Friday, April 24, 2009

Beachworld: the north coast

A couple of low pressure systems off the coast have made conditions pretty wet and windy over the past few days. In fact rain has been a bit of a theme here since my folks arrived and it hasn’t ended with their departure. I had promised them a country of sunshine and arid red soil, yet no matter where we went each day yielded at least some precipitation.

It began in Sydney where they heralded not only heavy rain but a couple major power outages as well that took out most of the metropolis’s inner suburbs for a few hours at a time. This was something that local shop owners through clenched teeth assured us had never happened before. Our arrival Victoria brought much needed rain to the drought-stricken and charred region, which was great for the locals, but did make the views along the Great Ocean Road a bit hazy and damp at times. Yes we did spend a few days in the rainforest where, as the name implies, rain is expected, but even there rain had been scarce for four weeks prior. Everybody thanked us heartily for bringing the downpours that refilled everyone’s water tanks.

I’ve been hopping from beach town to beach town along New South Wales’ northern coast where cold rain and wind can be a bit of a downer for everyone. Not only does it make for bad surf conditions, but it also makes the grass grow meaning people have to spend time mowing when they could be out on the water. Luckily yesterday morning we all caught a sunny break and got to go out to a beach in Yamba. It was supposed to be the most sheltered of all the beaches in the area from the hard southern gale, nevertheless the surf was all a froth with waves as tall as houses and currents and rips going in every direction.

As far as waves go, I’ve never encountered anything in the same ballpark on the east coast of the US. Luckily there weren’t enough surf boards to go around so I got to get tossed around on a body board. Surfing looked like a bit of a Sisyphean task for a beginner. A pod of 15 dolphins swirled about with us in the waves sending hearty fish leaping skyward and hoping to sprout wings.

The Yamba YHA must be the best backpacker accommodation in the country if not the world. While most will nickel and dime you at every opportunity and try to sign you up on expensive third party tours and excursions, the managers take out a free busload of guests to wherever the best surf around is and provide boards and tips all for free. It only opened last October, so the building and all its appliances and equipment are brand new. Most importantly the owners opened it because they’re friendly and excited to show budget travelers a hidden beach gem of the north coast. One of the managers, Shane, does offer a “ten buck tour” that takes guests around to all the local beaches, to a few fresh water pools for some cliff jumping and finally to the wharf to hand feed pelicans and “piranhas.”

I’ve moved just a smidge up the coast to Lennox Head to see some friends, but I’m a bit torn about what to do next. I could take a bus up to Brisbane to see a new city, maybe rent a car there to take further up the coast or inland into the hinterlands and explore a new world heritage area. But I’m tempted to just stick around here where I can surf every day (weather permitting) and get by rather cheaply.

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