Since our initial trip down the Murray some two years ago (CH August 2016), we have since covered the Clarence in NSW from Grafton to Yamba, Noosa everglades Queensland via Lake Cootharaba and Harry’s Hut and Manly (Qld) to Gold Coast away from the main channel.
Now it is time for the Myall Lakes situated south of Port Macquarie and just north of Nelson Bay, Port Stephens in New South Wales. In fact there is an opening just south of the Tea Gardens at the southern part of Myall Lakes that leads into the entrance at Port Stephens. If you are in a trailer sailer, as we were, unless you enjoy an exciting challenge it is best left for calm weather.
As per usual with our cruising, owner Rex trails River Rat to his starting spot, parks the trailer and does his river experience. We drive down to take over River Rat,butfirstofall return to the trailer parking to drop it off where we wish to finish. This usually ensures that neither of us are going over the same part of the river twice for unique experiences.
His car and trailer were left at Bulahdelah for us to swap over at Tea Gardens where we picked up RiverRat. We found his trailer and someone from the information centre suggested that we take a back route rather than the main highway as it was shorter and, although the road was partially dirt, it was easily negotiated.
He was perfectly correct; a quiet, meandering road and a short car ferry trip which allowed us to stop and explore the coastline on the way to our starting point.
First night settling in
Rex brought River Rat over to the public pontoon for us and we handed over his vehicle.
One big shop and we were ready to depart on a windy and blustery morning leaving on an outgoing tide.
The navigation marks are frequent and easy to follow but keep in mind that even in the channel the depths are around 1.8 metres maximum. We meandered up the river towards Brambles Green Compound where we witnessed a pod of dolphins obviously with a purpose as they did not tarry.
We anchored in 0.4 metres of water on a clear sandy bottom. This is my idea of cruising as I am at the age where I do not need any more challenges.
The water was so sheltered from the main channel that we decided to spend our first night there and sort out our provisions. We do not have a freezer, however three solar panels, one on either side plus one on the bimini, manage to keep our fridge at a respectable 2° to 3° Celsius, ample for wine and beer.
I tend to buy vacuum-packed meat if possible, it is always a help if you can find somewhere to freeze it on land beforehand, which unfortunately we did not.
We left Brambles Green next morning at 0630 in cold misty conditions. Living in Queensland we do not actually register with cold weather, which for us is anything under 20 degrees. Peter had two pairs of tracky pants and I gratefully borrowed a pair for the rest of the journey. The remainder of my wardrobe consisted of T-shirts, shorts and, as an afterthought, I had chucked in a grubby jumper for emergencies.
Rounding the corner we passed a well-established prawn fishing station, all well-tended and cared for. We kept strictly to channel markers clearing everything, which were well signposted indicating various depths, as opposed to the Murray River.
We went as low as 0.6m even in-between markers, which is a bit disconcerting as there is nowhere else to go. Eventually we approached Bonbah Ferry, which we had used on our drive down to cross over and avoid the main highway.
The river had now widened considerably as we navigated the ferry lane waiting for a green light. About 100m along, past the ferry, we pulled up at the public pontoon, which also consisted of a pump-out station. In the Myall Lakes there is a barge which does toilet pump-outs free of charge.
Wandering up towards the camping grounds we found a coffee shop with a sign ‘Leddes Camp’ and were invited to explore the camping grounds and sawmills. Off again, after being refreshed and exercised for the day, we carried on and pulled up to Korseman’s Bay and anchored on a clear beach in 0.7m of water.
We rowed to shore as the bottom was somewhat littered with debris and broken up rocks.
However, once on shore we discovered a public jetty round the corner and made a note not to miss that on the way back. It was a beautiful camping area: eco-toilets all well maintained and an abundance of large grey kangaroos keeping a curious eye on us but no signs of fear or aggression, which allowed Peter to get close up photos.
Back on board and reminded it was time for ‘morno’, so on with the saucepan which doubles for a kettle.
We are still getting used to a small vessel after our 14m sloop. In reality, only one person at a time can get changed without getting in each other’s way and the cabin roof and my head still collide causing a permanent lump.
