Stage 15 - Nadgee-Howe Wilderness Walk

Wonboyn to Little River

We awoke to a crisp sunny morning, feeling very "toey" and eager to resume our walk after our four day layover at Wonboyn. Our respective shins were still a bit sore, but we had to go - there was a 3-day window of opportunity with the fine weather and our daughter Robyn and her husband, Salim, would be waiting for us in Mallacoota, 60 km to the south.

For the first time we zipped the long legs on to our shorts and wore a warmer top as we loaded up our packs with full camping gear and headed off from the cabins toward the coast, quickly cutting through a small stretch of private land to pick up the Lookout Trail in Nadgee Nature Reserve. This well-formed dirt fire trail led us up and over a long ridge through a dry sclerophyll forest. Eventually the road descended down to the lush vegetation along the Merrica River. We crossed a deep dark pool in the river on an old suspension footbridge to reach the Merrica River Ranger Station. We had already walked 9 km to reach the official start of the Nadgee Wilderness Track.

Fire trail to Nadgee

Suspension bridge at the Merrica River

Reflections in the Merrica River

We topped up our water and commenced the steady 4 km climb up another fire trail along a spur to just below Tumbledown Mountain, stopping to chat near the top with a couple of mountain-biking fishermen (or were they fishing mountain-bikers) who were riding out from Newton's Beach.

To the west the view through the trees was of a long ridge covered in eucalypts and to the east, we had glimpses from time to time of the sea between the trunks of the tall trees and underbrush. Finally we crossed the ridge and started a steep winding descent that brought us back to the coast at the northern end of Newton's Beach.

Forest near Wirra Burra Creek

The road however kept away from Newton's, heading south to cross a small creek. At the creek a walking track led us through the dense understorey, with woody vines and other rainforest vegetation making an appearance, before finally bringing us out at cool, fern-lined Wirra Burra Creek near the southern end of the beach. Either side of the ford were deep clear pools in the creek, so we took the opportunity to top up our water and fill some more bottles for the evening. Just beyond the creek the track opened into a grassy clearing, surrounded by lush dense forest, the camping area at Newton's and a perfect spot for a late lunch and rest.

Clearing in the forest behind Newton's Beach
Back on the track again, we climbed up out of the beach flats and continued south through thickets of paperbark. We could hear the waves on the nearby shore below the low cliffs, but rarely saw the sea. If there were one word to describe this whole first part of the walk, it would be "enclosed", as most of it was spent beneath a canopy of trees or tall shrubs. Even where the canopy opened as we passed through a head-high mixed heath of banksias, acacias, hakeas, tea-trees and casuarinas, the plants intruded from the sides across the narrow track.

It became a guessing game as to which shrub would next spread out across our path; would we smell the lemon scent of the tea-tree leaves as we brushed them aside - very nice, or the caress of soft casuarina needles - not bad at all, or the 2 cm long spines on the end of a stiff woody hakea branch - very, very bad!

A glimpse of the ocean over the heath

Passing through a hakea thicket

The track crossed a series of small dry creek beds before finally descending to the Little River Estuary where we planned to stay for the night. Rounding the corner at the estuary, we were overjoyed to find a beautiful campsite on the edge of the lagoon overlooking the sandbar to the ocean beyond. Finally the landscape had opened up for us.

Late afternoon at Little River Estuary

Looking south from the beach at Little River

We felt content; we had covered 22 km, climbing over two ridges, to reach our campsite, and, despite some soreness, our shins were holding up. In the late afternoon light, the still waters of the lagoon reflected the luminous green of the surrounding vegetation. Past campers had set up a quasi-permanent site with wooden benches and stone tables around a fireplace. We soon had a fire going and, not long after sunset, were sitting back comfortably sipping our coffee as we watched the full moon rising up out of the Pacific Ocean, its rays reflected in the still lagoon waters. Some moments should last forever.

