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Searching for My Perfect Beach, Finale

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Part the sixth, being from Tuesday 5th to Friday 8th December

(If you want to start at the beginning, CLICK HERE)

So, on Sunday 3rd December, after exploring the beach at Wilson’s Headland, which is almost exactly at the mid-point north/south of the Yuraygir National Park, I reclimbed the stairs, headed back to my car and drove on to Yamba, a town that exists for surfing. 

This perfect beach is going to stay with me forever.  View from Wilson’s Headland. Photo © P Sale.

My room at the Yamba Beach Motel was a bit smaller than the one at Smugglers, but was better appointed apart from not having a kitchen sink – had to balance a plastic bowl in the bathroom vanity to wash the few breakfast dishes.  (I’ve been economizing throughout whenever not staying with friends by fixing my own simple breakfasts – coffee, orange juice, cereal and perhaps a banana. Bananas have been disappointing – very dry and pulpy compared to the sweeter, softer ones we get from points south. And the cereal has been Weetbix, which is different in flavor and sogginess, once milk is added, to the thing we get here that is ostensibly the same product.)

Checked into the motel just as the restaurant was closing after lunch so got directed up the hill to the Pacific Hotel – a pub – for lunch. Although the Yacht Club in Coffs Harbor operated similarly, this was the first of three pubs I ate in on this trip and they are strange places.  All were quite modern and spacious, surprisingly spacious given the size of the towns they were in.  But they have a crazy way of serving meals.  You seat yourself and are encouraged to use your phone to read a QR code on the table which then displays the menu.  You are then supposed to use your phone to order and pay, and then someone brings the food to you.  Not being QR-licensed, I pleaded for a paper menu, ordered at the counter, paid using my credit card, and was given a number on a silver stand to take to my table so the anonymous food deliverers could find me.  And I had to go next door, literally 2 meters away, to a separate counter to order the wine. All three pubs operated exactly this way and nobody except me seemed to see anything illogical in the process. It also makes them decidedly not restaurants in my opinion.  Anyhow, back on Sunday I had a late lunch at the Pacific Hotel, then cooled my heels in my room doing some email before dinner at the restaurant, now reopened after the siesta time.

And it was a wonderful, small, busy restaurant, with excellent food. I began with half a dozen oysters, and followed them with a mixed seafood pasta dish. I was disappointed, though I had known in advance, that the restaurant closed on Sunday night until Wednesday morning. So far as I could tell, the other restaurants in Yamba did not come close to it in quality – certainly none of the ones recommended by the motel could come close. I’m glad I had Sunday night.

Monday was a non-driving day and another chance to explore Yuraygir National Park, this time from the northern end. After breakfast I headed south towards Angourie, the National Surfing Reserve, believe it or not, because it apparently has great waves. But I was headed past the Angourie parking lot to the Mara Creek parking lot barely into the border of the national park.  Again there was no way to buy a day pass, but I had found out since Wilson’s Headland, in a phone call with a friendly park service staff person, that the park service was bringing in a new online permitting procedure and did not have it ready yet, so were not bothering to fine people without day passes. Canadian government agencies would not be that laid back! The Mara Creek parking lot was another of those big enough for five cars, and there was only one other car there. I parked and headed off down the trail.

Angourie Back Beach, seen from the trail for the Mara Picnic Area. Angourie Point is at the far end, with Angourie Point Beach beyond.  Surfs not up today. Photo © P Sale.

Initially in low scrub forest, the trail went over a wetland associated with what I assume was Mara Creek, then it began to climb the low berm hiding the shoreline. At a fork in the trail, I could choose Angourie Back Beach, 200 meters away, or go on, to something more seriously like walking.  So, I took the quick 200 meter detour, climbed the steep top of the berm and found myself on a sandy dune ridge with yet another gorgeous beach stretched out in front of me, from nearly back at Yamba to my left and to a prominent headland far to my right.  And nearly deserted too. I salivated, I photographed, and then I got back to the main trail because I intended to walk today. The signpost at the fork in the trail Identified several spots along the ‘Angourie Coastal Trail’ showing distances to each.  Not sure how far I would get, I just headed out towards the first destination, the Dirrangan Lookout.

