Travel: Ben Boyd National Park, NSW
Though most think to the north at this time of year, Ben Boyd National Park is a southern jewel that is best appreciated in the clarity of winter.
SITUATED NORTH AND SOUTH of Twofold Bay and protecting some 30km of NSW south coast shoreline, Ben Boyd National Park is viewed by many tourists as a summer playground. However, the spectacular coastal scenery and historic relics at Ben Boyd National Park make it an attractive destination, even when it’s a tad too cold for water sports.
In addition to maritime features, the park is renowned for its colourful and rugged coastline. The tones and textures of the rocky headlands are the result of extensive geologic folding in the area and if you’re lucky enough to visit on a still day, or with an offshore breeze blowing, you’ll see why the area is known as the Sapphire Coast. This coastal scenery along with a range of sheltered and surfing beaches are outstanding features of Ben Boyd National Park.
It’s easy to spend a couple of days in nearby Eden, and a visit to the Killer Whale Museum is an absolute must. The symbiotic relationship between the Eden whalers and the orcas is well explained and the skeleton of one of the most famous killer whales, Old Tom, is on display here.
As with many national parks, Ben Boyd is best appreciated by setting up your van and then driving and walking to experience the attractions. Nearly all the gravel and dirt roads in the park are suitable for 2WD vehicles, but there are some 4WD-only tracks in the northern section.
Designated campsites are at Saltwater Creek and Bittangabee Bay, in the southern section of the park. Camping is basic – rainwater tanks and pit dunnies – and these areas are particularly crowded during Christmas and Easter holidays. An alternative is to camp outside the park and drive in each day. On our recent trip to Ben Boyd National Park we set up our van in Eden the first night and then moved south of the park, to Timbillica.
Picnicking, swimming, fishing and exploring the coastal environment are popular activities within the park. The Light to Light walking track runs 30km from Boyd’s Tower to Green Cape Lighthouse, and backpack camping is available at Hegartys Bay.
Access to the northern section of the park is via Haycock Road which runs east off the Princes Highway, 8km north of Eden.
There is another entry into the northern part of the park that isn’t signposted. This turn-off is a usually-unmarked track running beside the Waste Recycling Depot, 22.4km along Haycock Road and leads to the relatively deserted areas of Terrace Beach, Lennards Island and North Head. It’s possible to walk out to Lennards Island at low tide, but be sure to watch for the turning tide. We drove this section in a Toyota FJ Cruiser, but our mates had a Nissan Murano that had no trouble negotiating the track conditions.
Along the 2WD section of Haycock Road are turn-offs to The Pinnacles, Quondolo Point, Severs Beach, North Long Beach and Barmouth Beach, and all are worth the short drives and walks. We spent an entire day strolling around the sites in the northern section of the park.
The southern section of the park is different, having great historical interest. Access is via Edrom Road, which runs east from the Princes Highway, 18km south of Eden.
First stop is the Davidson whaling historic site, located just off the road leading to Boyd’s Tower. This partly restored site provides a good opportunity to appreciate the way in which shore-based whaling operations were undertaken at Eden in the 19th century.
Boyd’s Tower is the best-known landmark in Ben Boyd National Park. In British architecture a building like this is known as a ‘folly’, and that’s pretty accurate in terms of our vernacular, too. To understand why, it’s necessary to dig a little into the background of the mysterious character who gave this national park its name.
WHO WAS BEN BOYD?
In 1825, Benjamin Boyd began a career as a stockbroker in London, after spending his school years in Scotland. Australia attracted him and he founded the Royal Bank of Australia, mainly to finance his exploits following his arrival in Sydney in 1842. Only two years later, with significant backing from London financiers, Ben Boyd owned more than 2.3 million acres of fertile land in what are now the Riverina and Monaro regions of NSW.
In need of an export port for meat, hide, tallow and other produce from his properties, he established Boydtown and East Boyd, on Twofold Bay on the NSW south coast.
There was already an established whaling industry in Twofold Bay and Boyd lost little time getting involved. One of Boyd’s initiatives was to erect a tower at the southern entrance to Twofold Bay. He didn’t receive a licence to operate the tower as a lighthouse, but it did make a handy lookout point for many years, from which Eden’s shore-based whalers could watch for whales migrating along the coastline. Some of the sandstone building blocks were used as chessboards by the whale-watchers and the grid marks in the stones are still visible.
Whaling and port development expenses eventually drained Boyd’s capital away. Drought affected his pastoral business and a maritime disaster cost another small fortune, so Boyd’s London financiers voted him out and dispatched his cousin, William Boyd, to Australia to salvage the business. It was too late.
Ben Boyd was left with only his schooner, Wanderer, in which he headed off to the California gold rush in 1849. He had no luck in the goldfields and set sail to return to Australia in 1851.
The schooner pulled into the Solomon Islands en route and Ben Boyd went ashore to shoot game. He was never seen again, but the now-restored tower survives as his memorial.
The real lighthouse – Green Cape Lighthouse – is situated much more appropriately at the northern tip of the aptly-named Disaster Bay, further along Edrom Road.
Ben Boyd’s Tower also figured in the life of Henry Lawson, who met Margaret Midson at the Commercial Hotel, Eden, on his way to Mallacoota. Lawson was reportedly smitten by this 30-year-old school teacher and it’s believed that he dedicated a little-known poem, Ben Boyd’s Tower, to her, which reads in part:
Ben Boyd’s Tower is watching
Watching o’er the sea;
Ben Boyd’s Tower is waiting
For her and me.
Ben Boyd National Park is 8km from Eden, 141km from Cooma, on the NSW south coast. It is accessible by Pambula Beach Road or Haycock Road in the north, or Edrom Road from the Princes Highway in the south.
Camping in Ben Boyd National Park gets crowded in peak season. To book a site during Christmas and Easter, write to the NPWS Merimbula Office, PO Box 656, Merimbula, NSW, 2548, phone (02) 6495 5000, or email FSCR@environment.nsw.gov.au
A $7 fee per vehicle, per day is required in the southern section of the park, payable on top of camping fees.
WORDS AND PICS Allan Whiting
Source: Caravan World Jul 2012