By Nic Stoltzfus
Day Three: Saturday, August 23rd
Saturday we headed back to Neslon Bay for a second attempt to fly over the area with a helicopter. We talked to the pilot, John Herrick, and he said the weather was looking a bit dodgy, but we could have a look at the rest of the area by going up to Gan Gan Lookout, an overview at the top of Gan Gan Hill near the helipad. We drove up the steep road and walked to the overlook. It was a near 360 degree lookout with only a few trees blocking a portion to our southeast. Port Stephens, where the Myall River flows into, was shrouded in fog and I watched a lone boat disappear into the pillowy blanket of water vapor. Clustered around the lookout were these beautiful lilies with little birds hopping from flower to flower, drawing nectar from the blood-red blooms. Dr. Stock told me these are gymea lilies and the little birds are called silver eyes. I peered through my zoom lens at the birds and, sure enough, their eyes were like little crescents of shining silver dollars. I captured some pictures and we drove back to the helipad. Alas, the fog didn’t lift so we rescheduled the helicopter fly-over for a third and final try on Sunday. We really needed these aerial shots to tell the story of the lakes, and I hoped that it would work out tomorrow!
From Nelson Bay we drove around the port to the north side of the Bay at Tea Gardens. Although we could make out the outline of Tea Gardens and nearby Hawk’s Nest from across the bay, there is no bridge spanning Port Stephens, so we had to make a 45-minute drive around to get to the other side.
We arrived at Tea Gardens a little after one. It is a small town and a working seafood port with a mix of tourism, shops and local community. Here we met up with Ross Fidden at his restaurant, Mumm’s on the Myall, located on the western banks of the Myall River. Along with owning the restaurant, Ross is an active fisherman and is also the Chairman of the Commercial Fishermen’s Co-Operative, Ltd. Errol, Dad, and I hopped onto Ross’ construction yellow fishing boat and began heading up the Myall River towards the first lake in the Myall River system—the Broadwater. By now the fog was saturated with water and it began drizzling a steady light rain. We zipped up our waterproof jackets and slid the cameras back into the Pelican cases. With the wind rushing past us as we coursed up the Myall, this Florida boy was cold! After half an hour Ross slowed down and pulled up to a fishing cabin. When we stopped he told us that this is his campsite when fishing prawns along the Myall.
“Prawns here will start about October and normally run from about October which, in Australia, is the spring. Start of the summer. Summer starts in December. And they will run through about ‘til April, May and even sometimes June, which is winter. The water is still cooling down then. And it normally happens around the time of the full moon. So, we start prawning here from about full moon and will go on for about two weeks after that and then the prawns tend to go away with the new moon and come back on with the full moon.”
He also offered a clear definition about how each of the different Great Lakes work,
“…They’re totally different lakes. And even thought they’re very, very close together, Wallis Lake opens directly into the ocean and Wallis Lake has only got a channel that is about a kilometer long from the ocean to the actual lakes itself. Smiths Lake then has another set-up where it’s what I call a closed lake and it only opens to the ocean. And generally when it has been opened up by man, so it is a lake like a dam a few hundred meters from the ocean. Sometimes when it reaches a certain level they will dig a channel and let it go out into the ocean and the ocean comes in and flushes it. Or, if it is a big flood, it might open itself through pressure across the beach into the ocean. So, that makes Smiths Lake a very unique situation. And then we have the Myall Lakes. And the very top lake [Myall Lake] in the Myall is very, very clear water. It is a big lake. It is a whole different lake than what the bottom lake [The Broadwater] is because the bottom lake can be brackish whereas the top lake is fairly fresh because of the distance to get there and there is no rivers that run into it. It’s just run-off from the rainfall.”
After taking a break we followed the Myall River upstream until we reached the aptly named Broadwater. The lake is expansive with the distant shoreline appearing small in the distance, especially when compared to the rolling mountains rimming the lake.
We looped around the southern half of the Broadwater and made our way back to Ross’ restaurant. By the time we arrived I was wet, cold, tired, and hungry. So, we went inside the restaurant and Errol, Dad, and I each ordered the same thing: seafood chowder. It arrived piping hot and chockfull of several different types of local seafood, including fresh prawns. I spooned out a chunk of the chowder with a piece of brown bread and took a bite—I could feel the heat moving outward from my stomach and warming my frozen bones. I smiled and looked across the table at Errol and Dad. Not much was said that meal, surely a good sign of three hungry guys enjoying their food. Looking back, it was the best meal I had in Australia. What a way to end the day!
Next week’s blog: Australia’s Great Lakes Part IV: An Aerial View and Interviewing Dr. Stock.