Every walk along Potato Point Beach is different, no matter how often I do it. This day, the bush is still showing signs of recent heavy rain and the creek is open to the sea. Neat sandledges have formed and the water is amber-coloured. The sea has left ripples behind, in the sand and under the water.
My eye has been colonised by Paula’s 5-word challenge: I notice sharp hooks I wouldn’t have seen before in one piece of seaweed, which nurses grains of coarse sand. Other seaweed nestles in the tracks of the tide.
I add a word of my own to shape my seeing: simplicity.
When I reach the rockface at the northern end of the beach, Paula’s challenge is activated again, this time my eye is attuned to branching, in the patterns on the rock-face, and in the shaping of sand.
Shells, pebbles and seaweed bubbles cluster, or lie defiantly alone.
Out at sea, a rare sight except during the Sydney-Hobart yacht race: a sailing boat moving slowly along the horizon line.
Then back to the creek and up through the village to that place I occasionally visit and call home.
At this point on the coast, just south of Moruya, there seem to be more beaches than there are beach names. On Saturday we explored the rock platform below the Gray Rocks car park, and headed north, along what looked like a separate beach, to a castellated honeycombed area that seemed to be a natural beach divider. Beyond that was another sheltered beach where a family group were playing with a ball and dancing around in the water. However, my beach bible lumped all these individual beaches under the same name: Bingie Beach North.
On the south side of Grey Rocks, black volcanic outcrops glistened in sun and water. Across the beach nestling under a jaunty cap of bush, the boulders were very different: smooth mottled greys, browns and terracotta. We had no names for the rocks, but plenty of speculations.
Since I had on my rock hopping shoes (new and black and blue), I hopped out onto the rocks, keeping myself steady as I tried to photograph a wave breaking in its burst of spray. I didn’t dare leap over incoming water onto wet rocks, but it didn’t matter because I could walk up a wooden staircase, passing luxuriant pigface smiling at the weather as much as I was, and reach the same point from the other side. There I could debate with J whether the thick black streak humping through the rocks was a dike, and what process shaped it like that.
On the north side of the Grey Rocks headland, the rocks were decorated with a waxy patterning of marble-like quartz, and weed glowed with a copper light. Down its belly, one rock had a strange pattern like stitches after an operation.
The castellations at the other end of this beach were sharp and full of weathered niches. However they were interspersed with clumps of smooth rounded rocks. At one point on the rock platform this junction was very clear. The strangest formations were small caves with a peaked entrance and broken-stone lintels.
Then suddenly as we walked along the sand towards Cathedral Rocks, we were hauled into the present from 450 million years ago. The people on the beach were in fact friends, three of them Poles living in Canberra. So we stood in the sun discussing bilingual children, life in a country not your birth country, good places to visit in Poland and the Polish summer dry which allowed you to wade across the Wisła up to your shoulders. It was, somehow, a disconcerting encounter, meshing as it did two of our worlds.
… what I find beautiful?
Mostly, it would have to do with nature, although I can be inveigled into finding beauty in art and architecture. It seems, from the photos that have made their way into my “miscellaneous beauty” folder that patterns feature a lot in my pantheon, as does the delicacy of dead things. Cruz is beautiful in his general dogginess, and in his totally enviable capacity to leap, sure-footed, from rock to rock. Shade is beautiful, and becoming more so as the weather hots up. Rock pools and their denizens are beautiful: in this case the striped tentacles of a sand anemone. And just look at the scales of the blue tongue lizard, gliding unconcerned by my presence beside a beach track.
Then of course there are the beauties you can't photograph. The touch of sun and breeze on bare skin after it's been incarcerated in clothes all winter. The abrasion of sand between your toes and the swirl of sea around your ankles.
And the whale, just offshore, announcing itself first by a mere puff, followed by a tall thin vertical flipper and a mighty thumping tail, and climaxing its performance with a leap revealing a gleaming silvery-white belly.
This post was prompted by Gilly's “I wonder …” post
This post is for Rosemary whose research skills and interest turned a vague intention into something concrete.
Today we are not visiting a beach: we are visiting the Narooma Accretionary Complex, although it is also called Narooma Beach, or Glasshouse Rocks Beach, depending on who you ask.
The need to know more about the geology of my beaches has been simmering away for a while. Yesterday things began to come together. When, on advice from my research mentor, Rosemary, I googled “Eurobodalla geology”, instead of being precise about Potato Point, I struck it rich – a site with basic geological information, a map, and photos of a number of places close to home. One of my problems in the past has been converting diagrams and abstract information into a relationship with what I see in front of me.
J has a longstanding interest in geology (amongst longstanding interests in just about everything in the natural world), so on Sunday morning we set off to find the track from Narooma cemetery to the NAC, where we were promised chevrons, mylonite and chert. We found a track all right: steep, and slippery, and calculated to shoot your feet down faster than the rest of you. I was determined to reach the beach, so I bummed it down using my stick as a just-effectual brake, surprising J who was expecting me to be daunted.
And there they were, visible even to my inexpert eye, chevrons folded when the Pacific tectonic plate collided with land, creating the tremendous pressure which pushed the layered rock into this very clear zigzag pattern. We stood looking at them, J doing what he does so well: turning earth story into a once-upon-a-time narrative that I can understand.
