Looking to get away from the bright lights and intrusive noises of the city, my girlfriend and I made a plan to visit the Booderee National park to camp, surf, drink and relax for a weekend of solitudue. Just a few hours south of Sydney, the beautiful sands of the New South Wales coastal beaches would prove to be an ideal getaway from the chaos of the concrete jungle, if only for two days.
It was early on a Saturday summer morning and we were frantically stuffing our bags and making short trips to and from the car with our arms full of road trip essentials; swimwear, warm clothes, tunes, surfboards, food, whiskey, and wine. With seatbelts fastened and a quick kiss, we drove through the city, teetering amongst traffic with anthems blaring out the car windows as other drivers stared on with indifference to our journey. The obnoxious beeping of car horns pacified any attempt to relax, and the slow escape proved stressful. It was hot and humid, amplifying the discomfort of the smog filled air which surrounds the city and pollutes the body with every breath. The gritty, ugly and decrepit buildings that run along Parramatta Road were a refreshing reminder of why we were leaving, too much concrete is bad for the brain and destroys all sense of wonderment.
It took longer than expected, but by midday we were off down the coast under the warm Australian sun, taking in the smells of the bush and sights of the sea as the landscape opened up past Wollongong. The lush grassy fields spanned out towards the coast, meeting the Pacific ocean to create a colourful pallet of blue, yellow and green that curved around the land in multiple crescents, reaching far into the distance of the countries vast expanse. The stark contrast from the city improved the mood drastically, exchanging honest smiles to one another as we tried to make eye contact over the surfboards which nestled between the headrests. We could enjoy ourselves now , with all windows wide open to let the cool sea breeze drift in as we rapped along to our favourite hip-hop classics. Save for a brief downpour of rain, the skies were relatively clear and people of all ages were making the most of their Saturday, paragliding, surfing and trekking at various points along the way. Birds of prey were now high above the fields in search of food with the sun casting a perfect silhouette below, cattle were being wrangled together on the hill tops by farmers finding new grazing patches and elderly couples walked their dogs on their giant plots of land. It was a wonderful reminder of the beauty of the country and that the pace of life isn’t uniform. The hours drifted by as we planned out our stay, forgetting the city until our eventual return as we talked sun, sea and seclusion.
It was nearing the end of the day when we reached the entrance to the park but we still had lots to do. After dishing out eleven dollars for a day pass, we made our way to the north-east of the peninsula towards Murrays Beach, a small stretch of sand with cool blue waters surrounded by dense bush land that looked out over Bowen Island and Jervis bay. The beach had an uncanny resemblance to a dream I once had and I was almost certain I had seen it before, the natural fence of trees brought on a feeling of detachment from civilization, an insular world where knowledge of anything beyond it was absent, a presence of the present, and only the present. It spanned just a few hundred metres from north to south, marked with rocky outcrops at both ends. Kangaroos and Kookaburras watched curiously as visitors dipped in and out of the sea, making the most of the remaining sunlight as the day crept towards an end. After laying out our towels, Nat and I stripped to our swimwear and headed for the water, diving in head first as light flickered across the oceans surface and cast tiger like stripes across our backs. The sand below us stirred into cloud like formations for brief moments as we waded through, inspecting the little fish which swam between our legs and chased each other round and round in circles.
With grey skies looming in, we dried ourselves off and drove towards the campsite at Cave Beach, avoiding the rain which would come pouring down within the next hour or so. From the enclosed, gravel paved car park, we strolled down the footpath with every item we could we possibly carry, with three or four bags hanging off each arm to avoid traversing back up the hill. The grounds were full of people from all different walks of life, young families, middle aged couples, surfer dudes, holidaymakers, backpackers and city slingers on a weekend break. Finding our spot among a crowd of mid twenty year olds, we began to assemble our two-man under the shelter of a small tree, placing our bags of food and clothes aside as we erected the small tent and punched pegs in to soft earth beneath it. Twilight was settling in as the surfer dudes lit up a wood fire barbecue and passed round pungent joints, palming the curly sun bleached hair out of their faces to take a long, purposeful drags. The cherry end intensified with each pull, illuminating the tips of their noses and the underside of their eyebrows, framing their expressions and glassy stares. Others were getting ready to settle down for the night, cradling round in a community circles of large family tents as they told stories and talked about life, showing resilience to the wild and feral nature that camping brings out in some.
