Last week, in order to help fill this fabulous new website with useful information, I volunteered to visit every Clarence Valley beach. I would photograph them, scribble down some observations, and who knows, perhaps enjoy a sneaky surf at some out of the way locations.
“Shouldn’t take more than couple of days,” I confidently told wife Jen, who gave me a pitying “You haven’t really thought this through” look… Pity turned into something else when I told her she’d been volunteered as my accomplice for the gig.
There’s probably between 40 to 50 beaches in the Clarence Valley, but beaches are amorphous things: tides shift around, sand moves from one end to the other. Sometimes it’s hard to know where one beach ends and another begins. Some of the spots on the list we’d been given weren’t even beaches – they were headlands or creek mouths.
Some beaches are easy to classify, others resist being put into neat boxes.
Anyway, myself and my long-suffering, incredibly patient and kind accomplice wife ticked off 36 beaches and coastal hotspots in three days. It was a whirlwind of hastily scribbled notes, dusty back beach tracks, walking up sand dunes, marching purposefully down to far ends of various sandy stretches, and many anxious glances at approaching clouds that might render the next beach less photogenic.
We spent the first morning around the Iluka stretch, and were blown away by some of the quieter places: Woody Head in particular was astonishing, and had a real North Straddie vibe to it.
That arvo, I left Jen at home and went into Yamba to shoot the town beaches. Towards the end of the expedition, I managed to roll my ankle on a small boulder at Convent Beach. Ignoring it, I went and roamed Pippi Beach, which was stubbornly refusing to reveal its best angles to my camera no matter where me and my increasingly painful foot hobbled to.
Later that night, as I rested a bag of frozen peas on my ankle, I congratulated Jen on her promotion to head photographer and note-taker. “I wish I could join you on tomorrow’s hike from Mara Creek to Red Cliff,” I said as I stuffed another pain-relieving chocolate into my gob, “but I’ll drive around and pick you up in the afternoon.”
Jen was more than happy (relieved?) to fly solo in this assignment and capture those special places. After picking her up at Red Cliff’s expansive campground that afternoon, I limped around Brooms Head and the utterly gorgeous Sandon River. It had been a huge day, and by the time we returned home that night, we were beyond buggered. Even a vegieburger (with egg) and pineapple fritter and Ginger beer from Wato’s in Yamba barely revived us.
But if we thought day two was big, day three was a monster. Minnie Water, Diggers Camp and Wooli for starters, all with their own headlands and back beaches needing to be traversed.
But good lord, what a string of pearls these places are! And we experienced them in the most sublime conditions: achingly beautiful ocean, sparkling under near-cloudless skies.
Just when we thought, “Oh, this is the best beach ever!”, we’d head to the next beach and, “hang on, maybe this one is better still?”.
By lunchtime (spent in Diggers Camp’s Boorkoom campground) we were feeling a little punch drunk – reeling from the overload. Just how many special spots can there BE in one Local Government Area? How many more tracks can wind around verdant headlands? How many more back beach vistas can be framed by perfectly placed Pandanus trees? How many more picnic tables and shelters and barbecue facilities can be so freely available? And WHERE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE? Sure, it was a weekday, but apart from the town beaches and the larger campsites, WE HAD SOME OF THE MOST GORGEOUS STRETCHES OF COAST ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH ALL TO OUR FRICKEN SELVES!
Honestly, it’s just ridiculous.
Anyway, back to the mission. After doing Wooli, we had just a few final beaches to cover.
We drove back out to the Pacific Highway, then south for a while, then back to the coast for the last two beaches on the list.
I’m not going to tell you the names of these beaches – they’re not secrets, and they’re listed on the site – but for reasons I can’t explain, to name them here feels somehow a betrayal.
One beach was several kilometres long and straight, hard-packed sand stretching off to the south, into the great beyond.
The other beach was a smaller affair, two hundred metres of curve, fringed by she-oaks, soft, pebbly sand, a semi-attached island on its southern flank, a few kids’ swings hanging from trees, a few hardy campers, all kicking back in the late arvo light.
I stopped to take a photo of one of the swings. Nearby was a bloke in his 60s, on his own, leaning on his truck. I was momentarily interrupting his view of the ocean so I wanted to let him know I was respectful of his presence. I nodded g’day. He nodded back.
I got the photo I wanted, then moved on quickly to let old mate get back to his peace and quiet, but before I got out of his field of vison, I turned and nodded goodbye, and he did the same. They were the quickest of g’days and goodbyes, but they were perfect, easy moments of acknowledgement and recognition.
And it was a great way draw our mad mission to an end, because we’d been saying the quickest of g’days and goodbyes to lots of special beaches over the last three days.
Actually, not so much goodbye, more like we’ll see you again soon.
– Gra Murdoch