You could tell the inevitability of it. Branches flexing in the battering winds, dun clouds scudding across the sky at reckless speed and the sun coming and going like a dysfunctional light bulb. Beyond the trees, beyond the sand, there would be swell, and lots of it; with the southerly buster ripping across the face of the walls, stood up momentarily before their power overcame the wind that created them. It’s one of those days when as many people come to view as to partake and beyond the sand was no place for the ill prepared, both mentally and physically.
To be so near to such power is hypnotic, the water spreading gently across the sand on the beach before you is such a contrast to being out there amongst nature’s fury where it demands your constant attention. Frankly, I’m drawn to see the spectacle every time it occurs; man challenging the uncertainty of the ocean. Mostly he manages to take some of the best it has to offer and such victories will be retold amongst friends later while the poundings suffered will have equal billing in the talk fest.
For now I had to decide where the viewing would take place; I chose Emerald Beach, figuring there was a big enough headland for the swell to wrap around but, upon arrival it was clear it was too messy. The fact that no-one was out only added to that scenario so I moved north, north to Sandy Beach.
Here is an even longer headland and an even bigger beach and, as I reached the foreshore, it was apparent that surfers would be out here, a conclusion I came to when I saw the number of cars and someone doffing a wetsuit.
The noise from beyond the tree line reflected the severity of the surf and the glimpses of boiling foam through the branches was an indication of the size.
When I reached the sand the weather was deceptively benign; I say deceptively because where I stood the sun shone and nought but a steady breeze rode the dunes yet, clearly, out to sea it was raging.
I contemplated camera angles and set up ready to shoot but after 15 minutes it was apparent that it would need more time and work than I had so far allocated. I chose to move out on to the headland, initially following a track up the dunes that petered out, so the option to broach the knee deep grass was taken, making my shoes even wetter than they had been. Now the sun glared off the water to such an extent that it was almost blinding and the further I rose the more noticeable the wind became.
I kept walking, wanting to see how close the island was to the point of the headland. From the shore it seems almost part of it and the waves have little room to punch through but, at the end of the cape, the island, part of the Solitary group, is about 2 kms distant.
As I crest the final rise, pipits scurry before me and then the ferocity of the wind can be felt blasting at my face as I reach the summit and squint to view the horizon. An osprey swings over my head, riding the air currents over the water with eyes glued on the possibilities below, while in the distance a strange rainbow effect in the salt spray hovers in a straight line over Moonee headland.
I turn away from the blow and, way below me, spot a pod of dolphins cruising in the swells and note a body boarder about to jump in off the rocks right beside a pandanus tree. Now the sun goes and the sombre tones return, heralding a fresh surge from the wind behind me. I turn and try to photograph the osprey but can’t hold the tripod and camera still enough, managing to get only one useable shot.
However, just being there is something special. Listening to the force of the ocean as the rocky headland slowly crumbles before its might, while on the lee side, a pair of sooty oyster catchers strolls calmly along the jagged rocks in seemingly calm conditions. The contrast couldn’t be more pronounced.
The surfers are, more often than not, caught in the wrong spot to milk the wave’s best offering and the rides are short but exciting, the latter providing the motivation to paddle out once more, unbowed.
I stumble through the hardy grasses and flora seeking a better angle but it’s not to be had this day and I return to the beach via another trail, used by the surfers to avoid paddling out and by fishermen to get to the rocks, though the latter are decidedly absent in today’s conditions.
It’s hard work lugging all the camera gear down the rutted steep slope trying for footholds where there mostly aren’t any and scrunching through the pandanus leaves at the bottom but soon the firm sand is underfoot and the wind is barely felt as I head back to the motorhome reflecting on the emotions such days evoke. The regurgitation of memories of when you were one of the ones out there and had boundless energy and the elements were to be challenged and not avoided. In the end, it’s just another phase of life, not better or worse, just different.