The small group of mid twenty year olds sat beside us extended an invitation to join them under the gazebo to which we gratefully accepted. Through a game of UNO, and slugs of whiskey and wine, we made casual acquaintances before gorging on a feast of barbecued meat and pre-made salads. Further into the night, Nat and I zoned into out into our own little world of inside jokes and playful teasing, feeling the alcohol take hold as we became ignorant to the conversations of the table. It wouldn’t matter where I was that night, as long as I was with her.
With glow sticks and sparklers now in the hands of our fellow campers, they dragged us down to the cave carved into the rocks at the west end of the beach to surprise one of their friends for her birthday. Illuminated in a purple and orange glow, we waited in silence as we passed around drinks in calm anticipation. More sparklers were set alight as the birthday girl made her entrance, causing us to sing in celebration as we took photos and ate peanut butter chocolate cake. They huddled together closely and left the two of us to ourselves as we listened to sounds of waves crashing against the shore and the wind whistling between the rocks.
The damp ocean breeze crept through the tent in the early morning, cooling our feet as they poked through the bottom of our shared sleeping bag. Tame kangaroos sat leisurely at the back of the fields and wild birds foraged through the leaves for any scraps of food that may have been left from the previous night. The obnoxious laugh of two Kookaburras caused Nat stirred gently whilst I wiped the whiskey haze from eyes, looking left and right to recollect my bearings. I was ready for a surf, but waited until we both were awake before putting on my gear. Poking my head out of the tent, I could see the others started to pack their belongings away with the expressions only alcohol and other inebriating substances can induce. Following their lead, the two of us managed to get everything done as fast we could, powering through our hangovers for a short lived attempt at surfing that involved no good waves and the loss of a camera. This loss was painful but it wouldn’t ruin my day. The weekend retreat was not over yet, the whole of Sunday was ours for the taking as we made our way a couple of hours north to Garie beach, another beautiful stretch of sand located in one of the many national parks around the area. Pulling our boards from the car, we ran into the sea with excitement. Nat got to the back quickly, catching the big bombs on her blue body board which throttled her forward along the face of the wave. The crest broke and crashed at her feet as she powered past those looking to get over the top. She made it look effortless, a natural in the water who graced the water with her beautiful presence.
I, on the other hand, had a long day of struggle. Being relatively new to surfing, I spent most of my time pushing past the strong white wash, enduring the wrath of the sea with all my strength just to be thrown off the board every time I attempted to catch a wave. As I got past the chaotic and misshaped swells at the front, I would be met by a what seemed like a monster at the back, crashing on top of me whilst I desperately tried to duck under. It wasn’t long before my arms burned from the constant paddling and I started to pant from being caught in the turbulent cycles of breaking water, my will dwindling as I exhausted my efforts for success. Just when I thinking of giving up, a brief moment of calm struck the waters and gave me a small window to get out to the back with Nat. I pushed through the pain in my arms and dragged myself towards her, hoping to show her my first catch of the day. We smiled at one another and floated in wait for the first swell about to come our way. Side by side, we paddled in hope of jumping on it together but it crashed directly on top of us, forcing us under the water for slightly longer than comfortable. With determination we swam straight back and I eventually caught what I could call my first real surf. I had stood up in white washes before, and caught waves on the break, but I had never dropped in and rode along the face. A swell had began not to far from me, it was small at first, a gentle little bump in the water but I knew what would happen . I kept focus and watched as the power of the sea gradually turned the gentle little bump into a mighty wall of blue. I turned to the shore resting my chin on the board, pinning my legs straight together firmly to streamline my body and dug my hands and arms deep into the water. I paddled forward powerfully, left hand in, pull; right hand in, pull; left hand in, pull; right hand in, pull, over and over until I felt the water roll and take shape beneath me as I rose to the top to look down the waves face. Bracing myself, I jumped to my feet and felt the board drop beneath me, sliding down the wall as the peak crashed behind me in a loud roar. It kept pushing and pushing, propelling me further along the beach with the board skimming across the water to make a sound similar to a paper tearing. With the last bit of momentum, I jumped free and made my way to the shore. I was ecstatic, the best way to conclude an already great weekend. With Nat’s head on my shoulder, we made our to the car to return to the city and away from nature.