Living in Canberra we are blessed to have some of the world's best beaches within a few hours' drive. About five years ago, while sweating out a particularly hot summer, I set myself an ambitious quest to set foot on every beach between Wollongong and the Victorian border.
Sure, the Yowie family has our favourite patrolled beaches like Mollymook and Broulee, but since declaring my quest, on every weekend or summer escape to the coast, we attempt to discover at least two "new" beaches - the only restriction is that they must be off the beaten track. These are those sun-drenched stretches of sand and secret coves that aren't on the tourist maps and which locals often keep the details of (very) close to their chest. Believe it or not, there are more than 200 such beaches on our south coast – enough for a lifetime of exploring. While we haven't visited all of them yet, to celebrate the official start of summer, this week I reveal my top five "hidden" beaches of the south coast. Not surprisingly, all are along the less developed part of our coastline.
1. Bittangabee Bay, Ben Boyd National Park
Nestled at the back of a funnel-shaped bay, this secluded white sand beach, which lies across the mouth of a small creek and lagoon, is pleasantly protected from the prevailing winds. Lapped by that pristine sapphire-coloured water the far south coast is famous for, this 100-metre long strip of sand is a favourite for the whole family. There are lots of shady places to spread that picnic blanket, enticing shallows to frolic in and no one else within cooee to kick over your sand castle. Don't miss the remains of the old storehouse on the southern rock ledge – it was part of the long since abandoned tramway, which was built to service the construction of Green Cape Lighthouse in the 1880s (about seven kilometres away).
2. Cocora Beach, Eden
With its headlands festooned with lush vegetation and watched over by the looming peak of Mt Imlay, when viewed from the sea, you could easily be excused for thinking this beach was in the Whitsundays and not a stone's throw from the southern tip of Eden. This hidden gem boasts plenty of shaded picnic tables, free gas barbecues and a knockout playground. The water is usually calm enough to paddle in and the kids will especially love the scramble over the coloured rocks at the southern headland. If you are feeling energetic, step out on the bush track to Keef's Pinch (one hour, mostly flat, but one steep section) that lures you along the cliffs of Twofold Bay, providing magical views south and past ancient shell middens.
3. Hidden Valley, Mimosa National Park
As its name enticingly suggests, this secret beach is harder to get to than most. Sheltered in the shadow of Bunga Head, there's only one way in (and out) via a walk (1.5 kilometres) from the Bunga Beach South carpark. For kids (and big kids), the feeling you get as you scramble down the bush track on to the 250-metre long strip of sand is like you are discovering it for the first time. Watch out for sea eagles which fly overhead to their roosts in the valley behind the beach. It's a special place, and has been for a millenia – the coloured bands of sandstone visible at low tide at Bunga Head preserve some of Australia's oldest known fossils.
4. Middle Beach, Mimosa National Park
From a remarkable stand of bangalay trees (imagine a horizontal version of Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree) to its unique lagoon near its southern end, this beach is a nature lover's Garden of Eden.
Middle (also called Tanja) Lagoon is home to many birds and fish and tailor-made for kayaking, but it's also home to one of the south coast's more amazing natural events. As opposed to a tidal or open lagoon, it is classified as an Intermittently Open Closed Lagoon (ICOL) which means if a significant rain event or large spring tide combine with a storm, the lagoon can break and empty out to sea.
Sam Bright, of nearby Tanja, was lucky enough to witness the lagoon break (it has since closed) several months ago. It's a spectacle he'll never forget. "Hundreds of eels charged en masse to reach the sea as the waves washed over the bar. Many got stranded as the wave receded and were left to decide whether to wriggle on or retreat." Apparently the eels swim to Noumea to mate and the survivors and progeny then return to the lagoon they came from.
5. Middle Beach, Merimbula
Despites its relatively common name (at least in my top five!), this spectacular stretch of sand is anything but ordinary. Although close to Merimbula, this beach is unsuspectingly bypassed by many out-of-towners as there is no obvious (or easy) access. You need to park at the far southern end of Cliff St and follow a steep walkway down to the beach. While exploring the beach, you can't see the township and the beach is backed by a spectacular coloured-sand cliff.
Warning: Due to their relatively remote nature, none of the beaches featured are patrolled by lifeguards. For a list of patrolled beaches, go to www.beachsafe.org.au. Take care.
Beach safety: Brush up on your skills next Saturday (December 13 from 10am to 1pm) at the Broulee Surf Club. Jointly hosted by Eurobodalla Shire Council and Surf Educators Australia, this workshop will help adult swimmers identify rips and other safety hazards at the beach. Cost: $15 and bookings essential 02 4474 7470 or firstname.lastname@example.org
More: Hyams Publishing has a selection of informative guides to many of the beaches along our south coast. More: www.hyams.com.au
Above average temperatures over the last month have resulted in many reports of snakes in suburbia to this column, but the hot weather also seems to have flushed out another sun-loving critter rarely spotted south of the tropics.
While recently taking their grandchildren for a walk around Lake Ginninderra, Paul and Sue Balnaves of McKellar were "shocked to encounter what appears to be a 'crocodile' lurking in a pond below the dam, behind McKellar and Evatt".
"Worryingly, it is very near the bike path and a playground," reported Sue. She cautioned: "Many dog owners walk along the bike path with their pooches, so maybe flashing warning signs are needed."
"There were no feathers around, so maybe the birds are savvy," said Sue. "I can only think it has ventured this far south because of global warming."
The Ginninderra Gator, which is, of course, just a submerged log reminds me of this "rock croc" spotted near Yamba on the NSW north coast several years ago by Tony Healy of Florey.
Bruce Edwardes of Stirling reports that while he "was not the first to dress Stumpy" he did dress up the tree stump on the corner of Cotter Road and Tuggeranong Parkway (Spotted, November 22) "pretty early in his/her life some two to three years ago". Bruce confesses to "providing Stumpy with a round foam head and short neck of conduit after he/she had been de-robed," adding, "I also surrendered a pair of my (somewhat worn) pyjamas to make him/her respectable."
However, it seems that Bruce's makeover of the infamous stump wasn't appreciated by all. "Soon afterwards, Stumpy was decapitated and stripped," bemoans Bruce who "suspects some well-meaning Government employee was responsible…or was it the road workers who were reconstructing the slip road corner at that time," asks Bruce.
Meanwhile, Katy Gallagher, the ACT Chief Minister has thrown her weight behind this column's mission to uncover the origins of Stumpy and although she doesn't know who is responsible, she does "confess to enjoying the various seasonal outfits".
Contact Tim: Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick. A selection of past columns is available at: canberratimes.com.au/act-news/by/tim-the-yowie-man
Where in the region?
Clue: Looks can be deceiving - I bet it's icy cold a metre or so below the surface.
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Helen Carlile of Forde who correctly identified last week's photo as the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial on Anzac Parade. Helen who "spent about half an hour there the other day, taking photos for an art assignment', just beat several other readers to the prize including Kiran Phillipps, Peter Kercher and Llew Reilly. Chris Blunt of Macarthur who submitted the photo, reports that "contained within the circle suspended above the memorial are the names of those Australians who died in the Vietnam War 1962-1973".
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am today with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.