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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Bay Bushwalkers: Murramarang Pack Walk

Murramarang Pack Walk 26-29 March 2023 First Published on the Bay Bushwalkers website

After 3 years of planning and construction the NPWS declared the ‘Murramarang South Coast Walk’ ‘completed’, on 28 February 2023. A 34 km walking trail through Murramarang NP from Pretty Beach to Maloneys Beach hugging the coastline of the Park.

The Batemans Bay Bush Walkers know Murramarang well. They have tramped through it for 38 years. National Parks was interested to have their feedback. So even before bookings could be taken for the advertised National Parks’ 3-day “Murramarang South Coast Walk Experience”, a group of us set out to experience the “Experience” for ourselves. A 3-day pack walk following the new trail, camping at the designated NP campgrounds making up the advertised “Experience” – Pretty Beach, Depot Beach and Oaky Beach. The later, not yet open for bookings but National Parks gave permission for us to “test it out”.

So, on 26 March seven of us met at Pretty Beach Campground to camp overnight before setting off on this 3-day hike.

The week before had seen heavy rain and rain was still forecast. This, and the fact some of us were just that much older since last carrying a full backpack, meant there was some trepidation about what the next 3 days might bring. Indeed, this first night’s discussion seemed very preoccupied with the weight of each other’s packs. For those interested the weights ranged from 12.5kg to 18kg; the medium 15kg.

It did rain that first night – 4:30am to 8am. But we were in good spirits as we huddled under the shelter for our first camp breakfast. The clouds cleared at 8:30am and off we set, waved away by friendly kangaroos.

The first sign of the new trail was not seen until we were 800mtrs along the rock platform – a board walk heading up the headland. No trail signs were yet in place. But we had the National Parks’ Murramarang South Coast Walk App and map downloaded to our phones to follow the trail. The views from the headland were immediately spectacular.

The trail followed the headland with odd diversions down to coves and beaches before leading us to Pebbly Beach. The overnight rain brought humidity. The sweat poured from us. Our plan was always to go at an easy pace, and the humidity reinforced this as a sensible plan!

As we hit Pebbly Beach the trail took us to the front of the Park’s cabins to the beach. But before the beach, the creek, usually dry, but thanks to the rains, was full and flowing, with no bridge to cross! It was ‘boots off’ and wade, or cross on an improvised bridge of three logs placed over the creek by earlier trekkers, who obviously lacked engineering skills! The group was equally divided about which choice to make. Some of us chose the logs – a not too gracious crossing!

Perhaps a first point of feedback for the NPWS – ‘think about putting in a bridge here’.

After lunching on the beach, it was an easy 2km stroll along the rock platform to Depot Beach (or so we thought). We soon realised why Pebbly Beach is so named as we hit the pebbles. They make walking on dry sand a dream by comparison. But the ‘singing’ of the pebbles as the waves washed over them was a pleasant distraction. Sue found it mesmerising:

“My favourite? Pebbly Beach where the stones sing as the tide ebbs and flows. Their music and movement, apparently due to their hard mineral content which helps conduct sound, is just mesmerising”.

However, the afternoon ‘stroll’ into Depot Beach was more ‘hard’ than ‘mesmerising’ for me. My lack of enthusiasm for this section was not helped by my spectacular slip on the rocks, as we rounded Tranquility Bay, 500mtrs south of Pebbly Beach.

The tide was now high and finding a ‘dry’ rock platform on which to walk was challenging. In the narrowest part we had to cross between two rock ledges over waves. I jumped down and then up to the adjacent ledge, feeling chuffed that I timed the jump perfectly between the crashing waves. The ledge though, was covered with slippery wet algae. In a split second of realisation that this was not the best manoeuvre, my feet went from under me. I crashed onto the platform, as the next wave washed over me! An alternative strategy was clearly needed!

Sharon, now with boots off waded in and directed that packs should be off. A conga line was formed. Packs were moved forward as the remainder of the group scrambled further up and along the rock ledge avoiding the slippery bits. Mary (perhaps overly generously to me) described the incident thus:

“…It was slow going on the pebbles and then we encountered our first real hurdle. A rock platform that narrowed over large, black, slippery rocks with an incoming tide that, had we been any later, may well have cut off our passage through.

Never daunted by a challenge our fearless track leader Peter proceeded but after slipping over on the rocks and somehow not ending up in the sea, his followers became much more cautious.

Sharon saved the day by standing in the water at the narrowest spot passing our heavy backpacks to those who had scrambled on their bottoms up to higher rocks…”

Maybe a second point of feedback for the NWPS – “A chain fixed to the cliff here might be useful (but better still) a direction for walkers to use an alternative route on high tides!”

At Depot Beach we made camp for our second night. Sharon, whose dry home was not far from here, considered, that with the further forecast of rain that night, ‘discretion might be the better part of valour’. Her tent had failed the waterproof test the night before! She took a lift home. But said she would be back the next morning to assist us to cross Durras Lake, which was open to the sea – our next obstacle.

After a quick swim at Depot Beach and a hot shower, courtesy of the upgraded facilities at the campground, we made our dinners. And by 8pm we were all in our tents! The day had worn us out.

Sharon, true to her word turned up and made an offer ‘too good to refuse’ to drive our packs over to the Murramarang Resort. We could wade across Durras Lake without packs. For ‘purists’ this might have been sacrilege but as the average age of our group was 68 it was hard to find a ‘purist’ amongst us. The offer was accepted. Thankfully so. National Parks advertised this leg of the ‘Experience’ – Depot Beach to Oaky Beach’ at 16kms, yet it turned out to be closer to 20kms.

