Sunday, 10 August 2014

Surprising Newcastle ... Part 1.

SUNDAY August 10th 
Newcastle/Hunter River........Part 1...
Pelicans on the wing to Newcastle. What a beautiful sight.
From Lake Macquarie it was an easy hop, skip and a jump, plus some sailing, to the coal port of Newcastle. On the way we spotted a lone whale having a lovely time tail slapping and, because we had time up our sleeves, decided to try and get a little closer if we could. Unfortunately, just as we'd decided that, a whale watching boat that had materialised nearby had the same idea and charged towards the hapless whale which then probably thought "stuff you" in its whaly ululations, and promptly buggered off. We did spot it again but again, so did they and again they churned the waters up in an attempt to get close. Finally the whale had had enough, took a breath and disappeared. Yeah, thanks to you in your big, scary peeny boat.

With the whale spotting ruined, we carried on towards Newcastle, a place that I wasn't expecting much from due to the fact that it's a coal town, and industrial. We entered the mouth of the Hunter River along with cargo ships, tugs and vessels of various size, speed and purpose. It is a busy port and so it pays to be on your toes.

The headland leading into the Hunter River/ Newcastle
Nobbys Head Light.
Fort Scratchley overlooking one of Newcastle's beautiful golden beaches
Christ Church Cathedral looming over the top of Queen's Wharf Tower - AKA The Giant Penis
Someone's idea of fun.... a deliberately lit fire along the river bank. I know this because I saw the guy light and run.
However, rather than heading straight up the business end of the river, we veered right and right again,  under the sweeping Stockton Bridge and into the river less travelled. The further we went, the more it seemed as though we were miles from anywhere as mangroves and wetlands hugged the river's edge. We found a quiet spot just past Smith's Island and near the mouth of Dunn's Creek and anchored in for a couple of very quiet days and nights.

Some of the entrances in the mangroves hid miles of creek. When we go back I would like to kayak down them
One word..... WOW.

On the 12th we upped anchor and ventured further up the river, just to see what we could see. We knew we couldn't go too far as the Hexham Bridge was in the way and so we dropped anchor again near Scott's Point on Ash Island.and lowered the dinghy. We felt like take away so we figured a dinghy ride to Hexham, find a shop... marvy. Along the way it became clear that this part of the river was an odd mix of industry and nature, with chimneys and cranes and wind turbines looking like giant steampunk flowers sprouting out from what seemed thick mangrove.
I would NOT like to be the owner of this particular boat. The pelicans LOVE IT!

Run down old jetty but home to at least one canny guy.
We pulled up alongside an old catamaran that was tied up at a daggy tumbledown jetty and clambered up onto the seemingly unsafe structure, watching out where we trod as some of the boards we missing. Upon making it safely to dry ground in what appeared to be a junk yard, we wandered off to find a shop but the nearest we came was a servo with a few stale looking pies and sausage rolls in the warmer. Close enough when you're hungry so we bought one of each and made our way back without looking around, since there seemed to be absolutely nothing to see except more junk yards. Back at the jetty we were greeted by a nice man named Phillip, and his big, boofy dog who had an obsession with chasing balls, sticks, rocks and just about anything that could be thrown. Phillip was the owner of the run down catamaran and he gave us several tips on how to live free along the river (on jetties and docks), loopholes to know to avoid the ire of the authorities, even getting to use facilities (where he was he had access to a workshop with electrical equipment and tools etc, which he was using to make the jetty safer and to work on his boat). He was a mine of information and his dog was adorable. Unfortunately  I didn't have my camera on me so I couldn't put the puppy's fluffy visage on the page.

After our informative chat, it was back to Venture for lunch and then a bit of an explore on Ash Island, which is part of the Hunter Wetlands National Park where there were a few ruins, an old radar station, wetlands and a beautiful native plant corridor. The weather was cool and the walk was flat and easy, along wide, well trodden paths and roads. It all seemed lovely for the first couple of kilometres. We lingered at the ruins of a house and poked about at the radar station.

Little did I know that shortly this gentle jaunt would turn into a full blown trek across bog and fields, all because of a little 'funny wenting' by Dave when a wrong turn was made on a path. Winding our way through ever narrowing tracks through the trees, it was fairly easy to assume that we perhaps weren't headed in the proper direction and it suddenly became glaringly obvious that that assumption was correct when the path came out of the stand of trees and opened up on a huge area of.... not a lot.

 In front of us was what could only be described as a swamp, but was more likely a low wetland (of course I found out later that it was indeed a swamp and part of the Salt Marsh Rehabilitation).

Underfoot was spongy and obviously deeper than it seemed as each footfall caused a deep divot behind us that slowly oozed back into place once we had taken a few more steps. The thick vegetation that had woven itself into a soggy carpet was really the only thing that stopped us from sinking into the quagmire. We kept as close as possible to the tree-line as we had no idea what it might be like further out. We could see the water lying around but I, for one, was not going to risk going knee deep in icky boggy water. I'm not that adventurous.

After about ten minutes of trudging through the mire and silently wishing a curse of a thousand itches in the underpants region of Dave's person, we came to a fence and a road, which was just as well because mutiny was definitely on my mind. I tested the ground nearest the road and once I found it was solid, almost all was forgiven. Setting off on solid ground, it was only a couple of minutes before I found that coming the way we did was actually a good thing in that it had brought me face to face with a paddock full of really friendly cows who all came over when I called them. The swamp was almost forgotten as I chatted to the gorgeous beasts and was rewarded with many a moo for my efforts.

 From there we found our way to the plant and wildlife corridor (thank goodness for Google Earth), which was filled with a lovely variety of native plants (I took many photos but just far too many to put here), all with descriptive plaques about their origins, what type of timber each tree produced (hardwood, softwood etc), what that timber or plant was used for and so on. It was a very interesting, if lengthy walk. From there we took a boardwalk through one of the many wetland areas until it came to a wide path alongside a creek.

The excellent board-walk (okay... steel-walk) :)
Just a bit more of that wonderfully colourful fungus

Just a tiny part of the wetlands on Ash Island. I wish I could have walked further.
An unusual sculpture under the ash trees.

A rare find... a feral hub from the genus Common Toyota Automobilus lying dormant in the undergrowth. This one appears to have been rejected by its parent and will likely not survive 
An absolutely gorgeous little Butcher Bird looking for a treat. This one was not afraid of us at all. :)
Nice toilets at Scott's point.

This was part of 'Scott's Walk' towards Scott's Point and Riverside Park. It was at about this time when it started to drizzle lightly but fairly relentlessly but speeding up wasn't an option as those bastardly knee goblins had begun to chip away at my knee caps after such a long trek, so slow and steady had to be the pace. All in all we had walked about 7km on dirt roads and paddocks, through swamps and wetlands, along tracks and boardwalks. It was nice to finally get back to the boat. In a couple of days we'll go to Newcastle proper but in the meantime....'oh my aching knees!'

Location: Newcastle NSW, Australia
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