Saturday, September 20, 2008

Kamay Botany Bay National Park

Today we decided to go for a walk. Our choice of destination was due to a discussion on the Tripadvisor boards on this park, which made me realise it's been decades since we ventured over that way. It's a pretty inconvient park from Macarthur really and I nearly pike out on going that far today, but hubby is keen. When he was kid you could get a ferry over from La Pa (ie La Perouse) so it's nostalgic territory for him. There is also a big redevelopment of Botany Bay National Park that started in the last year or so and we're curious to see how it's coming along.

We have a couple of errands this Sunday morning, but we finally get away sometime after 9am. It's M5 towards the city and then King Georges Rd, Tom Ugly's bridge and onto the Boulevarde before Captain Cook Drive whisks you past Shark Park (local footy club and field) to the national park itself.

There's a guy manning the entry, handing out leaflets warning visitors that national parks is planning a big crack down on people failing to "pay and display". Our ticket nicely decorating the dash we make our way into the park and I'm dazzled by the beautiful mature sandy country trees so typical of coastal sydney bushland. My absolute favourite native tree - Angophera Costata (Sydney redgum or according to the parks signs Smooth Barked Apple - though I've never heard ordinary people call it that) also the sentimental favourite Scribbly Gum (eucalyptus haemostoma). How I love scribbly gums, especially E. Haemostoma my old childhood friend.. Tall and thriving. My spirit sings to greet them and I am already glad we came. The air rings with beautiful birdsong. The tinkling chime of the Crimson Rosellas, and chattering of Eastern Rosellas and Noisy Mynas.

We park in the visitor or "discovery centre" carpark. The plans look great and there are boards up explaining what's being done. First cab off the rank we go inside the visitor centre for a quick squizz. It's all a bit of a shemozzle at the moment but people unaware of the history can still access some information boards and artifacts to do with Captain Cook and the first fleet. There's a movie theaterette which is playing some nature film that looks pretty irrelevant. We don't hang around in here long.
In front of the visitor centre (facing the bay) is a huge expanse of grass with beautiful big shady trees. Perfect for a traditional Aussie family picnic with a game of tennis ball cricket after lunch. We head down across the grass and I note that you'd certainly want to be wearing something on your feet here in the warmer months as the ground is an absolute carpet of bindii and other prickles. The view of the bay smacks us in the face. You look straight at the oil refinery. Not terribly inspiring. Hubby is happy to see Bare Island a short way across the neck of the bay and snaps a photo or two. Very fond of Bare Island is my hubby. He's a Botany boy.
We venture around the foreshore, trying to ignore the cargo ship mored just offshore. The waveless sandy beach is fairly narrow but the water is clear and looks inviting for paddling, though a bit rocky a little way out. There's a line of mature norfolk island pines along the waterfront and memorials periodically. We stop at the memorials to Sir Joseph Banks and Lieutenant James Cook (aka Captain Cook)... actually writing this brings to mind the old Aussie childhood rhyme. I wonder if I can remember it correctly:
Captain Cook chased a chook all around Australia, he jumped the fence and tore his pants and landed in Tasmania..... but I digress..
Moving on from Captain Cook we note the ferry waiting terminal under construction with a rustic character and the actual rock onto which the first ashore stepped which seems to have a plaque erected on it. Four oyster catchers are taking a nap on the rock, with their pitch black feathers and red bill and eye ring. Not far way is another construction zone where they are reinstating the original fresh water stream that ran into the bay at this spot and then putting a bridge across it. We walk past and head up hill and back towards the visitor's centre coming across a bark mulch path leading over the dune forest. Signs are placed to explain the work that is evident all about in this area. Exotic trees and plants are being removed to restore the original banksia forest. Hubby and I are thinking alike and he speaks my mind when he says, "we should come back in 10 years!"
Back at the car park we head off for our walk. We've grabbed a map from the information centre. Better than nothing but it's not much good really. We start out on the Muru track which is quite substantial, however after a short while we veer off along a walking track when I hear some variegated fairy wrens calling a way in. A short distance up this track I am rewarded with two male variegated wrens perching up in clear sight with the naked eye. Glorious! There's a lot of calling in the undergrowth also.
We climb over a dune hill and start to head down the other side, admiring the wildflowers in bloom. A sulphur crested cockatoo flies down low and glides along the path with a final upswing onto a branch overhanging the path and raises his crest with a quizzical look at us over his shoulder. The bushland here is pristine and the smell of this coastal forest takes me back to childhood in an instant. This is the same sort of bushland you get around Pittwater and the northern sydney beaches.
We're not real sure where we are going as the track we took is not marked on the map but after a time we come to an intersection with what I take to be the Yena track and speak briefly with a solo bike rider passing by.
She's not sure it's the Yena track but she thinks it may be. We turn in the opposite way to that suggested by hubby - he has a terrible sense of direction - and again after a short while we find a narrow post with an arrow on it suggesting we might like to turn up another narrow walking track. It's heading in roughly the way we want to go so we take a drink from our back pack and move along that way. As we travel we are greeted by a superb display of flannel flowers which supplement the various yellow pea flowers we have been enjoying along the way. The flannel flowers are as high as I am in places and clearly thriving. What a delight!

