When Sam pitched his plan for a ‘surfari’, hiking with surfboards in a remote corner of Victoria and NSW, he immediately had the WAE team frothing. Most people drive by this slice of paradise on the Princes Hwy, never turning down those dusty dirt roads. But there are uncrowded, white sandy beaches, turquoise water, and abundant wildlife out there waiting to be explored. And that’s exactly what the Osprey Adventure Grant is all about!
We are the three Doherty siblings – Jake, Sam and Georgia. Growing up together our parents were always taking us camping, hiking and exploring. This love of adventure and the outdoors has stuck with all of us. Sam lives on the NSW/Vic border, Georgia in Queensland and Jake in Melbourne. Coordinating us to all meet together in one location for 5 days hiking was a feat in itself. 30 years in the making, this was our first trip, all three of us together as siblings.
Who was going to crack it first? Which sibling was going to fight the most? And who would eat more of the food? The linchpin of this trip, Sam, had always wanted to take on a surfing/hiking exhibition in the remote East Gippsland area. Jake and Georgia just went along for the ride to make sure Sam didn’t go out bush forever.
Were We Stupid?
Bags packed to the brim with five day’s worth of camera gear, surf essentials, shelter, warm clothes, food and everything else needed for an isolated coastal trip seeking waves and adventure. Finalising our plans and figuring out how to strap three foam surfboards to our hiking packs, was no walk in the park. We were embarking on a journey not many, if any, had done before; were we stupid?
We were about to find out. The adventure took place on the wilderness coast from Croajingolong National Park, hiking into the Nadgee Wilderness. We set off from a small farm in Mallacoota, a few fence hops, a four wheel drive track and into the Yellow-Box forest we went.
Have you thought about hiking the Nadgee Wilderness Walk?
Starting off slowly, we tinkered with our bags and problem solved how on earth we would carry our surfboards for five days. Walking along, the sunlight dripped through the ferns with gums hugging either side of the track.
The first day is always the hardest and the heaviest, but this pretty scene made it all worth it. Heathland slowly transformed into a swampy tea tree floodplain, the infamous Howe Flat track, how deep will it be this time? On with the thongs as we slowly waded through tea stained, swamp covered trail. Before long we were walking into old dunes of coastal wattle and banksia. Emerging from the dunes was a vast and isolated coastline. Some call it the ‘Big Blue’, well this is where it meets the ‘Big Beach’.
That First Surf And On To Lake Barracoota
A clean surf break spotted down the beach, we stripped off our heavy bags and got into our wetsuits quicker than a wallaby into its mum’s pouch. Some fun right-handed waves had smiles stretching across our faces and only ourselves to impress. Lunch on a sandy beach is no worries when you’re carrying three portable coffee tables, another perk of carrying surfboards.
With our bellies full and feeling the mid-autumn heatwave, we packed up and headed for camp. Our legs sinking into the sand, we walked along spotting surf banks and waves to get us through the long stretch of beach. Fading footprints in the dunes captured our attention. As we came closer, we uncovered a hidden trail through coast wattle and pig face plants which gave way to a sculptured dune system. As if manicured by a Japanese Zen Master, the dunes opened up to an oasis called Lake Barracoota.
The afternoon sky was filled with rich orange as we explored the sand dunes. We removed the fins from our foam boards and found steep dunes to slip ‘n’ slide down. Tumbling and crashing, we laughed our heads off and were covered in sand.
‘As our heavy bags pulled us backwards our surfboards became sails. They caught the light winds and helped keep us upright, sailing, walking straight and true.’
Atop the highest of dunes, we were rewarded with a panoramic view of our next few day’s hiking, the beauty of this landscape was still unravelling. Wedge-tailed eagles curiously flew above our heads on the hunt for dinner, signalling that maybe it was time for us to cook our own dinner too.
As we tucked into our stir fry, the mosquitoes got stuck into us. With full stomachs and sore backs we sipped tea and read about the Sydney Cove, a famous shipwreck that washed up near Flinders Island back in 1796. 16 people set out to row back to Sydney when their small rescue boat washed up 50kms east of Lakes Entrance. The crew then began a 700km walk to Botany Bay. The stranded men walked from Cape Howe all the way to the Pambula River mouth, the same coast we were about to walk.
Clean Waves And Shark Bait
The morning routine involved getting up at dawn to get the billy on the boil, gulping down a hot cuppa and devouring muesli. As the rising sun pierced through the reeds and into our tent we felt excited for a new day of hiking, surfing and exploring. We meandered through the sand dunes and stopped for a wave check on top of the highest dune. A clean view of 2-foot waves and no wind had us fired up for the rest of the walk to the beach.
