Posts Tagged ‘queensland’

The Gold Coast: The Millionth Time

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

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The thing about Australia’s Gold Coast is that I have seen it before. Or I have not.

A long strip of city sprawling along the crooked edge of the ocean. One main drag. Shops selling fringed t-shirts. A Footlocker. Places where you can get tattoos and noodles and cheap haircuts. Motels, all ramshackle and neon, cooler than they realize. Two-story houses that open up onto the bright beach, onto sparkling ocean, and farther down, the skyscrapers. And also hospitality’s new guard, the rounded, shining double towers of Peppers Broadbeach, where I’m staying in a room with a wraparound balcony and an ice maker, perched at the top of the beachy universe.

There are little pockets of places where the enterprising youths see the coolness and run after it. There is street art, cafes serving banana bread and avocado on toast with lemon, a weekend market — the Miami Marketta, which sounds like it might be in Florida — where you can get tempura buns and barbecue and shop for pillows made out of turkish rugs.

At Burleigh Heads, a knobby, high jut of rock at the Gold Coast’s southern tip, I watch surfers bob on the waves while the sun sets. They’re all kids, skinny-limbed in their wet suits, long hair tangled with saltwater, leashed to their boards like unwieldy puppies. And there is so much ocean that you can almost sense the curve of the earth, feel the water swelling and trying to overtake the land.

This is anywhere, a bay with neon sun. It’s Waimea or Sorrento or Agios Gordos on Corfu, a bite out of land where water rushes in, a blinding line of white backed by the green of trees. There are the same tangle of shops selling sunblock and towels on Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, the same skyscrapers on Atlantic City. Only not at all.

It is only here that I will take a bus and hold a koala bear in my arms as though she were an unsquirming, fuzzy human baby. Where I will spend days on end caffeinated out of my wits because in this place, there are, magically, no bad cups of coffee. It is only here that I will see one of the oddest things I have ever seen, a thing that sends me furiously googling and asking eager questions of anyone who will listen — squinting hotel staff, waiters in restaurants: a manta ray skipping out of the roiling waves, a dark, shining pancake, two feet above the surface of the water. I will see this beach as all beaches and as none, as a place with knobby, alien trees, a place where people gleefully eat something called sea bug meat, where there is no real winter, where the forested hinterlands, minutes from the coast, shelter wallabys and all other manner of creatures that jump on their powerful hind legs. Where it is all new, every grain of sand, and at the same time, it is all halfway familiar, a whole new kind of anywhere.

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Travel generously provided by Visit Queensland.

Queensland, Australia: The Beach on the Other Side

Friday, August 14th, 2015

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Whitehaven Beach is without footprints. Without debris. Without cigarette butts or the shattered styrofoam of drinking cups. It is without the lazy, slicked-up bodies of sunbathers parked for the day, for the week. It is without sounds, save the wind and the whisper of ice-white sand blowing overitself in rivulets like a horizontal waterfall. There was one thing — a cuttlefish bone half-buried, yellow-white and half-filled with sand, the exact size, shape, and color of an endive. In fact, that’s what I thought it was when I first saw it, only the appearence of an endive on a beach on a remote Australian island where the flow of people and things, of anything foreign to the terrain, is strictly controlled, seemed dubious. A little sci-fi. As though you’d be just as likely to see a fire hydrant or a bike helmet planted in the middle of the beach, the sand falling into its metal-plastic man-made crevices.

But Whitehaven Beach is, somehow, like the surface of another planet, the silicate sand so pure under your feet that it squeaks when you walk across it. It is illegal to beach comb, illegal to take anything with you — including the sand itself — when you leave. Boats can only get so close, so visitors wishing to stay for a precious few hours, or maybe a night or two camping on its shores, must tumble shoeless down the metal steps into waist-high waves, hauling their bags, their camera phones and purses, over their heads.

I arrived seasick under cloudy skies with my hair sticking up in every direction and a flannel shirt thrown over my bathing suit, unsure how to regard winter in Australia. The landscape was summer paradise — green trees, white sand, blue water — but the air and the clouds and the choppy seas weren’t so sure. Maybe I was cold. Maybe I wasn’t. Maybe I needed sunblock. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I was going to keep lunch down. Maybe I wasn’t. The beach, you see, is near a place called God’s Washing Machine, where the currents spin into whirlpools that are strong enough to knock boats off course, if they haven’t already been discombobulated by waves as tall as houses.

I was grateful, finally, to have my feet down on the strange sand after two hours of bobbing all the way there from my home base on Hamilton Island. Hamilton seemed the opposite of Whitehaven Beach, a place up to its ears in a raucous swarm of humanity, of kids screaming in shallow swimming pools and neon-crowed cockatoos stealing the half-empty sugar packets right off your saucer.

After all that, after dropping my bag on the sand — leaving it to be pecked at by a flock of crows who were fascinated by its shining buckles — all I wanted was to walk. To feel solid earth under my feet, although the ground on Whitehaven Beach shifts and displaces with every step. I wanted to walk until I fell off the edge of the earth. That’s what I thought. Because that’s how the beach looks when you’re standing on it, like the runway to another dimension, a bright half-moon of sand fringed with trees that seems like you could reach the very end on foot until you try to do it. I only made it about halfway and I was alone, my footprints disappearing in the wind, reburied, as soon as I put them down.

That’s when the sun came out. And I thought, let the boat leave me here. Let me be lost. Let my family wonder what happened on a beach on the opposite side of the earth where there is no wifi, no cell phone service, no way to post your selfies. Let me be fully left behind to blow away, a pile of dust as fine and clean as the sand.

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Travel generously provided by Visit Queensland.