Wendy and her partner Peter recently hiked from Tea Gardens to Smiths Lake on NSW’s Mid-Coast, by piecing together tracks, roads, and beaches in a ‘Make Your Own Adventure’ style of hike. Here’s how it went down.
We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Worimi Nation, the traditional Country of the Worimi people who have occupied and cared for this land for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
Why not make your own adventure?
‘What multi-day hikes would you recommend?’ I asked Terra Roam.
Terra once spent four years walking solo and unsupported around Australia, so I figured they’d* be something of an expert. (*While most coverage of Terra’s adventures refers to them as female, they’ve recently come out as non-binary.)
‘Decide where you want to go, and make your own adventure,’ they said.
Terra recommended looking at maps and terrain on Google Earth to plan how official trails, faint tracks, beaches, bush wriggling, and occasional road walking could be linked together for a self-styled ‘Make Your Own Adventure’ (MYOA) journey.
Read more: How To Hike Off-Track
A couple of months later my partner Peter and I pored over maps, and decided that Tea Gardens to Forster looked pretty promising. It had long stretches of beach, lakes to explore and a few inland tracks to follow.
On an MYOA expedition the possibilities are endless – or at least generally greater than one. And there’s usually a way through, even if it takes a while.
It’s a way to challenge yourself with planning and problem solving. It let Peter and I ‘discover’ new sights on our own. There were no web pages or guidebooks with photos of the highlights and lookouts. We’d wriggle through the bush or scramble over rocks not knowing what we’d see on the other side.
Read more: Navigating With a Map & Compass
How did we go on our first MYOA?
Tea Gardens, heading north towards Mungo Brush
We took the train and bus from Sydney to Tea Gardens, headed to the beach and walked along the sand. The sand was very soft, churned up by 4WDs. Peter and I’d planned our hike very much around beach walking where possible, and only intended to head inland when we had to.
While we enjoyed the ocean views, the walking wasn’t easy and if we did this again we’d take the track inland. We kept going until we were tired and the sun started to set, then camped in the sand dunes.
A bit before Dark Point to a bit after Mungo Brush
We continued along the beach at sunrise, detouring to explore Dark Point, a rocky headland, and place of Aboriginal significance – tread carefully and avoid disturbing any relics or artefacts. We avoided the scrubby interior and scrambled all the way around on the rocks.
Read more: Staying Safe on Coastal Rock Platforms
We soon turned inland and found a trail to Mungo Brush campground. It was the last water stop until Seal Rocks, so we had to carry enough water for that night and most of the next day. The only tap was by the toilets and signs forbade any use except hand washing.
After a rest in the shade by the tannin-coloured lake, we headed back towards the beach for another night camped in the dunes.
Onwards to Treachery Camp, Seal Rocks
In the morning we made coffee watching the sunrise over the ocean and were delighted to find what we thought were dingo tracks around our tent.
We continued along the beach until we reached Big Gibber Headland, figuring it was only 200m or so across – how difficult could it be to get through? The answer is, quite.
Initially we found what looked to be a track through the scrub, but it soon disappeared. The height of the scrub made it impossible to know which direction we were facing without our GPS in hand, and at times it was easier to crawl than walk.
After a hot, scratchy, tiring hour we made it back down to the beach on the other side and were greeted with a stunning, deserted beach, stretching for around 10km, with flat, hard sand to make the walking easy.
After a quick, refreshing dip, we kept on our way. We were thrilled to see clams on the edge of the water, their bodies poking nearly halfway out of their shells.
Not long after, we saw a vast, dark shadow moving in the water ahead. As we got closer I wondered if it was a clump of seaweed, a dead whale, or some kind of exciting sea monster.
Eventually we realised it was a tightly woven school of fish, each maybe 50cm long – we later found out they were probably Australian salmon. Peter immediately stripped off and jumped into the water, trying to get as close as possible to take photos.
We watched, enthralled, as the mass of fish slowly moved on, making its way down the coast.
We walked all the way into the town of Seal Rocks, only to find out that the only campsite available was at Treachery Camp, so we had to backtrack a few kilometres. It was worth it for the views from Number One Beach though.
Treachery Camp to Smiths Lake
When I examined Google Earth before we left, I had thought the stretch of beach from Seal Rocks to Sandbar looked like it would be feasible to navigate – maybe a bit of rock scrambling and best to do at low tide, but possible. When I saw the stretch in real life at the end of day three, the cliffs were immediately obviously impossible to pass.
Instead we took the Escarpment Trail from near the campground to Seal Rocks Rd and made our way along the road, heading away from town, to where one of Peter’s many map apps indicated there was a trail. There wasn’t. But a kindly National Parks ranger we ran into told us to keep going to where there was paint on the road, and we’d find a track there. She was right.
The track took us most of the way to Smiths Lake. With just a little bit of easy off-track walking through the trees, we made it to the southern shore, and skirted along the bank to Sandbar. This was probably the most remarkable and completely unexpected scenery of the trip, with the vast, clear lake, trees, and white sand.
It was high tide and the sandbar crossing was underwater when we arrived, but with a bit of exploration I found a way across that was no more than waist deep.
In the town of Smiths Lake we had rather hoped to find a hotel or Airbnb – surely we deserved a night of luxury – but all that was available was the Sandbar campsite. We went to the local bowling club for a luxurious dinner though, and to our utter delight and gratitude, the courtesy bus took us home to the campground later, driving us into our exact campsite.
Our advice for anyone attempting a MYOA style hike
Terra’s advice turned out to be a real revelation to me that day. It might sound obvious in retrospect, but the only hikes out there aren’t just the officially constructed ones, with lists of campsites and estimated times and distances for each section.
The MYOA approach can take in any level of distance or difficulty… Just make sure you know how to navigate – especially off track – and are prepared for unexpected obstacles. I’m always careful to make sure I know where I can find water along the way, and where the escape points are (i.e. how to get to the nearest bus stop).
Photos by Wendy Bruere and Peter Rohde
- Map and compass
- Online/downloaded maps
- Hiking tent
- Hiking shoes
- Sleeping system
- Opal card for the bus!
How To Get There
Catch public transport from Sydney to Tea Gardens on NSW’s Mid-Coast and walk towards the beach to begin the trek.
Navigational skills are needed for a trip of this style as well as off-track hiking knowledge.
Distance Covered / Duration
~ 94km / 5 days