MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2018: Day Three (Wednesday 18 April) – Merimbula to Tathra via Coast

“Today was in some senses the best day and some senses the worst day thus far (there have only been two days, admittedly). We started late – largely because we had a cooked breakfast (I cooked) of scrambled eggs, ham, capsicum, mushroom, spinach and tomato on toast. So we only got going at about 9:00am. We visited the Anglican Church briefly and then St Joseph’s Catholic Church, where we prayed the Regina Coeli and said a prayer to St Mary MacKillop for our journey today. Turns out we needed them.

Next, we followed a route that I had spotted on the satellite maps across a bridge at the end of Munn Street over Merimbula Creek into the area known as Mirador (no, not Mordor, that’s another place, although Mirkwood might have been another appropriate appellation). Nice start, but the bridge didn’t go all the way over the bit of inlet on the other side, so we had to follow a small trail to skirt it. Then the trail started climbing up the rocks over and around the edge of the Black Lagoon. I rather liked this trail, although it wasn’t the one I had chosen, but then Josh’s vertigo struck (just when we thought he was doing so well) and we had to turn around, double back and take another track over the hill. In fairness, this was the track I had originally planned on taking, as it connected up with Mirador Drive. But this road came to an end with big wire gates across it, although the trails went on past this. So I led the way, but immediately it became clear that there were many trails and none of them were at all clear. So we took one that led us most of the way along the route I had planned – hoping to get to the beach on the other side of the Black Lake/Back Lagoon. Instead we took another track that we hoped would get us there, and instead it lead us down the hill to another small lagoon and creek, which we could not cross. Our only choice was then to climb back up along the creek bed to the top of the hill again out onto Casurina Place and Nolan Drive. We were completely shagged out by that stage, and had been walking for almost two hours and only done about 4kms, two of which were completely unnecessary.

So we made it to the Tura Beach Shopping Centre, and Sean shouted us a cup of coffee each as we replanned our day. Several decisions were made. Josh decided that the better part of valour would be if he avoided the walk along the Kangarutha Track later in the day and simply went around Lake Wallagoot to the Sapphire Coast Highway to Tathra. Sean wanted to go to Dolphin Drive to see a place where he holidayed as a child. I just wanted to take the shortest and quickest way to Tathra. So we started by following a trail around the back of the shopping centre from Tura Beach Drive to Kangaroo Run. Then, at Dolphin Cove Road, Sean parted company from Josh and me and went on his sight seeing, after which he went down onto the beach and walked towards Bournda Island. Josh and I went up Pacific Way to the Sapphire Coast Drive and then detoured down the gravel road called Widgeram Road. This took us eventually onto the North Tura Road, down to the car park and picnic grounds and the trail to Sandy Creek and Bournda Island. From the top of the bluff, I could see Sean coming along the beach. I phoned him and he asked us to stop so that we could have lunch – it was now 1:30pm.

Note that you cannot walk right around the bluff on the beach – the water comes right up to the low rocks. So if you are coming up the beach like Sean did you have to scramble over the rocks to the other side. Anyways, we sat and had our cheese and kransky and bread again as yesterday, this time sitting on the stairs coming down to the beach – sheltered from the ferocious wind coming down the beach towards us from the NNE. We then took off our footwear and walked barefoot along the beach for the next 5.5kms. The sea was rough and the wind was in our face. Once I nearly lost my hat into the surf, and another time, as I asked Sean to take a picture of me, a huge wave came in and washed us up over our knees. Thankfully the iPhone was not washed away. I quite like beach walking and the sand near the water was hard. The tide was going out, so there was a wide a beach.

At the trail to Hobarts Beach, we farewelled Josh (he gave us a verbal last will and testament should we not see him again), and headed toward the mouth of Moncks Creek, the opening of Wallagoot Lake to the sea. I was a bit nervous when planning this section of the walk that the Creek would be flowing across the path into the ocean, but we need not have worried. There was quite a high beach between the water on both sides, and although it was clear that the mouth would flow at high tide, I could never imagine it being deeper than a foot or two. We crossed this and had a bit of a rest at the top of the stairs on the Turingal Head. It was good to get out of the wind. A surfer came by, seeking a more sheltered place to surf. When he returned disappointed we asked if he was a local. When he answered that he was, we asked if he had traveled the Kangarutha track. Yes, he said, it is very rocky.

