For a country with a relatively short history compared to its European or Asian counterparts, the past may not be steeped in rich incidents. But whatever memories it has, Australia has beautifully preserved the same for the future. One such jewel, rich in natural beauty, significant from the gaze of history, is the Kamay Botany Bay National Park – more famous for being the landing site of the British explorer James Cook than the Botany or the Bay. In fact, this was the first landing site of the British on the continent, and hence a watershed event in the anglicized history of the country.
This secret land – Terra Australis – hidden in the Pacific waters, all so mysterious and enigmatic, was a source of great anticipation and excitation among European powers – the Dutch, French and the English were all equally inclined to seek this land and stake their own claim. The story goes that Britain had sent an astronomical expedition to Tonga to study the transit of Venus. A secret mission planted therein the innocence of stargazing was for James Cook to map and explore the-then unknown and mysterious land of Oz. And explore he did – much of which helped Britain to consider the setting up of the island at the end of the world as a penal colony for its overfilled prisons at home.
The Kamay Botany Bay National Park is a couple of hours drive from the city, via Cronulla. There is a quaint visitor centre here wherein you can learn of the three main walking tracks – the Muru trail, the Yena trail and the Burrawang Walk. We chose the latter as it was the easiest, grazed along the seaside and also because of an obelisk – a modest monument erected at the spot where Cook’s entourage met the aboriginals for the first time and thus, historically very important. Being a National Park, the place today is beautifully maintained (like most of the country’s parks in general) with typical jade green carpets, small sandy coves, bleeding blue seas and a wonderful cocktail of quintessentially colourful Aussie birds (sample the kookaburra, cockatoo, galah, lorikeet among others). The hikes through the vegetation here is pleasant especially on a sunny day when you can bask in the brightness and imagine the bicentennial past. Besides the obelisk, you will also find a small tombstone for one of the crew members who sadly died within a few days of the landing (thus holding the dubious record for the first English burial in the country). The Burrawang walk continues along sandy strips with azure waters – it makes for a very relaxing walk with an occasional angler patiently awaiting his catch. On a clear day, you can also see the lands on the other side of the Botany Bay – the sprawling greens of the more popular La Perouse and the New South Wales Golf Club lie diagonally opposite this part of the National Park. However, the views are not all naturally munificent – industrial construction and cranes not very far away do tamper with the views from this vantage point (there is a refinery nearby and the construction all around seemed to be an impact of the same).
What I really cherished however, was a small memorial celebrating this mingling of cultures. There was one word on it: ‘Remembering’ – a small endeavour to not forget the country as it was once: a simple life with rustic people happy in the primeval beauty of their own lands. Much has changed today, not without the controversies of how the land was won over. And yet, even after two centuries, the kookaburra still sits silently atop a eucalyptus, inspecting the rugged land; the spear lily still grows tall with its vividly red flowers offered as bounty to the blue skies; the golden wattle still shakes mirthfully in a Southerly. That’s nature’s way of reminding us that life needs to go on as ever, that nothing really changes.
Having had our share of history, we travelled a bit southwards from the National Park to Cape Solander, named after the famous Botanist from Cook’s entourage. The Solander Drive through the National Park takes you to the Cape Solander Lookout – It is a beautiful view point to gaze into the seas, especially during whale season from June to November when these behemoths migrate from the Antarctic waters in cold winter to the upper latitudes, grazing frequently along the eastern coast of Australia. This lookout is considered to be one of Sydney’s most beautiful vantage points for whale watching – you might be lucky to spot a giant humpback somersault in the waters here. The cape oozes with the raw primordial beauty that is so vivid all over this far flung continent. There are steep cliffs that have been patiently, yet furiously eroded by the lashing mega-waves of the Pacific. It’s very reminiscent of the typical cliffs and escarpments that you can see vividly strewn all along the coast of New South Wales including the ones seen on the famous Bondi –Coogee walk. Frankly speaking, at that point, the steep cliffs with wonderfully eroded sides and the mega caves crashing onto them reminded me of the twelve apostles on the Great Ocean Drive in Victoria. Walking on these cliffs is a breathtaking experience – I observed the striated marks of the lava flow that once made these igneous rocks millennia ago. For a brief moment, I was wondering of the travels of this oldest continent on the planet, breaking away from the Antarctic shelf far south and sailing alone on the Pacific, until it anchored itself on one end of the planet.
As I mentioned before, the best term to describe the beauty of Australia is ‘primordial.’ Stark, vivid and raw would suit just as well, defining this vast wilderness sprinkled with its own version of floral and faunal beauty.
Distance: Roughly 2 hours drive from the city
Where to eat: There is a small cafeteria at the visitor centre inside the Park – otherwise, there are more options outside the Park all along Cronulla.
What else: The Royal National Park is immediately south of this one after a drive of roughly 20 kms. Bundeena beach is a popular hangout with placid waters and plenty of eateries. Another fabulous place is the Wattamolla beach (40 km drive) with an amazing lagoon and a cascade trickling onto its green waters