Notes for Potential Hikers
The GSCW follows the coastline as closely as practicable from Bundeena, a suburb south of Sydney, to Mallacoota, the first town south of the New South Wales/Victoria border. Along the way, the walk traverses sandy beaches, rocky headlands, eucalyptus forests, tidal lakes, lagoons, estuaries, small towns, the city of Wollongong, and many National Parks and Preserves. For such a long walk on such a settled coastline, there was surprising little road walking and most of that was on very lightly trafficked byways.
The GSCW is not a formal trail, and there are no way-marks, route guides or strip maps. Much of the way is straight-forward beach walking or on maintained local trails, however we also used our own route-finding skills on sections of rocky coast, the passage of which is dependent on the tides.
There are many river outlets and estuaries to cross by whatever means are at hand: bridges, ferries, wading, swimming or opportunistic rides with local fishermen.
The quality of this walk is very high. The coastal scenery is world class and almost continuously good. There is enough variety that we were never bored. The walking is easy with very few places that required scrambling. Resupply was not a significant problem as there are a number of towns along the way. The small towns were interesting and sometimes charming. While we were there, the trails were empty of people and the beaches rarely had more than the occasional surfer or fisherman, even though our trip encompassed a week-long school holiday. Likely things would be more crowded in the summer holiday period.
This is not a wilderness walk as you pass through towns nearly every day. However, there is still a sense of wildness, particularly in the south in Ben Boyd National Park and the Nadgee Wilderness Preserve. There was little sign of heavy human touch in these parks. Most of the beaches, even those close to small towns, are nicely isolated from commerce and development and feel quite pristine. There are also sections of coastal woodlands that were seemingly intact with little signs of logging or other activities.
Our Route vs Gang-gang’s route
Our route was about 670 kilometers long. As far a Gang-gang knows, we are the first people to thru-hike the GSCW end-to-end in one continuous trip. Along the way, we took a 6-kilometer train ride in Wollongong to avoid walking through the local steel works in a howling rainstorm. Again in the rain, we hitched a 4-kilometer ride into Bateman’s Bay to avoid walking the narrow shoulder of the very busy Princes Highway on a holiday weekend.
Our walking route generally followed the route Gang-gang mapped but with a few significant differences.
Kiama Coastal Walk: This fine trail was relatively new and extends from Minnamurra Point through Kiama and on almost to Gerroa. The trail eliminated a portion of Gang-gang’s route that crossed private property.
Bateman’s Bay: Gang-gang got a boat ride with friends across Bateman’s Bay to Corrigan’s Beach. We had to walk around the bay and into town. The route we followed, Cullendulla Drive from Long Beach to Princes Highway, was not carefully thought out and could possibly have been improved by following the shoreline from Long Beach and crossing the creek mouth west of town and then along the shoreline past Surfside to the Bateman’s Bay Bridge. The creek crossing may be a shallow wade. After reaching town we followed the coastal Beach Road until we re-joined Gang-gang’s route at Corrigan’s Beach.
Moruya River to Congo: Gang-gang had prearranged a boat ride across the mouth of the Moruya River. This is a wide river mouth with a lot of current constrained between two rock jetties. We did not feel comfortable swimming this and were not lucky enough to find a boat to take us across. We followed the riverside road up to the Moruya Bridge and crossed it into town. From town we returned to the coast on the other side of the river, but left the main road to Moruya Heads and followed the alternate road to Congo. This was a pleasant walk on a road with little traffic. This route passed through portions of Eurobodalla National Park before reaching Congo, which has no services.
Aragunnu to Picnic Point: Gang-gang reported six hours of thrashing to cross eight kilometers of trail-less coastal bush south of the Aragunnu camping area. After examining maps and satellite images, we decided that there is a better alternative: from the camping area we turned inland on the dirt road. Just beyond where the road started turning west, we easily crossed a short neck of open woodland to fenced open fields bordering the narrow paved road running between the Tathra/Bermagui Road and Picnic Point. Although these fields are private, they were not posted and we discreetly crossed them without incident and were soon walking along the empty road beside Wapengo Lagoon toward Picnic Point. This option is shown in our gpx track.
Disclaimer: Do not rely on our exact tracks for your route; use skill and common sense.
The GSCW has many water crossings and we enjoyed the diversity and challenge that they added to the trip. Some have bridges and there is a ferry at Comerong Island. The remaining two dozen or so must be dealt with by other means. If you walk the GSCW, you will get wet. Depending on the tides, some of the crossings can be easily waded with no more than waist deep water. Others are much deeper even at low tide. We were able to find opportunistic boat rides at seven crossings. Some of these rides we got immediately and others we had to wait as long as two hours for someone with a boat to come along, but nobody we asked ever turned us down. Four of the crossings required swimming.
The actual number of water crossings will vary from year to year because river mouths are sometimes closed by naturally occurring sand bars. Sometimes storms will reopen these bars and sometimes the government will do it with heavy equipment if the backed up water starts flooding valuable riverfront property. Quite a few of the crossings that looked closed by sandbars in satellite imagery were actually open and had flowing water when we were there.
We waded across twelve channels with water between calf and chest deep. Conditions change based on tide and shifting sand bars and it would not have been possible to wade some of those channels at high tide.
We hitched boat rides, none arranged in advance:
- Greenwell Point. You must go by boat, as it is too wide to swim even in warm water and slack tide. A family was leaving the dock just as we arrived, and they gave us a lift. Gang-gang arranged a ride from a nearby boat rental operation.
- Sussex Inlet. Here again you must go by boat. We got a lift from the friendly owners of the Christians Minde Retreat. Gang-gang caught the attention of the boat rental operation on the dock on the other side of the river, but there was nobody there when we arrived. In retrospect we should have called the Retreat in advance, as it is a private lodge and private dock and it was awkward that we showed up randomly.
- Durras Lake outlet. We did not attempt to swim because the water and air were cool and we were not inclined to get wet. The tidal current was flowing and we did not want to wait for slack tide. It should not be a problem to swim at slack water at either high or low water, particularly if the water is warm.
- Tomaga River. Same story as Durras Lake.
- Tuross Lake outlet. Same story as Durras Lake.
- Pambula Lake outlet. Swimmable at low tide slack water, but not swimmable when there is tidal current, and possibly too wide at high tide slack water to swim.
- Mallacoota Lake outlet. Same story as Durras Lake.
- Huskisson River: We swam across at fairly high tide when there was strong inflowing current.
- Wallaga Lake outlet: We easily swam when there was inflowing current at fairly low tide.
- Wapengo Lagoon Outlet: We easily swam at slack tide.
- Mallacoota Lake backwater: We got a boat lift across the main channel to a big sandbar, and then after walking several hundred meters on the sandbar we swam across a calm backwater to shore.
We each carried a Sea to Summit eVAC 65-liter Dry Sack in which we put all of our gear including packs, food, and shoes. These bags weigh 5.2 ounces and worked extremely well for us. We added a nylon cord and a Velcro ankle strap so we could swim without the risk of losing the bags to currents. The bags also provided decent flotation during the river crossings and they never leaked. The water was 16º-17º C (61º-63º F), not comfortable, but also not dangerous. We wore lightweight wading shoes when we swam, which was necessary as some crossings have piles of extremely sharp rocks and shells along their shorelines.