It was the final morning of our pre-symposium sea kayaking trip. We didn’t need to be away at the crack of dawn but we did need to be ready to catch the start of the flood tide to carry us towards Port Welshpool. From there we would be heading towards Wilson’s Promontory and the start of the International Sea Kayaking Educator’s Conference.
It wasn’t too early a start, which was in contrast to the previous morning. The sun had already taken the chill off the air as we headed north. I think that this was the first time that it registered, as we paddled away from Snake Island, that the sun was in the north. Clearly my geography of the Southern Hemisphere left something to be desired.
What was surprising, was for how much of the paddle we were in shallow water, which was quite fortunate as there were quite a few fishing boats heading towards the open water from Port Welshpool. Whalers first used this area in the 1830’s, whilst the town was officially named Port Welshpool in 1952.
We landed in Port Welshpool, and started the unloading of the kayaks. We had been out 4 days and covered just under 30 nautical miles. Not a great distance, but it was through an interesting environment, which also gave us the opportunity to observe some animals, which we would never encounter in the northern hemisphere.
More importantly the four day paddle gave us the opportunity to get to know some of the other people who would be attending the 2nd International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium at Tidal River in the Wilsons Promontory National Park.
We finally got the opportunity to paddle in flat calm conditions on the third day, the only problem was that we had to get up at 04.00 to do so. The way the tidal streams were working meant that we either started early or waited until the late afternoon. An early morning paddle gave us so many more options.
So at 05.50 we pushed away from the bank into a glorious Australian sunrise. It started off pretty good and just got better and better and for the first time in the trip we had mirror calm conditions and the tidal flow with us. Only just over a knot but that is better than nothing.
As we exited the Swashway Channel we gained our first reasonably good views of the north side of Wilson’s Promontory National Park, where we would be spending time at the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium.
There was a reasonable amount of quite fast boat traffic moving up and down the channel towards the open sea. Fortunately the channel was relatively narrow with quite a few buoys indicating their route. It’s always good to know your buoyage when kayaking on the sea. Crossing the channel at right angles we reduced our exposure to the boats before turning south towards Wilson’s Prom. We were soon paddling alongside rocks and a shoreline that was more than a couple of metres high.
We stopped on a couple of stunning beaches with the opportunity to explore the shoreline or slightly further inland. We were in no real hurry as we waited for slack water in the channel to allow us to cross back to Snake Island, our destination for the day. Also it was only just after 09.00, always the advantage of an early morning paddle.
There was a discussion as to what time we should aim to cross back to Snake Island because of the tidal streams. As a sea kayaker I have never understood why people use different units of measurement in the same conversation. It could go along the lines of;
“We have a wind of between 13 and 15 mph from the south, the tidal stream is running at 3 knots and the distance we have to go is 10 kilometres.”
The potential for errors to creep into people’s calculations is huge. I just don’t understand why people don’t stick with one unit of measurement and if we are operating on the sea it should be the nautical variety. Knots and nautical miles. Information we need about tidal flows is always given in knots so why not stick with that unit. I admit that some people might find it difficult at first but I really think that it is worth the effort.
I know many people will find this strange but a couple of us were really getting quite excited by the prospect of seeing kangaroos. Living on an island where the largest land animal is the rabbit I get easily excited. We had been told that we were likely to see them in the evening but it was still quite a surprise when when 16 of them hopped out the bush. Linked with a few small deer wandering around and it felt like a wildlife bonanza.
One of the problems of jet leg is that sometimes you just can’t sleep, which was the position I found myself in on the second day. Taking advantage of this I got up reasonably early to walk along the spit. We had so painstakingly paddled along the previous day.
It was one of those moments that you truly appreciate. The morning sun rising over a reasonably calm sea to the backdrop of the Australian dawn chorus. All too soon it was time to head back, as the rest of the camp was starting to stir.
Whilst on trips, individuals often develop routines, especially around the campsite. Some people are unable to sit still and have to get involved with every aspect of the food preparation, often to the frustration of the person who is actually cooking the meal. I am more than willing to allow people to get on a cook the evening meal, they normally do a much better job than I do but I am happy to prepare breakfast everyday, which was the position I found myself in that morning.
I enjoy the opportunity to reflect on what lies ahead and to have the opportunity to chat to people. In contrast to the evenings when most people are around the kitchen area, in the morning people usually arrive individually meaning that the experience is much more personal. So that is one of the reasons I found myself preparing porridge on the south side of Sunday Island.
We were away reasonably promptly but the sea, which had been so calm on my dawn walk was starting to reflect changes in the weather. The forecast had confidently predicted reasonably light winds. They just didn’t seem to be able to get it right though, the days we were on the water.
Almost as soon as we headed along the channel the wind picked up and it was either a headwind or on our beam. This had resulted in some interesting discussions about packing the kayaks. Distributing the weight depending upon the direction of the wind, in effect trimming the kayak to suit the conditions. In reality how often does the wind remain the same all day? I always recommend packing the same kit in the same place in the kayak so when you arrive on the beach and conditions are far from ideal it’s a matter of being able to go to the right dry bags straight away.
Crossing over the channel to Snake Island the wind increased even further and it was clear we were falling behind the proposed schedule. We stopped for lunch on a possible campsite, The Gulf, as we considered the options. Two further campsites we possible and we sensibly selected the closer of the two.
We arrived at Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park Just as the tide started to drop and managed to avoid the worst of the carry through the thick oozing mud. Tents were soon up and meal preparation underway. It hadn’t been a long paddle but it hadn’t been straightforward either. The wind proving a pretty constant adversary.
Paddling in this area is in complete contrast to the waters at home. The islands are low lying without any obvious physical features, resulting in quite challenging navigation. If you didn’t remain focused on your chart then establishing your location could be an issue.
I have to admit that I had never been that attracted by the idea of a visit to Australia. This was largely a feeling based on ignorance as opposed to a decision based on facts. Therefore, when I saw the International Sea Kayaking Educators Symposium advertised, I though this might just be the catalyst I needed to head towards the southern hemisphere.
What appealed about the Symposium and helped justify the hours spent on the aircraft reaching Melbourne, was the 4 day pre-symposium paddle. So with a degree of enthusiasm and some slight trepidation I signed up and booked my flights.
This was the story as to how I found myself standing outside the railway station at 06.00 on a cold Thursday morning in Frankston, to the south east of Melbourne. It is an interesting experience trying to identify other sea kayakers amongst the early morning commuters. The North Face bags and beards were a bit of a give away with the males!
So 6 prospective kayakers from 4 different countries found ourselves heading towards Port Albert. It was here that we met the other people who had taken advantage of the opportunity to participate in the 4 day paddle. In total there were about 20 of us, with a third from the UK, which I have to admit I found a bit surprising.
As with all trips some people were quicker than others at getting ready for departure, but straight after lunch we were ready to go. The big question was “Who had turned on the fan?” The early morning calm had been replaced by an entertaining breeze, which was significantly higher than forecast. Sitting still was not an option.
We fought our way west and south with a speed over the ground that most of the time was well below 2 knots. The wind was certainly taking its toll and producing a very low fun factor. Eventually after just over 5 nautical miles we decided to call it a day, the next possible camp site was quite some way off and so it was with some relief that we lifted the kayaks above the high water mark.
Not a glorious start to my Australian sea kayaking career but it was certainly an interseting experience and the relatively early finish allowed plenty of time to get to know the other people in the group.
What was even better was that the wind was due to drop off over night so as I dropped asleep on my first night in the Australian bush all my thoughts were positive.