South West Arm, Port Hacking
January 28, 2012.
This summer we have been spending our Saturday afternoons gradually
exploring the local waterways, making our way around the fringes of
Port Hacking. From the map, there’s nearly fifty kilometres of
coastline along the perimeter of Sydney’s Southern Harbour. With wide
expanses of safe clear water, we’ve slowly been building up the
conditioning and balance for bigger trips in the future while
exploring the fringes of the Royal National Park.
Swallow Rock isn’t the closest put in place for a trip to South West
Arm, but it’s close to home, there’s lots of parking, and as a
starting point it positions you for a meandering paddle along the
Southern coast of Port Hacking, past Dark Bay and Carruthers Bay on
your way to Gogerleys Point and the entrance to South West Arm.
After months of rain and recent flooding which had closed the Audley
Wier, the outflow from the Hacking River was running brown with silt,
but as we pushed out along the harbour, the brown water gave way to
the clear blue waters flushing in from the sea. I recalled a
conversation with Bert L about the Hacking being one of the shortest
rivers in NSW and how it’s rapidly flushed clean by the tides. A
pleasant change for anyone who spent winter training on the George’s
(Expect a bit of boat traffic along the way, the deep water channel
across from Lilli Pilli and proximity to the open sea bring out some
of the bigger cruisers, so this is probably not a route for K1
paddlers or others uncomfortable with boat wash.)
As we rounded Gogerleys Point and turned into the bay that leads into
the arm, the entrance to the more protected waters wasn’t immediately
obvious. Double-checking the map, I found myself wondering as I often
do about what these twisted waterways must have appeared like to the
first settlers, exploring without existing maps or man made landmarks
as reference points.
Abandoning the shoreline briefly, we made a straight run due-south
across open waters towards Gooseberry Bay and the line of boats moored
in the sheltered waters beyond. Even the power boaters seemed willing
to respect the tranquility of this inaccessible sanctuary and had
slowed to a cruising speed.
We pushed further up the arm hopeful of finding a point too narrow or
shallow for noisome powerboats. A couple of distant beaches and grassy
points looked promising as lunch spot, but as we got closer, the sandy
beaches resolved into mud flats, and the grassy banks became swampy
There’s something spiritual about the visual sensation of gliding
effortlessly across shallow clear waters on a sunny afternoon. Seeing
the bottom race inches beneath the bow seems to enhance the sense of
speed and if you match your paddle speed carefully to the glide speed
of the boat, you can engage a near silent stealth mode, where only the
slight ripple of the bow line and the swish of the exiting paddle
punctuate the silence.
Probing further up the tranquil creek, a detour through some willows
on the left bank and into a side tributary took us to a small stream
running down through a rockfall. If my post trip map reading is
correct, this would be the point where Saddle Gully joins the South
West Arm Creek. It would probably be a nice secluded place for a lunch
stop, but here too recent floods and high water had left an uninviting
raft of floating forest debris floating across the base of the
waterfall and the flat grassy banks were boggy and uninviting.
Pushing back out into the wider waters of the main creek, we spotted
some other sea kayakers who had paddled into the arm from Maianbar,
seeking a lunch spot in the sun like us. A quick wave, “nice day for
it” and the joking response “we only have enough sandwiches for
ourselves” before we turned off and continued along the Creek.
As the creek reaches its origin, it narrows quickly and the banks
become steeper, while still offering a few grassy beaches.
Unfortunately our relaxed exploration and slow pace meant that if the
grass was dry, it had already had a boat moored and picnicking family
firmly installed. Most of the banks were inviting but too cosy to
share with anybody but close friends.
Rounding the final bend, the jewel of the trip is the deep waters of a
deep pool overhung by tall sandstone cliffs. A site so tranquil that
you don’t mind sharing it with the few boaties that have made the long
slow trek up with their families. The creeks source runs down out of
the hills and into the pool across a shallow rock fall. There appeared
to be an easy walk up the creek bed and further into the gully, but
our time limit for the return trip meant we’d have to leave that
exploration for another day.
Foregoing the company of the boaties for a quieter lunch spot, we
headed back downstream looking for small beach we’d spotted a few
hundred metres back along the river.
Our backup lunch spot had been freshly occupied so with rumbling
stomachs, we took creative advantage of our kayaks ability to access
the inaccessible. Rafting up beneath a rocky overhang, standing up in
the boat and clambering onto a high ledge, we left the yaks tethered
to a rock with my towline and had our lunch on a warm dry flat sun
drenched ledge about eight feet above the water. The perch was
inaccessible enough to get a wave and a curious look from a passing
park ranger who clearly wondered how we’d made the leap.
Lunch over, my paddling partner discovered why I’d spent five minute
messing around with carabiners before following her up onto the ledge.
By clipping the two yaks side by side with carabiners through the deck
lines, we had a solid and stable platform when it came time to reverse
the ascent and drop back off the ledge again. Having successfully
mounted and dismounted the inaccessible ledge, we buttoned down the
spray decks a set off for home.
A fast running tide, some big cruisers and an easterly wind produced a
small irregular runners from Gogerleys Point to Lightning Point, a
welcome boost to our boat speed after a long exploratory paddle.
All up, the trip took us three and a half hours return with a relaxed
pace and a stop for lunch. Total distance is around 19km return
although it could be shortened to 10km return if you put in at Maianbar
rather than the more distant Swallow Rock.