The Light-To-Light Walk: Hiking & Survival Fishing

Just a few days prior to Christmas, 2018, my daughter Amy and I undertook the iconic Light-To-Light Walk on the far south coast of NSW. This bush and coastal hiking trail extends from Ben Boyd Tower near Red Point, south of Eden, to Green Cape Lighthouse, overlooking Disaster Bay and Wonboyn.

Mowarry Beach on Green Cape, NSW.

Mowarry Beach on Green Cape was the site of our camp for the first night. What a wonderful spot!

The Light-To-Light walk lies within Ben Boyd National Park. It’s listed at being just over 30 km in length and carries a Grade 4 rating (grades run from 1 for the easiest to 5 for the hardest.) Grade 4 is defined thus: “Bushwalking experience recommended. Tracks may be long, rough and very steep. Directional signage may be limited.”

Starlo clocks up some kilometres.

Starlo clocks up some kilometres.

Amy and I began our journey by driving a vehicle each to Green Cape Lighthouse, where I left my old HiLux in the car park and loaded my gear into Amy’s car. We then drove the 40-odd kilometres of mixed dirt and sealed roads back to the car park near Boyds Tower, at the southern entrance of Twofold Bay. Both parking areas lie within the National Park and a day visitation fee is payable. This involves self-registering using the envelopes provided at pay stations to deposit the correct amount of cash into a locked metal container, with a tear-off receipt being displayed on your vehicle’s dash. At the time of our visit, the fee was $8 per night, per vehicle. I have no issue with paying this fee, although I wasn’t especially comfortable with the idea of leaving written notification in plain sight that our vehicles would be unattended for several days. To me this seems like an open invitation to thieves! It might actually make more sense to buy a yearly pass, and I’ll be investigating that option in future.

Campsite behind Mowarry Beach, Green Cape, NSW.

Sunset at our first night’s campsite behind Mowarry Beach on Green Cape… Absolutely magnificent!

ON THE TRACK

Hefting our backpacks onto our shoulders, we finally struck out onto the walking track just after 2PM. This seems like a very late start (and it was!), but thankfully we were there on the longest days of the year and knew we had a good six hours of walking before we needed to be setting up camp in time for darkness.

Cunjevoi or cunje is prolific in some areas.

Cunjevoi or cunje is prolific in some areas.

The weather was just about perfect for walking. Showers during the morning had all but passed (we experienced one brief patch of very light drizzle a few hours in) and the temperature was in the mid-20s, with a light southerly breeze.

Our original intention was to reach the Saltwater Creek area for our first night’s camp, but a break to collect some cunjevoi for bait on the low tide (around 4PM) and several photographic stops meant that we fell well behind schedule. As a result, we changed our plans and decided to camp on a beautiful, grassy bench behind Mowarry Beach instead. This is a truly delightful spot, with a north-facing aspect. We arrive there about 6PM and erected our very basic sleeping set-ups, consisting of small tarps to deflect any rain and dew over thin sleeping mats and lightweight sleeping bags.

FISH FOR DINNER!

With “camp” erected I left Amy to explore the beach and gather some firewood while I made a quick foray out to the end of Mowarry Point in an effort to obtain dinner. While this area was largely protected from the metre-plus southerly swell, there was just enough wave action to create small areas of wash and break up the crystal clear water. I was reasonably confident, especially when I spotted several good-sized fish cruising deep over the kelp beds.

This stretch of coastline is strikingly beautiful.

This stretch of coastline is strikingly beautiful. Rock and beach fishing opportunities abound.

I rigged with a simple terminal set-up consisting of a very small (size 00) ball sinker running freely on my 16 pound leader right down to a 1/0 suicide hook. My tackle consisted of a 10 ½ foot “light surf” rod and a 3000-size spinning reel spooled with 10 pound braid. I aimed my first cast towards a gap in a ridge of rock that was producing a plume of aerated white water and almost straight away registered some solid bites.

Black drummer like this one were prolific and willing!

Black drummer like this one were prolific and willing!

On my second or third cast I hooked a powerful fish that I called for a black drummer (rock blackfish). Unfortunately, after a short but energetic battle, the hook pulled just before I got a firm visual on the fish. Bugger!

Next cast I hooked another very strong fish that had me in all sorts of bother before I could finally steer it to the surface at my feet, where it was revealed as a beautiful black drummer of at least two kilos… more than big enough for our dinner needs. Being too large to dead-lift, I needed to swim the fish around a pointed ridge of rock and wash it out on my left. To my dismay, as I was doing this, the hook pulled! In my experience, it’s relatively uncommon to pull the hook on a solidly-pinned drummer, yet I’d just done it twice in row! Dinner was starting to look like dehydrated mash or noodles…

Amy battles her feisty zebra fish.

