Saturday, November 17, 2007

Beach walking - East Australia

People dont talk the same way about beach walking or hiking the same way they talk about mountaineering. But the experience is actually more special to me, at least in my home country of Australia. I have never been to a country with such magnificent beaches. I think as a geologist in training I probably saw some of the best ones in the world. So what makes a great beach. Well I think that depends on what you want to do, whether its:
1. Walking mindlessly: For this you want a beach which is flat at the waters edge, long and rimmed by low-energy sand bars so you can wade through the water, and not have to worry about the 1-in-9 waves that drenches you when you are a million miles away. Some of the best beaches I know for this are: Lighthouse Beach (south of Port Macquarie, NSW), Gerringong Beach (Gerringong, NSW).
2. Walking with a purpose: By this I mean you are primarily interested in walking as a task to perform. For this I like the walk around steeper, shorter beaches. The best example is Shelleys Beach at Port Macquarie. The walk south takes you to 3 beaches, though I thought the climb around the headlands to Port Macquarie city (north) was just as nice, and different, but not as safe since there is no beach-level road.
3. Swimming: For swimming, you want distant wave breaks for body surfing, no rips dragging you out to sea, sandy with no rocks or coral, no sand bars creating an uneven walking subsurface. I think most beaches have at least some areas which qualify, and on popular beaches they are defined by the flags. For safety reasons it makes sense to swim there.
4. Surfing: Dont profess to be a surfer, so no comment. I suspect anywhere between the Gold Coast (Qld) and Melbourne (VIC) is ok.
5. Windsurfing: I think for windsurfing you want a beach for stronger winds & bigger waves (as opposed to a reservoir), a large body of water to avoid speed boats, and good exposure, so flat topography for maximum wind power, but an enclosed area to reduce the amplitude of the waves. The best places I know for this are Botany Bay (South Sydney, NSW), Port Stephens (Nelson Bay, NSW), Myall Lakes (Mungo Brush, NSW) on the mid-North Coast, Merimbula and Sussex Inlet on the South Coast.
6. Exploring: What I look for when I want to explore is shortish beaches (because it gets boring if just sand), wave-cut platforms, wild seas, no people, no commercial development and rocky headlands, but not so rocky that you can't get around at low or high tide. Without a doubt the best beaches for this are on the South Coast. I wish I could tell you exactly where because I went there during my university days. Geologists love beaches for their rock outcrops. So we went on field trips to Ulladulla and other beaches around this area. There were wave-cut platforms at Wasp Head, etc...I forget now. But I remembered Wasp Head because there is a Wasp Head Formation...a marine siltstone I think. Really loved this experience. The surf was wild, I was climbing over huge boulders, copping alot of salt spray.
7. Sex: The idea of sex at the beach is maybe a guys wet dream, but having done this in NZ at night, I can tell you its not very practical. Yep you guessed it, apart from worried about some weirdo jumping me, there was the ever-presence of sand. Sorry I left my underwear on the beach. Wave-cut platforms are even less practical. So wake up everybody! I do however look fondly back on an experience at Boracay Island in the Philippines where I seduced a girl. I'm glad she refused my persistence. For some reason I was not concerned about safety that night.

I know Australians appreciate the beach. I know Asians dont know the amazing experience of being there becuase they dont have such nice beaches. Just to prove that I am not single-minded I would like to draw you attention to several non-Australian beaches which I thought were pretty special.
1. A black sand beach north of Auckland, New Zealand. This was an amazing experience for an Australian used to white sand beaches. Of course I went there on a Volcanic Geology field trip.
2. Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia: I went to a coal conference years ago in Bali. One of my fondest memories was sitting on a deck chair looking out to sea and feeling the breeze, and watching the salt spray drift in under the moon or lights of the resort. Its only safe enough to do that at night.
3. Beaches along the coast of Goa, India. India is a toilet as far as the places that I saw. But having gone to a steel conference many years ago at Goa, I had the good fortune to have conference dinner (sorry mostly drinks) at a different resort each of the 4 nights. They were really nice resorts overlooking the beach. The beaches were not so nice close up, as you can image the litter, but the water was clean.

Going to Asia its apparent that perhaps the most special aspect of the beach is the absence of litter. And ust how some cultures show litlte regard for cleanliness. I am reminded of two experiences.
1. Getting a train across China and seeing railway embankments used as open rubbish dumps (Nanning to Vietnam border)
2. Noticing that some Chinese tourists dumped some rubbish at the beach I was at, when I went to talk to them.
3. Seeing a group of 30-40 odd Vietnamese people harvesting shell fish for a party

I make no particular judgement about these people, just I'm concerned that beach management systems might not prevent damage to these beaches, because people have the freedom to do as they will. And we dont have much capacity to educate foreign tourists, and thats not to say that they are the only ones that need an education. Maybe I am contributing to the problem by informing people of these nice places. But then where is the value if they are not to be appreciated - no eyes cast upon them. And I wih to share their value, not keep it to myself.
Fortunately Australia has a low population. I dont accept the argument that Australia only has the capacity to take 20-40million people (now 20mil). Technology makes it possible to take 20 billion, but I'd like to think its possible to preserve these places. Fortunately I think the idea of having chidren is becoming less popular, but the appeal of keeping an economy strong by accepting a growing tide of immigrants is serving politicians - not the residents of Australia. Though I welcome everyone to Australia, I can see the folly in my thinking by encouraging them to do so. Property developers and development-friendly local governments are the other threat. I however dont wish to group my myself with greenies. First of all I probably save more energy in a day than any greenie, but I dont believe in human contribution to climate change. Second, I think there are tasteful ways to develop places. I dont enshrine 'all natural'. I think the Japanese have a very nice harmony in their village communities between town and river. Ok ok.. aside from the fact that the rivers are lined with concrete... yep some civil engineering company's wet dream. I think Jenolan Caves, NSW is a good example, as well as ski resorts in Australia.

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