Getting down to the water and preparing to surf, our bodies shivered as we pulled our soaking wetsuits out of our bags and onto our bodies. Wax on the boards, zinc on our faces and into the ocean we dove. Our first duck dive did more work than our morning coffee; as the blast of cold water hit our faces we were suddenly full of adrenaline. As the sets rolled by Georgia noticed a grey fin pierce through the surface of the blue water. A moment of panic and a wild glance, Georgia started paddling for the shore, leaving the others for shark bait. Luckily for us, it turned out to be a lonely dolphin looking for company and a wave to catch.
(Sail)Hiking To Lake Wau Wauka
Finding shade in the rocks, we watched the waves break and crash as we gobbled down salami wraps. Rolling sand dunes and an open stretch of beach filled the scenery as we hiked along that afternoon. A light tailwind started to pick up. As our heavy bags pulled us backwards our surfboards strapped to our packs became sails. They caught the light winds and helped keep us upright, sailing, walking straight and true.
Out here not many people wander the beaches, but we sometimes stumbled upon all kinds of beach booty stranded from boats crossing the Tasman Sea. We found Czech Vodka, Sydney fish market tubs, New Zealand soft drink bottles and old fishing rope. Strolling along we finally arrived at our hidden nook campsite, a picturesque spot on the outflow of Lake Wau Wauka. In the afternoon, under dark, moody clouds, we spent our time relaxing and fishing.
Sam says ‘There’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore looking like an idiot.’ We were the latter.
Hitting The Jackpot
A cup of joe in our bellies and a few laughs later we started the morning with haste. Dolphins played in the water as we walked along, they led the way and we knew it would take us somewhere special. We passed the shipwreck of the SS Riverina, a large steamboat that was used for bombing practice during the Second World War.
Two kilometres from Wau Wauka lies the holy grail, a long spit of sand, reef and shipwreck. We dumped our packs and checked the waves.
We’d hit the jackpot, a left-handed point break with not a person in sight. With the sun shining and light winds, there was nowhere in the world we would rather have been than right there. We burst into our wetsuits as if were superman being called to duty. Our morning was filled with pristine waves, hootin’ and hollering, high fives, sore arms and smiles from ear to ear. We wondered how many people had surfed this spot, the dolphins sure knew about it.
We pressed onwards, for this was the day we were crossing the infamous Black-Allan Line (the dotted line between NSW and Victoria). Jake and Georgia were both disappointed there were no big black dotted lines painted on the ground to separate the states.
Waving seals and Victoria goodbye and welcoming New South Wales, the landscape changes quite dramatically. Persistent south-west winds batter the Vicco coastline, eroding and depositing large sandcastles. Meanwhile in NSW the red rocky coastline always looks as if it’s slipping away into the drink.
‘It didn’t take long before we removed our boards from our backs and resorted to carrying them under our arms for a tedious hike through the overgrown track. With a few exhausted laughs, an F-bomb here and there, we exchanged tired glances.’
Hiking past rocky outcrops, we took time to have an entrée of fresh oysters. Sam had even packed a cheeky lemon for a squeeze. If our packs weren’t so damn heavy, we’d have packed the white wine too. Walking through sand and a rocky coastal area we tip-toed around, we’d been warned of quicksand and sinkholes on this corner of the continent. But looking ahead we saw the most perfect beach imaginable, so after a quick lunch we got the surfboards out for a few fun right-handers.
Packs back on and hiking again, the wilderness coast turned to dry scrubby heathland. It didn’t take long before we removed our boards from our backs and resorted to carrying them under our arms for a tedious hike through the overgrown track. With a few exhausted laughs, an F-bomb here and there, we exchanged tired glances. The stoke was still high from the day’s adventure, so we trudged along through to the campsite on the pristine and remote Nadgee Lake. We were greeted by black swans, sea eagles and a few wild dog footprints.
Hiking Through Nadgee Moor(dor)
Sunrise peaked and Nadgee Lake turned strawberry, the swans and coots moved in controlled clutters, as if mimicking the water’s ebb and flow. We did our obligatory morning surf check but with stronger winds we opted to walk further to find a sheltered wave down the trail.
Hiking from this point was where the fun really began. Nadgee Moor may as well be Mordor. We started our morning geographically embarrassed, following a series of rough animal footpads. As if God was laughing at us, he turned on the tap and soaked us head to toe as we walked west to meet the ‘official track’. This overgrown four-wheel drive track doesn’t see many hikers and when we say overgrown, we mean 10-year-old gums growing right in the middle of our path.