The beach was stunning. How, I ask myself, could I never have been down here? The heavy seas have taken away sand so rocks once buried are now visible in all their patterned and coloured glory: I know this because of a conversation with another beach-walker. I can't explain the processes that created these beautiful patterns and designs, but one day I may be able to understand as well as admire.
Midway along this section of the beach, I spotted the formations called mylonites. Although I recognised them from the photograph, I can't make sense of any explanation I've yet found.
As I approached Glasshouse Rocks, poking up dark from the clear Narooma water, I saw a smaller companion rock, and beyond the headland, a cluster of spectacular even smaller rocks, some sharp-edged, some rounded. The mainfestation of chert was in deep shade which eradicated detail. I'll need to come back when low tide and afternoon light coincide, and when I'm wearing sandshoes rather than clodhoppery boots. Next time I'll be carrying a bit of knowledge in my head: chert is sedimentary rock material; when it breaks it has very sharp edges (and was therefore highly valued as tool-making material – it's also called flint); Narooma Chert was deposited on the ocean floor over a period of 50 million years (my imagination quails at the time scale) and carried west to its present location when the Pacific plate collided with Gondwana.
When it's time to go home, we don't have to belly our way up the steep, slippery track after all. There is a completely civilised, gently sloping sandy bush track, winding up the hill to the cemetery. I ramble up easily, admiring the view back to that wonderful beach, passing correa bushes, engulfed in the perfume of pittosporum.
Geological questions proliferate, and poring over geological helpmates at home raises more questions than answers. As I spend Monday morning trying to increase my geological knowledge, delighted that I had identified mylonite, chert, and chevrons, I find myself clicking on links every second word, and then links from links, and links from links from links, as I try to understand what I'm reading, and assess the reliability of sites. I tend to distrust any site I can even begin to understand without a savagely wrinkled brow and twenty five rereads.
I hereby certify that I understand at a very basic level anything I outline here, although the temptation of course was to pseudo-knowledgeably cut and paste! If I've got it wrong, please tell me.
Glossary of new words, in bold if I have an inkling of their meaning: chevron … subduction zone … tectonic plates … ductility … turbidite … orogenic belts … Lachlan fold belt … Bogolo formation … mylonites … chert
The pleasures of Bar Beach North (Narooma) come from its layering: the wriggly tree trunks on the hill in the background; the slice of road; the cloud-catching spiky wetlands; the extensive back dunes; the beach with its story of flood and high seas; the curling waves; the lowering clouds; and the faint echo of the past.
I stop at the wetlands, gleaming in the morning light. I spot a gangly moorhen, with its copper sulphate blue chest and red beak; a few ducks; a white crane; and two black swans. The sandy track is inviting, winding between the croaking of frogs; the persistent sound of the surf; and the chirping of busy small birds. The air is heavy with perfume, the source of which I can’t locate, although the dune wattle is the likeliest suspect. Banksias, coastal rosemary, the tiny furry flowers of monotoca, the fluoro purple-pink of pigface, and a mauve sand-flower complete today’s botanical assemblage.
The rockface patterns continue to draw my eye. I’m hoping that a serious perusal of Geology for dummies will begin to give me some insight into the earth-processes at play, and also explain why every bit of rockface I encounter in this 30 kilometres of coastline looks very different from its neighbours less than a kilometre away.
As I walk back along the beach I can see the breakwater, and all the sea-wrack piled on the beach after recent flooding and heavy seas, including pumice, legacy of an underwater eruption far out to sea.
If we could transport ourselves back to the late nineteenth century, we’d possibly see the Bettini family rowing down the inlet to do their washing in the spring at the southern end of the wetlands. We’d hear the hammering from the four shipyards in the inlet, or the sound of picks quarrying rock for training walls to tame the sea at its entrance. However, the only presence today, apart from mine, is a man walking his gallolopy dog.
For the taste of history I’m indebted again to Laurelle Pacey, local historian and journalist. This time my source was her Coastal Reserves Dalmeny – North Narooma: Historical Review
Blackie's is my son's usual surfing beach. You can launch yourself into the rip of the rocks, and get to that desirable starting point, out the back. Except that at the moment a sandbar has removed the efficacy of the rip.
From the lookout above the beach you can see out to the mountains of the Great Divide, a clear blue line beyond Tuross Lake. The beach extends along a sandspit between the ocean and the lake as far as the mouth of the Tuross River. When the lake closes, you can walk across to Tuross Head, but that doesn't happen very often. The spit is covered in dune wattle; and mangroves grow along its shore on the lake. The beach is not all that comfortable to walk along for someone who doesn't like a slope, but it's usually pretty well deserted.
This visit I only walked the part of the beach in front of the caravan park, finding plenty to please me in this short distance: rippling rock-patterns; a memorial plaque to a man who's “gone worming”, a macabre epitaph worthy of Shakespeare; vivid, almost poisonous, green weed on the rocks revealed by low tide; shells, crabs and starfish washed up by rough seas; the woven-together footprints of two walkers.
If you want to explore further, you can camp at Beachcomber Holiday Park, or rent a cabin directly behind the beach, complete with kangaroos. Not all that long ago it was primitive camping only, and I've met a few people who holidayed here fifty years ago, when it was paradise indeed.