Camp at Little River

Moon rise over the lagoon

Little River to Lake Wau Wauka

Overnight a cloud band had moved across and we awoke to an overcast sky. After breaking camp, we crossed the beach at Little River, before climbing up once again into the paperbark and banksia forests that lined the coastal cliffs. After a few kilometres, we turned inland to follow an old disused dirt road toward Harry's Hut on the Nadgee River. We decided to do this rather than stick to the coast after talking to Rick, a solo walker heading south to north and who passed by our campsite at Little River the previous evening. He had advised us that fresh water was plentiful there and we needed to fill up our containers again.

As we headed inland, eucalypts again became dominant and the forest was taller. Finally we reached the ford at the Nadgee River, lined with a luxurious vegetation, including dense ferns and vines. The extra weight of the water in our packs was noticeable as we crossed the river by crawling across a fallen tree trunk, but soon we were greeted with the welcome sight of Harry's Hut in a tiny clearing, a reminder of a failed farming venture in this wilderness area that was abandoned over 60 years ago.

Creek bed vegetation

Lush fern-filled river flats

Nadgee River

Crossing Nadgee river

The track from Harry's Hut soon turned back toward the coast, the vegetation becoming drier and less lush as we headed away from the river. Finally, it emerged on the edge of Nadgee Moor, where the forest suddenly gave way to a large area of low coastal heath. The track then turned due south in a straight line across the moor. Small white everlasting daisies, and the red, white and pink bells of epacris provided a dash of colour to the flat green of the heath as we passed by.

At Harry's Hut

Grassy clearing in the forest

Heading south across the heath of Nadgee Moor


The track across the heath turned east and brought us out on a wild isolated section of beach and the sand bar blocking off Nadgee Lake. The view back over the lake, with its resident flock of black swans, to the blue silhouette of the mountains behind it made it a perfect lunch stop. There had been a lunar eclipse two nights earlier and the conjunction of sun and moon led to monster tides, which, from the patterns in the sand, had flowed over the bar and into the lake. We were glad to pass by on a low tide.

Back to the sea again

Black swans on Nadgee Lake

Nadgee Lake and the Pacific Ocean

Track through low heath on Endeavour Moor

Leaving the lake, we climbed up on to Endeavour Moor, where the track became increasingly tenuous as it wound its way through heath that ranged from shin-high to head-high. We were glad that we were wearing long-legged trousers on this stage; the woody heath plants would be merciless on bare legs. Nadgee Wilderness is renowned as a stronghold of the rare ground parrot, but we only saw one, on Endeavour Moor, as we crossed. This made us realise how privileged we were to have had several encounters with these secretive birds during the lighthouse to lighthouse walk the previous week.

In the windswept mid-height heath

Emerging from a crawl through a paperbark thicket

As we approached Cape Howe, the track became increasingly vague and we had to concentrate hard to remain on it; the punishment for losing the track risked being very severe in this dense heath. Several weeks earlier, a ranger had commented about crawling through paperbark thickets at stages of this walk and we had thought he was exaggerating. He wasn't! Finally, we emerged from the last dense thicket to the Bunyip Hole, a pleasant little waterhole and camping spot in a depression between the moor and the coastal dunes. At the Bunyip Hole we had a quiet celebration; the sun had emerged for a brief spell and we realised that, earlier on, we had passed the 600 km mark of our walk.


The Bunyip Hole

Climbing over the banks of the depression, we descended at last to the beach; across the rolling breakers to the south, the sun shone on the massive sand dunes, up to 40 m high, of Cape Howe. Climbing up into these dunes from the beach, Nello spotted the tracks of a dingo heading south. We followed them and they led us across the cape to where a small cairn of stones and slightly crooked concrete pillar marked the border between New South Wales and Victoria. Stepping onto Victorian sand for the first time, we reached another milestone in our walk. We had left Nadgee and were now in Croajingalong National Park.

Cape Howe - where the east coast of Australia turns into the south coast

The New South Wales - Victoria border
at Conference Point

Nello follows the dingo tracks across the dunes

40 m high sand dunes

Crossing Cape Howe

For the first couple of kilometres the Victorian coast comprised a rock shelf with a stone-covered shore line, but finally emerged onto a broad sandy beach. Curiously, the beach appeared to have no defined edge as it flowed seamlessly into the dunes behind. We walked quickly along the beach for the last three kilometres, as the sun was sinking close to the horizon.

