain spat down on the windows for most of the early journey. We stopped en-route at local landmark The Big Merino. It is the second Big Thing I had seen so far and is a great deal bigger and more impressive than The Big Banana. It also had a funny big blob of concrete genitals which we sniggered at like schoolgirls.

We arrived in Jervis Bay's main village, Huskisson at round midday. The weather had cleared up making the sleepy little town look pretty as a picture. During the winter months, the bulk of tourism revenue here comes from wildlife spotting cruises. Between May and November each year Jervis Bay sees thousands of humpback whales swimming past on their southern migration, many of whom find the calm waters of the bay a welcoming resting place. The promise of glimpsing a whale was one of the factors that had drawn us here.

As it turned out, the cruise itself was a bit of a flop. We felt immediately like we were being fobbed of by the guide, who was at pains to remark that he'd try his best to find us some whales but couldn't promise anything. He stopped fairly soon into the sail to show us some dolphins and then a few seals. The seals were chilling in a cluster, each with a flipper poking out of the water to try and cool down, which was quite cute. But Sophie wasn't fooled. She wanted her Free Willy moment and resented the guide's attempts to try and distract us from the fact that there wasn't going to be one. As the guide announced we'd be going to have a closer look at some beautiful cliffs and caves Sophie wailed 'I only want to go in the cave if there's a bloody whale in there!' - causing a Mother on the boat to cover her child's ears.

Despite its lack of excitement, the cruise really took it out of us. So after making a half hearted, unsuccessful attempt at demanding a refund we headed to check in. We were saying in a lovely little holiday park that ran alongside the beach. As it was out of season, an eerie silence hung over the cabins, but in summer I imagine it is teeming with children. Sophie's mood declined further, upon being greeted by a large turd in the toilet and we decided it best to probably get out of there. But not before Sophie loudly announced her dissatisfaction with the gift to the pleasant reception staff.

We headed to Hyams Beach and arrived at dusk as the sky turned a moody milky colour. Hyams Beach is home to the world's whitest sand, weighing in at 99.9% silica. The Lonely Planet describes it as like walking on snow, but I found it more like walking on really soft salt. It really was incredibly white.

Evocative TV adverts touting the beach have been airing recently and true to their promise the sand was so clean it actually squeaked beneath our feet. Much like the sound of battered rubber soles on a shiny sportshall floor. And probably much like the children wearing such soles, it was hard to resist giving the sand a quick squeak when least expected.

Whilst we were there the sun set deeper, giving the scene a weird, surreal quality. It reminded me of photograph that had the colour completely bleached out of the bottom half. It seemed too beautiful to be true. Because the sand is so pure, the sea has the transparency of glass. We spent the cycle of the sunset padding up and down the beach and playing in the crystal clear rockpools.  

Sophie and Brendan have stayed in the area before and assured me that last time they had been here they had seen shedloads of kangaroos. The best time to see kangaroos are at dawn and dusk, so as the sunset drew to a close, we decided to embark on a a kangaroo hunt. We headed to a tiny village within the national park, where they had stayed last time and sure enough their local knowledge came quids in. The first spot we headed to harbored a crowd of about 15 kangaroos dotted about a football field. 

Most of them were contentedly chewing on grass, allowing us to creep up silenty to a few metres from them. I got so close to one I could stare him in the eye. Up close their fur looked so soft it could almost be feathers - quivering gently in the light wind.

I was surprised at how unupright they were, most of them looked like they could be four legged as they almost crawled along the floor munching the grass - it smashed my stereotypical image of them. The roo I was staring out grew bored of our game of chicken and bounced off. I watched his springy, lithe legs as he went with the fascination of a pervert and we decided it was time to leave.

On the drive back to the cabin we saw even more roos, bouncing in the middle of the road and hiding behind bins. Much like buses, I was seeing three months worth of roos in the space of 15 minutes - it was long overdue and much enjoyed.

That evening we headed out to a restaurant in Huskisson where we cooked our own steak on a hotplate, which was a nice novelty. When we got back, high on the thrills of the day, I turned my bunk into a cosy little warren and slept like a stone.

The morning arrived complete with a soundtrack of singing kookaburras. Three of them sharing sentry duty on the fence saw us off as we left. Once again, they didn't seem scared of us and we got close enough to appreciate the small details of this striking bird.  
We were drawn back to Hyams Beach to eat our breakfast and by the bright light of day, witnessed a completely different and equally spectacular scene. It was like one of those standardized sterile white dream rooms from the movies. The glare of the sun on the sand was almost blinding - but sitting with sunnies on stopped you appreciating it as much - so I chomped away at my croissant through squinted eyes.

Hyams is wedged in by two national parks - giving it a beach in the middle of the bush feel, where an abundance of native plants, animals and birdlife spill out from the parks onto the white sands. We headed next to one of these national parks - Booderee. 

En-route we drove past the spot we had seen the Kangaroos. Sure enough they had all disappeared, leaving only a tell-tale trail of droppings. Booderee is an odd national park - it has a network of deserted roads running through it, connecting HMS Cresswell - (ACT's navy base), Jervis Bay Village (pop. 250), a school and a private aboriginal community - Wreck Bay Village (pop. 215) - all of which live within the national park boundaries.

Curiosity got the better of us and we headed first to the aboriginal community. Access is forbidden apart from friends and family of those who live there, so we drove up to the edge of the boundary and peered in. We didn't seem to be missing too much, as the only sign of life was a teenage game of basketball.

Next, we followed one of the bush tracks which took us under a tall tunnel of eucalptus trees and down to Steamers Beach. This beach is only accessible from this 3km track so as a result is an isolated little patch of beauty. A natural wall of sand has been formed here through the odd slope of the waves. It stretches the length of the beach and every time a wave came in a bit of the wall would crumble away. It was fun trying to spot which bit would fall next. In typical fashion, I ventured too close and the wall collapsed beneath my feet. Every time I tried to stand up it degenerated more and Soaph had to make several ungraceful attempts before she could hoist me to my feet.
The walk back from the beach was extremely steep and left us sour faced and exhausted. When we neared the end, Brendan ran ahead and came zooming sheepishly round with the car, to spare us the last few meters of track and him our last few measures of patience.
After this we went to see the ruins of Cape St George Lighthouse. This was constructed in 1860 without any expert consultation and as a result was built in the wrong place. The poor visibility of it's light led to 14 ships becoming shipwrecked. In addition to these disasters below it, the lighthouse seemed to bring nothing but misery upon those brave enough the live within it. Many of its residents met ends which wouldn't look out of place in a Final Destination Sequel. One eleven year old boy relieved moments of boredom by chucking
rocks off the cliffs and watching them splat into ocean. On one sunny morning he inexplicably joined one of his rocks on their trip. On another occasion, a Father who supplemented his income by shark fishing, got swept into the water, tangled in his nets and then dragged away by these sharks as his son watched.

This frequency of tragic ends for those who come into contact with the lighthouse have led to claims that it is cursed. Consequently me and Soaph got a little bit twitchy when a nearby odd looking couple  started clamoring over the safety barrier. Luckily they were just after a better view and not engaged in the sort of sinister suicide pact we suspected.

We finished the day with a stroll down to Moe's Rock. The track was lined by trees flaking layers of wafer thin grey bark. It was very Sleepy Hollowesque and the scene at the rocks was correspondingly eerie. Huge, powerful waves crashed against them, leaving a frothy aftermath  slithering across the flatter rocks like watery shaving foam.

Jervis Bay is filthy rich in natural wealth and beauty. However far from being a greasy-fingered miser, the bay is only too willing to share its fortune with those who come seeking a slice.
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