The sheltered waters around Sydney are perfect for kayaking and for the more adventurous, the rugged coasts await. Here, pro paddler Kevin Green takes us through his Captain Cook-inspired journey and shares his journey by sea from Botany Bay to Bundeena.
Getting started in Botany Bay
Launching your kayak from one of the sheltered bays around Sydney starts your adventure without even leaving the city and there are plenty of waterways. One of the quietest is Sydney’s other harbour — the one Captain Cook first discovered in 1870, Botany Bay. Reaching Botany Bay by kayak can be done from the south of the city, via the Georges River or as I did recently, from near my house in the inner west of Sydney using the quieter Cooks River. My favourite trip is to kayak the length of the Cooks River with the ebb tide and then be picked up by car at the seaward end. There’s a large boat ramp near the Botany Bay estuary or the more adventurous can paddle out into the bay at Brighton Le Sands.
An offshore adventure
As an experienced and trained kayaker with many years of paddling experience, I enjoy adventurous trips. One of my latest was kayaking the Cooks River, crossing Botany Bay and out to sea, before going down the coast to arrive at Bundeena on Port Hacking. This was a 30km, eight-hour solo paddle. Paddling offshore is adventurous and I find doing it alone is particularly meditative. Salt water is also good for the mental abrasions found on land! Sharing the experience in our double kayak is also enjoyable, but I confine our family trips to sheltered waters.
One of the most enjoyable parts of these larger trips is the preparation, as well as the participation. My motto is the 6Ps rule, which was taught to me at an adventure training course: Planning and Preparation Prevent Pathetically Poor Performance.
My kayak had been prepared and all the planning had been done. I’d checked wind and swell conditions, packed all my safety gear and had given my wife my passage plan (just in case!).
The meticulous Captain Cook would have approved of my forward-thinking, so I paid tribute to him by paddling across Botany Bay. After the five kilometre descent of the Cooks River, my arms were pumped. As I paddled towards Kurnell, I fell into a steady motion, with my shoulders doing most of the work.
I aimed my bow at the sea entrance where Cook first set foot on Australian soil. Ahead, planes skimmed low over the sea as they approached the airport while a ship moored at the container terminal. Approaching the forested peninsula, the tall obelisk marking Cook’s landing came into view.
A swell crashing against the shore warned of the rising wind beyond the coast, so my landing at Cook’s monument was brief. Eating my sandwich, I contemplated what the local Gweagal tribe would have felt at this first white incursion.
Back at sea, I splashed my way out of the entrance, the kayak rising and falling amid the 2m easterly swells that crashed against the jagged coastline. There would be no landing spot until seven kilometres down the coast at Cronulla, where only Boat Haven offered shelter from the swells.
Glancing at my Garmin GPS, I noted coastal marks — Cape Salander where the infamous Ours surf break rises and then Cape Baily, as I turned towards Cronulla. With the wind behind me, I pulled a line to hoist my sail.
My speed rose to five knots in places where I surfed down the swells for a thrilling ride past Cronulla, while a school of fish jumped nearby, followed by flocks of chasing gulls. Resting to sip from the water bladder in my backpack I marvelled at being out alone at sea, happily at one with my own small 15-foot craft.
Paddling on, the entrance of Port Hacking neared and my thoughts turned to reaching my friend’s beach house for the weekend and a cold VB in the bowlo; the simple things that enhance a kayaker’s life!
Getting There: Cooks River access is from Hurlstone Park where there’s free parking.
Staying There: At Bundeen, camping is available at the Bonnie Vale National Parks site and private houses via Air BnB. A ferry runs from Bundeena to Cronulla every day several times.
Activities: The Royal National Park has lots of walks and in the winter, whale watching is popular. The Hacking River can be paddled to Audley Weir which is nearer the motorway than Bundeena. Bundeena is known for its resident artists and annual art show in August and of course the bowlo.
Kevin’s kayaking tips:
Choose your kayak wisely: For the beginner without any formal training, the sit-on-top variety is the safest and easiest to handle. You simply don your lifejacket, sun protection and paddle away. Should you tip over, you can easily crawl back on. Whereas, the traditional sit-in kayaks require more skills and become dangerous if capsized.
It’s all about technique: It’s best to learn a few basic strokes, such as bracing to avoid tipping over and remember to paddle with your torso, not just your arms (or you’ll tire quickly). Also, ensure feet are braced against a bulkhead and that your seat is adjusted upright. I’m British Canoe Union trained and have competences in Eskimo rolling, kayak surfing, navigation and have done a lot of general paddling. Joining a club or the canoe association is a great way to gain skills.
How to stay safe: Water safety includes an ability to swim, a life jacket is a legal requirement and a third rule is generally always paddle with a buddy.