The Biggest Stingray Ever

The biggest stingray. It was a little sad to leave our new friends Arthur and Olive. The last 5 weeks of our Travel Australia house-sitting had been a lot of fun. We expected to enjoy their company and we were not disappointed. While we may be separated by a generation, we will miss Olive’s cheery if not necessarily musically uplifting singing and Arthur’s friendly “paper boy” when he brings in the papers every morning.

Bruce and Diane were almost recovered from the jet lag and they were there so see us off on another adventure, Bruce champing at the bit to get on the ‘ride-on’ mower and frustrated by the rain. I was pleased too that Bruce was keen to get a Diary of The Universe poster for his grandson who is teenaged and interested in science.

I had managed to complete the research and publish another article (link opens in a new window) … How to Make a Galaxy…but the task is enormous, 300 essays. Fortunately I still have nearly two years to reach my self-imposed and overly optimistic finish line.

The run South East from Bowral, even at this late hour (after 10am) engendered the feeling of excitement that all ‘going-on-holidays’ moments bring, a sense of adventure and joy that I doubt we will ever lose. It had been raining on and off all morning which had become normal over the last few weeks but I’m not sure if that is standard issue for Bowral at this end time of the summer season.

bowral to batesman

Within half an hour we were plunging down the range into Kangaroo Valley. This is not a difficult drive but in the rain with a ton of trailer, as I described it before, a cross between a blue heeler and a rhino, relentlessly trying to pass us like it was a race to the bottom, let’s just say it was ‘interesting’.

down the kangaroo

All the ‘it’s beautiful’ comments about Kangaroo Valley came true beginning with the dramatic entrance to the village and the picturesque countryside. It is definitely on the radar for a return visit. kangaroo bridgeWith the urge to keep moving on our first day back on the road and the rain, we decided to roll on and out of the valley with an eye to finding an early camp not too far away. Now that I think about it, logic suggests if we spent so much energy getting down into the valley, the only way out would be the reverse and to our chagrin, we were soon to find out just what that meant.

on the hill

The Google photo belies the steepness of the road and we were certainly in no position to be thinking about taking snaps. It was like climbing a wall only steeper. Within a couple of kilometres we were down to first gear and the engine of our GLV (game little van) was screaming, well maybe not screaming but certainly not contentedly humming either. We were able to crawl along and soon got used to the concept that we were not going to topple backwards out of our seats but what was totally unexpected was the effect on our new clutch, so meticulously fitted just a few short months ago.

We noticed the smell first, a reminder of our scary November climb last year, dodging trucks as we crawled up the range towards Ballina with screaming engine and smoke pouring out from under the van as the clutch disintegrated. This is not a smell that is soon forgotten and today it was back.

I had no choice but to reduce the engine revs and hope we kept rolling because we wouldn’t have the power to start again if we stopped. Fortunately we kept rolling the last 200 metres until we hit level ground and pulled over to have a little think about what just happened, or nearly happened.

Clearly we had done some damage so the rest of the day was filled with concern, but fortunately, despite a few false indicators, there was no more significant slippage, but the damage was done. The clutch must have been so hot the surface melted, that is, glazed over creating a near perfectly smooth surface that will never have the same grip again. Negative thoughts were washed away when we arrived in Batehaven a few hours later.

This village is two or three kilometres  south of the better known Batemans Bay. We drove along the foreshore to a small park where we saw a caravan parked right on the beach front.

(We would have to consult Captain Cook’s log to see if the missing apostrophe is his fault or some latter-day illiterate.)

The caravan lady owner (by the name of Maree, a doppelganger for another Maree we knew in Townsville who, with her husband John, owned a 60’ boat just along the jetty from our beloved Gunchaser) revealed that they were locals and intended to stay in their van overnight.

It turned out Maree and Phil owned (past tense) a local glass business and they were in transition to new buyers. You can imagine her reaction when we answered her question about what we used to do. While their business may not have been as large or complex as our factory, it was obviously a neat and profitable concern. The caravan turned out to be a new toy and they were giving it a test run, not a mile from home.

Maybe it’s my contumacious nature but we parked our little outfit next to the ‘no camping’ sign and put out the awning, table and chairs. Soon we were joined by other travellers, Linda and Ashly in a 4WD with a piggyback sleeper unit and soon after that by a couple of station wagons and a guy on a bicycle.

This happy little community that was forming around us created some interesting conversations that lasted until late in the afternoon / early evening and were so informative Julie barely had time to use up some of her words left over from the previous day.

batehaven beach front

What a joy it was to sleep with the sounds of waves breaking on the shore and the cries of the circling sea birds not 50 metres away, more so to wake to an amble across the road to get the newspaper.bateman bay 02

Day two was a pleasant drive further down the coast to Mossy Point which we had been reliably informed had a boat ramp with a quiet but interesting aspect. This is without doubt the shortest drive we have taken between overnight stops, a bare 16 kilometres. It took very little time to find the boat ramp once we arrived so we were set up by lunch time, a new record for us. mossy point 07

The best spot this time wasn’t actually right under the ‘no camping’ sign, but a grassy levelish area about 20 metres away with a view across the small river to the wave breaking on the sandy bar just a few hundred metres further along.

mossy point camp site

The boat ramp was well used, accommodating the trailers of a half dozen local lads out for the day and a small boatshed where another enterprising local had set up a kayaking business.mossy point boat shed and ramp

In conversations later he told us that his main customer base was groups of pupils from schools as far away as Canberra and in fact the following morning, it was indeed a group of school girls from Canberra milling about on a return visit.

