Mystery Solved

Early morning mist swirls over rock ledges that reach out into the crashing waves like the withered fingers of a giant. Ahead, contorted by a series of faults and folds, dramatic mudstone stacks rise dragon-like out of the Tasman Sea.If I squint hard enough, through the mist I can just make out two dark caves hacked into the cliff by a millennia of restless seas. Who knows what lurks in there?

You'd think such a brooding backdrop would give rise to its name - Mystery Bay. However, this dramatic sliver of the south coast is so-named after a man-made whodunit, not a natural one.

In fact it hasn't always been known as Mystery Bay. European settlers first referred to this rocky headland as Mutton Fish Point after the abundant abalone found in these waters. However that all changed in October 1880 when government geologist Lamont Young and four crew set sail from nearby Bermagui intent on seeking gold from the extensive fields near Narooma and Mount Gulaga (then called Mount Dromedary).

They never made it. Instead, their boat was found washed up in this very bay, splattered with blood stains and riddled with bullet holes. Despite a £300 reward being posted, neither the men nor their attackers were ever found; and the bay was renamed accordingly.

With the gold rush long gone, this quiet south coast hamlet is now a haven for families in search of a relaxing beach holiday and I've beaten the summer rush and brought Mrs Yowie and the kids along for a pre-Christmas coast trip. There are rock pools to chase your reflection in, sea caves to explore and sandcastles to build, and decorate with shells. Not to mention dads to half bury in sand or drape in seaweed. ''Cousin Itt'' beware!

Literally a stone's throw from the beach is a ''Primitive Campground'' (that's really what the sign says) that, with a name like that, understandably gets the thumbs down from Mrs Yowie. Instead we bunk down at nearby Mystery Bay Cottages. These self-contained two-bedroom cottages, complete with tennis court and gigantic games room, boast the biggest grass common you'll ever see. As the sun sets over Gulaga, we sit on the deck and watch the kids roam free while indulging in a cleansing ale or two. Sure there's no pool, but who needs a chlorinated bath when you have a handful of sun-kissed beaches a short stroll away?

If you want to explore further afield, Narooma is only a 10-minute drive up the road and is home to a knock-out boardwalk which skirts along the edge of (and sometimes over the top of) idyllic Mill Bay. Watch the myriad of sea creatures moving in (and out) on the tide. Near the town side of the walk, there are also some old fishing sheds where white bearded fishers peddle their latest catch. We grab an Esky full of oysters, prawns and lobster for our dinner. Who knows what our neighbouring ''primitive campers'' are feasting on? Raw meat?

Now, while Mystery Bay has an enticing name, an equally spectacular strip of sand just to its south definitely does not. A short drive (or rock hop along the coast at low tide) through the Eurobodalla National Park leads you to 1080 beach. 1080 refers to the catalogue number and subsequently the brand name of a poison used to control pests such as rabbits and foxes. The uninviting name must have scared everyone away, for next morning, we have the beach to ourselves - oh, apart from a diamond python sadly bludgeoned to death and hanging on a tree.

While I leave Mrs Yowie to ensure there's a big enough moat around my daughters' sandcastles to repel the entire incoming tide of the Tasman Sea, I embark on a mission to find Queen Victoria Rock (QVR).

Never heard of it?

Neither had I until Steve Dunn of Weston Creek sent me a rather cryptic message earlier this year that taking pride of place just south of Narooma is a larger than life weathered rock that resembles the nineteenth century monarch. Dunn who stumbled on QVR in 1991 when working as a fisheries officer at Narooma, also sent me a basic mud map detailing how to find it.

The drive along the poacher's track through a forest of spotted gums and burrawang cycads is an adventure itself. Having left the all terrain yowie mobile at home, I try to navigate the family sedan through potholes as big as craypots and past bracken that leaves gashes so deep in the paintwork that even the best spit and polish won't fix.

Eventually, I reach the end of the track, marked by a burnt out car wreck on a grassy knoll. Following Dunn's map I then step out 150 metres along the beach, and sure enough, there jutting out of the cliff top, is a rock the spitting image of Queen Victoria. Well okay, not quite but it definitely bears an uncanny resemblance to a crowned monarch.

Apart from Dunn, I don't know anyone else aware of this naturally-occurring royal watching sentinel over the surging swell. It really is truly a sight to behold.

Who knows, if rocks could speak, I'm sure QVR would be £300 richer.

If You Go

Mystery Bay: 15 kilometres south of Narooma. Three-hour drive from Canberra via Batemans Bay.

Live it up: Mystery Bay Cottages two-bedroom self-contained beach cabins. 121 Mystery Bay Road, Narooma. From $150 a night low season to $249 a night high season. Conditions apply. See mysterybaycottages.com.au.

Rough it: Mystery Bay Primitive Campground. Sites from $15 a night. Phone: 0428 622 357.

Queen Victoria Rock: Near Bogola Headland. Not sign-posted and hard to locate. Accessible via a dirt track (4WD advisable) that heads east into the Eurobodalla National Park just north of the Corunna Lake access road off the Princes Highway. Follow this road to cleared grassy area at beach level. Park, then walk on the beach in a northerly direction for a couple of hundred metres. Queen Victoria is looking due east from near Bogola Headland towards the southern tip of Montague Island.

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CONTACT TIM

Got a comment on today's stories or an unusual photo? Email: timtheyowieman@bigpond.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick.

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