MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2018 – Day Ten (26 April) – Surfside to Kioloa via Pebbly Beach

This morning Eileen drove Sean and me up to the Princes Highway to the point we reached on yesterday’s stroll so that we could recommence our pilgrimage from the same point. Our plan for the day was was to head towards Pebbly Beach, and from there walk over Durras Mountain to Pretty Beach and Kioloa. There are ways that you could do this that would avoid the Princes Highway, coming up along the coast, but they depend upon the mouth of Durras Lake being closed – and we were not sure if that was the case or not. We could easily have found out by calling the local National Parks office, but another consideration was distance and terrain – just about any alternative would have been longer and more difficult. So it was back on the A1 again until we reached Mount Agony Road.

There is more verge on the Highway here than there was further south, but it was still fairly difficult. We kept looking for alternative side roads, and found one detour which went along the power lines for about 1.5km from the Liberty Roadhouse almost to the Enhance petrol station. To get to this, you take a right hand turn down a private road (it says “no entry”, but we inquired of one of the locals and he said there was no problem with us walking along it). After a while this track leads into the national park. This was fine too, but it meandered a bit to avoid some pretty big hills and at one point it led back onto the Highway such that we had to bush-bash for about 50m through scrub to get back to the power line track.

Of the two petrol stations, the Liberty one is the largest and has toilets and food, but we also stopped at the Enhance, which is pretty much a glorified bottle shop with some basic groceries, pies and sausage rolls and drinks for sale. They let us refill our water from the rain water tank out the back.

Durras Drive is just past the Enhance Petrol Station, and from this point on, the power line is on private property, so it was back onto the Princes Highway for us. About 1.5km down the road we came to the boundary between Eurobodalla Shire and the Shire of Shoalhaven, making this the third shire we have travelled through on this trip (the first one being Bega Shire). I wondered too if this was the border between the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn and the Wollongong Diocese. I know that Kioloa is in Wollongong, so I expect that the border is somewhere here. That means we entered our fourth diocese on the pilgrimage (the other two being Melbourne and Sale).

Just as we got to the Mount Agony Road turnoff, Eileen pulled up with Josh on their way to Kioloa. Josh had decided to make this another rest day, and we are glad he did as it went through some heavily forested areas and had some climbs and descents that were very high and steep. Eileen was happy to drive him around to the Kioloa Beach Holiday Park and check into our cabin there. They were also carrying about 50% of our luggage, so our back packs for the day were much lighter. My shoulders still ached dreadfully, however, and I think I might investigate getting a new backpack sometime before the next section of the pilgrimage. This one has served me well – I bought it for $5 at a Salvos store – so I can’t complain for value, but I’d like to get a lighter and more comfortable pack.

After Eileen and Josh drove off, Sean and I turned right onto Mount Agony Road. The name makes this road sound dreadful, but in fact was a blessed relief after the Highway. (Apparently it was named for the agony suffered by bullock drays along this road in the old days.) There was still a fair amount of traffic, but most of it was heading for North Durras and Depot Beach, which are both south of Pebbly Beach and to which there is a turn off about two thirds of the way towards the coast, after which the traffic was more than halved. There was very little verge on this road, but it didn’t matter, as the traffic was sparse enough generally to allow us to walk on the right hand side of the road and to get off when there was oncoming traffic. The surrounding bushland here is incredibly lush. There are vines growing up the gum trees, and a tall species of palm tree with wide fan-like branches, and tree ferns everywhere. The birds are plentiful and were making quite a racket. About a quarter of the way in, the Durras Lake Walking Trail heads off to the south/right, and follows the Lake all the way down to the little Durras Lake settlement. It would be very pleasant to do this one day.

