Alexander Berry was was one of Sydney's original merchants and pioneers. After several adventures on the high seas, including the rescue of the survivors of the Massacre of the Boyd and the subsequent wreck of his ship the City of Edinburgh, Berry settled in Sydney and formed a partnership with Wollstonecraft. They owned the property 'Crows Nest' in Sydney, after which the suburb was named, and took a land grant at Coolangatta, in the shadow of Mount Coolangatta near the mouth of the Shoalhaven (the more famous Queensland Coolangatta is named after one of Berry's ships, that was wrecked on the current day Gold Coast).
In their first attempt to enter the mouth of the Shoalhaven in long boats, five of Berry'e men died, including the boy Davidson who Berry had rescued five years earlier at the Boyd. Berry also had on board his ship Hamilton Hume, later of Hume and Hovell fame, who under instructions from Berry engineered and supervised the convict construction of Australia's first canal, which cut between the mouth of the Crookhaven River and the mouth of the Shoalhaven. The canal was widened by the river flow, and now forms the navigable mouth of the Shoalhaven. The heads of the Shoalhaven are now open only in times of flood. The cutting of Berry Canal also formed Comerong Island, which is now accessible by car ferry across the canal. The island itself is mostly nature reserve.
It is a nice flat a quiet cycle from Nowra out to Comerong Island, with the possibility of crossing the heads to the town of Shoalhaven Heads, and the site of the Berry residence at Coolangatta.
We chose a early Sunday morning train to start to Bomaderry. Exiting from the station, it was an easy cycle to the Shoalhaven River Bridge, The rutn towards Comerong Island was at the first set of lights to the left (unsignposted), however we made a quick diversion into Nowra for coffee. We certainly hadn't earned it yet, but we didn't know when the next possibility would arise.
It was still around 8:30am, and Nowra looked fairly deserted. We cycled around the town losing hope, but found the River Deli open and serving breakfast and coffee.
Back to the lights on the Princes Highway. I needed the GPS to confirm that we had to go down Moss St, but I wasn't 100% sure. OpenStreetMaps was still at bit sparse in this area, so I was happy when 200m down the road we turned onto Tarara Road, and I knew we were going the right direction. Agricultural country here, with a just about every farm having a barrow of sorts out the front selling local produce. We didn't have the produce basket attached, so unfortunately had to pass by.
We saw a couple of passing cars early in the trip, but before long the traffic was such that we could comfortably take the road for cycling. We didn't pass another car between Tarara and Comerong Island. As the road was following the river, it really was dead flat. Only an occasional glimpse of the the river itself though.
We arrived at the car ferry while the ferry master was having morning tea, which seemed to consist in sitting in his car not far from the ferry. It gave us 20 minutes or so to look at the view over the river, and try and imagine the sight facing Hamlton Hume back in the 1820s.
The ferry crossing was $5 per vehicle - return. Unfair on a couple of levels. Firstly, if we had been in a car with our bicycles on the back we would only have a single charge, and secondly we weren't intending on getting the ferry back. We were planning on going across the sands of Shoalhaven Heads. Anyway, a small amount of negotiation later, we paid the ferryman before we made the other side. That is to say we paid the ferry ticket machine - which only accepts coins. If you head this way, remember to bring change - it would be at serious cycle to get change if you only have a $5 note.
After the crossing the country continued agricultural for the next 20 minutes or so, before we got to the Comerong Nature Reserve, a signpost marks the division, and the the cleared land changes immediately to forest. A well formed track goes into the reserve, and we could tell by the sand and the surf sounds that we were following the coast, but it certainly wasn't visible through the eucalypts. We made it as far as a walkway through the forest to the beach, and certainly had a long stretch of beach to ourselves. We didn't actually see anyone else in the reserve at all.
By this stage we were feeling like the country hamburger that we dreamed awaited us at Shoalhaven Heads, and it was time to see just how successful the canal was in stopping the flow of water through the original Shoalhaven River mouth.
I was thinking we would have to do a fair bit of pushing bikes across the sand in order to get across, but it wasn't as bad as all that. We managed to find bush tracks (now marked on OpenStreetMap) that got us a fair way towards the heads without having to cycle on sand. Once we were on the sand, the cycling along the tide line where the sand was firm seemed to work most of the time. It was slow going, sure, but it took us nothing like the time it would have taken us if we were walking and pushing.
Lots of wading birds around this area. It was a bit of a birdwatchers paradise I think. We had bought along a copy of Standard Australian Birds and binoculars just for this occasion, but we couldn't find any of the birds in the shallows reproduced in the book.
Shoalhaven Heads did have a hamburger shop, albeit not much else. It was okay, as take-away places go, but it was definitely not the place of our cycling dreams.
From Shoalhaven Heads you can clearly see Mount Coolangatta, and why it would have seemed like an idea place for a land grant. It still isn't that populated. The original homestead stood there until about 40 years ago when it burnt down. It has been redeveloped into accommodation and a winery.
We headed back the short way along Bolong Road to Bomaderry. The road was busy, albeit with a shoulder pretty much the entire way. Still not a nice place to cycle, with no view from the road, and hundreds of cars overtaking at speed. If I was doing it again, I'd go back the way we had come, even though we would have to go back across the sand. Perhaps better just to bring a picnic to eat on the beach or in the reserve, and forget the Shoalhaven Heads bit. Or if you do decide to do the loop, the ferry trip is free coming from the island to the mainland - given that it assumed that you are doing the return trip. Check the river conditions though, in case you are unlucky enough to be doing the trip when the heads are open.