Oh, my, so behind on the travelogue! Let me try to summarize our two weeks along the South Coast after we left Ulladulla/Kings Point. The photos above are of the gorgeous beaches in and around Mystery Bay. Our friend Maggie Brady let us stay in her wonderful summer house there, and we liked it so much we stayed for almost two weeks! Mystery Bay is about 10 km from Narooma, the biggest town in the area. It is very popular with Canberrans–3 hours away–as a place to escape the inland heat and, if fortunate enough, to buy a getaway house. Maggie and her late husband Alan were able to buy their house many years ago, when the prices were not so impossible. She has been very generous in allowing us to stay here. We like it because, unlike so many other houses that Australians build along the coast, it really is in the bush, designed to be unpretentious but functional, and it blends into the landscape. (It was designed by a German, and you can tell!)
The only drawback: there is no internet, no cell phone, no shops in Mystery Bay! It really is, then, a getaway, but not conducive to long-time stays, unless one figures out how to get some reception. A lot of the time we would walk up the hill, and then could make a phone call, and we had a portable WiFi device that worked some of the time. This was indeed a good place to be for the lamentable period of the inauguration and the first disastrous weeks of the new U.S. presidency.
We saw some animals that we rarely had seen in the past: at 1080 Beach, the beautiful beach shown above, swamp wallabies roam calmly, undisturbed by people. And for me, most excitingly, ECHIDNAS are all over the place! I think we had only seen one echidna in the wild before this:
In case you wonder what an echidna is, they are one of only 5 monotremes in the world–that is, egg-laying mammals–including the platypus. Covered in spines, somewhat like a hedgehog, they will curl up in an impenetrable ball if harassed. They appeared in the front garden in Mystery Bay, sniffling around the vegetation, in the late afternoon.
As for the reason Mystery Bay is so named, here is the explanation, on a plaque at the beach:
The prevailing suspicion is that they were done in by miners who didn’t want to pay their assessed taxes!
Along with gorgeous beaches and fabulous fish, the South Coast region around Narooma includes temperate rain forests, at least one of which has been tended by the State Forestry Division. It provides a magical walk through fern gullies and feathery palms.
Because of the lack of internet at our digs, we spent a lot of time at the Narooma Public Library–we weren’t the only ones! The place was buzzing with activity, from children’s reading hour to art presentations. Public libraries–the last openly free service to the public. A godsend to the communities they serve! And here, outside the windows, I could watch the lorikeets sitting in the most beautiful grevilleas.
In our search for affordable housing–remember, that was part of the original purpose for making this trip–we had been advised to check out Bermagui, where we had been told old Canberra lefties were starting to retire, so there was a livelier cultural scene than its earlier phases could provide. This is the town made famous by Zane Grey, who discovered it as a gateway to magnificent deep-sea fishing. We had visited the place often when we lived in Canberra. Somehow, we were not impressed. The wonderful old Bermagui Hotel is so tarted up it was virtually unrecognizable from its previous appearance as a small-town gem of a hotel, and we really didn’t see much of a cultural buzz anywhere. Never mind, our friend Tonia did introduce us to an amazingly good gelato shop there. Prices for housing were a little bit lower than further north up the coast (we did find that as soon as the rail line ended in Nowra, the prices of real estate began to drop)–but still fairly high for our tastes.
Finally, we decided to drive down to Mallacoota, in nostalgic recognition of a family expedition of many years ago. When we were beginning our work on The Blue Guide in about 1992, we were in Melbourne, and were advised to visit the most isolated point in Victoria at Mallacoota. Max, at 10, was with us when we set off to go there. We thoroughly miscalculated the amount of time the drive would take (this was in the days before Google Maps). As it became apparent that we were still hours from our destination, Max began to whimper from hunger. By the time we got to our hotel, it was absolutely pitch dark out and there were NO places open that had food. The clerk at our hotel suggested we visit the golf club, which might still be open. We made a beeline there, arriving just as they were closing. They let us have a prawn cocktail, which Max promptly devoured, and then immediately fell asleep. In memory of this occasion we did revisit the golf club, only to find mediocre food at exorbitant (to us) prices. But there were still kangaroos on the golf course!
We had a splendid time in Mallacoota–stayed in a lovely AirBnB apartment on Bottom Lake, a bit to the south of the village proper. The village is indeed isolated, reached from Princes Highway after a winding 13-km. road. According to Wikipedia, its year-round population is 970, a figure that swells to 8,000 in the summer. An enormous campground dominates the town. But the area is just stunning, with flocks of rare grey-headed flying foxes (they weren’t in residence when we were there, but we went to a very informative and well-attended talk about them, put on by the University of the Third Age, a very active group of older residents of the area), and magnificent gum trees. The larger image below is of the most venerable Mallacoota Gum, of which there are only 38 individual specimens left.
But our biggest excitement in Mallacoota came on a walk through the Croajingolong National Park, a section of which skirted the lake where we were staying. After a nice but rather uneventful trek up to The Narrows of the inlet, we were walking back to the car, when George yelled, “Erika, get your camera out quick!” There in our path was an enormous goanna–at least 4 feet long, and flicking out his tongue furiously.
We kept our distance until he finally galumphed off to the water. We had never seen such a goanna so close by! They are apparently quite common in this national park. Very exciting.
After two days in this little corner of Victoria–far too isolated to consider moving there permanently–we headed out up the Monaro Highway for Canberra. The South Coast is a beautiful merging of sea and forest, green and clear blue waters, and still rather removed from what passes as “modern” civilization. That has distinct advantages, but for those of us in need of some cultural institutions–and at least reliable internet–it really is too far (Narooma is 5 hours from Sydney, 8 hours from Melbourne, 4 hours from Canberra). Definitely worth a visit, and we are so thankful that we had the opportunity to stay there for a while.