Lighting the metho stove took getting used to. Apparently after much frantic and verbal explanations from my husband you have to turn the knob, let a small amount of metho in “then turn it off!” That is the bit I stuffed up. As I discovered on previous occasions you can have a roaring fire in your galley.
I had peeled carrots. spuds and green beans and used a steel bowl filled with water ready to go into the saucepan after making coffee; about five minutes later I sat straight into the dish of wet veggies, which I had carefully placed on the bottom step.
We passed many camping areas all of which looked inviting, if not deserted. The tea-coloured water turned clear on approaching beaches. I finally persuaded my husband to anchor a bit closer in so I could wade knee deep from the boat without having to get in to a fragile dinghy, where you have to be very careful where you step.
We moved along to Johnson’s Creek for an overnight anchorage by Sandy Beach, once again stepping off the back of the boat into clear water with a sandy firm bottom.
We carried deck chairs ashore, sat down and soaked in the scenery. Not even your most expensive resorts could beat this, plus the bonus of no people; how antisocial did that sound?
The site was well equipped with clean eco-toilets, displaying signs: ‘Wild animals, goannas and dingoes’. We did not see any dingoes but kangaroos hopping around while goannas leisurely ambled down swaying from side to side: “just taking my time dude, but will get there”.
At 1730, after returning to River Rat, we had visitors in the shape of two rather handsome kookaburras that seemingly emerged out of nowhere. They plonked themselves on our sun awning making enough noise and disturbance to attract our attention.
They were in no hurry to leave and fastened themselves to the solar panel next to my head. I realise that it is not good practice but their pleadings and insistence got the better of me so I hand fed them with a tiny amount of peeled sliced grapes. They had no fear and sat there quite contented chatting away for 30 minutes or so.
They ‘killed’ the pieces of grapes, bashing them against our solar panel several times before swallowing. After departing for a break they were back again in 20 minutes, this time unrewarded but quite content to sit there occasionally joining in the conversation.
So far we have not seen another vessel or camper except for the Rangers in a six metre putt-putt. They check all campsites on a daily basis and collect camping fees: adults $8.50 off peak and $12.50 weekends and peak. For that the campers get spotless facilities: thank you very much.
Time to goanna
Leaving Johnson’s Creek we headed up to Violet Hill Passage and tied up next to the public jetty which displayed a sign ‘One hour restrictions’. We had already made a decision that even if the jetty had no restrictions, we would anchor offshore.
We had one previous instance where we were tied up to a pontoon for a short while, took up deckchairs through the narrow path and sat watching the wildlife. A rather large goanna ambled passed just plodding along and I watched it head down the path towards River Rat.
As it disappeared from sight, Peter got up to investigate with me being nosy in close pursuit. We discovered the creature with one paw on the side of our boat ready to heave himself up. “Do something quick” I urged Peter, having visions of a huge goanna sliding down into the cabin causing havoc.
Peter rattled the stern of the boat, resulting in the goanna turning to face him but totally unfazed and still not moving. “Bugger Off” yelled my husband, no doubt also seeing the possibility of trying to extract it from inside the cabin.
The goanna took another look at Peter and probably decided it was not visiting hours, coolly stepped back onto the jetty and plodded nonchalantly away. That was the last time we ever tied up to a pontoon leaving the boat out of sight.
I tipped rice into a pan with leftover boiling water from coffee and luckily did not repeat my disaster of yesterday by sitting in it. This will be ready to go with our eye fillet steak and salad for lunch.
As it tookthree days, including two days travel from Brisbane before we took off on River Rat, even though we had an esky with frozen bottles of water, everything was well defrosted by the time we left Tea Garden base.
Food got cooked and eaten depending on the colour, with all chicken being cooked on the first night. Leftovers being a chicken salad next night. So far we have made it a practice to anchor daily about midday, then eat our main meal, leaving afternoons to explore.
