Taking out a spot in Australian Geographic’s Top Australian Bushwalks, and widely considered one of the best coastal walks in the country, the Nadgee Howe Wilderness Walk was something that I had actually never heard of before it was suggested that I walk it. In fact, I barely even Googled the trip before embarking on it, so I wasn’t at all sure what I was in for upon setting off.
Since then, of course, I have read that the 50km walk across two states usually takes four days. But my friends had only the Queen’s Birthday weekend up their sleeves and they’d booked permits ($10 per person per night) for the walk, so our group of five figured we’d throw ourselves into it.
A drive down from Canberra on Friday night saw an obligatory fish and chip stop at Eden (Canberra’s own fish and chips being none too famous) before camping for the night outside the National Park. We started early the next morning at the Merrica River Crossing – or, more precisely, we started the day early, and we started the hike at the Merrica River Crossing, and there was some faff in the middle when our instructions about how very obviously signposted the turn off to Merrica River was turned out to be misleading.
When we did get going it was with very clean boots, there being an obligatory cleaning station to stop the spread of the destructive fungus Phytopthera. Some start this walk an extra 9km back at Wonboyn, but we were glad to be fresh on the uphill fire trail. I’ve found that there is nothing quite so dispiriting to walk on as fire trails (except for even bigger roads), so we all just plodded up the incline without any photography. Down the other side of the ridge we went, through the forest towards Newton’s Beach, and onwards to lunch at Little Creek. The mosquitoes were alarmingly aggressive, and I found a leech pre-biting on my arm, so it was a rushed lunch before we finally scrambled around to our first beach.
Beach walking is slow, but much more pleasant than fire trail walking, so we enjoyed our jaunt along it before heading into the scrub of Impressa Moor and onwards to our camp at Nadgee Beach. Packs were still in the process of falling to the ground, so fast did our entry into the water seem, and we enjoyed the best body-surfing waves I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding. Being June, the water was fine, but the air was brisk as we dried off under the sunset. We were careful with fresh water at dinner, as we couldn’t get further up the inlet than the brackish water extended, and there were no other rivers nearby. I managed to capture my first successful night photos after dinner, with some advice from the much more competent (because motivated) photographer on the trip.
The blisters that I found on my feet in the morning confused me no end. I hadn’t had blisters since I’d run around in wet gumboots for a day as a child! Yet there they were, in all their terrible… thereness. I carefully padded them up, only to find that we had to cross the Nadgee Inlet 100m from camp. My dedicated self-first aid held together, and I shoved my abused feet back into my boots for the walk along the beach. Up Nadgee Moor and through the tea tree, and down to Nadgee Lake (the originality of the names knowing no bounds), where I plastered up other soft bits of foot while the others went to determine whether Nadgee Lake was brackish.
This walk is notorious for its lack of water, so we weren’t ill-prepared, but we had expected one of these water sources to have supplied us with at least a few drops by this point. Somewhat disappointed, we carried on, down to Nadgee Lake Beach and up the other side onto Endeavour Moor. It was on this moor that we waded through a swampy mess of not-track, which we had mistaken for track until it was too late, and our boots were quite soaked. We attempted to dry out our socks at lunch on the next beach, while boiling the questionable (but not brackish!) water we’d finally found at Bunyip Hole.
Rehydrated, we crossed the beach, crossed the border into Victoria and explored the famous sand dunes of this part of the coast. Running down the dunes, photographing the dunes, walking across the dunes… it had it all.
Eventually we returned to the beach in order to march along it to our destination, Lake Barracoota. The others weren’t marching of course, but admiring the features of the coast that I was to read about when writing this post – Gabo Island, shipwrecks, bird life and everything else one could want from a coastal walk. No, I was the one marching, my unfamiliarity with the fairly normal experience of blisters making them disproportionately debilitating. I’d thrown my camera into my backpack, having still not worked out a way of carrying it in front of me without hurting my back or annoying me, and glared frustratedly at the picturesque setting sun.
It was twilight when I reached the turn off for Lake Barracoota. A friend had walked along at my hobbling pace with me, while another had waited at the turn off for the two of us. We set off with headtorches through the sand dunes to the campsite, next to the edge of Victoria’s largest freshwater coastal lake. We couldn’t see it beyond the range of our headtorches, so we spent our time instead staring at our glorious glorious fire. Dinner was fabulous, taking my boots off was fabulous, and the eels that appeared in the water were fantastic. The ecstasy of removing boots from blistered feet had never been mine before, and it was delicious.
And then it was the next morning. I re-bandaged my feet and shoved them into my boots, and we set off back to the beach, seeing the impressive Lake Barracoota behind us for the first time. Thankfully this day was shorter than the others, which had both been at least 20kms each (and we’re quite convinced that they were longer). We charged along the beach for a time, before turning off down Howe Flat on a firetrail that was quite convincingly dressed as a creek. Pants rolled up, we waded along the firetrail for a time, and did indeed emerge at signs that confirmed it was a firetrail, albeit one apparently drowned long ago. Up a hill, down the other side, and then we jumped onto our boat across the Mallacoota Inlet.
Apparently it had been difficult to source a boat ride on the Monday of a long weekend, but thankfully one of my friends had managed the impossible, and we slowly powered our way to Mallacoota. There we managed to shuffle five people’s worth of gear – and five people – into a pretty small car for the car shuffle back to Merrica River, where we were meeting the kayakers from the Australian National University Mountaineering Club that had also made the most out of the long weekend to do the track in the opposite direction from the water.
Of course, we had more fish and chips in Eden on the way back. And this time I really appreciated the sunset.
A video from the walk, including the time lapse of sunrise from Nadgee Beach.
Great photography from Sons of the Desert as well.