This trail continues all the way south through the length of Yuraygir National Park. Photo © P Sale.

The trail was remarkably good, at least a meter wide and manicured, with fine gravel added in some places. It continued behind the berm hiding that glorious beach for a while, then shifted higher so I could see glimpses of the sand.  At the south end of the beach there was a set of stairs down toward the beach some 20 meters below. I could see one person down near a rock pool south of the beach – nobody else anywhere. I noted the stair for my homeward journey and continued onto the headland with wonderful views back towards the beach.  Now the trail became even more manicured, with several long sections elevated above the slope.  Given the numbers of people I was seeing (one by the rock pool) and the number of cars in the parking lot (one, other than mine), I am both impressed and amazed that this trail had been assembled with such care and to such a standard.

From the steps looking down on Angourie Back Beach, and an example of the trail where elevated above the slope. Photo © P Sale.

Now, it’s true that the quality of the trail prevented me from pretending that I was hiking in difficult country far from home, but it also made my walk a more pleasant stroll than it might have been.  The slope, after all, was steep, and the trail clung to its side.  Apart from the stairway to the beach, the trail was constructed with gentle slopes, and the only real climbing I ran into was at one point where the original trail was washed out and a detour had been built with 15 stairs up the slope, a level part 30 meters long and 15 stairs (yes, I counted them) back down to the original level. Quite a trail. Back in Sydney, I had been surprised at the investment in the path for the Bondi to Coogee trail.  Now I was seeing a similar standard at a trail that was far less used, and a good example of how access to natural areas can be encouraged while also being managed (because with such a good trail, people were not bushwhacking their way through, creating their own paths as they went).

Vegetation was mostly low scrub with some plants in flower, and with occasional trees.  I think this area must have been burned within the last few years because there were signs of burnt stumps and even dead, burnt trees 5 to 10 meters high. Still, not so much evidence that the slope would have been heavily forested before the fire.  Among the living trees, pandanus were surprisingly dominant.  I had not thought these trees would have grown on such a dry, exposed slope.  They provided patches of welcome shade as the day heated up.

I won’t pretend to be able to identify the flowering plants, but I do recognize a pandanus when I see one.
Photo © P Sale.

The headland I had been walking around, south of Angourie Back Beach, proved to be much larger than I anticipated. The trail kept going around corners, only to reveal still more headland beyond. At one point I began to wonder if it would ever end and reveal another beach. Below the trail there were extensive almost flat rock shelves almost at sea level, sometimes wide and dry, sometimes constantly deluged by breaking waves.

One of the many rock shelves close to sea level, and a view all the way back to Angourie Point. Photo © P Sale.

Then I came around yet another corner, and saw the coastline stretched out beyond me to the horizon, one beach after another, with smaller headlands in between. And there, at the trailside were some interpretive signposts and a bench to sit on.  All that was missing, except I would not have wanted to see it, was an ice cream truck offering cool drinks parked nearby.  I had arrived at the Dirrangan Lookout.  I sat, drank some water, and looked out.

Finally I rounded the last part of that first immense headland to see beaches stretching out to the south.
Photo © P Sale.

Dirrangan Lookout, a place to sit and look out. Which is what I did for a while. Photo © P Sale.

I had a decision to make, and one of the signposts helped me make it.  I could continue to the next headland, Shelley Headland, 2 km further along, past two more wonderful beaches and some rocky shore. Or I could go on to Lake Arragan, 7.8 km away. Or I could return to the Mara Picnic Area and my car, 2.7 km back the way I had come.

