The Pages Island Expedition. 21st – 24th April 2023
By Greg Adams
The Pages islands expedition was the brainchild of Phil Doddridge, an ambitious adventure starting at Victor Harbor and ending at Second Valley via Tunkalilla Beach, The Pages, Pink Bay, KI, Antechamber Bay, and Cape Jervis.
The weather gods needed to be on our side, and they were, providing the perfect wind and weather conditions for this epic adventure. The only real problem was a strong ground swell.
Day 1 – Victor Harbor to Ballaparudda Beach
Seven paddlers, Phil and Pat Doddridge, Tresh Pearce, Karl Meyer, Giresh Chandran, Gordon Begg, and I met at the Bluff boat ramp, Victor Harbor at 8am on Friday the 21st of April.
Conditions were perfect, the sun was shining, and the wind was absent. We managed to be on the water and left by 9am passing The Bluff, West Island and rounding Newland Head after 2 hours paddling.
Waitpinga and Parsons beaches had a large oily swell rolling in and a grey sky above, creating an eerie atmosphere.
Karl and Tresh paddled in close near the surf zone to experience the power of the swell as we continued approx. 1 km out to sea, waiting for them to join us again at Parsons beach.
Looking for a place to land
Leaving Parsons beach, we realised that landing at Tunkalilla beach with this size swell would be very difficult. There were two options, Callawonga and Ballaparudda beaches, just prior to reaching Tunkalilla. Arriving at Ballaparudda, the closest, 23km from Victor Harbor, it looked quite manageable. We decided that this would be tonight’s camp.
Tresh, Gordon, and Pat successfully made the first landings. Then Karl, I, Giresh, and Phil attempted landing. All capsized in the difficult conditions. Phil’s kayak nosedived into the sand bar causing a fatal fracture in the bow. The kayak was then swept into the rocks on the western shore. All in all, with four in the water it was a disastrous landing attempt. No one was hurt and all gear was salvaged beside the fatally damaged kayak.
Thoughts were with Phil as he had planned the expedition and now, he would have to abandon after only one day on the water.
With Karl’s local knowledge, he managed to wrangle access for his daughter, Sahara to drive down the beach through paddocks to extract Phil and Pat and their kayaks the following morning. Once things settled down, a comfortable campsite was established, and much discussion of the days adventures was had around the campfire.
Day 2, Saturday – Ballaparudda Beach to Pink Bay via The Pages
With a healthy respect for Ballaparudda’s sandbar, the remaining paddlers said their farewells to Phil and Pat and headed out through the surf zone one at a time, Tresh leading.
Within 30 min all were out and prepared for the 16km paddle to North Pages Island in calm conditions with virtually no wind. We were heading slightly east of the islands to counter the flooding tide which worked perfectly, paddling in a tight group, and chatting, we headed south. The closest island was reached in 3 hours and there was a reasonable swell running. A fishing boat was anchored nearby, and we explored the lee of a barren, guano covered, granite island. Australian Sea Lions, screaming Gannets and Terns greeted us, this is a wild place!
Heading around the eastern side to the southern islands, we encountered clapotis waves which kept us very alert. As we paddled between the islands, large boils were appearing indicating submerged bombies. Not a place to hang around. The southern island had a lighthouse and tower. It seemed smaller but just as inhospitable. There is meant to be a place to land on one of the islands, but it was not obvious. A quick feed and discussion and we then headed to Cape Willoughby, 16km away.
To Cape Willoughby
For the first hour we had amazing conditions, blue sky and oily seas and paddling with a flood tide, 7 kph was a comfortable pace. We noticed the tide was drawing us towards Antechamber Bay and on this course, we were potentially going to run into a dangerous shoal called “The Scraper”. Gordon made the decision to head for Cape St Albans. The sea and wind picked up as we got closer to St Albans. We were then working hard against the flood tide to try to get to the cape. The tide was about to change but we were fighting a strong current. My computer was telling me we were not making much headway.
Once we got close to Cape St Albans the tide went slack and we had a beautiful 4km paddle along the cliffs to Pink Bay in the late afternoon. A 16km paddle turned into 24km taking 4.5 hours.
Pink Bay is paradise! (don’t tell anyone). Camp was set and I found out that I had left my tent poles and pegs back at the previous camp. Ben Weigl joined us, paddling from Cape Jervis to Pink Bay in 4.5 hours. He, Tresh, and Karl were going to leave us and explore the south coast of KI the following day, Giresh, Gordon, and I were heading to Antechamber Bay. A beach campfire rounded out a big eventful day.
Day 3, Sunday Pink Bay to Antechamber Bay
We bid farewell to Tresh, Karl, and Ben at 9am the next morning and we went for a walk to Cape Willoughby. From the lighthouse we could see the trio sailing towards Cape Hart, an awesome sight.
We spent a leisurely morning exploring the lighthouse and surrounds returning to camp for lunch and a departure to Antechamber Bay by 1pm to catch the end of the flood tide. It was nice to have a bit of a rest day and only a couple of hours on the water. Passing Cape St Albans was exciting with lots of turbulence and at times travelling with the flood tide at up to 9.5 kmph. An awesome beach camp was made in Antechamber Bay on a glorious afternoon. A walk up the river and through the campground then back along the beach was the end to another perfect day.
Day 4, Monday – Antechamber Bay to Second Valley
Phil had contacted us and had decided to paddle down to Cape Jervis (from Second Valley), wait for us and complete the final leg together. The tide was due to flood at 10.30am. Gordon recommended that we head off at 9am and get as far across Backstairs Passage before the flood tide kicked in and assist us to Cape Jervis and beyond.
The sea was like a mill pond and the first 2.5 hours were a dream. But nothing is ever that easy. 8km from Cape Jervis, a 15kt (27km) northerly head wind blew against the flood tide. The sun was in our eyes and the sea was a crazy mess. It was a tough 1-hour + slog to the shelter of Cape Jervis. It felt like we were not moving but with the flood tide we were easily travelling at over 7kph and at one stage at 10.5kph. What a relief it was to paddle into the harbour and meet Phil, who was lounging on the beach in glorious sunshine. A stark contrast to where we had been.
After a 1-hour break, we headed around the corner and into the gulf. The plan was to camp on Morgan’s beach or a smaller one further north but because of the long weekend, Morgan’s was crowded with car campers. So, we decided to press on and with light winds, sunshine and a following tide, paddling cannot be better.
Because of the high tide the second beach option was not suitable, so decided to press on to Second Valley. We landed at 5.30pm on a balmy evening, finishing the expedition with the final night spent in Giresh’s holiday shack. Perfect.
- Day 1, Friday – Victor Harbor to Ballaparudda Beach – 4 hrs, 23km
- Day 2, Saturday – Ballaparudda Beach to Pink Bay via The Pages – 7.30 hrs, 40km
- Day 3, Sunday Pink Bay to Antechamber Bay – 2 hrs, 10km
- Day 4, Monday – Antechamber Bay to Second Valley – 7.30 hrs, 40km
- Total distance travelled 113km,
- 21 hours paddling including breaks on the water.
- Average moving speed 5.8kph over the 4 days.