A surprising number of Canberrans have not heard of Booderee National Park, despite the fact it attracts almost half a million visitors per year – more than Uluru and Kakadu national parks combined.
Located on the southern shores of Jervis Bay and first established as a national park in 1992, Booderee has a rich indigenous history, and today is jointly managed by its traditional owners and Parks Australia.
Blessed with stunning scenery, Booderee is also home to over 200 species of birds and over 30 species of native mammals including 10 species of bats, 37 reptiles, 17 amphibians and at least 180 species of fish. This great diversity of species is a result of the vast range of habitats in the park, from coastal cliffs and heaths, sandy beaches and rock platforms, mangroves and ocean, swamps, lakes and forests.
In a special two-part series, over the next two weeks this column shines the spotlight on this jewel in the crown of our beloved south coast. First-up, today I share with you my favourite natural features.
1. Hole in the Wall
Although renowned for its dramatic weather-beaten cliffs, Booderee also boasts some lesser-known, but equally as dramatic rock features, including the aptly-named 'Hole in the Wall'.
When first named by Europeans in the early 1800s, this striking formation was a natural window in a remarkable ridge of sandstone, but several decades ago the natural arch collapsed leaving what is now better described as a 'gap in the wall'.
In fact, it's a bit of a mystery about exactly when the arch fell down. While helping me dig up some historic images of the Booderee landmark, Graham Hinton, Curator at the Jervis Bay Maritime Museum told me he "thinks it collapsed at least three decades ago."
You can access this rock feature via a ten-minute stroll from a pull-out bay on the Jervis Bay Road, but a much more adventurous route is the low-tide 4km (return) walk, which starts from Green Patch Beach and leads across seemingly endless crescents of powdery white sand. There are plenty of shady trees along the way, some of which overhang the beach and you are spoilt with idyllic locations choices to cool off in tranquil waters. Divine!
If you have some old holiday snaps which may help determine exactly when the arch collapsed, I'd love to hear from you.
2. Hidden Beaches
While the northern side of the park is home to the most famous beaches in the region – namely Hyams and Green Patch, the southern isn't nearly as well-known. This is partly because the southern side of the Bherwerre Peninsula faces into the Pacific and so the beaches aren't as calm, but it's also because access to some of them can be a challenge.
My stand-outs are the aptly-named Cave Beach and Steamers Beach.
Washed with turquoise waters and backed by a natural grassy embankment, at the western headland of Cave Beach are two naturally-occurring caverns which give the beach its name. While some speculate that survivors from the numerous ships wrecked near here in the mid to late 1800s waited for rescue in these caves, these days they offer welcome respite for beachgoers to the summer heat. When the mercury is pushing mid-30s on the searing sand it can be as cool as 20 degrees in the vast recesses of the caves.
While Cave Beach is accessible via an easy 300 metre walk, Steamers Beach is a bit harder to get to, but it's well-worth the 3km (each way) trek through tall forest and then down the 250 steps (but hey, who's counting) which descend from the top of reportedly the highest cliff on the coast of NSW.
One of the first things you'll notice is that this magnificent, amphitheatre-style beach is backed by steep tea-tree covered sand dunes that are an unusual orange colour. These are thought to have been dumped there by a mega-tsunami around 9000 years ago, the giant high wave washing sediment up steep slopes to an elevation of around 130 m — apparently the highest run up of any tsunami in Australia.
The beach is also inhabited by the endangered fur seal and if the wind is blowing the right (or should that be wrong?) direction, you will certainly smell them before you spot them. Apparently the tasty seals are sought-after tucker for hungry sharks which prowl just off-shore. Throw in treacherous tows and little chance of rescue due to its remoteness and you can understand why this wild beach has the unenviable reputation as one of the most dangerous for swimming in the entire country.
Note, there are no amenities at Steamers, so pack lots of water.
3. Amazing Avians
Booderee is home to diverse birdlife, none more special than the white-bellied sea-eagle which is both the guardian of the Koori people of Wreck Bay and the official emblem of the Booderee National Park.
With a wingspan of nearly two-metres, these majestic birds soar over the coastline, scanning the waters, rock platforms and beaches for food. They can spot a fish from more than one kilometre away, but if hungry they'll also tuck into turtles, penguins, waterbirds as well as medium sized mammals. However, you'll have to be lucky to spot one as only about five breeding pairs live and hunt in the park.
Also lookout for the acrobatic Australasian Gannet . These birds, predominantly white in colour with black wing tips and trailing edges, circle high above schools of fish, then fold their wings, plunging head-first, as fast as a bullet into the water to grab their feed. Just like an Attenborough documentary.
Meanwhile, the heathland hakea especially around Governor's Head attracts an abundance of spinebills and other honeyeaters and is also habitat for the rare and elusive bristlebird.
Don't forget your binoculars!
4. Watery wonders
In the water, one of the reasons for the diversity of marine animals and plants is that both tropical and temperate waters converge at the mouth of Jervis Bay.
Arguably one of the park's biggest drawcards is a pod of about eighty Bottlenose Dolphins which live permanently in and around the adjoining marine park.
These friendly flippers travel and feed in smaller social groups of 10 -12 animals and can often be seen frolicking in the waves close to shore.
Meanwhile, a large breeding colony of several thousand little penguins, also called fairy penguins, live on Bowen Island, near the southern entrance to Jervis Bay.
The world's smallest penguin, these cute critters only grow to 30 centimetres in height, and have prospered on Bowen Island due to the lack of predators such as feral cats, dogs and foxes. While, for conservation reasons, you aren't allowed onto the island, look out for the penguins skimming along the crystal clear shallows of the bay, almost like erratic torpedos.
5. Snake Alley
If you have a fear of snakes, stay clear of Ryans Swamp, or at least be sure to wear long trousers and sturdy boots. According to the ranger who narrates the podcast on the Parks Australia website, this secluded waterhole located on the southern side of the Bherwerre Peninsula "is home to a huge number of snakes," the most he's "ever seen in the one spot!"
The swamp, located just 500 metres from the Cave Beach campground is also a haven for the long necked turtle, black swans and over fifteen frog species.
Next week: The fascinating Indigenous and European heritage of Booderee.
Booderee National Park: Located in Jervis Bay Territory, a 2.5 hour drive from Canberra. Two-day passes for $11 per vehicle.
Don't miss: The Booderee Visitor Centre, located just past the entry gates, where you can seek advice from the rangers as well as purchase camping permits. Ph: 02 4443 0977 or www.parksaustralia.gov.au/booderee
Did You Know? In the Dhurga language, Booderee means 'bay of plenty' or 'plenty of fish'.
Tim's Tip: Before your visit, grab a copy of Booderee National Park: The Jewel of Jervis Bay (CSIRO Publishing, 2014). Richly illustrated with colour images, this book will help you plan your trip. Available for purchase from the Booderee Visitors Centre, over the phone on Ph: 02 4443 0977 or via email at Booderee.firstname.lastname@example.org Proceeds from the sale of this book helps contribute to conservation programs in the Park, and assist the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community - the traditional owners of Booderee National Park.