Eventually we emerge from the shade of the forest into the heathland and are greeted by glorious views across to La Perouse and up the eastern coastline. The picture below doesn't come close to doing the scene justice of course... but just as well, you surely want to experience it for yourself.. The heath is also abundantly flowering. Along with the flannel flowers (which are shorter here in the full sun) there are the yellow pea flowers, some blue lechenaultia (?) white pimelia type flowers and various heaths with their dainty white stars in densely packed columns.

Further along still we start to get the glorious rich crimson and white of the fuschia heath - epacris longiflora - packed with flowers and dotted all over the heathland. It is such a beautiful wildflower. There's also eriostemon with it's lovely starry white flowers. This is fantastic! When we set out I wasn't thinking about it being spring wildflower season again already. The New Holland honeyeaters are occassionally flitting over.
I never enjoyed heathland as a child. Forests were my thing and the deeper and shadier the better. Burning so easily in the sun was part of it I'm sure. As I get older I am finding I really enjoy the heathland and appreciate the delicate beauty of its wildflowers and dense green mosses. .. I still wouldn't be keen to walk through in the height of summer at this time of day though!
The path at this point is basically bare sandstone patches between the shrubbery. We start to see some decidedly industrial chimney stacks to the south, and then a huge storage tank of some sort. We can see the ocean so we are clearly heading in the right direction. Finally we come to a lookout and carpark with toilet facilities perched just behind some impressive cliffs. We have arrived at Cape Solander lookout. We spend a little time admiring the waves crashing on the rocks. Snap a few photos. A short sit at the picnic table in the whale watching shelter. A bit of a brief look at the whale identification charts. Then we're on the move again.
We choose to walk along the road to the Yena picnic area. The nicest aspect of this walk was the flowering tea trees bordering the road. The detour off the road slightly to look over the picnic area, which is shadeless and has ocean views. We thought it was pretty ugly, so we move on, heading up the Yena track when we come to it. This section passes through some tall trees on either side of the path. Still some wildflowers and tea tree. It's an immediate improvement on the main drag. We come to the intersection we passed earlier in our walk and head on down towards the visitor centre. There is a boardwalk with signs identifying some of the trees and shrubs so we follow that. Very pleasant and we enjoy it but it's not as beautiful as other parts of the walk. Back at the carpark, we take the drive out to Cape Solander to check it out from a vehicle perspective. We think the drive is pretty dull and the lookouts pretty average for coastal Sydney. From the road you would never guess the floral splendour hidden amongst the heathland or in the deeper parts of the bushland behind it. .... This is not the kind of landscape that is best appreciated at speed. If you didn't walk in this park you could be forgiven for wondering "why bother" but the walking was delightful.
We also saw some great birding sights along the way. Birds at nesting hollows and of course those fairy wrens. The beautiful call of spotted pardalotes and butcherbirds. All pretty special. We head off home for rest before lighting the barbie for dinner.. our appetites whetted by the smell of bbq smoke in the picnic grounds. We've been in the park for about 3 hrs I guess. I make a mental note to come back for a family picnic with the grandchildren.

PS the bbq dinner was delicious :o)