I knew when I started that this was going to be an out and back walk.  I also knew I was on the northern portion of the Yuraygir Coastal Trail that could take me all the way back to Coffs Harbor 70-odd km south. In my heart, I would have loved to do the whole trail, but realistically, alone, with one bottle of water, that was not going to happen. Should I push on to Shelley Headland, or should I savor the view, be thankful that I had had the opportunity to walk this far this morning, and head back north?  I did some serious savoring and headed north.  Only to (re)discover that the wonderful thing about trails is that they can look quite new on the return journey because you see everything from the other side!

One of the loveliest flowering plants beside the trail (I only saw two of these) and the rocky shore south of Angourie Back Beach. Photo © P Sale.

When I came around that final corner on the path round the headland, well actually the first corner I’d met on the way south, and the stair to the beach, I went off trail, down to the beach.  The single person who had been there originally was long gone, and I wandered about on the rock platform for a while, watching how the waves play with a rocky shore. Much like how cats play with mice – gentle, surging flow, retreat, flow again, retreat, sudden spectacular crashing waves, foam and spray everywhere. Today, the sea was being calm and the waves I saw did not tempt me to photograph.

Eventually, I made my way to the northern side of the rocks, confirmed that the beach was quite firm enough for comfortable walking with my shoes on and wandered off across the deserted sand, sea now to my right, dunes to my left and Yamba far in the distance.  Some distance along the beach, just the seagulls and me, and being a person endowed with an unerring sense of direction and place, I totally surprised myself by finding the trail up to the low berm where I had stood an eternity ago looking out on this beautiful beach.  One last look back and forth, then over the berm, back to the car park, still empty, and back to town to find a late lunch.

Angourie Back Beach, and the trail back towards my parked car. Photo © P Sale.

Lunch was a disaster. I was in the mood for a bowl of Chinese noodle soup of some sort.  Google drew my attention to NoodleHeaven with a picture of myriad bowls of ostensibly different noodles and the eat in/take out slogan. Google took me there, only to discover a hole-in-the-wall outfit with ‘eat in’ provided by sitting at the bench outside, swatting flies.  There was a tall counter with glass-fronted view of assorted makings, a cash register, a disinterested proprietor and someone even less interested in the back handling the cooking instruments.  The same image of multiple, rather similar bowls was high on the wall with prices, mostly the same.  None of them looked like what I was hoping for, so I mumbled something about soup and wonton and was directed with an arm-wave back to the array of images.  I picked something that said chicken and wonton, and paid my money.  Then the lesser employee went to work with much clanging and clashing and water flow, or steam flow noises.  Ultimately a plastic take-away bowl with cover already in place was produced and another arm wave directed me to chopsticks and other implements stacked on top of the tall counter. I went outside with my lunch, and nearly got third degree burns on my hand when the soup splashed as I was removing the cover.  Several minutes later it was cool enough to eat carefully. Not what I had imagined, but what was I expecting?

I went back to the hotel, changed to a bathing suit and walked across the road to the town beach to swim. Knowing this could be my last beach for a while, I reflected on all that I had seen, while watching some children learning how to stand up on their boogie boards. It was a modest beach, nothing to compare to Angourie just down the shore, but the kids were fun to watch.  

Yamba Town Beach and children learning how to stand up on their boogie boards. Photo © P Sale.

Later I wandered out for dinner, choosing the Yamba Shores Tavern at the suggestion of my hosts.  Yep. A pub. With QR codes and the other crazy traditions and passable food.  But the outside covered deck was spacious with nice views across the water.  Could have been worse. Back at the motel, it was time to think about tomorrow, another driving day.  This one would be short (just one hour, 50 minutes to my final hotel), but with check-out time at 10am and check-in time at 2pm I knew I needed to kill some time.

Dinner view at the Yamba Shores Tavern and an almost acceptable selfie. Photo © P Sale.

Tuesday was another comfortably warm and sunny day.  I checked out of the motel and took a quick drive over to Angourie Beach, or more correctly Angourie Point Beach. After all, I’d likely never have another chance to see Australia’s National Surfing Reserve, established in 2007.  Had not known it existed until I was halfway through this trip, but still… got to see the sights.

