As the sea mist rolled across our campsite on the headland above Bittangabee Bay, we propped another log on the fire, moving in closer to warm ourselves on the flames. It was late spring and the days were warm, but even as the chorus of cicadas grew to a deafening roar the evening chill was setting in, hastened by the dampness of the cool mist.
We were in Ben Boyd National Park on the far south coast of New South Wales and had spent the day exploring the Park’s southern stretch, where we were immediately taken by the raw natural beauty of the place, as well as the fascinating history of whaling and shipwrecks. The area is still reminiscent of the grandiose ideas and subsequent bankruptcy of Benjamin Boyd in the 1800s, who left his mark on the region in numerous ways, not least as the namesake for the current-day National Park.
You can uncover these gems using one of the Park’s excellent bush campsites as a base, or on a day trip from nearby Eden. Either way, you’ll easily keep yourself busy uncovering ruins, enjoying the rugged coastal views, tramping the Park’s many coastal tracks, or fishing, surfing, snorkelling and swimming in the cool waters of the bays.
HIGHWAY OF LIGHTS
The winding, narrow dirt road to Green Cape takes you past a lookout over Disaster Bay on the Park’s southern edge. Ominous-sounding name aside, it’s a spectacular view, but this remote stretch of coast has definitely earned its reputation for being treacherous.
As you drive towards the tip of the Cape, the bush clears to low scrub, offering excellent ocean vistas beyond Green Cape Lighthouse, which stands tall at the end of the rocky peninsula. First lit in 1883, the light station is the most southerly of 25 lighthouses built along the NSW coast in the late 1800s and early 1900s, forming the ‘highway of lights’ to more safely direct ships along this rough stretch of coastline.
It’s a short walk to the Green Cape Lookout, past the light station grounds. The lookout offers uninterrupted views up and down the coast – as jagged and wild as expected – and is supposedly the best spot in the Park for viewing the annual humpback whale migration. Guided tours of the grounds can be booked and you can even stay in the old lighthouse keepers’ cottages, which have been converted into comfortable heritage accommodation.
Several shipwrecks lie near here – one of the more famous is the Ly-ee-moon, which found itself in trouble during heavy seas en route from Melbourne to Sydney in 1886. Seventy-one people died in the tragedy and you can walk the short distance to the cemetery to pay your respects.
This is also the start (or finish) point for the three-day Light to Light walking track, which stretches 30km north from here to Boyd Tower.
On the drive back to camp, we stopped to check out the short walk to City Rock. Here, the fiery orange lichen-encrusted rocks drop sharply into the blue depths of Disaster Bay, providing the perfect spot to perch while watching a lone fisherman throwing a balloon rig off the rock platform. While he didn’t seem to be having much luck, apparently catches of marlin, yellowfin tuna and sharks are not out of the question.
BRILLIANT BUSH BASES
The turnoff to Ben Boyd NP is less than 20km south of the seaside town of Eden, making it an easy day trip for campers who want the conveniences and facilities of a caravan park – and there’s certainly no lack of choices nearby. For those who prefer a back-to-basics bush camp and the joy of awakening among the trees, the National Park has two excellent options – Bittangabee and Saltwater Creek campgrounds.
We’d chosen the quieter of the two – Bittangabee – as our base. There’s a mix of cordoned-off, drive-in sites, perfect for camper trailers and smaller RVs, as well as grassy tent sites on the headland above the bay. The drive-in sites are hard and rocky, each with a fire pit, and enough distance between you and your neighbours. Not that this was an issue, because it seemed we were only sharing the campground with the wallabies and lyrebirds, who took no notice of the site boundaries anyway.
The small, protected beach near the campground is a lovely spot to cool off and the bay’s rocky edges provide a bit of fun snorkelling, albeit a little murky during our stay. Across the bay, the aquamarine water contrasts starkly with the red rocks, upon which sits the ruins of the old storehouse – once used for holding supplies for the lighthouse at Green Cape.
The Saltwater Creek campground is also a great option and has grassier sites than Bittangabee. The campground is set right behind the beach and a decent right-hand point break makes this a popular surf spot. At the north end of the beach, Saltwater Creek meets the ocean and the shallow waters are perfect for splashing about. There are also plenty of good spots on the beach or rocks to throw in a line.
THE BEAUTY OF BOYD
Benjamin Boyd was a Scottish entrepreneur with grand visions of building a large commercial empire and, at one point, was one of the largest landholders in the NSW colony. Twofold Bay, on which the northern edge of this section of the National Park sits, was at the centre of his empire, which included shipping and whaling interests.
One of Boyd’s many extravagances, Boyd Tower was originally constructed as a lighthouse, but he was denied permission to operate it privately. It’s an imposing sandstone structure, perched atop the headland near the entrance to Twofold Bay. It was subsequently used by Boyd’s whaling crews as a lookout for whales entering the bay, providing them a distinct advantage over their competitors, who shared a lookout further inside the Bay.
In the 1840s, Boyd began construction on Boydtown – a private town on the edge of Twofold Bay – to service the thriving port of his dreams, but financial difficulties soon put a halt to it. By the late 1840s, he had abandoned his interests at Twofold Bay and left to find his next fortune in the Californian goldfields. Today, the remnants of Boydtown can still be found on the outskirts of the National Park, including the refurbished boutique hotel – the Seahorse Inn – and the ruins of the old church.
A WHALE OF A TIME
Twofold Bay was the site of Australia’s first shore-based whaling station and the final stop of our Ben Boyd NP explorations was the old Davidson Whaling Station. There’s no parking for trailers so it’s best to visit once you’ve already set up camp.
The old homestead is nestled under the trees and the jacarandas were in full bloom as we followed the path down to the tranquil inlet, once home to the not-so-peaceful whaling station. A few remnants of the old try-works station, where whale oil was distilled from whale blubber, are all that’s left and it’s hard to imagine the horrors of the whaling industry that once dominated these waters.
In the 1840s, during the early days of whaling in the area, up to 27 whaling boats reportedly operated in the Bay. But by 1860, when Alexander Davidson established his whaling station, a rapid decline in whale numbers had put many whalers out of business and he had just two competitors for the whales sighted offshore.
While you’re in the area, it’s also worth visiting the Killer Whale Museum across the Bay in Eden, where you can learn of the fascinating relationships developed between whalers and orcas, who assisted in hunting humpback and southern right whales during the time the industry flourished. This unlikely partnership was facilitated by local Yuin men working in the whaling crews, whose people are the traditional custodians of this land and formed bonds with the orcas over many generations.
Check out the full feature in issue #124 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.