We are now in the large Myall Lake. Water is clearer, sea bed visible. Average depth is 1.8 metres, pretty consistent as channel markers are few and far between as opposed to our first two days. The lake is as flat as a night carter’s hat, as Peter is prone to saying. No idea what it means but must be a familiar phrase down on Philip Island where he was brought up with four brothers, the entire family being involved in fishing one way or another.
Pottering up to Corrigan’s Bay we anchored alongside dozens of submerged planks of wood. It looked as if it could have at one time been a sawmill. No sandy beaches here so we took the dinghy up a ramp, stepped out knee deep guiding the dinghy over rocks onto a gravel rocky slipway.
Following signs we walked up to an ancient cemetery, the climbing path beautifully mowed by a loving gardener, the surrounds lined with colourful plants interspersed with natives. After a fifteen minute fairly steep climb we reached the graveyard plateau all carefully tendered.
The latest burial was circa 1910 and ninety per cent of the occupants were under twenty years old. One guy however lived to the ripe old age of eighty-seven, which was indeed old in those days.
After an hour of pottering, admiring the graves and reading inscriptions we were back on River Rat. We moved on round the corner to Neraine Bay with a weather forecast of 20 knots from the north coming in the evening. This would have been a perfect spot until we studied the BOM site more thoroughly, which predicated a southwesterly at 20 knots arriving at 0300.
Even though it is not open water, Rex said he had to move at 2300 one night as the shift came in earlier than advertised and he was rocking and rolling, plus had to feel his way in pitch black to get somewhere comfortable.
At 1300 hours a management decision was made that a good night’s sleep overrode a midnight adventure, so we slowly made our way back to the bulletproof vicinity of Dolly’s Channel near Violet Hill where we had spotted some public moorings.
River Rat supports an awning over the boom with two extra solar panels and does not travel well in anything over 12 knots. We experienced a very pleasant tailwind down to the south anchorages at Kataway Bay for a check out before heading for the security of Violet Hill.
The weather was already deteriating with increasing wind and storms over the next four days, climaxing on Monday with 30 knots and thunderstorms. Our trip is now obviously going to be shortened but I am sure everyone will agree there is no point being out in bad weather unless you have nowhere else to go.
We took up one of the five moorings just off the jetty at Violet Hill. The mooring stated maximum weight of 20 ton and, as we weight 1.5 ton, we reckoned we were pretty safe.
Once a year the moorings are lifted and inspected. Guess which day of the year this occurred: correct. It was 1530 and we had been informed that the workers knocked off at 1600 hours precisely on a Friday. At 1555 they were just finishing off the last one except ours but, apparently, there are some very conscientious workers in NSW as they signalled for us to shift.
Taking no chances of being disturbed twice, we moved onto an already serviced mooring. The diligent lads carried on, lifting the last mooring with their barge and crane. It was quite entertaining to watch and they had obviously done it many times before and had it down to a fine art.
The weather prediction was correct and about 2000 hours the wind picked up and went to the south. Even though we were in a sheltered area with not much fetch, we still danced around most of the night.
Morning brought a cloudy overcast day and it was obvious that it had rained during the night. We were reluctant to end our cruise just yet, still plenty we had not explored and no way of knowing if we would ever get back here.
Our main objective was to clear the open area of Broadwater before it got too horrible. Our next brief stop was Bungarie Bay at the top right hand of Boolambayte River, about 20 minutes from Violet Hill at an average speed of three knots.
Depth was 1.5m with nothing special to see, the seabed was weedy and tea colour. We did not dally as Two Mile Lake was ahead followed by Broadwater.
Just at the top of Two Mile Lake we pulled over to a jetty. This went unnoticed by us on the upward journey as it was round the corner.
We were back at Korsemens’s Bay, which a couple of days ago was deserted except for a couple of curious kangaroos. Today it was Sunday and packed with campers with all home luxuries attached. After a social look around we took off to the opposite side of the channel fully protected, where we had previously spotted two houseboats on moorings. They were still there and obviously uninhabited.
