4. Australia Road Trip: Curracarang? Think South Coast of NSW.

Good morning Magpie

Here Be Dragons

The dawn chorus is our alarm clock. In the warm, early morning mist that hangs in the gum forests around Bundeena, the birdlife is stirring. Australian magpies begin the reverie with their amazing flute-like warble. Then, from the depths of the forest comes the sound of distant laughter, joined soon by more cackling and kookooing until the ruckass is echoing through the branches. The kookaburras wake up the cockatoos who suddenly spook from their roosts in the big redgums with an ear-wrenching screech. The big white birds squawk madly in their morning frenzy, only to be joined in the melee by their smaller, colourful cousins, the insanely noisy rainbow lorrikeets. The effect of all of this avian nonsense on us poor, dozing humans is to wake us up and put huge smiles on our faces. Our van is little more than a glorified tent with it's canvas pop-top and mozzie-netted windows, so we are intimately involved in the aerial comedy show taking place.

Wattamolla

A markerGarie beach NSW -
Garie Beach, 2233, Australia
[get directions]

Wattamolla is the inlet a few miles north of Garie beach (A). Bundeena is a few miles further north of Wattamolla. It's all Royal National Park.

What a Mulla

Wattamolla: Aboriginal for "place near running water".
Wattamolla: Aboriginal for "place near running water".

Seven or eight miles later

However, we can't hang around, Australia is a big place. Out on the Bundeena Road we turn left at the at the T-junction and head south. Just beyond the expanse of bush on our left is the Pacific Ocean. The road runs along a high ridge, offering glimpses of the sea far below. A couple of miles down the road there is another turn off, sign posted to Wattamolla. This is a picturesque picnic spot in the National Park. There is a large carpark, tastefully hidden on terraces amongst the coastal scrub (if a carpark can at all be "tasteful"), a kiosk and picnic tables. The scene encompasses a sandstone rock platform overlooking a lagoon and a large sandy beach, all nestled in a wide gash in the coastal cliffs. Beyond the beach the sea is tumultuous and not really safe for swimming.

There is a trail at the top of the carpark that leads up an old firetrack into a low, prickly scrub. The trail is hard going in the heat - it is dusty, potholed and eroded by long-distant rains. The bush is impenertable here, all acacia and stunted sheoaks. At the top of the trail you are met by a wonderful panorama. A broad valley ends in Yellow sandstone cliffs that give way to turbulent blue ocean. At the bottom of the valley, perhaps a mile away, is a jagged inlet and a tiny sand beach. The trail down is unmarked, I find it through instinct and memory, this is one of my favourite 'secret places' from childhood.

Dragonland

Toward Curracarang
Toward Curracarang
Fishermans cave
Fishermans cave
Water dragon
Water dragon
A Dinosaurette
A Dinosaurette

Here be Dragons

The trail follows the sandstone cliff for a time then disappears into a bushy tunnel through the thick scrub. It may only be a mile, but in the heat it takes at least an hour to find our way to the beach. Welcome to Curracurang. There is nothing here anymore, save the remnants of some fishing shacks, long ago demolished by the Parks Authority. There's is however, a stream to follow, which leads up to the main attraction. There has been a drought and the stream is dried up, though we can see its course over flat rocks in the small dense forest that grows in the small gorge. At the head of the stream there is a cave. It is really a big overhanging ledge but there is evidence of sandstone block walls and lime mortar, and a manmade water trough to collect run-off is still there in the musty shadows of the overhang - those fishermen sure loved building shacks. We clamber over some rocks and there it is, the Curracurang Pool. Sadly, the drought has all but dried it up, and a stagnant, tea-coloured broth is all that remains. There is definitely no waterfall cascading over the sandstone cliff, splashing cool fresh spray over lush green ferns. It is hot, dry and crisp in the sheltered clearing. What we do see are water dragons. An army of them, sprawled about on the hot rocks like minature dinosaurs, the kings of this realm. They are a placid lot, and after a bit of fearful and slightly comical scurrying, the reptiles settle back down to doing what they can to keep their cold blood warm. The sounds of the bush waft around us. The whip-o-will calls, a magpie warbles, cicadas buzz like static and if we listen very closely, the ocean roars against the ancient coastline, barely a hundred metres from where we sit.

After a long, hot trek back up to the Wattamolla carpark we are once again driving south. We pass Garie Beach, one of the best surfing breaks on the coast. I surfed here as a teenager and have fond memories of the waves I caught. The road down to the beach is steep and winding and at the bottom there is a surf lifesaving club, a kiosk and a huge, not so tasteful, asphalt car park which wasn't there when I was kid.

Further on and the road dips down into a spectacular rainforest. The gum trees are tall down in the valley, pushing their leafy, top branches as high as possible towards the sun. Huge tree ferns, stag horns and "Tarzan" vines decorate the trunks, a river bubbles over boulders and sunlight filters through the foliage, casting an electric green hue across dappled shadows.

Further on and we burst out of the rain forest at Stanwell Tops to the sight of one of Australia's most iconic views. In the hazy distance, the South Coast of New South wales extends as far as the eye can see, past golden beaches, rocky headlands, plunging mountains and the hazy fug of the city of woollongong... it all lies before us on this mighty road trip.

The road ahead

The View from Bald Hill - Stanwell Park, Woollongong and the rest of South eastern Australia - here we come.
The View from Bald Hill - Stanwell Park, Woollongong and the rest of South eastern Australia - here we come.

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