Ten days on the mid-north and south coasts of New South Wales

The photos below were all taken on a ten day road trip to the mid-north coast of New South Wales in autumn 2022. The route was Apollo Bay – Bendemeer (just north of Tamworth) – Walcha – Port Macquarie – Nambucca Heads – North Haven – Kiama – Nowra – Green Cape – Mallacoota – Melbourne – Apollo Bay.

The Newell Highway

Semi trailer on hot bitumen highway
The Newell Highway heading north from Tocumwal late afternoon. The temp here was 38°C.
Long hot miles.

Black Kite at dusk near the Lachlan River, central western NSW

Black kite soaring while hunting for food
Black kite circling at low altitude in still air over the hot western plains of NSW late in the day in search of food.
The black kite is a bird of prey and a scavenger. They can be found in large numbers throughout Australia. I have seen them in their hundreds soaring upwards in thermals in open country in the Northern Territory, and I have also seen them in pairs hunting over green coastal plains near Apollo Bay. A feature of their flying is the high level of manoeuvrability achieved by rapidly twisting and fanning their tail. As it can twist to near 90° to the normal position, it operates as a combined rudder and elevator (the conventional aft control surfaces on typical fixed wing aircraft).
Black kite soaring while hunting for food

Thermalling pelicans in central western NSW

Pelicans soaring in a thermal near Forbes
Near the Lachlan River south of Forbes in central western NSW we pulled over when a large squadron of pelicans took to the air from behind some scrub. From very low level they found a thermal and stopped flapping their wings. They circled lazily while climbing steadily, and looked to be passing through about 500 feet above ground level when we drove on.
Years ago I was flying a light aircraft over the north NSW coast at 8,000 feet and encountered half a dozen or so pelicans soaring together at that altitude. I’m not sure who got the biggest surprise. At the other end of the performance spectrum, they are also highly accomplished low speed flyers, manoeuvring with great finesse and precision. They can glide within inches of a water surface without their wingtips touching it. Their precision spot landings are also a joy to watch.
The photo on the left shows part of the circling pattern they flew to exploit the lift provided by the rising warm air in the thermal. The photo on the right shows pelicans at different parts of the circle and at different heights as they spiralled slowly and effortlessly upwards.

A cruising yacht beached on a lee shore at North Haven, NSW

Yacht beached after blowing ashore in strong wind at North Haven
Near the mouth of the Camden River, at Pilot Beach North Haven (south of Port Macquarie), this yacht which had been anchored there for a few days was blown on to the beach when a strong easterly (onshore) wind came up quickly. As it was inside the entrance at the river mouth, there were only small wind waves breaking against it. They were not big enough to lift and lower the boat on to the hard sand which would be more likely to cause extensive damage in a short time. I hope it was able to be towed off the beach and to sail away on the next high tide. Seeing a beached yacht listing like this is something like seeing a motorbike lying on its side on a dirt road somewhere.
Yacht beached after blowing ashore in strong wind at North Haven
Yacht beached after blowing ashore in strong wind at North Haven
Yacht beached after blowing ashore in strong wind at North Haven
The name of the yacht is ‘Avarest’.