Angourie Point Beach and the point itself. Nearly flat seas today. Photo © P Sale.

Angourie Point beach is not much of a beach and I did not even bother to wander beyond the carpark, which was far more populated than any car parks I’d seen so far.  The surf was not up, and Angourie Point was quiet. (Indeed, my whole trip has been during a time of quiet seas.) Apparently, this is a challenging right hand point break when the seas are up. Just the other side of the point, which is almost an island, is Angourie Back Beach and yesterday’s adventure. Geography lesson concluded, I set off for the next hotel.

The trip into Byron Bay and beyond to Casuarina Beach commenced with a quick trip inland to that four-lane, divided Pacific Highway that I’d been following since Sydney.  The M1.  Followed it for most of the trip before hopping off, through tiny Cudgen and into Casuarina Beach.  Got there a bit after noon.

I had known all along that the Oaks Casuarina Suntai Resort might be more upscale than any of the others. Not because it had cost more (it had not), but because its website looked like more. I was not disappointed. On arrival, I parked under the portico to check in. There was a discreet, brass sign on one of the pair of plain wooden doors, each about two meters wide and six meters high. It said, ‘automatic door.’ I reached out and the doors glided silently apart ushering me into a three-storey reception area with abundant potted plants, statuary, and interesting shapes and lighting patterns. At reception, I was given my key, a map, and detailed instructions on where to park my car and which of the 8 elevators to use to get to my room. Back in the car I eased forward and down the ramp, used my key to activate the roll-up door, and moved along the row of cars each in their numbered spaces, one per room. Parked, luggage out, I walked to the designated elevator and rode up to my room (the hotel is just three storeys tall, but the elevators are arranged to only service four or six rooms on each floor. I opened the door to my room and stood there open-mouthed.

My palatial accommodation at Oaks Casuarina Santai Resort. Photo © P Sale.

A studio apartment in Toronto is around 600 to 650 sq ft.  In New York it’s more like 500 to 600. The hotel rooms I had had so far had ranged from around 240 to 350 sq ft. This one was definitely bigger. I even took photographs.  And by counting the tiles on the bathroom floor, I can confirm the bathroom alone was larger than 108 sq ft.  The whole space was approximately 500 to 600 sq ft, plus a balcony large enough for a table and four chairs, plus a barbeque. The balcony overlooked the two swimming pools and hot tub, all of which I ignored because I knew the beach beckoned.

I walked to a nearby mini mall to find a restaurant for lunch. Grabbed a cheeseburger in a friendly-feeling place that was busily closing for the afternoon. Then back to the room for my camera and out to see the beach a block down the road.

The path to Casuarina Beach, my last beach on this trip. Photo © P Sale.

The road opened to a footpath between the houses which then crossed a broad running/walking/biking path, treed on both sides which went along behind and out of sight of the beach.  Maybe there was no beach?  I’d seen nothing yet.

Crossing the path, I entered an even smaller footpath through the trees until a pandanus marked its end at the low dune.  A seat, occupied, was to one side.  I walked out onto the top of a beach that stretched literally from one horizon to the other.  Wide, uninterrupted by so much as a rock pile, let alone a headland. Waves curled gently ashore and the scattering of people (about 7 were in view), each in their own world, almost added to the serenity. I walked down to the surf line, kicked off my sandals and walked north. 

Casuarina Beach from the path with the bench, and then walking north and south. Photo © P Sale.

After a while I walked south again.  Wonderful either way, and I was not seeking to reach the horizon. Took some photos. Watched how dogs seem to dictate how people enjoy a beach. Tried to capture the ever-changing, layering of one wave onto the next one at the shore, but without some fancy lenses my photos cannot do justice to the horizontality, expansiveness, and continuously changing pattern of flat plumes of ocean, foam marking their edges. Some views are just meant to be enjoyed, or perhaps contemplated – which is why, deep down, I hate selfies and how the cell phone has turned so many of us into unobservant passengers on our own expeditions into nature.  My mind flashed briefly back to that sad young woman on the Bondi to Coogee cliff-top path, head down, talking to her cell phone.