Without packs we took the opportunity to visit Depot Beach Lookout and made the 300mtr diversion to Point Upright Lookout, with its uninterrupted views over Durras Lake inlet to South Durras and beyond. Today the sun was shining, and it was a photographer’s delight.

We crossed the open lake with little difficulty (a boots-off wade only). We then strolled barefoot along the beach to South Durras.

We discussed (and I might say with little objection) stopping at the Murramarang Resort for coffee and refreshments. As I said, there were no purists amongst us! We collected our packs and after partaking in a very civilized morning tea next to the Resort pool, we headed off to our third camp, Oaky Beach, 10 kms away.

Most members of the club are familiar with this stretch of coast from Wasp Head to Oaky Beach. The ‘new’ trail follows the old trails down to Emily Miller Beach, past Dark Beach and onto Myrtle Beach (the nude bathing beach). Even at mid-week there were still a few ‘taking in the sunshine’ at Myrtle. We politely passed by, before resting in our own secluded spot, to take lunch.

From Myrtle, the new trail meanders along the cliff line. It weaves in and out of the magnificent Spotted Gums and the Burrawangs, with many vistas out to sea. There were plenty of photo opportunities, but we did not dilly dally. We had arranged to meet Rob on Oaky Beach at 4pm as he was bringing in our water for the night and next day.

Oaky Beach Campground has been rebuilt and is unrecognisable from the old, dilapidated bush campsite that used to be there (and had been closed for many years). When this new campground is open to the public, it will cater for both 4WD camping and walk-in campers.

Away from the car camping area are five tent platforms for the walk-ins. These will be prioritised for those walkers booked on the 3-day “Experience”. We were privileged to be allowed to use the campground before it was open to the public, so tonight it was all ours. And we certainly spread out.

None of us had set up a tent on a wooden platform before. You cannot use pegs! With ingenuity, string, and a few sticks, four tents went up on the platforms. Mary and Donna took the traditional approach, pitching their tents on the ground in the car camping area. They had the advantage of being much closer to the toilet.

National Parks kindly built a shelter in the walk-in area. We took this over and there was much jocularity as we communally cooked dinner that evening. We were very pleased with ourselves. We had trekked 20-21 kms today (Donna’s Garmin had it at 19.96km and mine at 21.2km), when we were only expecting 16. Some enjoyed a refreshing ocean swim, and we had plenty of water to spare for washing afterwards.

Special thanks must go to Rob. He volunteered to drive in the water. He arrived before we did and carried in four 10ltr casks of water into the campground. This was a herculean effort, as he had to park 500mtrs away up the hill. He looked as tired as we were! Yet he still helped pitch tents, before making his departure.

Everyone was up early. We busied ourselves around our spread-out tents as we breakfasted and prepared for the walk out.

The day was overcast and again humid. Rain was forecast for 12 noon, but we only had 8km to walk. We were confident we would be finished before the rains came.

The new trail followed the coast along the headland to Honeysuckle Beach and then on to North Head Campground. Even at midweek this was busy. From there it was across the beach and up the headland to the new trail that skirts around the private cottages at Judges (Yellow Rock) Beach.

A picnic table and toilet block have been built past the cottages for use by the passing walkers. The picnic table is not undercover; and 1½ hours before forecast we copped the rain. Our only choice for shelter (short of trespassing onto the cottages’ verandahs) was the toilet block. We huddled in its hallway as we pulled out our wet weather gear, to walk the last 3kms in the rain!

From there it was a familiar trek for most of us to Maloneys Beach. We reached the newly constructed staircase down to Maloneys at 11:30am. In a last direction as one of the leaders, I requested everyone stop on the staircase for one last photo. It was pouring rain, but everyone was still smiling.

We sheltered at Maloneys Beach waiting for our lifts home. They arrived exactly on time, at 12 noon, like a fleet of Ubers. We had made it!

Our final feedback on the “Walk” – “Great”. The trail is well built, and easy to walk and follow. It showcases the best of the Murramarang and its amazing coastline, without scaring the landscape. Perhaps Donna’s words sum it up best:

“National Parks has done a great job with striking a balance between not making the trail too manufactured, yet retaining a natural feel as well as maximising opportunities to observe the breathtakingly beautiful rugged coastline.”

Mary, Glenn, Donna and Max at North HeadThe rain is starting as we cross North Head BeachTaking shelter at Judges Beach's toilet block (beggars cannot be choosers)A very wet, but happy group at Maloneys Beach

The South Coast Murramarang Pack Walk was included on the club’s walks’ program to give an easier option for members for a multi-day walk, to the more traditional, exploratory wilderness walks we have on offer.

This was an experiment, but it seems to have worked. Certainly, the camaraderie that we see on our camps was there. Even with the obstacles we faced along the way – rusty bodies, aged equipment, rain, humidity, and those ‘extra’ kilometres, all remained positive and cheerful.

It also was the type of walk that could allow us to call on support from other members of the club. People like Rob, and as it turned out, Sharon, who supported us mid-walk; and Jim, Karen C and Tony for the lifts out and back.

And for me, it was great (and I was very lucky) to have Mary and Glenn as my co-leaders (and co-conspirators) in this endeavour. Without them this walk would not have happened. Mary’s planning and organisation and Glenn’s energy (out on every recce for the route), meant we were assured of success.

Of course, thanks also must go to our other fellow walkers – Max, Donna, Sue, and Sharon – perfect company.

‘Till the next one.


Photos courtesy of Sue, Donna, Mary, Glenn and Peter

NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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