Western light streams through the window and the plane lunges left into heavy cloud and over rugged mountain ranges. We pop out the other side over the sea and I can see the coast line all the way up. It looks superb in the afternoon light. Strangely idyllic as the vegetation meets the deep beach. The sea looks restful as the waves break on the shore. Sky is dark with rain as it smothers the mountain peaks to the west with orange light breaking through. I imagine this is what it must have been like with the first tall ships. It looks stunning.
Suddenly a wide estuary, then what looks like Tweed Heads. We are flying lower now, a little boat up the river entrance, a large wooded headland and another deep river – Coolangatta and the settlement – beach houses everywhere, more buildings and the runway’s in site. Aligning southward we’ve already landed with a screech. I’m enjoying this. We step out and the humidity envelopes me. Entering the airport we have to queue because there’s a Covid check point at the gate. I scrounge for the right papers telling the guy I’m not leaving the Gold Coast. He warns me not to enter NSW or I’ll have to quarantine for two weeks. He checks my licence and I’m free to go. I text my surfer friend and head to the hire car. He’s a local and leads the way up the freeway to Broadbeach and the hotel. I managed an off season package deal. A very friendly night audit leads me to the room and hands me the keys. Wow, a spacious apartment looking over the sea and I’m feeling chuffed. Quick shower and change and head down to the lobby. Decided to shout my friend dinner and we head for the nearest Indian for a wicked curry. Settle the bill and cruise to the next beach suburb. Surfers Paradise is brightly illuminated and there are small groups of people enjoying the balmy night including circus performers practicing tight rope tricks by the beach. We wander up the mall flanked by shiny billboards and enormous towers. It feels slightly surreal. More like a movie set. We are met by a small group of people at the end of a graffitied alley way. It sounds dangerous. It’s anything but for they are wearing Hawaiian style leis and friendly smiles. It’s enticing and after we succumb to the offering we are led into “Taboo Tiki”, a pop up bar wearing floral garlands. This must be the happening place in Surfers. Someone comes up to me and says “Fancy seeing you here” so I just respond with the same. So we join the groovy young locals. Nice end to the day. Tomorrow look forward to some site seeing.
Wake at dawn but need more sleep. When I finally get up I see the fantastic view for the first time. The sea is a rich prussian blue and the sky is clear. Tad disorientating though as the morning sunlight is over the sea. I’m accustomed to west coast living so everything’s in reverse. I make a stiff coffee and soak up the vibe. Storm forecast so I decide to go for a stroll before it sets in. No one in the lobby. I remind myself to slow down. Automated urbanity. Heck you’re on holiday. Now, which way to the beach? This has taken me all of ten minutes. Take off the shoes and feel the sand spread between the toes. How long has this been? The sea air envelopes the senses and my instinct is to jump straight in. Totally submerged now and I’m instantly healed. I swim around careful not to exert too much energy. Its been too long. Towel down and walk up the beach. Huge clouds are gathering overhead so I return to the apartment and take the car. I travel around the resort district and then take off up the beach road. I take an exit and discover the river district beyond. This is weird because I had come here many years ago with my grandparents but I’d forgotten. It triggers the subconscious and for the rest of the trip I find myself strangely haunted by the past.
Late afternoon and constant rain. Return to the resort. Step onto the balcony and return a wave to the friendly person in the tower opposite. They’re on a treadmill beside an instructor. Avert my gaze toward a stand of Norfolk pines and glimpse at the stormy sea beyond. The abstract on the wall reminds me of Ian Fairweather. He took a chance and sailed to Rote Island in Indonesia on a raft. I like his pictures. He was a true non-objective painter. Not like a lot of the generic crap you see today. My conscience is pricked again as I’m reminded of someone who interviewed him at his grass hut on Bribie Island. He died recently before I had a chance to say goodbye.
Lets step out and eat. Quick shower and change and I’m on the main street with all the restaurants. People are milling around Where’s a good Thai? Mm, maybe Indian again. Yep, Palak Paneer with naan and I can chat to the staff.
(to be continued)