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The Great Australian Survivors Trek

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to traverse through unchartered territory, with limited resources and only the determination to reach your destination to urge you on each day? To know that your survival, and that of others, relied on your ability to reach your destination. To explore the unknown and learn from the journey that is taken. Would you have what it takes to be a survivor?  

No Roads Expeditions recently took three competition winners from James Squire and a videographer from We Are Explorers from Ninety Mile Beach in Victoria, to Wattamolla in NSW. They say there’s no better way to learn about historical events than through direct experience, as the Great Australian Survivors Trek (GAST) group discovered, retracing the steps of an amazing story of survival that occurred over 200 years ago. 

In 1797, the Sydney Cove, was shipwrecked off Preservation Island near Tasmania. A group of fourteen, led by William Clarke, attempted to return to Sydney in a longboat to raise the alarm when tragedy struck them again. In rough seas, their longboat was destroyed along 90 Mile Beach in Victoria, with their only option to walk the unknown coast back to Sydney. The remarkable journey of the survivors was the first known European exploration of the south eastern coast of Australia and marked the first contact between Aboriginals and Europeans in this area. The shipwrecked group were ill equipped with minimal provisions but were determined to reach their destination.   

Following their story of survival, the GAST group set off from Seaspray on 90 Mile Beach to walk 22km to the Trinculo Shipwreck. While there is no longer evidence of the longboat wreck from 222 years before, the Trinculo shipwreck seemed a fitting way to honour the survivors of the Sydney Cove who were faced with such a long journey ahead of them. A haunting grey sea mist engulfed the wreck as we approached, creating thoughts of ghosts of sailors past guiding us on our journey. A frolicking whale just off the shoreline was an entertaining way to end the first long day.

The shipwreck survivors covered distances of 30 km a day and were frequently delayed by the many lakes and river inlets that opened to the ocean beside which they walked. Unlike the original survivors, we utilised some modern conveniences, including a car, warm accommodation, great food, and hot coffee to make our journey easier. 

Over the next few days, we crossed the Ben Boyd National Park, with an overnight stop at Saltwater Creek.  We trekked through 36 km of some of the most breathtaking terrain we had ever encountered with rugged cliffs, rocky beaches and wildlife aplenty. The colour palette of mother nature captivated us as every step unearthed more beauty


A highlight for the GAST group was to see the dolphins dancing through the breakers, as the orange hues from the sun rose on the horizon at dawn.

Our trek continued on from the mouth of the Bega River at Mogareeka to Nelson Beach, via the Ford walking track. The trail took us to sheltered beaches where we watched more dolphins enjoy a morning swim, before boarding the car for the long drive to Pebbly Beach to continue our GAST expedition.  The car rides were a great opportunity to rest, share stories, find great coffee locations and stop in to visit those one off sight-seeing spots that the Sapphire Coast is famous for.  

Low tide gave us a perfect opportunity to scale the jagged rocks to reach a secluded beach at Horse Head Rock.  As the name suggests, the rocks formation depicts a horses head, dipping it’s nose to the sea below.  

Tide times made many of our coastal walks impassable, forcing us to continue our journey via inland tracks, a problem the original survivors would surely have encountered.  After watching the kangaroos struggle with the prevailing winds, we climbed the steep Durras Mountain and were spoilt by glimpses of the turquoise ocean below as we walked on to Merry Beach.  Not wanting to miss the planned coastal walk, we returned to Pretty Beach the following day to walk the rock shelf at low tide back to Pebbly Beach via Snake Bay. The unmarked route followed slippery rock shelves, towering rock walls, remote pebble beaches, and unmarked tracks through the headlands. We were all appreciative of the 5am starts to see the beauty that came from the sun rising in these remote areas.

A visit to Murramurang Aboriginal Reserve to pay our respects to the elders past who had aided the shipwreck survivors by guiding their passage through their country was an important part of the GAST journey.  The reserve protects the largest midden on the South Coast, and a lagoon to the north of the headland that, according to Dreamtime beliefs, is home to a serpent involved in the creation of the land. The GAST group had learnt much during their journey about the Traditional Owners of country and recognised their continuing connection to land, waters, and culture.

Another sunrise, another adventure as we headed from Gerringong to Cathedral Rocks via the Kiama Coastal Walk.  Mother nature was against us as we set off over the rolling coastline in bitterly cold conditions that weren’t conducive for hiking, but didn’t stop us enjoying the adventure. The 25 km coastline was different from where we’d walked, and included a residential area and people, a strange concept after traveling so far with little outside interaction. The highlight was scaling the rock walls between tidal surges to enter a cave and get pictures of the iconic Cathedral Rock.  We were captivated with yet another display of amazing rock formations produced along the NSW coast and were sure that this was one discovery that the original survivors would not have made.

The final leg for the GAST team was walking from Otford to Wattamolla, the site where the remaining three survivors were rescued by boat and returned to Sydney.  After two months of walking the unexplored coast, the story of their adventure and survival shocked the colony. As we reached Wattamolla Beach, we had survived our GAST adventure, and while we were glad to have the comforts of home within our reach, we were sad that the journey had come to an end.  An amazing experience to retrace history with a great group of worthy competition winners.  

There’s an explorer in all of us. The challenge of surviving the journey is how far we push ourselves and dare to venture into the unknown. Sometimes the path is difficult, sometimes you need to step outside your comfort zone, but this is where you find out what you are made of. Give it a shot, you might just surprise yourself.

No Roads Expeditions, Delivering Adventure Everyday.


Robyn Marklew

No Roads Expeditions Guide