One attempt to capture the shimmering, layering plumes of water across the sand. Photo © P Sale.

Eventually, I went back to the path beside the pandanus, and the quick walk to the hotel. My one disappointment at this hotel, and I’d known about this even when I was finalizing the booking, was that their Thai restaurant was closed on, you guessed it, Mondays and Tuesdays.  I would have to eat dinner elsewhere. With advice from the hotel, I headed off to the Salt Bar and Bistro for seafood and a water view.

Wouldn’t you know it. Another pub. Up-market, slightly, but with the same lack of service in a distressingly functional décor. Still, I was able to see across to the windows and the water view (a river). I do not even remember what I ate there.  It was not exceptionally bad, but not memorable either. Putting my experiences at Yamba and Casuarina together, I’ve developed one rule and one possibility: Rule – avoid northern NSW coast on Sunday to Tuesday evenings. Possibility – the northern NSW coast is so into surfing that fine dining is not a viable restaurant business. Two hotels, with excellent restaurants on the premises (I cannot imagine the Thai place would not have been great), can only offer pubs as places in town to eat other than fast food. Still, considering everything, I’ve had some great meals on this trip and travel is about experiences, not necessarily entirely top-class experiences. I ordered, ate, and headed back to my magnificent room, having paid an extra $20 to delay my checkout until noon.

Before heading to bed, I did some final planning for my last travel day into Brisbane. I would be checking out at noon, and my friends in Brisbane would not be home until 5.30. I had 90 minutes of travel and 330 minutes to accomplish it. 

Then I realized I had 390 minutes, because Queensland is not on daylight saving time. Time to head inland for some forest sightseeing. I’d head back to the beach in the morning for some quality beach time – read hat, sunscreen, bathing suit. Then check out of the hotel.  Then grab lunch at another of the small fast-food places nearby. Then head off, but where inland to go?

Scanning a map, I discovered there were innumerable national parks, forest reserves, state parks and so on littering this corner where NSW and Queensland converge.  Which one to choose? I did not know.  But then, suddenly, my path became obvious. There in the heart of Springbrook National Park was Best of All Lookout. If they had the gall to name it Best of All, it was probably worth a look, and I’d see Mount Warning, too. On such simple reasoning, we make our life choices. I’ll likely never be in northern NSW again, and I choose because of a name on a map.  At least it was an official, government-assigned name, not some name dreamed up by a food-truck operator parked nearby.

I slept well. Woke refreshed. Had my Weetbix breakfast and headed to the beach.  It was exactly as I had left it, with perhaps fewer people than yesterday.  I sat briefly on the bench at the end of the trail that had been occupied by someone else yesterday.  There were probably as many dogs as yesterday, only the dog-less people were missing. I sat, then lay down, and lizard-like reveled in sunshine on a deserted beach. I thought briefly of the weather back home; and reveled some more.  Did some walking about, and more sitting. Eventually, I headed back to the hotel, packed my bags, checked out and headed inland.

Last day on a beach for this trip. And a passable selfie. Photo © P Sale.

The road west got away from the Pacific Highway pretty quickly, and I found myself curving up some interestingly steep inclines on a two-lane road until finally, at the end of Repeater Station Road there was a car park. Well, actually two car parks, an upper one labeled ‘handicapped vehicles only’, and a lower one beside a building beside two towers studded with electronic gizmos.  The repeater station, I guess.

Beware, there be thieves about. And the trail to Best Of All Lookout. Photo © P Sale.

