These accounts of woods, lawns and marshes, of woods free of underwood, of open and easily cultivable country, and of vast quantities of grass have always been puzzling.
The dense grassy understorey is particularly interesting, as true grasses are relatively rare on sandy soils where one would have expected shrubs and sedges to predominate. Grasses would be frequent on the clay soils farther up westward from the peninsula towards Sutherland, but they surely would have recorded the red-coloured clay soils if they had gone that far.
They presumably left the watering place at Kurnell and walked south-west somewhere about the route of the present Captain Cook Drive to Woolooware or Caringbah. It is likely that these areas had silty organic soils with areas of swamp forest or woodland. This may have been relatively open with occasional large trees. Cook mentions seeing trees that had been barked by the Aboriginal peoples; these could have been rough-barked eucalypts like Eucalyptus robusta or Eucalyptus botryoides, or perhaps the Swamp She-oak Casuarina glauca or the mangrove Avicennia marina.
In his Journal account Cook lumped all the eucalypts together: Altho wood [for fuel] is here in great plenty yet there is very little variety, the largest trees are as large or larger than our oaks in England and grows a good deal like them and yields a redish gum, the wood itself is heavy hard and black like Lignum Vitae.
Other excursions around the Bay
During the eight days, they visited various other parts of Botany Bay, including Bare Island (Banks on 29 April); the Sea Coast to the south (Cook, Banks and Solander, 3 May); the head of the Bay (Cook, Solander and Dr Munkhouse, 3 May); ashore on the NW side of the bay (Banks, 4 May); and the North shore, ... 3 or 4 miles into the Country or rather along the Sea Coast (Cook, 5 May).
Cook generally provides more landscape descriptions in his journal than Banks does. Of the excursion to the head of the Bay with Solander and Dr Munkhouse, Cook reports; We found the face of the Country much the same as I have before described but the land much richer, for in stead of sand I found in many places a deep black Soil which we thought was capable of produceing any kind of grain, at present it produceth besides timber as fine meadow as ever was seen. However we found it not all like this, some few places were very rocky but I believe this to be uncommon.
The head of the Bay was probably Georges River and the deep black soil and meadow were probably near Sans Souci. Cook was right that most of the country was sandy, though there were places with better silty alluvial soils. While there was never any extensive agricultural land near Botany Bay, the small areas of silty alluvial soils were later used for market gardens, even up until the present.
Cook provides a final summary of the landscape around Botany Bay in his entry for 6 May: altho wood [for fuel] is here in great plenty yet there is very little variety, the largest trees are as large or larger than our oaks in England and grows a good deal like them and yields a redish gum, the wood itself is heavy hard and black like Lignum Vitae; another sort that grows tall and strait some thing like Pines, the wood of this is hard and Ponderous and something of the nature of American live oaks, these two are all the timber trees I met with. There are a few sorts of shrubs and several Palm trees, and Mangroves about the head of the harbour. The country is woody low and flat as far inland as we could see and I believe that the soil is in general sandy, in the wood are a variety of very boutifull birds such as Cocatoo's, Lorryquets, Parrots &c and Crows exactly like those we have in England. Water fowl are no less plenty about the head of the harbour where there are large flats of sand and Mud on which they seek their food ...
Banks would have disagreed about the limited variety of shrubs. By this time he and Solander had amassed and processed a huge number of specimens of the many different species, the result of which was to persuade Cook to change the name of the bay from Stingray to Botany Bay.