Hat Head National Park

South Smoky Beach in Hat Head National Park
This is the view over South Smoky Beach from the Smoky Cape Lighthouse grounds . This area is part of Hat Head National Park which is near South West Rocks.
Our brief sojourn on the mid-north NSW coast coincided with a weather system which produced heavy flooding along the coast right up to and beyond the Queensland border. Heavy low clouds filled the sky and heavy rain inundated the land day and night. Devastation of low lying towns and evacuation and rescue efforts as the northern rivers overflowed their banks and levees filled the news.
Smoky Cape lighthouse in Hat Head National Park
Smoky Cape Lighthouse. Lighthouse design is quite distinctive – harshly geometric but somehow elegant. Built in the harshest of locations they appear impregnable and indestructible. I have seen many house ruins as time eventually declares itself the winner, but never a lighthouse ruin.
The pied butcher bird is widely distributed throughout Australia, with the exception of southern Victoria and Tasmania. I recorded a few seconds of its beautiful flute-like whistle (press the play arrow to see this 10 second video). It can intersperse this with warbles. This bird was sitting on foliage at the foot of the Smokey Cape lighthouse singing in light rain.
Crested terns and sliver gulls on South Smoky Beach
Crested terns and sliver gulls mingling on South Smoky Beach in Hat Head National Park (near South West Rocks). The heavy showers out to sea eventually reached the beach and I had to run for it (to keep the camera and lens dry).
Walking between the dunes to the vast and empty South Smoky Beach, I caught this glimpse of a well camouflaged eastern grey kangaroo grazing quietly. As it turned out, she had a reasonably mature joey in her pouch (barely fitting it seemed to me) which appeared to be overstaying the fixed term of its tenancy in the warmth and comfort of his first home.
The appearance of being close to the roo is entirely the function of my 150-600mm telephoto lens. She was not scared of me, but was very alert and kept a cautious eye on me while retaining comfortable distance between us.
Incidentally, if you look at the top right of this image you will see a dragonfly which, unbeknown to me, flew into frame just as I took the shot. The ‘roo and dragonfly’ is quite a rare nature photograph. Enjoy.
The distension of this doe’s cargo pod indicates the size of the joey being carried. It reminds me of the cargo pod fitted beneath the fuselage on some Cessna 206 light aircraft.
A neat fit in the pouch for this sizeable joey was not really practical given the length of its tail and hind legs. But there was obviously room to manoeuvre as shown here by a hind leg poking out, and moments later by the head appearing as shown below.
Clearly fitting all body parts inside the pouch was possible, although mum’s ground clearance was significantly reduced.
Multi-tasking: a stroll with junior, a snack on the run, scratching an itch and keeping an eye on the paparazzi.
The joey was nibbling grass from his comfortable quarters as his mother grazed quietly.
Crested terns flying over beach
Crested terns taking flight. They’ve seen swans and ducks flying in formation, but the crested terns are simply not interested in such showiness. Flight for them is simply A to B, with no time or effort wasted on perfecting or even attempting any of the echelon or line-abreast formations favoured by some of their more pretentious avian cousins. Their edgy slightly unkempt head feather style also reflects this laissez-faire approach to formality.
Crested terns flying over beach
Juvenile crested tern
Juvenile crested tern
Crested terns
The edgy hair style referred to above can be changed from slightly edgy (bird on the right) to fully edgy (bird on the left) simply by choosing to point the beak into the wind or downwind. Ornithologists appear to have largely ignored this subtle and stylish affectation of the crested tern. One bird guide seems to miss this point entirely and simply refers to, “the shaggy black crest sometimes flattened against the hindneck”.
Crested tern
Crested tern
Contemplative crested tern considering a shell fragment.
Single silver gull and six crested terns on a beach
I don’t know if this silver gull has been taken prisoner by crested terns, but something is certainly going on here. (Disclaimer: I am not a qualified ornithologist).
Adult crested tern
Adult crested tern spokesbird giving an address.
Silver gull stretching one wing and raising one leg on beach
Silver gull doing Pilates.
Silver gulls and crested terns on long beach
The aforementioned mingling of gulls and terns was apparently an exception to the ‘birds of a feather’ rule. Silver gulls and crested terns have grouped here with their own kind, albeit in two sub-groups forming one large group of birds.