Mount Agony Road ends in what looks like a Y-Junction, with a gravel road going off on the left and the sealed road continuing off to the right. In fact, at this point the Mount Agony Road simply runs into the point of a very sharp turn on the Pebbly Beach Road. The sealed road to the right leads down to Pebbly Beach itself while the gravel road to the left leads around and (eventually) back to the Highway. I would have liked to have taken the right hand turn all the way to the bottom to Pebbly Beach itself as I had been told by locals that it is very scenic with kangaroos on the beach etc. and from the map the distance that way was no further around than taking the left hand route. Sean pointed out however that if we took that road we would descend 100m and then have to make up that 100m when we climbed back up Durras Mountain Coast Walking Track to the Old Coast Road – and that even before attempting the climb to the top of Durras Mountain itself. Unfortunately pilgrims – at least the type that are dependent on their own feet for transportation and their own backs for carrying their gear – can’t always be tourists. (Although there is an interesting historical relationship between tourism and pilgrimage – a musing that will have to wait for another time…)

So we took the left turn on the gravel section of Pebbly Beach Road, intending to turn back on the right into Old Coast Road when we came to it. Actually, the first right hand turn we came to, with a sign pointing to Kioloa, was Higgins Creek Road. That wasn’t right – yes, it would have led to Kioloa Beach but it was a main road, was further than we had planned and didn’t take us up onto the Mountain. So we doubled back and, with the help of my electronic maps and compass on my iPhone, found where the entrance to the Old Coast Road should have been. We found it, concealed and unmarked, leading sharply back the way we had come and steeply uphill. Although it was a vehicular track, it didn’t look like it was used very much. In fact I would not much like to try it with anything vehicular at all, as it was dangerously steep and covered in leaves that made it slippery for our shoes, let alone for car tyres. At the bottom of the track there were metal barriers to stop vehicles descending the track driving straight over the edge onto the other road below. These were bent out of shape in such a way as to indicate they had come in handy at least once in the past…

Climbing up the Old Coast Drive, we ascended from 110m above sea level to 270m at the top, over a distance of about one kilometre. It was strenuous work, which made me glad to have only a half-full pack. At the top the trail levels off and follows the ridge of Durras Mountain. The gumtree forest also gives way to lower and more varied vegetation, and the leaf-strewn rocky trail becomes what looks for all the world like mowed lawn path (although I can’t imagine them getting a lawn mower up that hill). In fact the whole surrounding area has the appearance of an overgrown garden. On the right hand side (East) were views of the ocean, from which a nice cool breeze was blowing; on the left hand side were views of the distant mountains. An old “trig point” greatly interested Sean. There is a cement water tank up there too, colourfully painted on one side, indicating that perhaps this was a spot with some civilisation at some point in the past. (Nb: the tank does not provide drinking water). There are also picnic tables on the summit, and so, having in fact brought a picnic with me from Eileen’s place, I sat down and ate my remaining sandwich and apple.

At this point we were back in reception and a text came through from Josh saying he was at Kioloa and had settled into the cabin and was exploring the town. He wanted to know where we were, and I replied “I think we have found the garden of Eden.” Have a look at the pictures to get some idea of what I meant – although these iphone photos don’t really do justice to the reality.

The rest of the walk was a stroll in the park for the main part. Josh said he would wait for us at Pretty Beach, and that from his vantage point the path “looked very steep”. Yet we were still ambling along with small ups and downs in a gentle decent. Fairly abruptly, the “garden” came to an end and the gumtrees returned as the dominant vegetation. When we were about a kilometre from Pretty Beach, and still going along on a fairly level path, I stopped to check our bearings. It turned out that we had missed the turn off to Pretty Beach about 750m back along the Old Coast Road. We debated what to do as we could have continued onto Dangerboard Road (doesn’t that sound fun?) and into the back of Kioloa that way (which, given the condition of the track, might be easiest for future pilgrims), but we decided to go back because Josh was waiting for us in Pretty Beach, and we had no phone reception to tell him we were altering our route. Again we found that the turn off down to the Beach was concealed and poorly signed. The little sign that was there would have been visible to people coming up the mountain but not to those coming down it, and the track was thickly covered with leaves making it almost indistinguishable from the rest of the forest floor.