Before re-baiting, I carefully checked the hook to make sure it was sharp and didn’t have a rolled over point or any other defects. All good!

Next few casts I missed several good bites before hooking a less powerful drummer of about 800 to 900 grams, which I easily landed. I placed this fish in a large rock pool with the intention of releasing it if I landed a bigger specimen.

Within a cast or two I caught another drummer of a similar size, which I also placed in the same rock pool. Unfortunately, a lot of “pickers” had now moved into my wash, no doubt attracted by the bait scraps dislodged from my hook by earlier bites, I caught and released several small sweep and a hefty crimson-banded wrasse before deciding to call it quits and return to camp with my two “dinner drummer”.

Amy with her lovely zebra fish… delicious!

Interestingly, the rock pool I’d placed these fish in was both longer and deeper than I’d realized, with one end extending a metre or so into a shadowy cave. As a result, re-catching dinner actually proved to be a lot more difficult than catching it in the first place! This was finally achieved by wading into the pool and “spearing” each fish with my knife as they shot back and fourth around my ankles! I’m sure this would’ve presented quite a comical scene to any passer by, although fortunately my only audience was a lone sea eagle riding the high thermal updrafts in the dying rays of sunset.

With dinner finally re-secured, I hurried back to camp where I filleted and skinned the drummer, dusting the fillets lightly with salt and wrapping them in aluminium foil before placing them on the coals of the fire Amy had built. Amy whipped up some rice in her Jetboil cooker while the fish sizzled for 10 or 12 minutes. Unwrapping the foil packages, we squeezed on some lemon juice and tucked in. (Yes, we’d carried a lemon! How’s that for confidence?) The end result? Well, let me put it this way: it would be hard to imagine a fresher (or tastier!) fish meal… Anywhere!

The view from our campsite at Mowarry Beach.

The view from our campsite at Mowarry Beach. Most of those tracks on the beach were made by the wildlife.

DAY TWO

Amy slept reasonably well that first night, but I battled with the hard ground, hordes of mosquitoes and an insanely bright full moon, and I was lucky to get a couple of hours sleep. Up very early, and rather bleary eyed, I grabbed my rigged rod and shot a cunjevoi bait out from the beach right in front of our camp. Almost immediately I hooked up and landed a fairly large (kilo-plus) female blue-throated wrasse. I considered keeping this fish for breakfast, but not being a huge fan of their eating qualities, decided to release it. Unfortunately, the hook was well back in its throat, so I opted to cut the leader at the fish’s jaws and leave the hook in place rather than perform “surgery”. Interestingly, that one, well-used Suicide hook was the only item of tackle we lost on our entire trip! (See the tackle image further down for details.)

Amy bringing home the bacon… or in this case, the fish! We had no trouble feeding ourselves.

Sliding the sinker off the leader and slipping it into my pocket for later, I tied I simple metal slug lure on instead, intending to prospect for a salmon. I wasn’t overly confident because of the very calm, clear conditions, but after 10 minutes of casting, I noticed some small baitfish rippling the surface a little further along the short beach and moved my attentions there. Within a few casts I hooked a small, silvery fish that jumped and threw the lure. Next cast I pinned and landed a chopper tailor. In the following 15 minutes I hooked at least half a dozen more of these fish, releasing a couple and keeping three: two just-legal and one a little larger. We cooked two of these whole (un-cleaned) for breakfast, wrapped in the used foil from the previous evening and they were extremely tasty, especially when drizzled with a little more of our precious lemon juice. The third tailor was retained for bait.

Tailor for breakfast on day two. Delicious!

Tailor for breakfast on day two. Delicious!

ON THE ROCKS

After breakfast, I was keen to take Amy fishing at my drummer spot out on the point. It was at this stage of the trip that we made the rather disappointing discover that the two-piece light rock/surf rod Amy was carrying actually consisted of the butt and tip halves of two entirely different rods, and they wouldn’t fit together! This was my mistake, not hers, as I’d assembled the gear before the trip, but hadn’t thought to actually put the rod together to check… Important lesson learnt!

Heading out with our single, operational outfit, I kicked off by landing a couple of near-kilo drummer and releasing both, before handing the outfit over to Amy. She quickly locked horns with a strong opponent and did a deft job of steering it away from the kelp ledges and landing it.

