It’s lucky that travelling in reverse is just as easy as going forwards in Egg, my decrepit wooden kayak (currently held together with duct tape), because lately my paddles seem to be taking me back in time. Back to old haunts and old holiday snaps, but also really really far back into the geological past.
When I took this photo of beautiful Kylie’s Beach in Crowdy Bay National Park in 2011, for instance, I wasn’t thinking “My, what a fine example of a barrier dune system in a wave dominated estuary!”
And this snap from North Brother Mountain, taken on the same trip five years ago, demonstrates that I wasn’t paying enough attention to geomorphology at the time. It’s not a bad shot of the 100,000 year old Pleistocene sand barriers that protect Watson Taylor Lake from the crashing waves of the Pacific. But, in retrospect, I should have given the picturesque tree on the right the flick, and made sure I squeezed in a view of the mouth of the Camden Haven River.
Because, for the New South Wales anyway, this is a pretty special place. As you can see in the pic below by a more geologically literate photographer, enfolded in the lake is a classic river delta – a rare sight in this part of the world. It’s a mini-Mississippi, sloughing off its sediment as it flows into stiller waters, leaving muddy banks along the way and a cluster of little islands at river’s end.
Sad to say, I didn’t notice all this deposition and composition as I paddled down Camden Haven Inlet at dawn, skimming over the seagrass and the sand. Even when I got stuck in the mud – sorry, fluvial sediment – right in the middle of the lake. At high tide. Next to a bunch of knee deep swans. Sometimes I reckon I’m not the sharpest knife in the knifeblock.
It was only back at camp at Kylie’s, over a first reviving brew-up, when I stumbled on Rod’s Northern Rivers Geology blog with its intriguing story of the missing coastal deltas of New South Wales that I figured out what I’d seen.
Thinking back, I realised I’d been somewhere very similar just a few weeks ago, in another one of the New South Wales’ magical coastal lagoons. Where Dora Creek – home of freakish panda-snakes – empties into Lake Macquarie, the very same levees march, both sides of the river, far out into the open water.
Dora Creek doesn’t have mangrove topped islands at its mouth, like the Camden Haven. Perhaps their beginnings were washed away by the waves that scoot across five kilometres of open water to scare the hell out of unwary kayakers. In the same way storms, waves and the East Australian Current sluice river sand and sediment out into the Pacific or up the coast, leaving barrier beaches in place of river deltas all along the Eastern seaboard.
But in the sheltered estuary of Watson Taylor Lake I got to enjoy all the rare pleasures of a river delta. Mosquitoes, for instance. More than I’ve encountered anywhere, even my backyard, locally famous for its blood buffet and chubby and contented microbats. With the mozzies come the mozzie eaters.
I stopped to take pictures of the wood swallows, but in fact, this little beach, at the very end of the Camden Haven’s levees, had almost as many birds as it had bugs. Honey-eaters in an array of colours: brown, striped and yellow-faced. Noisy friarbirds, mobs of them, bursting from the casuarinas to wheel and chatter. Wagtails and fantails. Crested terns chilling out away from the surf. A drongo (I’m not being insulting – it’s a gorgeous bird). Not to mention a special treat – the rarely sighted fungus-faced thornbill.
And, as I wended my way through the maze of islands with the help of the handy map in my Paddlers Guide to NSW, an unflappable young sea eagle, rising majestically above the cloud of biters. It takes a genuine love of raptors to continue taking snaps while half a dozen mosquitos are sucking on your eyelids.
But as RB just reminded me, if Australia’s eastern coast is wanting for river deltas now, it’s not always been so. It was an enormous braided river delta, like the Amazon or the Ganges that laid down the golden Hawkesbury sandstone, a couple of hundred metres thick, right across the Sydney Basin, 230 million years ago.
Perhaps this is an approach to marketing I can put to the NSW Tourist Board. “Volcanos! Dangerous megafauna! Epic braided river deltas! Go back far enough in time, and New South Wales has it all!!”
More adventures on New South Wales’ coastal lagoons
Geomorphology and dawn reflections on a midwinter lagoon at Myall and Narrabeen Lakes
A paddle across scary Lake Macquarie to see the snake-pandas of Dora Creek
Encounters with eagles on Budgewoi Lake