Kayaking Broughton Island

I had a restless, dreamless, cold night’s sleep but nonetheless arose chirpy and early to greet another beautiful day. We had plenty more to explore on our little island so we packed some food – and Garry his cameras – and got ourselves ready for a day of kayaking.

We paddled out of our little cove and east along a craggy cliff-line towards Little Broughton Island Nature Reserve. The swell was small and widely pitched; we playfully succumbed to the temptation to paddle close to the rock shelves.

At an outcrop between the nature reserve and the main island I noticed an opening in the rock which went through to the other side. I couldn’t resist. I timed my entry to surf a wave straight under an arch. It was exhilarating. When I popped out the other side, on a pebbly beach I saw Garry haunched over his tripod taking a photo to capture the rugged beauty of our surrounds and the lovely day in which we experienced it.

Garry and Kayaks
(Photos: Blair Paterson)

I did some more beach-combing – I found a roundish, layered pebble which reminded me of a pregnant woman. I took it home to give to Tab: my pregnant wife.

After wrapping up our activities we flopped into our kayaks – Garry took some water onboard from a breaking wave which amused me no end – and we headed further east to circumnavigate the nature reserve. We decided to take a wide berth so as to enjoy a panoramic vista of the island. And the wide berth was worthwhile – from the eastern side Pink on Top Mountain and the nature reserve isle dominated the view. The morning sun bounced off the contrasting greys, ochres and marbles of the rocky cliffs which reached up to barren, green, treeless ledges. In our bobbing little red kayaks the heavy shapes stood solid and imposing against a stark blue sky.

We paddled back to hug the rest of our way close around the isle. Gannets were soaring on the updraughts; they were watching over us with folly and indifference. As were the white-bellied eagles whose distinctive whistles we’d been hearing since our arrival at Broughton Island.
White Bellied Eagle

Once around the nature reserve we returned back to the pebbly beach for lunch and a ‘nature break’. At about midafternoon we started our paddle back to the cove. At camp we changed into some dry clothes and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing.

On our Little Poverty Beach campsite I found myself drawn once again to some beach-combing. Like an infant I was attracted by the bright colours of my surrounds, to those colours not naturally occurring on this beach. I found myself picking up all the loose ends of rope washed up about the place. In an area spanning 100 metres, about the length of the beach, I picked up eight different rope-ends in varying lengths, thicknesses and colours; all made of nylon. In my mind, Little Poverty Beach, with my bouquet of rope-ends among the other debris and plastic washed up, again smacked of a modern midden.

I pondered the question once more about whether we’re truly embracing the concept of sustainability. Australian ecologist Charles Birch postulates that we “…desperately need a model of life that fits better the facts of life and from which we can derive a new ethic of life that better fits the needs of our age.” If we want to derive a new model from this standpoint, we need to do it unreservedly as a team; we have to face the errors of our past and present; we have to admit in our hearts that we are committed to change. We can make a concerted start by bloody well picking up after ourselves!

With the rapid advent of new technologies scope exists for our landfill sites to be mined for plastic. This is already happening in small scale operations and with our diminishing oil resources needed to manufacture plastic the scale of such mining looks sure to expand in the future. If we focus and better direct our plastic and non-biodegradable waste to such sites, just maybe we’ll be helping to create middens of real value in the years to come.

Broughton Island wears the scars of degradation; its ecology has been irrevocably altered by fires, land clearing, sheep pastures and a ‘failed rabbit experiment’. The introduction of poultry and goats and the mining of shell grit and rutile has encouraged the spread of a number of weed species, particularly prickly pear, which infest great tracts of the main island. Broughton Island is an example as to the vulnerability of island ecosystems.

Broughton Island, though, also represents an example of people acknowledging and coming to terms with the consequences of our past and present actions. Indeed, much of the information about the changing ecology of the island noted in this essay was obtained from NPWS signboards displayed at Esmeralda Beach. While these facts are not pleasant to digest, they cannot be avoided. We must reconcile.

* * *

Garry saw something move in the rocky shallows. He pointed at an octopus with a head the size of my fist and tentacles the length of my forearm. What with its amazing camouflage, had it not moved we would’ve never seen it. Garry broke the water nearby with a little pebble and with a spurt of black ink the octopus vanished.

At dusk we both got down to the business of eating as much of the food we brought as was possible. Dinner was an ad hoc concoction of leftovers which blurred into tastes so obscure I cannot remember the ingredients. But we finished the meal with dark chocolate and several cups of tea, which somehow restored a refined air to our culinary experience.

It was a long day and we’d planned to be up before the gannets the following morning.

“I might pack it in.” I stated. “What time is it?”

Also curious, Garry went to his tent to look at his mobile. From inside he says: “7:30.”

“No way, it must be later than that!”

Garry scratches his head and feels he must again go to his tent to check his phone. “No, I lied.” He says.

“I thought so, what time is it really?”

“7:32.”

“Well then, what shall we do for a few hours?”

We decided to go for a night-walk around the island, treading the same tracks we’d trodden several times already. We headed over to Coal Shaft Bay; then to Providence Beach. On such a beautiful night and with plenty of time to fill we dropped out of the dunes to walk along the beach’s wet sandy length. I had never seen bioluminescence in the shallows as bright and beautiful as I did that night. It was dazzling; there must have been millions of plankton rolling around in the waves. Bioluminescence was even shimmering off Garry’s socks. There was no Achilles weakness about his heels – he looked like he was walking on stars.

About Blair Paterson

Blair grew up and lives in Sydney’s Inner West. He first realised a love of nature and the outdoors during weekends and holidays with his family on the Hawkesbury River. From humble childhood pastimes building billycarts and tree houses to spending large chunks of time in the bush, Blair now embarks on outdoor pursuits whenever and however possible – by foot, kayak, bicycle or other. He has worked in Environmental Management and currently Outdoor Education. Some of his fondest travels to date have been around Australia and through the Indian Himalayas.
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