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Dunes at Stockton Beach

PERMITS REQUIRED TO TAKE VEHICLES ON THE BEACH & DUNES

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South from Anna Bay lies the vast sandy expanse of Stockton Beach. A journey down this thirty-two-kilometre beach is an adventure full of beauty and discovery. At the water's edge, oyster catchers, gulls and terns wait to see what the pounding surf reveals. Up on the dry sand dotterels and sandpipers groom the flotsam. Back in the dunes an ibis winkles a sand crab from a burrow, while overhead ravens scan their territory for a tasty scavenge. A fisherman reads the beach's rips, gutters and sandbanks for an informed decision on where to cast. Here and there are patches of bream, whiting, tailor and jewfish. Professional fishermen haul their catch to the beach, having surrounded travelling schools of mullet with their nets. Underfoot, pipis live in such abundance that a hand thrust into the wet sand will have one of these shellfish at the tip of each finger.

The wind-blown sand dunes of Stockton Beach comprise the largest continuous mobile sand mass in New South Wales. The yellow grains have been washed in from the sea and blown ashore to form dunes up to thirty metres high. Most of the sand was deposited about six thousand years ago. Despite the stabilising effects of plants such as spinifex, pigface and bitou bush, the wind-driven dunes move about four metres a year. The lee side of a dune is steep and loosely packed, making a perfect surface for sliding down on a sheet of cardboard or something more elaborate.

About one kilometre back from the beach, the moving dunes run abruptly into the forested dunes. At the interface, trees of all sizes are slowly covered by moving sand until they disappear completely. Perhaps ten years later, when the dune has moved on, they are uncovered to stand as stark sentinels, witness to the irresistible inevitability of sand on the march.

The dunes are a friendly place. Most plants that grow there have an edible part. Fresh water can be collected from a hole dug anywhere in low ground between the dunes. Tracks of animals and crabs lead to their underground homes and the sea is full of life. Every hundred metres, piles of bleached white shells indicate the site of an Aboriginal shell midden. These are the remains of meals eaten by the people of the Woromi Tribe and contain the bones of mammals, birds and lizards as well as the shells of molluscs and crustaceans.

As the sand moves about, it exposes sections of barbed-wire entanglements left over from World War II. The wire had been hung from several rows of star pickets along the length of the beach. Running across the beach into the farmland for several kilometres was a line of heavy concrete pyramids designed to slow down tank movements. Many of these tank traps are still where they were placed all those years ago. Some of the blocks have been moved to line the beach car park at Birubi Point.

Storms bring in all sorts of flotsam, both man-made and natural. Whole trees can be washed down flooded rivers to bob about on the high seas for a while and end up firmly embedded on the beach. Whales, dugong, fish and birds leave their earthly remains on the beach just above the high tide mark. Heavy seas or careless navigation account for shipwrecks such as those of the Sygna, Uralla and Oimara.

A day or annual permit allows four-wheel-drive vehicles on to the beach for most of its length to enjoy the wonders of this inspiring sandy landscape.