“The sea or not the sea?”
That was the question churning through my brain, as I set out for my first solo kayak on the Hawkesbury proper. Let’s be kind and say I’m not a risk taker (there’s a reason I’m fond of chickens). And my canoe is properly vintage, made out of wafer-thin plywood back in the early 70s, and now held together by a rich tapestry of epoxy based products and amateurishly applied fibreglass. Don’t get me wrong – it was the best $100 I ever spent on ebay but our Egg is no ocean-going liner.
But setting off on a sunny Saturday morning with a light off-shore wind and a slack tide, I thought my decrepit boat and I might just be able to brave a three kilometre paddle along the widest reaches of the Hawkesbury Estuary, from Brooklyn’s Parsley Bay to Gunyah Beach in Kuring-gai Chase national park.
About midway across the 700 metres at the mouth of Porto Bay, I realised the weird rise and fall of the boat was swell, a new and disturbing experience for me as a canoeist. Well, it was either swell or the kayak was being regularly nudged sideways by bull sharks. Either way, I was not happy. It didn’t help that the choppy water was full of floating branches, torn down by last week’s big winds. If the sharks didn’t get me, I’d be turned into a giant vegetarian shishkebab by a surfing pine tree. I was in the ocean, and it was scary.
Of course, the Hawkesbury “River” is, kinda, the sea – a flooded river valley that has its tidal limit a hundred kilometres or thereabouts from its mouth. Whenever I think about this, I imagine how strange it must have been for the people living on the plains that once stretched out from the current coastline under what is now the surface of the sea, as the ocean crept slowly up, over ten thousand years, claiming the valleys carved out by the river, pushing people before it into the hills. Now that’s really going into the unknown.
In the end, of course, I made my little paddle with no problems at all, apart from an annoying lack of photographic evidence that there was ever anything to fear. Gunyah Beach (boat access only) even had its own lounge suite on which an unnerved canoeist might rest and recover. I’m pretty sure the contractual obligation white-faced heron had just stood up after a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive as I arrived.
Stumbling through the mud around the beach-side lagoon, I found myself in a maelstrom of silvereyes and white cheeked honeyeaters. I’ve come to realise binaural hearing is a real asset for bird watching. With one dodgy cochlea I spent half my time whipping my head wildly from one side to the other to work out where the chirping was coming from. In the end taking random pictures of the bushes seemed the best way to avoid permanent neck injury. I was disproportionately pleased with the few photos that worked out. There’s something particularly delightful about the most minor victories over timidity and incompetence, even if you can’t convincingly frame pootling around in boats in your estuarine backyard as some kind of heroic feminist re-enactment of The Old Man and the Sea.