Beside the ramp was a small jetty which was a convenient viewing platform to see the local residents (mostly the feathered variety) waiting for the return of the fishermen.mossy point 08

As the evening closed in, the fishermen returned, confidently heading up between the red and green buoys under power, right to the ramp. One very flash outfit was sporting a black marlin flag we recognized from the annual marlin fishing events in North Queensland.

It was not only the birds that were eagerly awaiting their arrival. Cruising by on patrol every 15 minutes we encountered the largest stingray we’d ever seen.

I’ve seen a huge manta ray leaping from the water, over the swimming enclosure net in Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island and I’ve seen plenty of stingrays, but not one this big. The boat ramp treads are 300mm wide so as you can see in the video, this ray is about 1.5 metres across.

By the time all the boats had returned and the kayaks put to bed, all was quiet except for a half dozen grey-haired mates who had been working out on a 6-man surf boat and really looked like they needed the carton what was fast disappearing.

Mossy Point is a relatively low headland with a typical picnic point above the waves, a short climb from the boat ramp area. A very good place to sit and breathe in the peace and the soft background wash of the waves relentlessly grinding the rocks into sand.mossy point 03

Late into the day, a newish 4WD arrived carrying two shy German guys who parked opposite us against the hillside below the headland. We didn’t get into conversation but exchanged a wave and nod of recognition of our shared complicity in the crime of camping. It was another very peaceful night, waves lulling us to sleep and virtually no other sound to disturb us.

Our Thursday morning dawn chorus was not the chirping of birds or the song of the magpie, it was the rattle of a boat slipping off the trailer and the roar of the 4WD engine as it pulled back up the ramp. Maybe not as melodic as magpies, but to the ears of these travellers, it was just as welcome. There is something in the sounds on a boat ramp that stirs memories of the promise of a day’s fishing, the smell of the sea and the dismissal of everyday worries.

Before we got under way, the Germans had already decamped. We pulled up near the ramp to take on some fresh water for our shower resources and got chatting to the aforementioned owner of the kayaks who was waiting for his promised batch of school girls from Canberra. He drew our attention to the feeding activities of the resident stingray.  It looked to me like the fisherman had taken two huge fillets and the ‘sword’ leaving the rest in the channel late yesterday (presumably) and which had drifted back to the ramp.

marlin carcassI don’t think it was going to last too long in that environment but it still left a twinge of unresolved social responsibility.

With no more time to sit around, we took up arms for our battle with the hills between us and where ever we would end up tonight. Of our trips so far, this is a particularly desultory tantivy with no more parameters than that we stick to the coastline until we reach Melbourne. One thing for certain, today would certainly be more than the miserly 16 kilometres we  covered yesterday.

Along the way, we had an appointment in Bermagui for lunch. Well, that’s a grand name for a visit to the bakery there, but we did meet up with Neil (unpaid labour) and Dave (the sculptor) erecting works of art on and by the beach for the week-long festival in the town.

bermgui sculptures

It turned out to be a long and slightly frustrating day trying to find a free camp for the night. We met some people from Townsville having a chill-out in a park at the mouth of the Bega River and expressed our frustration at the proliferation of ‘no camping’, ‘no overnight staying’, ‘no sleeping’ signs, most of which are entirely contrary to public policy of getting tired drivers to stop and have a sleep.

They suggested a potential free camp a little further along the road which we took on board despite having already travelled further than we ‘planned’ for the day. The site was not really to our liking and we made the decision to look up Wikicamps by downloading the app.

This turned out well as we ended up in the Rotary Lookout Park in Eden having covered 188 kilometres for the day, essentially putting us one day ahead of our schedule to arrive in Melbourne on the 8th of March.Eden 01

The park was at the top of a very steep hill and in fact Eden is another word for steep hill, but I might have made that up. It was mid-afternoon and we looked like the only ones who planned to stay more than half an hour. It had been a warm day, moderately overcast but clearing and the sea breeze was welcome.

We cased the joint for a while to see if we could find a level spot to park but I suspect level spots are at a premium everywhere in Eden. At any rate, we did choose eventually as visitors to the lookout came and went.

Eden 02

We’d hardly sat down when another van pulled in behind us and out tumbled two excitable French girls who immediately zeroed in on the closest thing to ‘mum’ they had seen for a while. Before I knew it, all three were engrossed in conversation that seemed to cover the finer points of cooking, what was being prepared for tonight and other things that are not in my orbit. Mercifully they left me to my own devices and probably I wouldn’t have understood anyway.

After a little while, a use was found for me giving some minor advice on getting their van somewhere close to level. Although my usefulness was now at an end, the conversation turned to travel and other subjects I understood.

I was surprised to see mixed into the armada that was gradually filling the car park, our shy German neighbours from Mossy Point with whom I exchanged a wave of recognition and a brief salutation.

Despite the sloping terrain about 9 more campervans and two hardy travellers on bicycles made the most of the park and even set up a couple of tents. Of course the bicycle guys also had tents and all was well with the world this Friday night, a very cosmopolitan world it was too.

There were girls and guys from France, Germany and I guess several other places and someone was playing a mean guitar. Conversations were a little too excited when I woke up at midnight, but this no doubt was fuelled by some lubricating liquids and their eagerness to swap stories and possibly some DNA.

Eden 03

Over breakfast we talked blogs with Cassandra and Sandy who seemed interested to see if I was kind to them in my scribbles. They teamed up in Australia, Cassie having been here for some 18 months and both were working their way around the country. It was fun to meet them and will make our short stay in Eden all the more memorable.

Over a shared breakfast the next morning we said our goodbyes and hugs for ‘mum’. It was day three already. You can forward this article to a friend, assuming you have one, by clicking on the little envelope below.

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