Dunes and rock platform near Conference Point

Stony foreshore south of Cape Howe

Start of the 20 km long Big Beach

Early evening at Lake Wau Wauka

Our last night of the walk

Finally, a gap in the dunes announced the entrance of Lake Wau Wauka, a beautiful freshwater (slightly brackish) coastal lagoon. We entered the gap, followed the shore of the lake around to another beautiful campsite, under the banksias and overlooking the lake. As at Little River, other campers had left a quasi-permanent site with seat, timber for a table and fireplace and, with just enough light to set up our tent and get the fire going, we soon found ourselves relaxing after a hard 18 km slog through some difficult terrain. The rest of the walk promised to be much easier and, as we watched the flames dancing in the fire, we contemplated the fact that this was the last night of our adventure.

Lake Wau Wauka to Mallacoota

The morning of the last day of our adventure had arrived. Alternate patches of cloud and sun were reflected in the still waters of Lake Wau Wauka as we prepared to head off and the emotions we felt were similar, fluctuating between satisfaction and even amazement at being about to complete our adventure to a palpable sense of regret that it was soon about to end. Certainly to complete a 60 km walk across the Nadgee-Howe wilderness in 3 days would be an achievement that we could not have done at the beginning of the walk.

Ahead lay a 20 km walk along the broad sandy beach that would lead us to our final destination at Mallacoota. Given the contentment that we have felt when walking alone along the many isolated stretches of sand, with only the sea, the wind and the seabirds for company, this seemed an entirely appropriate way to finish our adventure.


Early morning at Lake Wau Wauka

A last view of Lake Wau Wauka and Howe Hill

Heading out from the campsite, we noticed that fresh dingo tracks had appeared overnight. The dingo led us all the way to Telegraph Point, where Gabo Island and its lighthouse most closely approach the mainland. Passing it we realised that we had just completed the "Lighthouse to lighthouse to lighthouse walk". Occasionally, the sun would emerge from the clouds to bathe a particular patch of distant dunes in a pale golden light against the dark cloud-covered sky to the south.

Gabo Island lighthouse a few kilometres offshore

One last long meditational walk on an isolated beach

A flock of pied oyster-catchers accompanied us for the next few kilometres, until we noticed a post indicating the track in to Lake Barracoota and decided to go in and top up our supplies from its pristine fresh water. It was a good decision, for the superb panorama of this beautiful lake, with its mountain backdrop and foreground of deep, high and untouched sand dunes was totally unexpected. The south coast had offered us one last pleasant surprise in this landscape - part desert, part high mountain valley.


Temporary lake caused by the king tide overflowing the beach at Telegraph Point


Lake Barracoota

Waiting in the dunes

Sand dunes near Lake Barracoota

We returned to the beach from the high dunes of Barracoota and continued our long beach ramble southward. As we were drawing level with Tullaberga Island, a couple of kilometres offshore, two distant figures emerged from around the point and slowly headed toward us; Robyn and Salim had walked out from Mallacoota to join us for the final 10 km. We hadn't seen them for over three months so it was a joyful reunion with hugs and handshakes all round.

Robbo and Salim arrive from the south

The walkers arrive from the north

... and then there were four
The last 10 km

At last ..... Mallacoota Inlet

The remaining 10 km went very quickly; we walked and talked and joked and laughed and this last leg together seemed like a celebration of our walk. As we were crossing the sand bar blocking Mallacoota Inlet, a pair of sea-eagles flew by, circled and, bidding us a final farewell, flew off. Then suddenly we were there; the last long stretch of beach had ended at the rock face of Bastion Point at Mallacoota. Robbo drew a line in the sand and together we crossed it. After 12 weeks and 650 km, as simply and quietly as it had started, the Great South Coast Walk was over.

650 km - the end of the walk