The upper car park had a very official, permanent, carved, wooden sign warning “thieves operate in this parking lot” – the permanence of the sign suggested a longstanding, cozy relationship between the thieves and the powers that be. I parked in the lower parking lot. Then, idly wondering if Aussie thieves were particularly averse to stairs, walked the dozen stairs back up and entered the shady trail to the lookout. It was a refreshing change from the open, coastal trails I’d been on until now, everything moss-covered and a profusion of plants that looked familiar but were probably not.  Along the way I passed a stand of about four giant, wizened Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus) trees. Nothofagus evolved back when Gondwanaland was a continent, and forests of these giant trees used to be widespread across Australia.  They are now much less common, and the species is better represented these days in New Zealand where the climate is more appropriate. These trees looked old, and gnarled, and wise in an ent-like way. I stood looking up at them for a long time.

“…everything moss-covered and a profusion of plants that looked familiar but were probably not…” Photo © P Sale.

Old, wise, definitely ent-like Antarctic Beeches. I watched and listened, but they were not talking or moving today. Photo © P Sale.

A short distance beyond the Nothofagus grove, the trail suddenly opened to the lookout. And I do mean suddenly.

Best of All Lookout, a sheer cliff at the edge of an enormous cauldera. The distinctly conical peak is Mt. Warning or Wollumbin. Photo © P Sale.

I was on the edge of a near-vertical cliff with a view over a circular valley, a caldera, which stretched to the horizon.  Quite a view, and then my acrophobia kicked in and I moved back away from the railing and against the low cliff behind me.  I saw Mount Warning to my right. That was James Cook’s name for the conspicuous peak which he conveniently recorded as signaling the presence of dangerous reefs as much as three miles offshore (hence ‘warning’). Its other, now preferred name is Mount Wollumbin. Its impressively vertical summit is the remnant of a lava plug closing the central vent of a giant shield volcano that used to stand twice its present height (now 1,157 meters) and was last active about 23,000 years ago. When volcanism ceased, the top of the shield slumped to form the giant caldera visible today (the parallel to Kilauea’s caldera was obvious once it was pointed out to me). There is a trail to the top of Mount Wollumbin, but that has been permanently closed by the National Park Service because of the sacred significance of this mountain to local aboriginal groups. Knew none of this until I cracked open the internet after my visit! 

After the Best by Far Lookout, I decided to try some other highland places as I wended my way back down to sea level.  The place I chose, literally because I drove right past the parking lot, was Purling Brook Falls.  This was the first sizeable parking lot I had seen and there were several cars and people about.  The trail led off down a gentle slope, forested on both sides, and not too far along opened to a lookout to the left of the falls, a wispy sprinkle of a thing at this time of year, flowing over the edge and down an absolutely vertical cliff to some destination 106 meters below. 

The trail to Purling Brook Falls and the falls themselves – yes, that wispy thing to the right.
© P Sale.

Again the acrophobia caused me to back away from the edge, despite the sturdy railing. The trail was a 4km circuit that would have taken me along the cliff edge, then down into the valley below, across a suspension bridge and up the other side of the falls and back to the parking lot. I definitely did not intend to walk the whole circuit, but thought I’d go part of the way down and get a sense of what the full experience might have been like.

I walked on.  Good trail. Lots of trees, with glimpses through to the open valley to my right. Every now and then another lookout perched on the top of that vertical cliff.

A second lookout just to remind me I was walking along the edge of a vertical cliff. Photo © P Sale.

I did not get very far.  After walking for 20 minutes or so, with no hint that the trail was going to start down the slope, and after being repeatedly freaked by my proximity to that damned vertical cliff, I realized I would be a lot happier retracing my path and heading on to Brisbane. I had plenty of time, but who knows what Brisbane’s rush hour is like. A little way back, I startled a small marsupial on the trail, which promptly hopped off into the undergrowth, smart enough to veer to its right, away from the cliff edge, as it evaded me. What was it? I don’t know my Aussie mammals but I think it might have been a pademelon, which I think is technically one of the tree kangaroos (not a reef fish, anyhow). Also saw a couple of brush turkeys once I got closer to the car park.