An Eastern Osprey in Arakoon National Park

Sub tropical vegetation and rock formations surrounding sandy beach and small bay
Paradise.
Little Bay, Arakoon National Park.
To my left and right and behind me on this grass were half a dozen kangaroos peacefully grazing and resting.
Eastern Osprey perching on a cliff top overlooking a small bay.
Little Bay, Arakoon National Park. I climbed on the rock in the centre of this bay and was delighted to spot an eastern osprey on the cliff top (species confirmed only after a quick look through the telephoto lens). This was particularly gratifying as I had hoped to spot and photograph this magnificent raptor while on the coast in NSW. They are found on the coast right around Australia with the exception of Victoria and Tasmania. They are common but not abundant. In south Australia their numbers are small. Osprey live on fish and are highly adapted to the task of catching them. An osprey catches fish by diving towards the sea then entering the water talons first to seize the fish. It will sometimes completely submerge in this process, before taking off near vertically with the fish in its talons. It then carries the catch away, ensuring that the fish is carried in line with the direction of flight to minimise aerodynamic drag. I consider the osprey to be a highly photogenic raptor. All things considered, in the class of Australian raptors (birds of prey, of which there are 35 species in Australia), I rate them second only to the wedge-tailed eagle. The only other osprey I have photographed was on Thistle Island in S.A. last year. For those photos see my post on this blog posted 8 June 2021:
https://southernoceanblog.com/2021/06/08/six-days-on-thistle-island-south-australia/
Eastern osprey closeup photo on cliff edge
The ever alert osprey standing on the cliff edge.
Eastern osprey closeup photo on cliff edge
Eastern osprey taking off
The size and strength of these legs are ideal for snatching sizeable fish from the sea.
Airborne eastern osprey
Eastern osprey perched on a rock overlooking a small bay
At one point this osprey flew from the cliff on the right of the little bay to this rock on the left of the bay.
Closeup photo of eastern osprey on rock
Eastern osprey about to take off
Eastern osprey taking off
Those long sharp talons look deadly and seem almost over-engineered for the task of catching fish.
Eastern osprey with wings spread in flight
Eastern osprey in flight diving with intense look
One interesting thing about this shot is that the bird was simply flying to perch on a nearby rock. The intense look on its face and the clenched talons seem to be the default setting even on this non-hunting short flight. This bird seems to always have its game face on. My next goal of course is to photograph an osprey catching a fish and flying off with it. But as a stepping stone in that direction I was very pleased to get this shot.

An ocean swim at Trial Bay in Arakoon National Park

Trial Bay beach
The warm sheltered waters of Trial Bay.
Thermometer measuring ocean temperature at 26°C
The sea temp near the Trial Bay gaol was 26°C. The locals told me they were surprised at how warm it was for March.
Post-swim shower at Trial Bay beach
The eagle eyed will be able to spot a line of conical yellow markers left of the shower pole. These buoys mark the area for swimmers from which boats and jet skis are banned. Excellent. The water was about 2-3 metres deep for my high tide swim. Very relaxing. This high pressure fresh water shower just above the beach was perfectly located.

A 42km detour to Green Cape Lighthouse in Ben Boyd National Park

Road leading to Green Cape lighthouse in Ben Boyd national park
South of Eden on the south east corner of the Australian continent, jutting out into the Tasman Sea and flanked on the south by Disaster Bay is Green Cape. Visiting the lighthouse on the cape required a 42km round trip diversion from the bitumen. There was a 25-30 knot south easterly wind blowing when we visited.
The gravel road to Green Cape lighthouse was adequate but I was pleased our Mazda CX-5 had all-wheel drive. A combination of recent grading and recent heavy rain had created a few slippery sections like this one.

It seems the architect who designed the Smoky Cape lighthouse was on a roll with this variation on the same theme. There are marked similarities between the Smoky Cape and Green Cape lighthouses. The associated dwellings are built along the same lines as the lighthouse (functional and indestructible), and of course they share the mandatory lighthouse colour scheme – white with white trim.

The views looking out to sea from the cliff top directly in front of the lighthouse. Without a ship or surfer in the water, it is very difficult to grasp the scale of these seas. But it was very rough – the sort of seas I imagined you would only see from a ship on the high seas in a storm.

The Tasman Sea below the point on which Green Cape lighthouse sits
The ocean was in a constant state of turquoise turmoil close to the headland as the big seas heaved and swirled around the reefs and rocky outcrops. I was mesmerised by the power and beauty of this sight at such close quarters. At any given moment there was so much happening in this area of water.
Australasian gannet soaring low while feeding in rough seas and big swell close to the point on which Green Cape lighthouse stands
Business as usual for an Australasian gannet which was soaring the short-lived rising air on rearing waves and taking evasive action as large or breaking waves loomed.
Australasian gannet soaring the waves
Another Australasian gannet dwarfed but seemingly not threatened by the seas just beneath it.
Australasian gannet soaring the waves in big seas
The gannets preferred diving for fish in the water that wasn’t white and turquoise.
Australasian gannet soaring the waves in big seas
Adult Australasian gannet in the foreground, and juvenile gannet top right.
Australasian gannet soaring the waves in big seas
Australasian gannet soaring the waves in big seas
Australasian gannet soaring the waves in big seas
Oceanic scale.