It was now 1045 and we happily picked up another 20 tonne mooring and settled down for a peaceful day from the wind whichever direction it decided to approach from. It was pouring with rain and there is nothing more pleasant than sitting undercover watching the scenery.
It is amazing how fast the days drift by doing nothing and how well we sleep at night. Must be something to do with the body taking stock and unwinding. Moor hens, ducks and pelicans constantly keeping us company, all fussing about with the black swans continually chastising and chasing their offspring.
It poured down all night and happy to report that River Rat did not leak one drop.
Tuesday morning was drizzly and misty so we slowly made our way heading down to Two Mile Lake, easily passing the vehicular ferry before it started up at 0800.
The trip across the Broadwater was very ordinary, exposed and lumpy and not easy to distinguish the next marker. We were headed for Nerong Harbour and once we entered the inlet, as to be expected, the sea became flat calm. It was a fantastic waterway, clearly defined with channel markers more I think for the guidance up the river than the shallow water.
We did take note on the way in that the only public mooring was occupied and, on further investigation, discovered the vessel long-deserted despite a 24 hour notice on it.
We were not quite sure what to expect in there and it was all a bit of a disappointment. It was a circular harbour surrounded by houses and all obviously private, no moorings and nowhere to pull up except a rundown public wharf.
A sign outside the narrow harbour entrance with ‘private’ would have been helpful. However, rubbish bins were available and so we tied up next to the public wharf, which was a step up to the pavement.
Peter took off with the rubbish while I sorted out fenders. In the meantime a rather handsome dog came alongside. He stood on the edge of the wharf and for one scary minute looked as if he was going to jump into our dinghy. He then padded up to the boat and started whining, begging to come aboard.
Peter ordered him to sit, which only increased the pathetic whining and I got the blame for encouraging him. We left in a hurry and the dog jumped into the water and then turned to chase after a duck. The last we saw of him he was heading back to the ramp.
Coming out of Nerong Harbour and back into the open chop, but only for about a mile as the channel marker for Myall River on our port side became very distinctive. What a wonderful river with a depth of 6m right up to the banks.
About 500m from the river mouth on the starboard side we pulled in, bow first tucking neatly into a niche where we could easily step off onto firm ground. This is the closest that we had been able to pull in without touching the bottom.
On shore, just five steps away, we observed a clutch of at least twelve eggs sitting on the ground. They were similar shape and size to hen’s eggs but we had no idea how or what they were doing there.
A short walk revealed another camping area: deserted, no surprise, complete with toilets. We were very impressed with the cleanliness and care taken with all the amenities at Myall Lakes and this one was no exception.
It was time to head up the river to our destination at Bulahdelah. The river winds left and right keeping a good depth on both banks, all totally deserted.
It was a leisurely scenic cruise and at 1300 we tied up to two trees, which had clearly fallen over and we nestled comfortable in next to the reeds. Tall trees on the other bank swaying in the breeze but it all passed over our heads in our cosy spot. We settled down to sort out the remnants of our last meals as tomorrow there was only two miles to go to Bulahdelah.
After sleeping soundly for ten hours we were woken by a typical New South Wales electrical storm. The river lit up as if it was daylight. It only lasted one hour and morning resulted in a blue sky and no wind.
It was time to move, so we packed the boat as we headed upstream. We parked the boat at the public jetty a bit away from where our car and trailer was stored; we were advised it was a better ramp and did not drop off as quickly.
After walking across the bridge we found our car and trailer and backed down the ramp, with the usual bickering that carries on while you are trying to get the angle correct. All good entertainment for onlookers which appeared from the car park.
Finally sorted and we started the long stretch home back to Manly Queensland, taking it easy and staying at a motel with a carpark that fitted our trailer and car.
Myall Lakes is a delightful destination. You can cover it in three days or just take your time and relax for a week or so. There are numerous sheltered anchorages and several mooring buoys to pick up.
Just be aware that apart from Tea Gardens and up the road from Bulahdelah there is nowhere to stock up on anything. Rex and Peter are still sorting out the next trip and luckily there are still plenty of rivers to explore. ≈