10-17 Feb 2015. Canberra lies about 280km south and inland from Sydney. If you drive from Canberra more or less directly east for 150km along the Kings Highway you will eventually arrive at the coast at Batemans Bay. From Mollymook, north of Batemans Bay, to Merimbula in the south, a distance of about 230km, there are numerous small beach communities, and a couple of bigger towns. This is Canberra’s coast. This is where Canberrans have their summer cottages. This is where Canberra goes to the beach. In Canberra the area is referred to simply as ‘the coast’. No one ever needs to ask what coast. Everyone knows it refers to the coast south of Sydney and directly east of Canberra.
After our trip to the Great Ocean Road we headed to the coast and joined the family at Guerilla Bay, a small beach community about a half hour south of Batemans Bay. We were staying at a house that belongs to long-time friends of one of my sisters and her husband. My other brother-in-law’s sister and her husband live at another nearby beach so he and my other sister stayed with them. Confused yet? It doesn’t matter. Nearly everyone in Canberra has a house at the coast, or knows someone who has a house at the coast, or used to live in Canberra and has retired to the coast.
Batemans Bay is also where the Clyde River meets the sea and opens into the bay. The population of the whole urban area is about 15,000 so it’s a big town and one of the main centres on the coast for restaurants, cafes, shopping, supplies, walking by the water, fishing, boating, exploring mangrove and oyster flats, and cruising the river.
The bridge over the Clyde River; the symbolic gateway to the coast.
Fishing in the river under the bridge.
Playing in the river under the bridge.
Lunch down at the waterfront.
Looking for dinner down in the water.
Sunset over the bay.
There’s a fabulous restaurant with a deck over the water in Batemans Bay. We had all agreed on consumables or hand-made creations or charitable donations as gifts for Christmas. No more adding to the egregious buying of endless stuff that is the insane consumerism of that holiday. The Christmas present from one of my sisters and her husband to the other three sisters and their spouses was to take us all for dinner at that restaurant. We all had memories of having eaten there previously, and of various different times there with our long-gone parents. It’s a beautiful setting and good food. We dined outside on, among other things, succulent fresh local Clyde River oysters. Seriously delicious. The photo of the bridge, and the sunset photo were both taken from the deck.
Guerilla Bay is a village of houses clustered around a small surf beach sheltered by trees.
The name probably came from the aboriginal word guarella, meaning big rock; the big rock is an island at one end of the beach that can be easily reached at low tide.
I have memories of clambering with my father and sister up and over that rocky island and fishing on the other side of it with the waves pounding the rocks below us. I was thirteen. I caught fish! I remember gutting and scaling them on the beach afterwards. I remember one of them was a leather jacket that needed to be peeled rather than scaled. Don and I investigated climbing the island but decided against it. I think I could have done it, but neither of us is as agile as we used to be, and Don is understandably protective of his back these days.
On the other side of the sand bar that connects to the island is a calmer beach and rock shelf.
From the house we would walk across the lawn and down a rickety rocky steep narrow path through a wide band of trees to the beach. Two mornings in a row I was awake for sunrise.
Standing on the sand bar watching the pounding waves.
Exploring the rock shelf.
Don and I never did get into the water. Too darn cold for us tropical babies. The water was far from tropical temperatures, but my sisters are all mad boogie boarders,
and always emerged looking pretty happy.
This little beauty,
found nearly worldwide, is known in Australia and New Zealand as a bluebottle. Elsewhere it’s known as a Portuguese Man o’ War. A sting from the long tentacles is not life threatening, unlike the box jellyfish found in northern tropical waters, but apparently the pain is excruciating. Ten thousand people are stung in Australia each summer, mainly on the east coast. The sting leaves red welts on the skin that last for two or three days. We saw a few bluebottles washed up on the beach. Another good reason we didn’t go swimming, even though, without giving it a thought, we swam in an Amazon lake inhabited by electric eels, piranha and vampire fish.
Close by is beautiful Broulee. Admittedly we were there after the summer holidays and kids were back in school so the busiest season was over, but Broulee is still typical of hundreds of Australian beaches – great long stretches of white or golden sand with virtually nobody there. The opening photo is Broulee Beach.
We met a couple of men on Broulee Beach and learned something new. There are sand worms. Long skinny worms that live in the sand and feed on fishy stuff. When I say long I mean about eighteen inches long. They make great fish bait. Each man had a berley bag to attract the worms. Berley is old stinky fish bits. In this particular case both bags were attached to a pole, presumably for ease of movement dragging it slowly across the sand. I don’t know what indicates the presence of a sand worm but suddenly the man would plunge his hand into the wet sand, and if he could get a good enough grip on it he would pull out a worm. And then stuff it in his pocket.
More stories of ‘the coast’ in the next post – walks around the headland, muffin-eating lorikeets, and meerkats and lemurs at the zoo.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.