Straight away I could see that this fish was a little different to the others, and closer examination quickly confirmed it as a zebra fish of around a kilo. These kissing-cousins of the black drummer and luderick are not an especially common catch on rod-and-reel in my part of the world, and I was keen to see how they compared with drummer as a table fish, so we kept and bled it, commenting on how thick and meaty it was. Amy then handed the rod back and I quickly landed a similar-sized drummer that we also kept. After that, the wrasse and sweep moved in, and we quickly exhausted out dwindling bait supply.

Our sleeping arrangements were pretty basic!

Our sleeping arrangements were basic!

Heading back to camp, I filleted and skinned our two keepers, placing the fillets in a zip lock bag in my backpack. After a refreshing swim and wash in the large, inter-tidal rock pools, we broke camp and hit the track again about 10.30AM.

THE BIG HIKE

Day two was by far our biggest walking day and, in retrospect, we should perhaps have broken it up a little more. We rested for an hour or so at Saltwater Creek in the early afternoon, where I cooked the drummer and zebra fish fillets. These were absolutely delicious, despite being a tad over-done on a hotter-than-anticipated fire. It really doesn’t take long to cook fish!

There is kilometre after kilometre of coastline along Green Cape like this. Once you get away from the road access points, it's rare to see another soul.

There’s kilometre after kilometre of coast like this. Once away from road access points, it’s rare to see another soul.

That afternoon we pushed all the way through to Bittangabee Bay, intending to camp there. However, we were rather dismayed by the large numbers of people, the noise and the general mayhem of civilization, which we’d seen so little of up until now. So we pushed on, racing against a sinking sun to find a camping spot, ideally with a coastal aspect and the chance to wet a line. This proved impossible and in the end we simply hunkered down under out tarps in the thick bush right beside the track, both enjoying a much better night’s sleep due to softer ground, less mozzies and increasing exhaustion.

Vistas like this lie around every corner...

Vistas like this lie around every corner…

By the second morning I was quite sore and stiff and my feet had begun giving me issues, with several large blisters beginning to form. Fortunately we’d broken the back of the walk by this stage and had only seven kilometres or so left to traverse on our final day.

TO THE CAPE

We were on our way by 8AM and reached my vehicle (happily safe and secure) at Green Cape Lighthouse not long after 10AM… footsore, filthy, exhausted but very happy with our efforts. It was then a 40 minute drive back to Amy’s car (also still secure) and a short drive into Eden for a lunch we didn’t have to kill and clean or re-hydrate!

A map of Green Cape showing the track.

In all, we’d covered a little under 37km on foot (which included various side trips, fishing excursions, double-backs and exploration). We managed this across two half days and one full day, spending two nights camped in the bush under our simple tarps. We’d fished for less than three hours during our near-48 hours on the track, yet managed to easily obtain three great meals of fresh fish, while also releasing enough fish to have fed ourselves several more times, had we wished. We’d carried dehydrated meals and lightweight packaged food with us, but ended up bringing nearly half of this home!

 

Tackle selection was critical and weight all important. We cut it down to this... and ended up losing just one hook!

Tackle selection was critical and weight all important. We cut it down to this… and ended up losing just one hook!

SUMMING UP

Obviously, we struck it lucky with the weather, dodging the rain and experiencing overnight minimums of 13 to 15 degrees and daily maximums that peaked out at about 27 by the time we reached the car on the final day. Hotter or colder conditions would present their own challenges.

This small bag of cunje was more than enough bait.

Perhaps the biggest issue is carrying sufficient freshwater. We set out with around six litres apiece and topped up with tank water at Saltwater Creek. We were also fortunate that recent rains had the creeks flowing well and we were able to top up again from Bittangabee Creek. We boiled the water we collected along the track before drinking it.

As mentioned earlier, the walk carries a Grade 4 rating and there are a few reasonably steep, rough stretches (especially in the northern half) and also some areas where the track is rather poorly defined (we briefly got lost on one occasion, forcing us to backtrack for a time). All up, however, it’s very achievable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and some competency in the bush. (To find out more about this walk, go here.)

I’m 60 years old, overweight and not especially fit, yet I managed it. Admittedly, I was still sore and had some interesting blisters on my feet several days later! But I would not have missed this amazing adventure and shared experience for the world. It was magical being able to spend this sort of quality time with my wonderful daughter in a very special place. If you’ve ever thought about tackling a trek like this one, stop thinking and just DO it! Remember, life is short…

The sense of achievement on reaching our final goal was palpable. A real father/daughter bonding experience!

Green Cape Lighthouse: the end of our three day journey.

Green Cape Lighthouse: the end of our three day journey.

Textures and memories...

Textures and memories…

Disaster Bay, south of Green Cape... our next trek?

Disaster Bay, south of Green Cape… our next trek?