Sometimes a great adventure just comes together like a perfect storm. Having grown up in the nearby village of Woolgoolga, the Yuraygir Coastal walk has been something I’ve always been very aware of. With the logistics of the various river crossings and time off work required to complete it however, it’s just not something I’ve ever gotten around to doing… That is until now.
Chris and I were on our way home from a Queensland Christmas with a brand new, two-person packraft Santa had left in our stocking. We had Christmas kilograms to burn, some time up our sleeve before new years, and a brand new toy to test out. What better way to christen our new raft than by exploring Australia’s longest stretch of protected coastline.
The Yuraygir Coastal Walk is a 70km stretch of linked beaches, day walks, rocky platforms, sandy trails, and lagoons that traverse through Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl country. It winds down the coast from Yamba to Redrock on the NSW mid North Coast, encompassing a large part of the Solitary Islands Marine Park.
Having grown up in the area there were the odd parts of the trail I was aware of from camping and surfing trips, but nothing could prepare me though for the experience of exploring the pristine coastline in its entirety.
As we only had one car, a car shuffle was out of the question. We opted instead to leave our car at Redrock and organise a bus from Redrock to Angourie, which was easy enough to do. We left the Redrock Bowlo at 7:30am and with a little bus changeover in Grafton and a quick coffee at Café Angourie, we were on the sand heading south along Angourie back beach by 11:30am.
The start of the trail follows along the “Angourie Walk” section of the trail, which meanders through grassy heathland and along Dirrangan Headland. It is very well sign posted along the way and taking our time we were able to learn a lot about the plants, wildlife and history of the Yaegl people in the area. It was incredible to read about the way they trapped fish in the rock pools at high tide, and to look down and see one of the actual rock pools where this practice took place.
We had a little morning tea at Shellys Beach; here I was able to find a dozen or so oysters for us to enjoy which was quite the treat. After this we explored the caves at Shellys a little. The tide was coming in so we couldn’t spend as much time checking out these amazing caves as we might have liked.
We setup camp at Lake Arragan in the late afternoon and one thing we quickly learned about hiking this trail during the school holidays is that the camps and towns along the way were very PACKED. We were still able to get a little slice of the lake to ourselves though and after a well-earned swim in the ocean we spent the evening laughing at the funny little pied oystercatchers running about, and watching the eastern grey kangaroos bounce on by.
Day two started with a 6am dip in the ocean (something you grow pretty used to on the trail). After this we needed to head through the camping area to get some water. It has always amazed me how people pour out of cities in the holidays only to jam themselves into campsites like sardines complete with the kitchen sink. Chris marvelled at the cleanliness of the camp long drop before we left, I had a look around and explained it was probably because everyone had brought their own toilets with them.
After restocking our water at the gate entry we were back on the beach and passing through brooms head. We took the opportunity to grab some pies, Coke, and some Weis Bars from the general store… all luxuries we don’t normally get hiking in the Blue Mountains.
About halfway along Sandon beach we cut over to Sandon rd, a dirt track that lead us to the top of the Sandon River, our first river crossing, and first test of the raft. We had some lunch, pumped up the boat and got ready. After a little feed we nervously walked the boat out with ALL of our belongings onboard, we said a little prayer and jumped aboard… SUCCESS! We were on our way down the Sandon with the only problem now facing us being the ability to coordinate our paddle strokes together. Our marriage has faced many challenges and this was proving to be one of them!
We somehow managed our way the 2km or so down the river to land on the southern side of the Sandon channel. This marks the start of the Solitary Islands Marine Park which stretches from here down to Muttonbird Island in Coffs Harbour. The Sandon Hamlet is an incredibly beautiful area and we decided to take it easy and spent the rest of the day swimming and lazing about as the sun went into its long afternoon descent.
To make up for time lost the previous day we arose early and hit the trail at 7am. We managed to make our way down the 10kms of beach to the town of Minnie Water by about 8:30am. We were grabbing some breaky burgers at the local general store and found ourselves to be minor celebrities. It seems a lot of the 4wds that had passed us on the long stretch of beach were also getting breakfast and were interested in finding out just what the hell we were doing.
After refueling and filling up our waters at the surf club we were headed back out of civilisation again and on our way down Minnie Water’s back beach.
Towards the end of the beach there was only one other person around, an old man doing some yoga poses. After stopping and exchanging pleasantries we continued on our way only to turn around and see the old fella had nuded up and was marching towards the ocean. Seems there is certainly enough of this coastline for everyone to have a little bit of it to themselves I thought.
We arrived in the northern part of the Wooli township and with something that was becoming all too common on this trip we were chatting to some locals about what we were up to. We politely turned down offers from a nice lady named Tara for water and a place to sleep however we weren’t allowed to turn down her offer to drive us to the local pub, so off we went.
After a big pub feed we were pleased to find that the Wooli Wooli river flowed just behind the pub and it was here we were able to find a great point of entry for our next river leg. We were about 6km upstream from the eventual river crossing we were headed for and with all the coordination kinks being ironed out the previous day there was no stopping us. We headed downstream with the tide on our side and a gentle breeze on our backs. We passed the bowling club on our left and boats full of divers returning from a day out at the solitary islands passing on our right. Great caution was exercised when landing on the southern side of the channel at the Wooli river mouth as the tide was now racing out at quite a pace.
It was now afternoon and we foolishly decided we would try press on to Pebbly Beach rather than setting up camp in Wooli. Turns out we didn’t study the track notes hard enough on this section and as the sun was now setting, we were finding ourselves trying to scramble a 5km stretch of rocky platforms in the dark.
In a situation that was growing slightly precarious we had a hunt around and were very lucky to find a tiny little spot up the cliff that had just enough room to pitch our tent. So we breathed a sigh of relief and setup our tent in the dark and went to sleep snuggled up like two little seagulls perched up safe above from the crashing waves below.
There is always something amazing about getting to a campsite late, setting up in the dark, and awaking the next day to find out what’s around you. As we awoke this particular morning to try and find our bearings we were not disappointed. As the sun lit the sky in amazing brush strokes we were completely submerged amongst rocks, the morning waves, and the isolation. We felt a million miles from anywhere so naturally I took a page out of the ageing hippy we had met the previous day’s book, and I stripped off all my clothes and welcomed the sun.
After saying Gday to the morning we were off on our fourth and final day. After getting through the rest of the rock scramble we made our way past a series of cute little beach coves lined with great pandanus palms. We took our time exploring this pristine section of the trail until we made our way past freshwater beach and arrived at Pebbly Beach.
We had a little lunch amongst the millions of holiday campers and made our way across to Station Creek Beach, which is the final beach of the trail. Along here it becomes pretty obvious you are on the home stretch as what appears to be a literal giant red rock grows bigger and bigger, a welcome sight.
We were presented with what would be our final creek crossing at Red Rock. Too tired to get the raft out for such a small crossing I decided to try and walk through it. With my pack over my head the water grew deeper and deeper and I was eventually saved by a young boy named Banjo who appeared on a paddleboard offering to take my gear safely across. Young Banjo was holidaying in Red Rock with his family from Darwin and was more than chuffed with the $10 he earned taxying our gear across to safety.
So that was that. We had made it. Some curious beach goers gave us a round of applause when we explained where we had just arrived from and a British camper at the Red Rock caravan park gave us a few beers that didn’t even touch the sides. We sat back with the best kind of exhaustion you can possibly have. The mission was a success and it was now time to put our feet up and enjoy the New Year