We learnt a lot about the coastal heathland environment on this day; the local flora introduced itself as a slap in the face from a honey myrtle, a prick in the butt from the furze hakea or a quick test of your ankle dexterity from the roots of a common correa. Whoever was leading our small party of hikers had the job of holding their surfboard out and slashing their way through the spider’s webs. A surprise encounter with a giant St Andrews Cross spider was absolutely terrifying and left us with the heebee geebee’s for the next half hour.
‘Before quenching our thirst, we had to wait a half hour for the water purification to work, we all felt like alcoholics waiting for happy hour to begin.’
We navigated through a maze of dark tea tree tunnels. Along the way an ambiguous track in the bushes had us crawling on hands and knees, and lead us out to a magnificent clifftop called Osprey lookout. The view was incredible. Red sedimentary rocks became the coast, sparkling glitter waves crashing beneath the cliff boulders and a sign of civilisation, a couple of abalone divers in the distance.
One Heck of a Day, But Still Time for a Surf
The never-ending dense scrub and heathland continued as we exhausted our dictionary of profanity. If we’d had a swear jar, we’d have enough money to pay for a helicopter to get us out of there. By and by the landscape morphed into gorgeous wet sclerophyll forest, glimpses of the ocean and the smell of salt fueled our legs to press on.
Coming to an end of the day’s hike the forest opened up to reveal a grass clearing, surrounded by towering peppermint and manna gums. Exhausted and spent, we took a moment to find fresh water nearby. Before quenching our thirst, we had to wait a half hour for the water purification to work, we all felt like alcoholics waiting for happy hour to begin.
We didn’t end the day without living the search for more waves. From camp it was a short walk to the local Jane Spiers beach. Dog-tired we figured a fun peaky beach break was a good way to wash away the feelings of the day’s slog.
Back at camp we made a fire, saving our favourite meal until last, tortellini cheesy filled goodness. The day’s torture continued though as we sat around the campfire chatting and cooking. Firstly there was an outbreak of mosquitoes, followed by a large male stag laughing at us from the shadows. We had huntsmen crawling out of our wooden log seats. And to top it off Sam found a tick, which Georgia had the pleasure of removing.
Entering The Green Room On The Final Morning
Morning came, and so did last night’s dinner as the camp food symphony orchestra filled our tent. We opted for one last surf hoorah. As the sun rose, there was no one in sight except the three of us and an abundance of A-frame surf breaks.
We entertained ourselves trying to get in the green room before the wave sent itself into a spin cycle quick wash. There were limbs flying about, sore arms and aching backs, but we were happy to be surfing on forgiving foam boards. We watched sea eagles soar above our heads as the morning light trickled down the mountains. This was what the trip was all about.
We took off up a long incline with the boards back on our packs. At 200m above sea level we were walking around the summit of Mt Tumbledown and the vegetation changed to open woodland, bracken fern and a rocky pathway.
We hadn’t spoken of snakes the whole trip and 300m from the end of the trail Georgia jumped and yelped her way over a baby, two-pencil-long brown snake. A final test of our wits at the very end the journey.
Five days of walking and adventure all passed by within an hour’s drive as we headed back south to Mallacoota. This section of coast from Bairnsdale to Eden is easily missed by tourists and Australians alike.
Reflections On The Journey
What we loved most about this trip was the remote, untouched beauty of the landscapes we encountered. We experienced such diverse ecosystems of this small section of Australia: from towering sand dunes, lakes, rivers, wildlife, islands, cliffs and of course empty waves. There’s no need to go overseas for a beach holiday; we know that the best ones are right in our backyard. If you’re looking for an escape, a challenging adventure or just a private beach to get away from it all, pack your bag full of town yummies and head to far East Gippsland. A pristine wilderness coast, let’s keep it that way.
It’s important to have these places for the human spirit, to see the country as the Bidwell Maap and Yuin people once did in its intact state. Untrampelled and wild, just as nature planned it. There aren’t many places quite like it anymore and we feel blessed to have experienced its magic.
A very special thanks to We Are Explorers and Osprey for following through with our crazy idea. We’d talked about this adventure for some time and all it took was some funding of gear and boards to get the trip underway. We thought that carrying surfboards and gear for 5 days was going to be hard work, but the Osprey backpacks were light and super comfy on our shoulders and hips. Thanks for sending them our way.
Getting wild with the Osprey Adventure Grant