Once we were on it, however, we recognised it as Josh’s “very steep” track. It reminded me of some of the downhill slopes on the Kangarutha trail to Tathra – quick rocky in places with a descent of 100m or more over about 600m. I was glad to reach the bottom, and sat down to rest to wait for Sean to catch up. As I waited, a bloke in jogging gear came up to the start of the trail putting his earphones on. “Is that your evening jog?”, I asked. “Yep”, he said, and set off up the path I had just come down. Each to his own, I guess.

Pretty Beach is a… well, pretty beach, and a popular campsite. Josh was nowhere to be seen, so Sean and I wandered about looking for him. We found our way to the beach, from which we had a good view of the mountain we had just climbed and the coastline back south. In fact, as Sean pointed out, we could just see Mount Dromedary faintly outlined in the very distant south. And we thought we had seen the last of it! Funny to think we had travelled all that way in five days of walking. The sun was setting and as is usual at this time, the kangaroos were coming out. They were plentiful and not at all fussed by the humans wandering past. Still no Josh. And still no phone reception, so I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I decided we would split up and sent Sean off in one direction around the camp and I set off around the other. That was a good idea, as Josh had been wandering around the circular path looking for us too and we would have kept going around in circles otherwise – we met him at the entrance to the Camp.

Josh led us back through the growing darkness toward Merry Beach, where there was a small grocery shop (kitted out with enough stuff to buy supplies if you wanted to make your own meal in your cabin) and a rather expensive restaurant. Josh decided he didn’t want to cook and would subsidise our expenses if we found the restaurant too pricey. Aside from the waiter acting more camp than all the rows of tents down at Pretty Beach, the restaurant was a good experience and worth the extra cost. It had an excellent range of bottled beers (none on tap) and a good menu. The other two had the salmon risotto, but I chose the prawn and chorizo linguini – which was flavoured with garlic and chilli and covered in lashings of shaved parmesan cheese. It was solid stodge, and just what my body needed. I was tempted to order the $38 lamb shanks, to see if they could have outdone the Bodalla Arms $20 special. I also would have had a glass of red wine with the meal, but since Josh had purchased three 500ml bottles of German beer which he had waiting for us back at the cabin, we left it at that and paid the bill. $166 for the three of us (including the $9 beers). Yikes.

We walked the remaining 500m to the Kioloa Beach Holiday Park and Josh showed us to our cabin. There were quite a few other people in the cabins nearby barbecuing their dinners and making a fair bit of noise. Showers were first on the agenda when we got in. Josh had made a comment about the sign on the taps saying that only the cold water in the kitchen was drinkable, and that all the rest of the water was from the dam. This was self-evident when I filled the shallow shower-bath with water to soak in: it was very brown and smelled strongly of clay mud. Ablutions were followed by sharing the rather sweet malty beers that Josh had bought. We only drank half of it though, and were all so tired we were ready for bed practically straight away. There was no internet, so I couldn’t upload the day’s pictures or do any direct work on the blog. We had to make our own beds, and, as it was a family cabin, Sean and I shared the bunk room while Josh slept in the queen bed in the other room. The bunks were not full sized beds, and the mattresses were fairly thin foam, so it wasn’t the most comfortable night I had spent on the trip. Nevertheless, I slept fairly soundly.

Today was one of the longest days in terms of distance so far and also the second hardest day in terms of elevation climbed – 93 “floors” according to my iPhone health app (compared to 176 on the day to Tathra and 78 on the first day to Nethercote).

Today’s statistics
Planned distance: 29km
Measured distance by actual route (Gaia maps recording): 31.83km
Distance by iPhone Health data: 33km
Steps by iPhone Health data: 40,615 steps
“Flights climbed” by iPhone Health data: 93 floors
Up and Down: 466m (-473m)
Highest altitude: 297m
Beach walking? No
Highway walking? Yes
Hours on the road: 9 hours
Distance covered from Eden: 270.77km
Distance covered from Fitzroy: 960.77

Here are the pictures for the day on Google Photos and here are the maps:

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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