Three ocean swimming options at Bermagui

Horseshoe Bay Surf Beach

Horseshoe ocean beach at Bermagui
Horseshoe Bay beach faces north which means it is protected from typical swell. A group of locals do a lap or two of the bay out behind the waves and parallel to the beach daily at 8am.
Horseshoe beach, Bermagui NSW
Horseshoe Bay. Some morning swimmers tracking parallel to the shore. The water temp here in March was 22°C.

Ocean pool (protected by a stainless steel shark net) near the entrance to the bay

Bermagui netted ocean pool
This attractive ocean pool is about 160m long and 30-50m wide. The water in it is refreshed with every tide. The only opening to the ocean is at the far end of the breakwater on the left, where there is a ‘net’ (actually stainless steel linked rings on a wire grid) to keep uninvited critters out. I saw some fish and a few little frying pan stingrays when I swam here.
Bermagui netted ocean pool
Close by are outdoor showers and an amenities block. All very civilised.
Bermagui netted ocean pool
They thought of everything.

The Bermagui ‘Blue Pool’

Ocean from cliff near Bermagui Blue Pool
What a location for a swim (in the immediately adjacent Blue Pool).
Bermagui Blue Pool
The weather was not summery but I couldn’t resist a swim here.
Bermagui Blue Pool, with waves washing into the deep end
The spa feature at the northern end of the pool.
Steps leading into green water of Bermagui Blue Pool
A most inviting location for swimmers and onlookers.
Freshwater shower at the Blue Pool at Bermagui
I doubt there is a post-swim shower anywhere in Australia with a better view.

Postscript

A couple of days after we left Bermagui a very large swell hit the NSW coast. The following photo was taken from the viewing area on the cliff tops above the Blue Pool by the Camel Rock Surf School (located at Wallaga Lake just north of Bermagui) and posted on its Facebook page.

White-bellied sea eagle near Bermagui

White-bellied sea eagle soaring cliffs near Bermagui
Immature (as distinct from juvenile) white-bellied sea eagle soaring over a headland in a strong wind late in the day. Juveniles have a black band across the end of the tail which they lose after the first year. This bird is possibly a second or third year bird. A juvenile is a bird with its first set of feathers. Juvenile birds moult their juvenile plumage and develop sub-adult plumage during which stage they can be referred to as immature. The WBSE takes around 5 years to reach a definitive adult plumage.

This bird was one of a pair which flew the length of long beach to a headland, where they cavorted effortlessly in the rising air as the strong south easterly wind blew up and over the cliffs. They wheeled and dived and performed spirited aerobatic manoeuvres. They occasionally appeared to contact each other face to face with wings spread and legs extended forward. This photo was taken when the bird was directly above where I was standing, with the camera pointing vertically upwards. The bird was flying level when these shots were taken.

4 thoughts on “Ten days on the mid-north and south coasts of New South Wales

  1. Great photos John, how lucky we are to live in such a gorgeous part of the country, NSW beaches are up there with the best of Australian coastlines🤗

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    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi John. As usual enjoyed all the shots and your well researched commentary. And your observation that the crested tern either has his hair like a private school boy or a punk simply determined by whether he has a head wind or a tail wind – surely that warrants a letter to the editors of your bird book.
    At Trial Bay with your highlighting of the water temperature being 26deg didn’t hide the tiny bit of wetsuit in the shot – shame on you! Looking forward to catching up with you for a swim in the pure but slightly cooler waters of Apollo Bay. Cheers. Richard

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Richard, Thanks for your comments. As for the scurrilous allegation that I was wearing a wetsuit in 26°C water (‘scurrilous’ because of lack of evidence), I think that what you mistook for a part of a wetsuit in the photo of the thermometer was in fact either my Garmin watchband or my black Shark Bait swim cap.
      Looking forward to a swim with you in ocean water of a proper temperature at Apollo Bay next weekend.
      Cheers, John.

      Liked by 1 person

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