Back in the car, I continued my trip downhill. To make a long story short, the roads got better, and wider, and much busier.  But I arrived safely in Brisbane, outside the home of my colleague, Pete Mumby, a bit before 5.30. His driveway was a disturbingly steep drop from the road, so I parked on the street and phoned him, with no result.  So, I walked to the door, but there was no doorbell, just an elegant keypad. I returned to the car, texted him, and watched in my rear-view mirror for a car going down that drive. I felt a little bit like a spy waiting for the arrival of 007. Never saw a car going down, but he called me and said they were already home and to drive down (shudder) and come on in.  I did. We had a great evening catching up.

That evening, in bed, I thought back to my perfect beach at Wilson’s Headland. And to the eagle ray breaching above that perfectly forming wave. I had not managed to catch it with my camera but that is perhaps a blessing in disguise.  Because my memory had begun working on that event the instant it occurred.

Another view of my perfect beach. The two people in the distance are my ‘friends’ from the parking lot. They could vouch for the fact that the eagle ray breached as the wave crested. Photo © P Sale.

In my memory, even now, I am standing at the top of the stair, and I see the wave begin to form up and crest, first at the nearby, northern end of the beach, and then progressively propagating down the shore as far as I can see – a gloriously symmetrical, 1-1.5m high wave.  As the part in front of me starts to break, the eagle ray breaches, fully clear of the water, and at that point my memory departs dramatically from reality.  Because I was at the top of the steps, a long way from the wave, and if I had managed to take a photo, the eagle ray would have been not much more than a small speck. But in my mind, my visual system zooms in so that the ray nearly stretches across my field of view.  It is brilliantly lit by the sun, slightly backlit, so its outline is highlighted. And the water streams off its body, in single droplets, one after the other, moving down to and along its slender tail, each droplet suspended beneath its tail, and bearing a tiny rainbow courtesy of the sunlight.  The droplets, one by one, steam off the end of its tail and eventually land back in the ocean. Meanwhile the ray sails forward, only to land in the water soon after. My memory is correct insofar as a ray did indeed jump clear of the wave just as it began to break. But my memory has added immense detail that I absolutely could not have seen and created an iconic event that I will remember forever. How much of what we remember of the events in our lives is what actually happened, and how much has been creatively enriched? And why does our memory find it necessary to enrich a great event, anyway? Some thoughts to ponder whenever you remember some great event in your lives. For me, I’m very happy that my brain has seen fit to creatively enrich this memory, because this is my perfect beach, one I will return to frequently, just as I hoped when I set out on this quest.

The next day, Wednesday, we went onto the University of Queensland campus and I played at being a scientist again, talking with Pete and with a number of his students and post-docs about the work they were doing. At noon, I headed out for lunch with Gordon Grigg another old friend from Sydney days who I had last seen about 22 years ago.

We reminisced furiously over a long lunch, both homing in on a trip we took to outback NSW shortly after my arrival in Sydney in 1968. I remembered coming down to the dining room in a classic country hotel for breakfast to discover every place at every table set with multiple knives and forks. I’d never seen so much cutlery set out for breakfast, and the place was almost empty! Gordon remembered the same breakfast, but he remembered how, with my hippie beads, long hair and foreign accent, I was giving off a distinctly gay aura which the few men in the dining room picked up on, and, because we had shared a room, lumped Gordon into their gender assignment decisions.  Being judged gay had clearly made a lasting impression on Gordon, but I still remember the cutlery.

After lunch, it was more time with the students, and out for dinner with Pete and his wife at a wonderful waterfront restaurant on the Brisbane River.  The similarity to evenings on open patios in Dubai was palpable, minus the incessant emphasis on money which typifies the UAE.  Brisbane has grown up since I knew her.

View of downtown Brisbane across the river from our table at the restaurant. Photo © P Sale.

A second night in Brisbane, then a trip to the airport, hand in the car – I loved driving that Toyota Yaris Cross – check in, and travel for 22 hours, emerging to a wintry Toronto evening the same day as when I left Brisbane.  That it took more than a week to get the jet lag under control is another story.

Two days later, back home where there were remnants of earlier snow and a forest waiting for winter to start properly. Photo © P Sale.