It’s the first week of spring and Sydney has left behind winter in a flurry of summer dresses and short shorts. It’s a lovely and pleasant 27 degrees and the sun is shining without a cloud in the sky (knock on wood). Sydneysider’s are revelling in the weather that they have so long-expected but have been denied by the continuous spate of storms that have plagued the city for the last twelve months. All the top sources (Tim the weatherman included) say that this summer is going to be a scorcher, making up for the abysmal version we had last year.
Yet I remain apprehensive, I won’t believe that summer is here till much later in the year and am reserving my summer dresses till then. After all there is always that final cold snap before summer really comes home to roost – Guns N’ Roses wrote a whole song about it “Nothing lasts forever, even in cold November Rain”.
Every Sydneysider conveniently forgets about this fact, it’s as though our chosen identity as Australia’s tropical warm capital, replaces our memory and common sense. The big issue is that because of this miss-chosen identity we are never prepared for cold weather when it arrives. Our houses aren’t built for the cold, the roads aren’t slopped to avoid puddles, and I certainly don’t have the foot ware to cope with the copious amounts of rain that we get.
Though as I sit at my desk all day with the beautiful sun streaming through the windows I find myself reminiscing about the start of summer. In particular the last great summer I had (I am often away over the summer months in colder countries).
The summer had already started but for people like me, who work constantly indoors, you couldn’t tell – I still had my indoor white pasty skin – the only light I saw was fluorescent. Somehow I managed to secure myself a couple of days off during the week and decided to grab a mate and head down the coast.
I was living in Canberra at the time so the drive isn’t long or difficult – but as tradition demands we started the day with a stop off at McDonald’s for breakfast. Then we were on the road. The little bomb of a car I was driving didn’t have air conditioning so we had the windows wound all the way down – it was a lovely 30 degrees before 10am. We coasted through the empty towns of Bungendore and Braidwood (they would be packed on the weekends with families stopping off to give the kids a quick break… or maybe the parents) and then at the Clyde Mountain we saw our worst night mare – a giant black cloud. My friend and I shared worried grimaces.
My little car struggled to get up the mountain but loved coasting down, swinging past Poo’s Corner, throwing itself round each corner including the famous Government Bend (known as such by locals for years until the government came in on the joke and named it officially – it turns back on itself). Finally we hit the bottom and turned right at the roundabout to head into Batemans bay. As always when I crossed the bridge I inhaled deeply at the sea air and paid more attention to the giant pelicans who were sitting on the side of the bridge than the road.
We pulled into the Batemans Bay car park and got out stretching our muscles and marvelling at the beautiful sunshine – the big black cloud had stayed up the mountain. We wandered around the surf shops for a little let the blood flow back into our numb bottoms after so long in my old car. The shops were full of the latest surf and beach gear but the sun was sapping all of my shopping spirit out, I half-heartedly fingered the fabric while I looked out towards the water. We gave up after only fifteen minutes and headed to the fish shop. We bought a kilo of fresh Australian prawns, some bread and the all-important French Island Dressing. Shoving them in the esky alongside the chocolate, cheese and biscuits – we were finally ready for the beach.
There are hundreds of beautiful beaches dotted along this coast line. In my opinion it is some of the best in Australia – and because Australia has the best beaches in the world that makes this little section of coast world-class!
The beaches are never packed – even in the height of summer you can always find a decent sized patch of sand to set up your family, friends and those weird hanger-on’s who turn up and no one actually knows.
The surf feels wild and full of violent fury at being dragged up from the cold Arctic waters to the slightly warmer Tasman. Behind the beach are no palm trees or high-rise complexes but bush land that looks so impenetrable that you always get a shock when you see a local emerge out of some hidden path. The bush is filled with wildlife that is always just a small step away, from Kangaroos to echidnas and thousands of brightly coloured parrots.
Then there is the rock formations along the cliffs, giant pieces of volcanic granite jut out towards the ocean guarding against any dangerous beast or ship that may come too close. Below the cliffs are hundreds of rock pools that host mini marine environments jammed packed with fish and crustacean life. The rocks are also, always lined with a handful of fisherman, set up for the day with their buckets and deck chairs hoping to catch some of the larger cold water fish that are migrating passed on their way to Antarctica.
