One scorching day in January, we hid indoors and only ventured out at dusk as the high winds and bushfire smoke were clearing. Our plan was to amble the Cullendulla Creek Nature Reserve, just outside Batemans Bay. We were hopeful that the menagerie described in NSW National Parks & Wildlife brochures- echidnas, oystercatchers, soldier crabs, black swans and the southern emu wren would join us.
The Cullendulla Reserve is a special estuarine wetland area. Despite being so close to residential suburbs, it attracts international teams of scientists. Geologists in particular are interested in its unusual low dune formations called ‘cheniers’. The sand in these dunes record an amazing 7000 years of shoreline changes and are the only such examples of the formation south of Northern Queensland. Botanists visit for the endangered Swamp Oak forest and Spotted Gum trees as well as dense beds of sea grass.
Cullendulla is also special to aboriginal people of the Walbanja language group. Large middens around the estuary tell of hundreds of seasonal gatherings and feasts of oysters, cockles and fish.
Salt- encrusted sand crackled under our feet as the casuarinas whispered overhead. Poking out of tall grass were some wooden rails and rusted iron sheets- perhaps from the tramway that carried felled timber throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.
As we laced our way along raised boardwalk we found bench seats nestling among the unusual mixture of grey and river mangrove trees. These seats gave us ideal resting spots to spy on scores of shy soldier crabs. Fingerlings of presumably whiting, flathead and bream shimmered in rivulets among the ‘pneumatophores’ (mangrove roots).
The path brought us out onto the beach just as dusk was settling. Against a backdrop of gently lapping waves, we poked our noses into the densely tangled roots of fallen trees. They gave up treasures in the form of lost fishing tackle, a two-cent coin and numerous shells through which gnarly fingers had grown.
As ducks and honeyeaters bid us farewell, I knew I would return- for study, pleasure, and creative inspiration. For more information about walking tracks in the sanctuary, visithttp://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkWalking.aspx?id=N0805