New South Wales
Ben Boyd National Park: NSW's spectacular far south coast
January 13, 2019 • Toby Ley
7 min read
Ben Boyd National Park is a ruggedly beautiful stretch of coast with rocky headlands, heathland, eucalypt forest, coastal littoral rainforest and pristine beaches. And compared to the coastline even directly to the north or south, it is vividly unique.
Ben Boyd is a chunk of Australia’s coastline unlike the rest. Yes, I know that’s not exactly an original claim but if there’s anywhere truly qualified to be labelled as unique, it’s here. It stretches both to the north and south of the idyllic town of Eden and, along with Nadgee Nature Reserve, preserves the only coastal wilderness area remaining in NSW.
This is largely due to the area’s spectacular rock formations. Most impressive are the vibrant red shelves of conglomerate rock set against the azure water. There’s some old geological history involved here, with the red stone a result of the oxygen created by the ancient Gondwanan forests that once grew here. The large amount of oxygen in turn created excessive amounts of iron oxide, which stained the sediments red. Over 400 million years these layers of shales, sandstones, siltstones and qaurtzites were formed by the earth, folded, twisted and curved into the shapes they are frozen in today.
These beautiful formations of geological architecture can be found throughout the area. Platforms of red and black stone, piled high with serrated chunks of rock and weatherworn boulders, most splattered with vibrant carpets of orange lichen.
My partner and I spent two days exploring the park, although it easily could have been longer had the weather held out, and the campsites had been a little less pricey. The amount of good walking trails and stunning beaches here could easily keep you entertained for days, not to mention the coastal lookouts, fishing spots and great showings of wildlife. Between August and September, migrating humpback and southern right whales can regularly be seen off the coast.
And when it comes to whales, this park has some fascinating history concerning the great mammals. It all begins with the Yuin people, the original inhabitants of the land, and the remarkable symbiotic relationship they held with the killer whales that visited the bays here. As the orcas hunted, they would drive humpback whales into shore, where the Yuin people would then use spears to hunt them in the shallows. The resulting meat was then shared by orcas and people alike. This practice was later taught and adopted by the early European settlers, leading to the establishment of the first shore-based whaling station on mainland Australia, Twofold Bay in 1928.
And that is where the park’s namesake comes into the picture. Scotsman, Benjamin Boyd, a young and aspiring entrepreneur, arrived in Australia in the early 1800’s, intent on making his mark on this country and possibly a fortune to go with it.
Keen to get in on the whaling action, Boyd launched a competing whaling station, building his own town and private lighthouse out of his own pocket. A hotel, church, houses and stores were established at Boydtown, and while he was denied permission to operate his lighthouse, he instead turned it into a lookout in order to alert the nearby whaling crews.
Boyd, sadly, wasn’t destined for greatness in Australia, soon finding himself bankrupt as his town was slowly abandoned. He set out to seek his fortune elsewhere, only to vanish in the Solomon Islands some years later, after failing to strike it rich at the Californian Goldfields. Many remnants of his efforts can still be found throughout the park.
We visited the northern section of the park first, between the coastal towns of Eden and Merimbula. This section is free to visit, and while there’s no camping, it does provide some excellent day visits. Pinnacle Rock is a short walk to an eroded slab of cliff line cast in vivid layers of orange and white. Personally, the colours and formations reminded me of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon in Arizona, USA.
Beyond this, there are several beaches popular for fishing and swimming, although my pick goes to the tranquil Severs Beach. After a short walk, you can find it hidden just within the mouth of a wide coastal river.
The southern section hides the brunt of the park, and is a vast area of largely unspoilt wilderness, aside from the unfortunate logging grounds seen on the way in. At its most northerly point sits the historic whaling station, as well as Boyd’s Tower and the remnants of Boydtown.
To the south, the drive in is about 25kms of 2WD-accessible dirt road which starts through tall groves of coastal forest, before falling into casurina woodland. Day use fees of $8 apply here, and there’s a pay station by a nice lookout over Disaster Bay.
The headland soon begins to narrow, with the landscape transforming into coastal heath. There are a few worthwhile side trips, in particular the short walks to City Rock and Pulpit Rock, featuring some of those great coastal rock formations. At the end, Greencape Lighthouse rises from the rocky headland as it crumbles into the ocean. We had a brief glimpse of some passing humpback whales from atop the lookout here.
This section of coast has been the site of numerous shipwrecks over the years, hence the aptly named Disaster Bay just around the corner. The lighthouse was built in 1883, although ultimately the wrecks continued. One such wreck, the Ly-ee-moon, sank in 1886, and a nearby graveyard honours the 76 victims.
The Greencape Lighthouse is also the start (or end) of the Light to Light walk; a 30km trail that traverses the entire southern section of the park, all the way to Boyd’s Tower. We only tackled the first section from the Lighthouse to Pulpit Rock, which serves as a good introduction to the full walk. The track stays mostly in view of the cliff line, crossing open expanses of heath. It was a great area for wildlife, with snakes and echidnas along the track, sea eagles soaring overhead, and with emu-wrens, ground parrots and other uncommon bird species hiding within the heath.
As for camping, the park boasts two well-equipped campgrounds, although they aren’t exactly cheap at $24 plus the day use fee. Saltwater Creek’s the slightly more remote of the two, with a nice beach and a few shallow lagoons, while Bittangabee Bay hides a spectacular turquoise cove bordered by rust-red rocks and the verdant forest beyond. There seemed to be no shortage of wallabies, wombats and lyrebirds around Bittangabee campsite, and we even had a few bandicoots and ring-tailed possums hanging around after dark.
Just to the south, Nadgee Nature Reserve is a huge swathe of pure wilderness, with a few established walks hiding more rugged coastal scenery, and longer overnight hikes for those looking to really escape for a few days.