We head to one of my favourite beaches – Broulee – south of Batemans Bay. As you drive into Broulee you cross the bridge over a lagoon. On the weekends in summer this lagoon is jammed packed with kids who are building sand castles or snorkelling over the mini reef in the middle, just after the bridge there is usually a Mr Whippy van parked – supplying the endless demand for soft serve ice creams.
We park up under the shade of a tree; I pull my car onto the grass and get as close to the tree as possible hoping to keep the car in the shade as the sun moves. We grab the esky, our towels and the giant bottle of sunscreen that I had purchased in Batemans Bay. Later in the summer I might risk not reapplying every hour but with my pale skin and no Ozone layer I’m not risking it – doesn’t matter what skin type you are you will burn – fact!
We walk onto the beach and marvel at how empty it is. There are a few families set up down the end near the lagoon and a few surfers lounging on the sand up the other end, but where we are there is no one. We crab walk over the soft hot sand, taking off our thongs (flip-flops) until we find the perfect patch. We lay down our towels and begin the arduous task of Slip, Slop Slapping on the sunscreen. We have to wait the customary 20 minutes before going in the water so we decide to have lunch first. We battle the ever persistent breeze that is blowing off the ocean by using sand to weight down the paper the prawns are wrapped in.
There is nothing better than digging into a giant fresh prawn which is lathered in King Island Dressing while sitting on the beach. I peel a bunch and shove them into a roll, scoffing it down so fast I almost choke. I wash it down with more prawns and some cheese on crackers. Finally we have desert of an apple and chocolate. I am so full that I lie back on the sand and close my eyes, pulling the top of the towel over my head so that the sun stops shining through my eye lids.
We loll like that for a while but after a while the sun gets uncomfortably warm and I am thinking I may be getting burnt. The answer is to head into the surf. The water is clear and that perfect blue, the waves are breaking cleanly and rolling in. There is a small sand break that is breaking up the surf about 10 meters out. We splash around in the deep water before the break like seals. Then we climb up the sandbar, at the top its only ankle-deep, and start jumping off it into the deeper canal. This takes a good hour of time – we have fallen back to being four-year olds in the space of a heartbeat. Only problem is we don’t have the unlimited energy of children and so head back to our towels for more sunscreen.
Later in the afternoon we walk along the beach towards the lagoon. I have my sarong on trying to protect my body a little from the scorching sun and end up walking in the water up to my thighs purely – it’s so hot I don’t notice a difference in temperature between the water and the air. When we reach the mouth of the lagoon we decide to wade across instead of walking all the way around – I hold my sarong and camera above my head as I resist the pull of the current threatening to pull my feet out from underneath me.
On the other side we begin exploring the rock pools, looking for fishes and crabs. I find some rock sea enmity’s and brush my finger along their sticky tentacles causing them to give me a little kiss before they close up. We climb up the side of the cliff a little just to sit and watch the sea break on the rocks below us. It’s a churning milkshake of blues and greens – I resist the urge to jump into this aqua rainbow.
By late afternoon my skin is starting to itch with the salt and the sand, we head up the beach to have a quick fresh water shower to wash it all off. We get back to the car which is thankfully still in the shade – though it is still stuff and requiring all of the windows to be wound down.
Back in Batemans Bay we stop of at the Boatshed for dinner of fish and chips – the fish is always fresh and cooked to just how you like it, and they are generous with their chip servings. It’s packed as everybody is taking advantage of the cheap deals that they put on during the week when there is no tourist trade. Instead of eating on the beautiful balcony that hangs over the water we headed back outside and sat on the grass. After eating our fill I committed the biggest costie crime… I fed the seagulls and the pelicans the left overs – enjoying watching the them squabble over a small piece of chip only to flee when the pelican waddled in and snatched it up. Finally it was time to head back up the mountain – touching my face I realised I hadn’t escaped the burn, I was going to be peeling before the weekend.
That is definitely where I would rather be right now, sun burnt face and all – especially, as I predicted, the temperature has dropped and it has started raining, a new storm is breaking… it’s not quite summer yet.