On the website for the Kangarutha Trail, We are told that it is a “Grade 3” trail, “Suitable for most ages and fitness levels. Some bushwalking experience recommended. Tracks may have short steep hill sections a rough surface and many steps.” We are also told that  “Some bushwalking experience recommended”, that it is clearly marked, and that it will take 3.5 to 4 hours. Well it was just on 3:28 when we started, but in my experience, the timing of trails is usually greatly exaggerated, and it was only 9.1kms, so we thought we would do it easily in two & half hours. In fact, the first half was so easy going that I rang ahead to Fr Luke at Tathra to say that we would easily be in by 5:30pm. The scenery was magnificent, when you could see through the trees to the coast, and the vegetation varied. We saw no evidence of “rocks”. But then, just after I called and chatted to my parents on the phone at 4:45pm about half way along the track (if I had been watching the time, I would already have known that we were in trouble) the track suddenly did become rocky, and also in poor repair in places, and often not clearly marked, and regularly going steeply downhill to the gullies and inlets only to climb very steeply back up again. In truth, it was a the most gruelling 9km trek I have ever done. On Easter Monday, Sean and I walked 20kms around Silvan and Mount Dandenong, and according to my iPhone we climbed “159 flights of stairs” (540m). On this trail, the iPhone said that we climbed 157 flights. It was gruelling. Worse, our phone signals, which till then had been very good, cut out entirely. And it was fast getting dark. I was not really worried for our own safety, but I was concerned that Fr Luke and Josh and others would be, and I had no way of reassuring them that we were okay.

As it was, we had to use the iPhone torch for the last half hour of walking, and eventually came out the other end Kianinny Boat Ramp at 6:17pm, completing the trail in just under 3 hours. It would probably not have been so bad had we left earlier from Merimbula or had we not expended a lot of energy in the Mirador Maze. And the final straw was the high climb up Kianinny Street into town. We were finally back into range, and we received a call from a very worried Josh who had arrived at the Star of the Sea Catholic Church having walked the long way around and found that we were still not in. He was all for dialing 000, but Fr Luke got him to get the details of our travels first, and in the meantime we were back in contact. Fr Luke offered to come and pick us up, but we intended to walk all the way to the Church. We were grateful for him coming and taking our backpacks for us though! We arrived at the Church finally at 6:44pm, having walked for almost ten hours.

Originally I had been scheduled to give a little talk on our pilgrimage when we arrived, but Fr Luke had rung yesterday to say that plans had changed since a post-disaster trauma specialist was visiting and wanted to address the members of the parish about what to expect from themselves and those around them in the weeks and months and years following the devasting fires they had had just before Easter. I was glad for the change, because I could barely stand up. Yet, after a bowl or two of the excellent chicken and ham and corn soup that the parishioners had prepared for us, I felt quite reconstituted – better in fact than I had felt last night when we got to Merimbula. For all the rough terrain, it was actually easier on the feet than the flat walking on hard surfaces yesterday. I range Cathy to let her know we were okay, and also rang through to our hosts for tomorrow night to let them know we were on our way and to make plans. Josh plans not to walk with us tomorrow, but will take the bus from Bega to Bermagui and then walk the 7 or so kms down to our hosts, where we will meet him tomorrow night.

After the fire talk had finished we had a chance finally to say hullo to the locals. We heard a little about the fires and the effects on the town – although they were insistent that the town would recover fully and be “better than ever”. Sadly our time with them was short. Fr Luke had had a long day, and was driving us back to Bega to stay with him in the very large old presbytery there. We grabbed some beer on the way, and he bbq-ed up some steaks for us for hobbit-second-dinner. We talked till about 10pm when Josh went to bed, and Sean and I began writing up our journals. It is now way past my bed time and we have an early start again in the morning.

The photos from today can be viewed here on Google Photos. Don’t forget to follow us on twitter at @scecclesia for updates when we are within range of a signal. You might be required to give information to the rescue parties about our last reported location…

Today’s statistics
Planned distance: 23.95km
Measured distance by actual route (Gaia maps recording): 26.96km
Distance by iPhone Health data: 27.1km
Steps by iPhone Health data: 38,176 steps
“Flights climbed” by iPhone Health data: 176 floors
Up and Down (Gaia maps recording): 440m (-413m)
Highest altitude: 111m
Beach walking? Yes, a fair amount
Highway walking? No
Hours on the road: 11.75 hours (time lost in “maze” and last 3-4km)
Distance covered from Eden: 60.45km
Distance covered from Fitzroy: 750.45km

Our recording device makes the route that Sean and I took out to be about 27km. It should be shorter by at least 2kms if you don’t count our stuffing about in the Merimbula Maze. Josh’s route by the main road would have been about 7km longer.

Here are the maps of today’s journey. I’ve marked in the route that we should have taken instead of mucking about in the Maze in a different colour green.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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